A Civil War Biography

Edward Wellman Serrell

Serrell was born 5 November 1826. There is some confusion as to where he was born. Some sources claim he was born in New York City but official records show he was born, a US citizen, in London, England. He studied surveying and civil engineering under the direction of his older brother. In 1845 he was named assistant engineer of New Jersey's Central railroad. He accompanied the 1848 expedition that laid out the railroad route across Panama. He built suspension bridges across the Niagara River at Lewiston, New York and another at St. Johns, New Brunswick. In 1858 he was in charge of the project to construct the Hoosac tunnel through the Berkshire Mountain range in northwestern Massachusetts. He also helped in the construction of the Bristol bridge over England's Avon River.

As civil war loomed Serrell saw the need for volunteer engineering units to directly support combat operations. Although there was an engineering corps in the regular US army it was extremely small and chiefly skilled in the areas of topographical engineering and fortification building. He petitioned both in Albany, New York and Washington DC to establish an engineering regiment. On 10 October 1861 he was given the rank of lieutenant colonel of volunteers in the 1st New York engineers which he was to raise. When mustered into service in December 1861 the 1st New York engineers consisted of 12 companies. The 1st NY moved to Washington DC then was sent to Fortress Monroe in Virginia where it completed its organization. Serrell was named colonel on 14 February 1862 and, along with his engineers, was sent to Port Royal Sound, South Carolina. The regiment was incorporated into the X Corps and Serrell became the corps' chief engineer, a position he held throughout 1863. In this role he helped supervise the siege of Fort Pulaski and other Confederate strongholds. He supervised the construction of the Swamp Angel that would fire on Charleston, South Carolina. In the spring of 1864 Serrell along with 8 companies of the 1st New York were sent to join Benjamin Butler's Army of the James. Serrell was named chief engineer and chief of staff in Butler's army. The 1st New York then designated the Engineering Corps in the Army of the James saw much service building roads and fortifications supporting operations of the Butler's army until the end of the war. Serrell mustered out of the service on 15 February 1865. He was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers on 13 March 1865.

After the war Serrell settled in New York. He engaged principally in the building of railroads. In 1887 he became president and consulting engineer of New York's Washington County railroad. He published many papers on scientific and technical subjects and many reports on railroads and bridges. He died 25 April 1906 in Rossville, New York.

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