By Nancy Bateman, Registrar
The Quartermaster General
The National Building Museum’s historic home, the Pension Building, was the last and most important architectural work of U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs. A graduate of West Point Military Academy, Meigs began his assent through the US Military and Army Corps of Engineers, starting as a Second Lieutenant in 1836 and culminating as a Brevet Major General by 1882.
As an Army Engineer, Meigs supervised several important government projects, including the construction of the wings and dome of the Capitol and the expansion of the General Post Office building. His most substantial contribution to US infrastructure was the Washington Aqueduct, which extended 12 miles from the Great Falls on the Potomac to a reservoir near Georgetown.
During the first year of the Civil War, Meigs was an important military advisor for President Lincoln. He was quickly promoted to Quartermaster General of the Union Army and efficiently oversaw the disbursement of funds for the provisioning of troops during the Civil War. He also personally commanded the supplying of the armies of Grant and Sherman during several important campaigns in 1864 and early 1865.
After the Civil war Meigs was appointed as both the architect and engineer for the new Pension building project and of all of his building works, the Pension Office was the one he was most proud of. The building was completed in 1887 and has operated as a pension office, government office and now museum, as well as a grand entertainment space, for over 130 years.
The Museum collects artifacts related to the life and career of Montgomery Meigs and we are still in contact with his decedents. In 1996 his family donated 14 documents related to Meigs’s life and military career, including Commission documents signed by U.S. Presidents Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson. These documents, hand signed by U.S. Presidents and honoring Meigs, are some of the most important pieces in our collection.
Commission as Captain of Engineers, March 3, 1853. Signed by Franklin Pierce, President on March 23, 1853.
Commission as Quartermaster General and Brigadeer General, May 15, 1861. Signed by Abraham Lincoln on August 12, 1861.
Commission as Major General by Brevet, July 5, 1864. Signed by Andrew Johnson, President on May 3, 1865.