Editor’s note: Beginning July 1, 2014, Norfolk District celebrates its 135 anniversary. Stay with us throughout the year as we look back at our former commanders, completed projects and distinguished employees.
James Mercur attended the United States Military Academy from July 1862 to June 1866.
After graduating, he was promoted to first lieutenant, Corps of Engineers.
Mercur served as the assistant engineer on the Northern Lakes survey in October 1866, and then at the Military Academy as the assistant professor of natural and experimental philosophy. At Willet’s Point, NY (now Fort Totten), he served with the Engineer Battalion from 1872 to 1876, during which time he was promoted to captain.
His time at Willet’s Point was followed by his role in the assistant to the lieutenant colonel in the removal of Hallett’s Point and Flood Rock in Hell Gate, NY until 1881.
Beginning in 1878, Mercur oversaw or was in charge of various river, harbor and channel improvements in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and New York.
On June 15, 1881, he took command as the second engineer in charge of the Norfolk Office after Capt. Charles B. Phillips, the first engineer in charge, died while still in command. He was in charge of improving the Norfolk, Virginia and Beaufort and Edenton, North Carolina harbors; Cape Fear River and Currituck Sound in North Carolina. He examined or surveyed the bar at the mouth of the Winyah Bay near Georgetown, South Carolina; the water connection between Waccamaw and Cape Fear rivers, and the Oregon Inlet.
In 1882, he was an advisory engineer to the National Board of Health in the establishment of a national quarantine station in Hampton Roads, Virginia; a result of Congress passing the National Quarantine Act in 1878.
He served until 1884, after which he was a board member on improving the approach to the U.S. Navy Yard in Portsmouth, and he then returned to the military academy to teach civil and military engineering. He held that position until he died April 21, 1896.