Decius Wadsworth

Colonel Decius WadsworthDecius Wadsworth was born in Farmington, Connecticut, on 2 January 1768 to a family that had lived in that colony for four generations. The childhood years of young Decius were spent amidst the uncertainties of the Revolutionary War. A second cousin, Jeremiah Wadsworth (1743-1804) had served during the Revolutionary War, first as Deputy Commissary General of Purchases for the Continental Army and then as Commissary General for both the American and French Armies. Decius entered Yale College when but 14 years of age. He earned a B.A. in 1785, and remained to earn an M.A. in 1788. Following several years as a struggling lawyer, Wadsworth responded in 1794 to publicity about Major General Anthon y Wayne's forth coming campaign against Indians on the frontier. He was commissioned a captain in the new Corps of Artillerists and Engineers in June, 1794. Several years of service proved less fulfilling than he had expected, and when Congress reduced the size of the Army in 1796, Wadsworth resigned. He returned to the Army in his former capacity in 1798, however, when it appeared that war with France inpended.

Wadsworth served with the 2nd Regiment of Artillerists and Engineers, and by 1800 had been promoted to the grade of major. W hen the Artillery a n d Engineers were divided, Wadsworth transferred to the engineers, and his first assignment took him to Fort Nelson, Virginia. H ere he repaired the defenses of the installation, but his work was soon interrupted. A dispute had arisen between Colonel Jonathan Williams, Chief of Engineers, and the War Department. Williams wanted engineer officers to command all elements, including line units, at installations where they happen to be the senior officer present, but the War Department refused to accept this position, and Williams then resigned.

As the next senior officer, Wadsworth became the Acting Chief of Engineers, and, following completion of assignments at Newport, Rhode Island, and New Orleans, he reported to the Military Academy. As acting Chief of Engineers. He automatically became acting superintendent.

Rather than attempt any major changes in the academic program, Wadsworth tried to gave strong support to John H. Hall, whose ideas concerning interchangeable parts set the stage for later mass production techniques. Hall was made superintendent of the Harper's Ferry operation, and despite some friction over contract procedures, achieved some progress installing increasingly sophisticated machinery. The rifles and other small arms produced at Harper's Ferry became increasingly uniform under Hall's direction.