Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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ELLET, Charles, engineer, born in Penn's Manor, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1 January 1810; died in Cairo, Illinois, 21 June 1862. His father for the life of a farmer destined him, but his inclinations led him to mathematical and engineering pursuits. First as a rodman, then as a volunteer, and subsequently as a paid assistant on the Chesapeake and Ohio canal, he soon acquired means to visit Europe, and completed his education in the Eeole poly-technique in Paris. He became an engineer on the Utica and Schenectady railroad, then on the Erie, and subsequently chief engineer of the James and Kanawha canal. In 1842 he planned and built the first wire suspension bridge in this country, across the Schuylkill River at Philadelphia. He designed and built the railroad suspension bridge across the Niagara River below the falls in 1847, and afterward built a suspension bridge at Wheeling, Virginia. He then engaged in many important engineering works, constructed a remarkable temporary track across the Blue Ridge, improved the navigation of the Kanawha River, and aided in laying out the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and in 1846'7 he was president of the Schuylkill navigation company.
He was among the first to advocate the use of steam rams, and suggested a plan to the Russian government by which the allied fleet before Sebastopol might be destroyed. At the beginning of the civil war in 1861 he became interested in military matters, and devoted much attention to the use of rams in naval warfare. He sent a plan for cutting off the Confederate army at Manassas to General McClellan, who rejected it, and Ellet then wrote two pamphlets censuring McClellan's mode of conducting" the campaign. He urged upon the government the construction of steam rams, for use on the large rivers of the west, and after the navy department he presented them to the secretary of war had rejected his plans, by which they were approved. He was then commissioned colonel of engineers, and converted several powerful light draught steamers on the Mississippi River into rams. With these he engaged in the naval battle off Memphis on 6 June 1862, and sank and disabled several of the Confederate vessels, but during the battle he was struck above the knee by a musket ball, and died from the effects of his wound. Among his most noteworthy labors was his investigation of the hydraulics of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the result of which he published in a paper entitled the " Physical Geography of the Mississippi Valley, with Suggestions as to the improvement of the Navigation of the Ohio and other Rivers," printed in the "Smithsonian Transactions" (Washington, 1851).
His other publications are "An Essay on the Laws of Trade " (1839); "The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, containing Plans for the Protection of the Delta from Inundation " (Philadelphia, 1853); a pamphlet on "Coast and Harbor Defenses, or the Substitution of Steam Battering-Rams for Ships of War" (Philadelphia, 1855). and many other scientific papers.
His brother, Alfred W. Ellet, held a commission under him as lieutenant colonel in the same fleet, and was appointed brigadier general of volunteers, 1 November 1862. He ordered the burning of Austin, Miss., on 24 May 1863, in retaliation for information furnished by citizens to Confederates of General Chalmers's command, which enabled them to fire upon a Federal transport. He resigned on 31 December 1864.Charles's son, Charles Rivers, soldier, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1841; died in Bunker Hill, Ilk, 29 October 1862, was engaged at the beginning of the war in studying medicine, and became assistant surgeon in one of the military hospitals. In 1862 he commanded one of his father's rams in the action at Memphis. After his father's death, on the organization of the Mississippi brigade by his uncle, Alfred W. Ellet, he was appointed colonel, and when his uncle was commissioned brigadier general he was placed in command of the marine brigade. Choosing the ram "Queen of the West" for his headquarters, he made many daring expeditions on the Mississippi, and succeeded in running the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg as he was cruising between that stronghold and Port Hudson. (In 10 February 1863, he made an expedition up the Red River and captured the Confederate steamer "Era" and some other vessels. After ascending the River with success the pilot ran his vessel aground, placing her in such a difficult position that she was disabled by the fire from the Confederate fort, and fell into the hands of the enemy. Colonel Ellet made his escape on a bale of cotton, and was rescued by the "De Soto." During the siege of Vicksburg, and afterward, he rendered valuable assistance to General Grant in keeping open his communications, but in the course of this duty his health failed, owing to the influence of the climate, and he died suddenly in Illinois, where he had retired for rest.
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