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Guide to the George McClellan Derby Letters, 1874-1924 and undated

Abstract

George McClellan Derby (1856-1948) was a U.S. Army engineer recognized for his aerial balloon assents and reconnaissance efforts during the Santiago de Cuba campaign of the Spanish-American War. For the majority of his military career, he was involved in river engineering projects throughout the United States.

The collection includes letters to George McClellan Derby, letters to his wife, Bessie (Kidder) Derby, and several letters written by Derby to his mother. Over 50 letters are grouped by originator within the George McClellan Derby series, 29 of which pertain to Derby's military career, mainly in relation to his responsibilities as Assistant Engineer in charge of New York river and harbor works during the mid-1880s. Nearly 90 letters, written by Derby's friend and uncle-in-law, Clarence F. Low, are arranged chronologically by year within the Clarence F. Low series. The collection, chiefly personal in nature, offers insights into the private life of this prominent military engineer and an indication of the challenges involved in conducting underwater explosions. Materials range in date from 1874 to 1907, 1924, and undated.

Descriptive Summary

Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Creator
Derby, George M.
Title
George McClellan Derby Letters 1874-1924 and undated
Language of Material
English
Extent
0.4 Linear Feet, 145 Items
Location
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Collection Overview

The collection includes letters to George McClellan Derby, a military engineer recognized for his aerial balloon assents and reconnaissance efforts during the Santiago de Cuba campaign of the Spanish-American War, as well as letters to his wife, Bessie (Kidder) Derby, and several letters written by Derby to his mother. Over 50 letters are grouped by originator within the George McClellan Derby series, 29 of which pertain to Derby's military career, mainly in relation to his responsibilities as Assistant Engineer in charge of New York river and harbor works during the mid-1880s. Nearly 90 letters, written by Derby's friend and uncle-in-law, Clarence F. Low, are arranged chronologically by year within the Clarence F. Low series. The collection, chiefly personal in nature, offers insights into the private life of this prominent military engineer and an indication of the challenges involved in conducting underwater explosions. Materials range in date from 1874 to 1907, 1924, and undated.

Administrative Information

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 48 business hours in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Contents of the Collection

The series includes several letters from Derby to his mother that reflect his struggle adjusting to life at West Point (1874-1875 and undated), and two letters written to her while on leave in France (1888); 15 letters to Derby from his mother (1895-1896, 1902, and undated) along with two enclosed letters from others; 29 letters to Derby that pertain to his efforts as a military engineer, most of which are from suppliers such as Hecla Powder Co., Rendrock Powder Co., and Rand Drill Co. regarding explosives and other equipment required for removing underwater obstructions (1884-1886 and undated); and 3 items from other sources including a telegram dated 1924.

Letters from Derby, 1874-1875, 1888, and undated
Box 1
Letters from Derby's mother, 1895-1896, 1902, and undated
Box 1
Letters from military suppliers and personnel, 1884-1886 and undated
Box 1
Letters from others, 1924 and undated
Box 1

The series includes more than 80 letters to Derby or to his wife from her uncle, Clarence F. Low, the Resident Secretary of the New Orleans office of Liverpool & London & Globe Insurance Company of England. Although written or typed on company letterhead paper, most of the letters are personal, revealing a fatherly love and concern for his niece, whom he called Marjorie, and for Derby, his friend and son-in-law as of 1904. Many are signed "Nunkie." Letters dating from late 1906 to early 1907 provide regular accounts of the Derby's young son, George Townsend, who resided with Low in New Orleans while Derby and his wife vacationed in Italy.

Letters from Clarence Low, 1898-1903
Box 1
Letters from Clarence Low, 1904
Box 1
Letters from Clarence Low, 1905
Box 1
Letters from Clarence Low, 1906
Box 1
Letters from Clarence Low, 1907 and undated
Box 1

Historical Note

DateEvent(s)
1856 Nov. 1Born at sea to George Horatio Derby (1823-1861) and Mary A. (Coons) Derby
1865-1871Educated in Paris, Dresden, and Lausanne, Switzerland
1874-1878Attended the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. (# 2717); graduated top of class
1878 June 14Promoted to Second Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army
1881 Jan. 2Promoted to First Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers
1881-1889Served as Assistant Engineer in charge of river and harbor works in New York and northeastern New Jersey including the Hell Gate obstruction removal project
1888 Apr. 7Promoted to Captain, Corps of Engineers
1889-1893Taught at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
1893-1894Served as Assistant to Engineer Commissioner of the District of Columbia
1894-1902In charge of 4th District, Mississippi River improvements
1898 May 9Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and Chief Engineer, U.S. Volunteers
1898 July 5Promoted to Major, Corps of Engineers
1898 July 5-Oct. 1Served as Chief Engineer, Fifth Army Corps, in Cuba during the Santiago campaign of the Spanish-American War, and later as Chief Engineer, Second Army Corps
1902-1903In charge of Louisville and Portland canal and other river and harbor works in Louisville, Kentucky
1903-1906In charge of reservoirs at headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota
1904 Apr. 4Married Bessie Kidder (b. 1884) of New Orleans, daughter of Bessie (Low) Kidder and niece of Clarence F. Low
1906 May 5Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Corps of Engineers
1907 June 7Retired at own request from military service
1948 Oct. 25Died in New Orleans, Louisiana

Subject Headings

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], George McClellan Derby Letters, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Provenance

The George McClellan Derby Letters were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2008.

Processing Information

Processed by Danielle Moore, August 2010

Encoded by Danielle Moore, August 2010

Accession 2008-0258 is described in this finding aid.

Descriptive sources and standards used to create this inventory: DACS, EAD, NCEAD guidelines, and local Style Guide.

This finding aid is NCEAD compliant.