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Stephen Harriman Long
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Stephen Harriman Long
Stephen Harriman Long was a New Hampshire native who joined the U. S. Army's Topographical Corps, explored areas of the Louisiana Purchase, was an early civil engineer for a variety of railroad projects including North Georgia's Western and Atlantic Railroad, and was in charge of navigation improvements on the Mississippi River from 1856 to the outbreak of The Civil War. He became Chief of the Topographic Engineers in Washington D. C. until his retirement in 1863 at the age of 79. He died in 1864.

Early Life

Born in Hopkinsville, New Hampshire on December_30, 1784, Long entered Dartmouth College at the age of 19 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation in 1809, Long became a schoolteacher/principal in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Throughout his adult life, Long returned to Hopkinsville regularly and built bridges, roads and encouraged industry. His most noted accomplishment was the draining of the frog pond within the village, which increased home values and improved sanitation. In 1814 he entered the corps of engineers and was assigned to West Point in 1815 where he taught math as an assistant professor.

Early Assignments

Following the term of President Thomas Jefferson, scientific investigation and mapping of the Louisiana Purchase came to an end. Long joined the Army as a second lieutenant in 1814, just before the end of the War of 1812. He was assigned to West Point in 1815, where he taught mathematics as an assistant professor for a year. Between 1816 and 1819 Stephen Long completed four minor tasks dealing with the Upper Mississippi River valley or tributaries of the river normally assigned the topographical engineers in the present-day states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Arkansas. In Arkansas, his unit established Fort Smith.

Scientific Expedition of 1819

Western Expedition
The Missouri Expedition in 1819 was Major Long's first command and was the first scientific expedition under the auspices of the federal government in 10 years. Long sold Washington on the necessity of this expedition, which he began in Pittsburg on the steamship Western Expedition. Today this journey is better known as the Scientific Expedition of 1819.

The Western Expedition was a 75' X 13' X 19" sternwheeler leased to the U. S. Army by James Johnson and specially outfitted to intimidate the Indians northwest of St. Louis. The boat was outfitted with a dragon head and the sternwheel was covered. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun ordered Long to explore the Missouri River and its main tributaries, the Red, Arkansas and Mississippi above St. Louis to study animal life, plants, soil, minerals and to note latitude and longitude of prominent features.

Long's engineers built the engineers cantonment at the present-day city of Omaha, within site of Council Bluffs. Before winter Long returned east.

Western Expedition of 1820

On April_24, 1820, Stephen Long returned to St. Louis, Missouri, with new orders for his expedition from John C. Calhoun. The Engineers Expedition was to go by land to the source of the Platte River, then follow the Arkansa and Red River to the Mississippi. After a two week stay in St. Louis Long departed by boat to the Engineers Cantonment with a new doctor/botanist. In May, Long took a small party to explore the Platte River, before the main group of engineers joined him.

The main party broke camp on June_6, 1820 and moved generally southwest to the Platte River, where they followed it through the plains. By the time the expedition reached the fork of the Plattes, their barometers were broken and they were forced to boil water to estimate the altitude. Following the South Platte to the Rocky Mountains, Long named a peak the Indians knew as the Guardian in honor of himself, Long's Peak. Later he became the first man to climb Pike's Peak (Zebulon Pike, for whom the mountain is named, climbed a nearby peak.) On July 8 and July 9, 1820 Long's Expedition observed and made note of the Great Comet.

Returning east Long's party became the first American explorers to visit the present-day Texas Panhandle and the state of Oklahoma. They saw both friendly and unfriendly Indians of the Plains. Reaching the Arkansas River he decided to split his party. One group, under J. R. Bell followed the Arkansas to Fort Smith. His party headed south in an attempt to reach the Red River. They took the Canadian River for the Red, and returned to the Arkansas, which they too took to Fort Smith.

Other Explorations

After publishing his account of the journey west, Stephen Long explored the headwaters of the Minnesota River in 1823. In 1826 he was brevetted to lieutenant-colonel. He also worked on developing one of the newest technologies available at the time, the steam locomotive, receiving a patent for developments he made to existing engines. His work on locomotive power made him an obvious choice for his next assignment.

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

Stephen Long's first engineering experiences came managing the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Although another railroad did exist at the start of the Baltimore and Ohio, it was pulled by horses. Horses would not work on the mountainous route from the Ohio River to City Block in Baltimore. Long, who was head of the Board of Engineers, took official responsibility for planning the route in Baltimore on April_12, 1828, although work began in January of that year. Later in April worked on determining the best route for the railroad from Baltimore to Williamsport, Maryland. By the end of June work on determining the route to Cumberland, Maryland, was complete.

Now he started supervising the day-to-day task of supervising the laying of the track. Earlier in June Long published the first request for bids on the grading and bridging for the first section of the railroad (to Point of Rocks). For the next 3 years his work continued on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

The Western and Atlantic Railroad

Main article: Building the Western and Atlantic Railroad

Following passage of a bill to create the Western and Atlantic Railroad] in November, 1836, the state of Georgia began looking for an engineer to build the line. Williams Gibbs McNeill and J. J. Albert wanted too much money, so on March_6, 1837 J. Edgar Thomson, who had built the Central Railroad (of Georgia), recommended Long with the words "...one of the most amiable men as well as one of our best informed officers." On May 12 Long accepted a yearly salary of $5,000 with the provision that he could remain in the Army. He left Milledgeville on May 13, 1837 and headed to Athens, nearest major city to the Georgia frontier with the Cherokee Nation. Three assistants, William S. Whitwell, Thomas Stockton and Abbott Hall Brisbane took proposed routes and began scouting them.

Six crossings of the Chattahoochee River were proposed by Long. Winn's Ferry (Vann's Ferry) near Flowery Branch ([Old Federal Road]), Collins Ferry near Warsaw, Pittman's Ferry near present-day Medlock Bridge Road, Montgomery's Ferry at Bolton, Sandtown, in old Campbell County, and Campbellton. Only two proved to be realistic, Pittman's Ferry and Montgomery's Ferry. Long chose Pittman's as his first crossing and work began on July_4, 1837.

After work began Long and Brisbane rode ahead to scout and found the valleys formed by Little Creek, Noonday Creek and Vickery (Big) Creek to be too big to span with current railroad technology. At this point Long's attention turned to Montgomery's Ferry at Old Fort Gilmer (Standing Peachtree), but he was forced to leave on July 12. Brisbane then began work on the new site.

One lasting myth about Stephen Long is that he chose the site for the city of Atlanta. The site was chosen about September 10 by Abbott Brisbane. Long was in New York City at the time. Long returned in October and signed the report recommending the Montgomery Ferry route to Governor Schley on November 7. Since the railroad would now have to cross the Chattahoochee River an act would have to pass the Georgia assembly, which would not meet until December.

In 1838, Long established his office in Marietta, largest town on the railroad south of the Etowah River. Long turned down an offer to sell 100 acres of land on Marietta St. in a letter that included the statement, "the Terminus will be a good location for one tavern, a blacksmith shop, a grocery store and nothing else." Grading between Terminus and the Etowah was completed in 1839 and a request for bids went out in November for supplying timbers and rail.

1840, however, proved to be a year of change for Stephen Long. The state entered its worst economic times since the country was formed as a result of the Panic of 1837. With times this tough the state wanted the railroad to go through quickly and Stephen Long represented the problems of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. He turned his work over to James Williams to carry on, but Williams, too, had problems with the state. As a result, work on the Western and Atlantic came to an abrupt halt in 1842. The railroad would not be completed until 1850.

Return to the Army

Stephen Long returned to the Army in 1841 and continued to serve as a major in the topographical engineers. By the start of the Mexican-American War Long was 60 years old and did not participate. Instead he enhanced his association with improving navigation on the Upper Mississippi River. By 1850 he was working with his son out of an office in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1856, Long was put in charge of improving navigation of the entire river.

Civil War

When the war broke out Stephen Long was moved to Washington D. C. and put in charge of the topographical engineers. Starting in 1862, Long's knowledge of the Mississippi played a vital role in the success of Ulysses S. Grant during the Vicksburg Campaign. However, Long was nearing 80 years of age and in 1863 he retired, returning to his second wife in Alton, Illinois, on his beloved Mississippi. He died there on September_4, 1864.


Long's birth year is occasionally listed as 1764. The expedition to explore the headwaters of the Minnesota River is sometimes listed as an exploration of the Mississippi headwaters. The source of the Mississippi was believed to be known at the time (Cass Lake), although later research showed it to be Lake Itasca. According to the Dictionary of American Biography, Long is listed as the engineer for the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad in New York from 1837 to 1840. He was working on the Western and Atlantic at the time.

Biographies of famous, not so famous and infamous people from the North Georgia area or who had an effect on North Georgia

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Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Building the Western and Atlantic Railroad
Cherokee Nation
Panic of 1837
The Civil War
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Vickery (Big) Creek
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