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Upon the termination of hostilities the Coast Survey returned to normal
operations. Julius Hilgard ran the Survey in a caretaker capacity until
the death of Superintendent Bache. Much of the work in the Southern states
for the next year involved surveying and clearing harbors. In spite of
the urgency, the survey crews still headed north in the summer. By September
of 1865, Clarence Fendall for one had found a new foe in the form of breakers
smashing onto the rocks of Maine. He wrote Assistant Hilgard that "my working
boat has been stove into by the rocks" and although he stops outside the
3 fathom line, "the boat is swept by the ground swells, so far upon the
rocks as to prevent our getting any sounding at all, owing to the confusion
which arises while we are among, or nearly among the breakers . . . ."
Business had seemingly returned to normal at least for the field men of
the Survey. But the world had changed.
Before the Civil War the Coast Survey was a big fish in a little pond.
Now it was a medium-sized fish in a big pond. The national perspective
had changed and national priorities were changing as well. The science
infrastructure also was changing. The Department of Agriculture was formed
during the war; a national weather service and fisheries commission were
soon to be formed. Men of boundless energy would soon be maneuvering to
form a geological survey, while underemployed Army officers were considering
the possibility of conducting a geodetic survey of the country. During
this critical period the Coast Survey was adrift without a strong leader.
The Chief was dying and there was no longer a strong hand to guide (or
control depending on one's perspective) the direction of American science.
Perhaps it would not have mattered if he had been well as there was a new
generation of men who had been tested by the war. These men would not have
shied from difficult but bloodless political and administrative battles
with the old guard of American science. Prior to the war the Coast Survey
was basically whatever it wanted to be relative to the physical sciences.
Following the war, the Survey's options became more and more constrained
while at the same time its leadership suffered from want of vision with
a few notable exceptions.
Of those Coast Surveyors who served with distinction during the war,
many died or left the Survey within a few years of the end of the war.
Samuel Gilbert, Clarence Fendall, and Frederick W. Dorr were all dead by
1870 from diseases contracted during the war. John Oltmanns died by 1870
from the effects of the rifle wound that he received on the Pearl River
in 1862. Preston West became the chief mining engineer for Alexander Agassiz
at the Calumet & Hecla Mine. Alexander Strausz went on to become an
orange packer at Pilatka, Florida, while William Budd apparently became
a merchant captain. Richard Cutts, John Donn, Cleveland Rockwell, and Charles
Boutelle remained on the Survey. As mentioned earlier, Robert Platt stayed
in the Navy but sailed continuously for the Coast Survey for many years
and then the Fish Commission. No record was found of the post-Civil War
career of George D. Wise, but he never returned to the Survey.
Within a few years of the end of the war, the roster of the Coast Survey
differed significantly from what it was during the Bache years. Besides
those mentioned above as staying with the Survey, other long-time employees
included the topographer Henry Whiting; the hydrographer and physical oceanographer
Henry Mitchell; Charles Schott, head of the computing division; and Assistants
George Davidson, James Lawson, Augustus Rodgers, and William Greenwell
on the West Coast. Of these men, only Whiting and Cutts entered service
during Ferdinand Hassler's superintendency. All of the rest entered on
duty under Superintendent Bache; as such he continued to cast a long shadow
over the operations of the Survey for at least the next thirty years.
Many changes occurred in the sixty years from the passage of the law
authorizing a Survey of the Coast in 1807 to the death of Alexander Dallas
Bache in 1867. It was probably little noted at the time, but the transition
from the superintendence of Ferdinand Hassler to that of Alexander Dallas
Bache marked a milestone in the way American scientists thought of themselves
and how they conducted their profession.
In 1842 Ferdinand Hassler wrote of the tedious repetitive procedures
required to produce 341 one gallon-capacity brass vases to use as standards
for liquid capacity. In describing his own labors, Hassler stated: "This
task is the most fatiguing and trying for all faculties of a man in attention
and care; it has been executed with the same minute, faithful care and
accuracy, as I have described in rendering account of the weights.... It
must be evident that these measures cannot be brought to their required
accuracy at once; the operation is therefore a successive approach to the
truth.... Thus, alternately weighing and grinding down, the measure is
brought every time nearer to the truth, until it is considered within the
limit...."(1) If any one quote ever epitomized
a man's philosophy and view of himself, this was it for Ferdinand Hassler,
a persevering investigator pursuing a solitary quest for truth.
Within five years of the death of Ferdinand Hassler, Superintendent
Bache wrote, "A superficial examination of a subject, or the taking for
granted of a prescribed routine, is apt to impress one with notions of
the great accuracy of processes and results, in which are concealed constant
errors of grave importance. Turning up the surface, develops these concealed
errors, and leads to scientific discovery. The action of different minds
accelerates the progress of truth, and on this account I have published
the report of Assistant S.C. Walker, as of high interest to the astronomer...."(2)
Bache's phrase, "the action of different minds accelerates the progress
of truth," marked a turning point in the understanding of the linking of
ideas and the synergism which occurs within a community of scientific investigators.
Hassler, although he corresponded with European scientists and a small
community of American scientists, remained at heart a lone investigator.
Bache, if not the prophet, was certainly the leader in the movement towards
scientific collaboration and teamwork. His management of the Survey was
a manifestation of these ideals.
The theme of each of the Superintendents was the same: the search for
scientific truth. Hassler went about it alone, alternately "weighing and
grinding," solving his problems in a serial manner coming ever closer to
the practical limits of "truth." Bache, in turn, sought his solutions in
parallel with the scientific community "accelerating the progress of truth."
It was during the Superintendency of Alexander Dallas Bache that American
science grew up. No matter what the discipline or the problem to be solved,
much of American science for the 130 years since the death of Alexander
Dallas Bache has been carried on through teams of investigators or as collaborative
efforts between individuals and organizations. Not only did Bache cast
a long shadow over the operations of the Coast Survey, but over all of
The Coast Survey for its part would continue on although the next 50
years would be quite difficult; but the spirit of both Hassler and Bache
would continue to guide the organization and give it hope. The surveyors,
sailors, and scientists of the Coast Survey would embark on new projects,
help subdue the frontier waterways of Alaska and the Philippine Islands,
and participate in ferocious political battles that affected the science
community over the next half century. Through it all, the Coast Survey
and the Coast and Geodetic Survey as it became known in 1878 would survive
and continue to guide the mariners of the World into the ports of the United
States and its territories. This was fortunate as the Survey's greatest
work was yet to come.
1. Hassler, F.R. 1842. A report showing progress in the fabrication of standards of liquid capacity measures. House of Representatives, Treas. Dept., Document No. 176, 27th Congress, 2nd Session, April 8, 1842. p. 7-8.