Orlando Metcalfe Poe

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Orlando Metcalfe Poe
OrlandoPoe.jpg
Orlando M. Poe, taken at the end of the Civil War.
Born(1832-03-07)March 7, 1832
Navarre, Ohio
DiedOctober 2, 1895(1895-10-02) (aged 63)
Detroit, Michigan
Place of burialArlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States of America
Union
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1856 - 1895
RankUnion army brig gen rank insignia.jpg Brigadier General
Commands heldMichigan 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War
 
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Orlando Metcalfe Poe
OrlandoPoe.jpg
Orlando M. Poe, taken at the end of the Civil War.
Born(1832-03-07)March 7, 1832
Navarre, Ohio
DiedOctober 2, 1895(1895-10-02) (aged 63)
Detroit, Michigan
Place of burialArlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States of America
Union
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1856 - 1895
RankUnion army brig gen rank insignia.jpg Brigadier General
Commands heldMichigan 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Orlando Metcalfe Poe (March 7, 1832 – October 2, 1895) was an United States Army officer and engineer in the American Civil War. After helping General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea, he was responsible for much of the early lighthouse construction on the Great Lakes and design of the Poe Lock at Soo Locks between lakes Superior and Huron.

Early life[edit]

Orlando Metcalfe Poe was born in Navarre, Ohio. After going to local schools, he attended the United States Military Academy, graduating sixth in his class in 1856. From then until 1861 he served as assistant topographical engineer on the survey of the northern Great Lakes; during this time he was promoted to first lieutenant.

Famed ancestors[edit]

Poe’s great-great-grandparents were Catherine and George Jacob Pfau. They were of Palatine German descent, and their sons were the first to Anglicize their surname to Poe following the American Revolutionary War. The Pfau family migrated to Ohio from central New York, where German immigrants had settled in the early 18th century. Pfau’s sons Adam and Andrew were famed for their skirmishes with Native Americans in southern Beaver County, Ohio. Both men were known as fearless fighters. The first Andrew Poe is reputed to have slain the Wyandot Indian Chief Bigfoot in 1781. The brothers’ exploits were detailed in volume II of Theodore Roosevelt’s book, The Winning of the West from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi, 1777 - 1783. Poe is a second cousin of the painter Andrew Jackson Poe. He also had English heritage from Metcalfe ancestors.

Civil War service[edit]

At the start of the American Civil War, Poe assisted in organizing the volunteers from Ohio; later, he was made a member of Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's staff in western Virginia and took part in the Rich Mountain campaign. He went with McClellan to Washington and assisted by organizing the defense of the capital. Promoted to colonel of volunteers that September, he was placed in command of the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry. He commanded them successfully from Yorktown through the Battle of Seven Pines during the Peninsula Campaign; he next was given field command of a brigade prior to the Northern Virginia Campaign of 1862. His brigade anchored the far right of the Union line at the August 29–30 battle of Second Bull Run but was only lightly engaged. Several days later on September 1, Poe and his men participated in the Battle of Chantilly. His brigade was present, but not active during the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg.

Poe was appointed brigadier general of volunteers effective November 29, 1862; however, the appointment was rejected by Congress in the spring of 1863. Poe reverted to his old rank of lieutenant in the regular army but was soon promoted to captain and then transferred to the Western Theater. In his capacity as chief engineer of the XXIII Corps, he was a key factor in the defense of Knoxville, Tennessee. This city was successfully defended against a siege led by Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, which culminated in the November 29, 1863, Battle of Fort Sanders. Due to Poe's contributions, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman selected Poe as his chief engineer in 1864. Poe oversaw the burning of Atlanta, for which action he was honored by Sherman. He continued to serve as chief engineer during Sherman's March to the Sea as well as in the war's concluding Carolinas Campaign.[1]

Postbellum career[edit]

Orlando Poe

In Summer 1865 Poe became the Lighthouse Board's chief engineer; in 1870 he was promoted to the position of Chief Engineer of the Upper Great Lakes 11th Lighthouse District. In this capacity, he designed eight "Poe style lighthouses" and oversaw construction of several. Poe was named District Engineer for the Eleventh Lighthouse District, Those lights are New Presque Isle Light (1870) on Lake Huron, Lake Michigan's South Manitou Island Light (1872), Grosse Point Light (1873) in Evanston, Illinois, Lake Superior's Au Sable Light (1874), Racine, Wisconsin's Wind Point Light (1880); Outer Island Light (1874) in the Apostle Islands, Little Sable Point Light (1874) on Lake Michigan, Manistique, Michigan's Seul Choix Light (1895) and Spectacle Reef Light.[2]

As Superintending Engineer, he designed a unique lighthouse — in terms of location, construction materials, methods, hardships and costs — at the Spectacle Reef Light on Lake Huron.[3] That light has been described as "the best specimen of monolithic stone masonry in the United States.", and "one of the greatest engineering feats on the Great Lakes."[4] Poe solved the logistics problem of building a lighthouse on the remote Stannard Rock in Lake Superior with the proposal to use all the costly apparatus and machinery used to build the Spectacle Reef Light.[5] The exposed crib of the Stannard Rock Light is rated in the top ten engineering feats in the United States.[6] Many of these lights were of Italianate architecture, a chief example being that of the Grosse Point Light.[7]

From 1873 through 1883 Poe served as engineering Aide-de-camp on the staff of William T. Sherman, who was then commanding general of the U.S. Army. In 1883 he was made Superintending Engineer of improvement of rivers and harbors on Lakes Superior and Huron, where he helped to develop the St. Marys Falls Canal. Many consider his crowning achievement to be the design and implementation of the first Poe Lock in the American Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, as it was instrumental in making possible the shipping industry, including steel craft freighters, in the upper Great Lakes. Consequently, it was pivotal to the creation of the basic steel industry in the United States.[8] Poe's creation was dismantled in the early 1960s with a larger, more modern lock being built on the same site. This new passageway was renamed the Poe Lock and serves the largest of the Great Lakes freighters to this day.

Poe died in Detroit on October 2, 1895 of an infection following an on-duty accident at the "Soo Locks," and was subsequently buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[9] Poe Reef and the Poe Reef Light in Lake Huron bear his name.

General Poe's personal "Carte de visite" was recently auctioned off, and contained many unique civil war pictures and memorabilia.[10]

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