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Posted 2/12/2015

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By Kerry Solan
Norfolk District Public Affairs

The story of Thomas Lincoln Casey, Jr. is difficult to tell.

A search for his name in tomes of military history will instead provide pages and pages of information on his father and namesake, Thomas Lincoln Casey, Sr. – an Army officer who oversaw high-profile projects, including the construction of the Thomas Jefferson and Washington monuments.

Here’s what one can find about Thomas Lincoln Casey, Jr.:

He was born Feb. 19, 1857 in West Point, New York – that was during the time his father was teaching engineering at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.

Casey, Jr. graduated from the same academy in 1879 and, according the Smithsonian Institution Archives, went into the Corps of Engineers. 

The archives also indicate that Casey, Jr.’s focus was celestial in his early military years. Later, his interest in astronomy slid toward something more earthly – entomology.  One thing that is well documented about Casey, Jr. is his study of Coleoptera, or beetles – his first paper on the subject appeared in 1884.

The details of subsequent years are lacking, however, Casey, Jr. appears in history when became the seventh officer in charge of Norfolk’s Corps of Engineers office on November of 1894. While in charge of the district, the Spanish-American War began – journalists battling for front-page coverage sensationalized news from Cuba, and as a result, the American public became fearful that the Spanish Armada would sail to America and shell the east coast. Pressured by the public, Congress insisted that the coast’s defenses be reinforced, which led to a telegraph regarding torpedo defense of Hampton Roads. The 1898 Annual Report for the Chief of Engineers details the result of the transmission, which occurred three days before the United States declared war:

“… receipt of telegraphic instructions, on April 22, 1898, to plant mines … The first mines were planted Sunday, April 24, 1898.
The depth of the water, varying direction of the tidal flow on the surface and at the bottom, and weather conditions rendered the planting of the mines by the method prescribed in the Torpedo Manual impossible, and the mines were planted with single leads, in single or double skirmish lines, for automatic action …
In all 108 mines have been planted …”

The mines appear to have been a headache for Casey, Jr.: the report details that mine repairs became a daily necessity because of “carelessness and indifference of masters of vessels passing through the field.” Casey, Jr. reported that the “greatest source of trouble” came from broken mine leads and leaks.

 Beyond his wartime support, Casey, Jr.,  like his predecessors, oversaw improvements to Norfolk Harbor, the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River, the harbor at the city of Cape Charles, the inland water route from Norfolk to Albemarle Sound in North Carolina; he also was charged with removing sunken vessels that obstructed or endangered navigation. 

On Dec. 21, 1899, he relinquished command to Lt. Col. James B. Quinn.

 Casey, Jr. died Feb. 3, 1925 in Washington, D.C. – just a few weeks before he turned 68. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in section 5, lot 1694. 

Jr. leadership mines Norfolk District Norfolk Harbor Spanish-American War Thomas Lincoln Casey torpedo defense U.S. Army Corps of Engineers