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Colonel James William Abert

November 18, 1820 - August 10, 1897

Topic- Kearny's March A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexico War

James William Abert was born on November 18, 1820 at Mount Holly, New Jersey, the son of Colonel John James Abert, head of the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers. In 1842 Abert graduated from West Point with classmate Ulysses S. Grant and was assigned to the Fifth United States Infantry.

In May of 1843 Abert transferred to the Corps of Topographical Engineers, assigned to post at Detroit, Michigan and led an extensive survey of the Great Lakes region. In 1845, Lt. Abert was attached to the third expedition of Major John Charles Frémont with orders to survey the Comanche and Kiowa regions along the Canadian River in southwestern Colorado. Major Frémont divided the expedition and led the majority of the party west to California, leaving Abert and others to comply with the original instructions. In the summer of 1846 Abert accompanied Gen. Stephen W. Kearny's Army of the West to New Mexico. Abert developed a fever in July and remained behind at Bent's Fort to convalesce before returning to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas Territory the following year. An avid ornithologist, Abert described a new species of bird, related to the sparrow, named the Abert’s Towee in his honor.

Abert returned to West Point in 1848 where he served on the faculty as a drawing instructor until 1850. He was promoted to first lieutenant in 1853 and to captain in 1856. During the Civil War Abert served in the Shenandoah Valley from June 1861 to September 1862. In March of 1863 the Corps of Topographical Engineers and the Corps of Engineers, separated since 1831, were reunited and Abert was promoted to major. Abert resigned from the army in 1864 and began a mercantile business in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In 1869 he moved to Washington and served as a patents examiner until 1871. He then taught English literature at the University of Missouri. In 1879 he became president of the Examining Board of Teachers of Public Schools in Kentucky. He died on August 10, 1897 in Newport, Kentucky.


Carroll, Bailey H. ed., “The Journal of Lt. J. W. Abert from Bent's Fort to St. Louis in 1845,” Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 14 1941.

Galvin, John. Through the Country of the Comanche Indians in the Fall of the Year 1845: The Journal of a U.S. Army Expedition Led by Lieutenant James W. Abert. John Howell Books, 1970.

Goetzmann, William H. Army Exploration in the American West, 1803-1863, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Volpe, Vernon L. "The Origins of the Fremont Expeditions: John J. Abert and the Scientific Exploration of the Trans-Mississippi West," Historian 63 Winter 2000.

U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers

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