A refined manuscript plan of a European-style siege, drawn at West Point in 1832

Sherman pix, COURSE OF ATTACK AND DEFENCE. [:] Plan of the entire Works of the Attack of a place from the opening of the Trenches up to its Surrender. United States Military Academy, West Point, Jan. 7, 1832.
Ink and watercolor on wove paper, 17 ¾”h x 23”w at sheet edge plus small flap at top bearing title. Some overall soiling, mended cracks and tears, trimmed to (and in places in to) neat line.

A large, finely-rendered manuscript plan of the siege of a European-style fortress, drawn in 1832 at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

 The plan shows the methodical investment and capture of the fortress over the course of a month, using color coding to indicate day-by-day progress of the siege works. The basic siege method, dating back to the writings of French engineer Vauban (1630-1707), involved a system of three parallel trenches connected by zig-zagging approaches. Remarkably effective, the system enabled attackers methodically to approach a fortification while minimizing exposure to fire from the besieged.

It is interesting that siege warfare was still taught at West Point; to my knowledge the last siege on United States soil had taken place at the Battle of Yorktown more than half a century earlier, though siege techniques would again come into play at Veracruz in 1847 and later in the Civil War.

The plan is dated January, 1832, during the last years of the formative superintendency of Colonel Sylvanus Thayer (1817-1833), who “upgraded academic standards, instilled military discipline, and emphasized honorable conduct” (Wikipedia), and also installed civil engineering as the focal point of the curriculum. It may have been produced for the Drawing class taught by Thomas Gimbrede from 1819 to 1832. Born in France, Gimbrede emigrated to America, where he worked as an engraver and painter in New York and Baltimore before accepting the position at West Point.

The manuscript is signed at lower right by Roger Sherman Dix (1810-49) and dated January 7, 1832.

“Roger S. Dix was an 1832 graduate of West Point. He served briefly in the Black Hawk War as a Brevet 2d LT. In 1833-34, he was on frontier duty at Fort Smith, Arkansas. From 1835-36, he was detailed to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, and was promoted to 1Lt. During 1837 and 1838, he was on Quartermaster duty at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and promoted to Captain in 1838. While at Carlisle, he supervised the construction of the barracks there. In 1839-40, he was on duty at Charleston, South Carolina, and Boston, Massachusetts, until returned to frontier duty at Fort Jesup, serving as Captain of the 7th Infantry.


“Capt. Dix remained in command at Fort Jesup until September 1845 when he was promoted to Major and attached to General Taylor’s army at Corpus Christi where he became acquainted with Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant. Maj. Dix served as the paymaster of Taylor’s army until the Battle of Buena Vista when he took the field and was breveted Lt. Colonel for his bravery. After the war, Dix was returning from Mexico on his way to Washington D.C. when he died of cholera in Hillsborough, Pennsylvania, in January 1849.” (“1842: Capt. Roger Sherman Dix to Lucy (Hartwell) Dix”, on line at sparedandshared2.wordpress.com)

The map is countersigned and marked “Passed” by one H. E. Prentiss{?], perhaps Mainer Henry Epaminondas Prentiss (1809-73). The 1831 Register lists him as graduating that year, ranked fourth in his class, but he was retained for a time as an instructor in mathematics and apparently also assisting in military drawing.