Serrell, Edward Wellman (1826 - 1906), civil engineer and Union army general

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Serrell, Edward Wellman (1826 - 1906), civil engineer and Union army general

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1826 -1906


Edward Wellman Serrell was born in London on 5 November 1826. At the age of 5 his family immigrated to New York City. He became a civil engineer, working for various railroad companies including the 1848 Panama Survey and working as chief engineer of the Hoosac Tunnel (1855-56). Throughout the 1850s, he designed and oversaw the construction of several suspension bridges that, like Charles Ellet Jr.'s Schuylkill Bridge, utilized iron wire cable: the Lewiston Suspension Bridge over the Niagara River, the St. John Suspension Bridge at New Brunswick and a scheme for a railway suspension bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Quebec. In 1851 Serrell entered negotiations with the Clifton Suspension Bridge Management Committee with a scheme to finish the Clifton Suspension Bridge using similar methods, but in 1857 the proposal was shelved.
At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Serrell organized the First New York Volunteer Engineers, serving first as lieutenant colonel and then full colonel by 1862; and later as Brevet Brigadier General for the Army of the James. During his time in the army, he also acted as Chief Engineer of the 10th Corps and devised various innovations including long wire, armour plate, gun carriages and iron viaducts. He was involved in exploring the possibilities of aerial reconnaissance and designed a steam-powered flying machine variously called the "Valomotive" or the "Reconoiterer". Work began on building the fifty-two foot cigar-shaped craft, but military support for the project dwindled after the Confederate surrender in April 1865. In the years that followed, Serrell worked as a consulting engineer to various canal and railroad corporations and became president of the Washington County Railroad. He died at Rossville on Staten Island, New York on 25 April 1906.


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