John C. Oakes 1897

1897 Class Crest

Cullum No. 3743 • Nov 11, 1950 • Died in Washington, D. C.

« Back to Search   

Colonel John Calvin Oakes, U. S. Army, retired, of Charleston, South Carolina, died November 11, 1950 in Washington, D. C., after a long illness.

Colonel Oakes was born October 29, 1871, in New York City. His father was Calvin Oakes of Franconia, New Hampshire, and his mother was Martha E. Cogswell of Landaff, New Hampshire. On his father’s side, he was descended from Thomas Oakes, who came from England with his brother Edward and Edward’s son Urian, in 1640, and landed in Boston, Massachusetts. Edward returned home, but Urian remained and became the fourth President of Harvard College, 1675 to 1681. He died in office.

On his mother’s side, he was descended from John Cogswell of Westbury Leigh, in the County of Wilts, England, who crossed to this country in the Ship “Angel Gabriel”, whose wrecking on the New England Coast on August 15, 1635, is the subject of one of Whittier’s poems.

Colonel Oakes’ youth was spent in New York City except for vacations, which were usually spent in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, whose beauties he always loved.

At the age of nineteen, he graduated from the College of the City of New York, number twelve in a class that started 256 strong. He then decided to be an architect, and entered the School of Architecture of Columbia University. By obtaining credit for some of the subjects he had already studied and by working every day for two years, including Saturdays, Sundays and all holidays, he completed the course in two years and graduated June 10, 1893. In the meantime, he had obtained an appointment to the United States Military Academy, and, as one of his greatest early desires had been to attend West Point, he accepted the appointment, reporting for duty at the Academy the day after graduating from Columbia. During his period at the Academy, he was ranking Corporal of his Company, 1st Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain. He took part in athletics, spending much of his time in the gymnasium and on the field. He was Captain of his class field team for the four years, captain of the tug of war team, played quarterback on the football team, and was President of the Athletic Association. He obtained his letter “A” for football and field athletics. He was second in a class graduating 67 in June 1897, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, U. S. Army.

His first duty was at Fort Caswell, N. C., where he supervised the construction of fortification works, and at the beginning of the Spanish War, placed and maintained the submarine mine defense at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. After serving a year at Fort Caswell, he was ordered to the Engineer School at Willett’s Point, New York for engineer instruction and service with the Battalion of Engineers. At that time there was only one battalion of Engineers in the Army. In June 1899, he departed with Company “B” for the Philippines, arriving there early in August.

While in the Philippines, as a Lieutenant he commanded Company “B” for nearly two years, and for the first year campaigned over Northern Luzon during the close of the organized rebellion. In addition to commanding the company, he was Division Engineer with General Lawton’s Division during the General’s last campaign, and later with Generals Wheaton and Bates. During his second year he was Chief Engineer of the Department of Southern Luzon and had charge of all engineering operations in the island, south of Manila. The work consisted mostly of improving roads and building bridges, the enlisted men of the Company being used as foremen handling native and Chinese labor for the manual work.

In June 1901, Colonel Oakes was ordered to duty at the U. S. Military Academy as instructor in Civil and Military Engineering, and was at West Point two years.

In June 1903, he was appointed to the first General Staff of the Army, being the only Lieutenant selected for that duty. As the selecting officers were sworn to make their selections on merit alone, he always considered his selection as the greatest compliment of his career. During the three years he served on the General Staff, he was in the Information Division (G-2) in Washington about a year, was Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Southwestern Division at Oklahoma City for a year and five months, and then returned to Washington to serve for seven months as Secretary of the Advisory Board of Consulting Engineers for the Panama Canal. This was the Board appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to decide on the type of Canal to be constructed at Panama, and consisted of five representatives of foreign countries and eight of the most eminent engineers of this country. During this service, Colonel Oakes had the opportunity of studying the methods and mental processes of the eminent engineers composing the Board, and learned much of great engineering works in general and particularly of the work at Panama.

In August 1906, Colonel Oakes was relieved from duty with the General Staff, and assigned to duty as Assistant in the U. S. Engineer Office in Galveston, for River and Harbor and fortification works. He remained at Galveston until March 1910, the first year as assistant and then as District Engineer. During this period, he constructed the South Jetty at Aransas Pass, Texas, extended the Jetties at Galveston, constructed a lock on the Brazos River and had charge of extensive dredging operations for the improvement of rivers and harbors of Texas. He investigated and made reports to Congress on the advisability of improving practically all of the streams south of the Trinity River, and his comprehensive plan for the improvement of Galveston Harbor and adjacent waters to cost approximately twenty millions of dollars was adopted by Congress.

From March 1910 till August 1912, he was stationed at Cincinnati, Ohio, in charge of construction of locks and dams on the Big Sandy Muskingum, Kentucky and Ohio Rivers. While at this station, he constructed and had charge of the operations of not only fixed dams, but also of different types of moveable dams, including Bear Traps, Chanolne, Poiree and Boule dams.

In August 1912 he was transferred to Louisville, Kentucky, and had charge of the construction of locks and dams in the Ohio River below Louisville, and the supervision of the dams on the Green and Barren Rivers. He carried on careful surveys of the Ohio and Wabash Rivers and relocated a number of the Ohio Dams, and reduced the total number of dams in the system by two. During the four years he was at Louisville, he served as a member of the Ohio River Board of Engineers, which had charge of all of the engineering features of the fifty locks and dams to be constructed in the Ohio River. He had designed and adopted for the Louisville Lock the vertically tramed upper gates, which were the first used on the River, and succeeded in having that type of gate adopted for the locks below Louisville, where the amount of silt carried by floods made the use of the rolling gate impracticable. He made a careful study of dam foundations on sand and made recommendations for the modification of the type plan in use on the river, increasing their security against undermining, which modifications were adopted and the dams have successfully withstood the forces that have made many similar structures insecure. He also served as a Member of the Federal Flood Board, appointed to study the causes and effects of the 1913 flood in the Ohio Valley.

In June 1916, Colonel Oakes was transferred to Philadelphia and placed in charge of the improvement of the Delaware River, its tributaries and certain harbors along the New Jersey coast. In addition to carrying on the usual work, he had a study made and had developed a mathematical formula to determine the width of river at all cross sections for the projected channel dimensions, this formula to be used in determining the limits of projection of docks and other structures into the river.

In August 1917 he was appointed “Colonel National Army” and assigned to command the 113th Engineers to be organized and trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He organized and trained that Regiment, and when it was ready for service overseas, he was assigned in June 1918 to command the 5th Engineers, Regulars, which he took to France and commanded until after the Armistice. He was Division Engineer of the 7th Division, and with his regiment was in reserve during the St. Mihiel advance and later in the trenches in front of Metz until after the Armistice. Later he served as Chief Engineer of the 6th Corps until ordered home.

In April 1919 Colonol Oakes was recalled to the States for assignment to River and Harbor work, and was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia, where he had charge of the improvement of the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, the channels to Norfolk, Newport News, Richmond and the waterways of Virginia and North Carolina, and the construction of fortifications at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay. He was made a Member of the “Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors” pursuant of Sec. 2 of the River and Harbor Act of June 12, 1902, and he remained a member of that Board until his retirement in 1927. This Board is required by that Act to report to Congress on all projects for River and Harbor improvement, as to practicability, advisability and cost.

In June 1922, he was transferred to Governors Island, New York, to be Corps Area Engineer of the 2nd Corps area and to take charge of the 2nd New York Engineer District, having charge of the fortifications ot New York and vicinity. He was relieved of this duty in June 1924 and was stationed at Charleston, S. C., as Division Engineer of the Southeastern Division, having supervisory charge of the Engineer Districts from Washington, D. C., to Pensacola, Florida.

He was retired from active duty for physical disability in September 1927, making his home thereafter in Charleston, South Carolina.

Colonel Oakes was a life Member of the Permanent International Association of Navigation Congresses, and attended three of the Congresses; first, at Philadelphia, as a Member; second, at London, as Principal Delegate representing the United States; and third, at Cairo, Egypt, as a Delegate.

He was a Life Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, a Life Member of the Philadelphia Engineering Society, an Original Member of the Society of Military Engineers, member of the college fraternities Delta Kappa Epsilon and Phi Beta Kappa, and had the college degrees of B.S. and Ph.B. For a number of years, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Cuban American Sugar Company, and for a period, was a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission of the City of Charleston, S. C.

In 1902, Colonel Oakes married Sue Murry Hawley, of Galveston, Texas, daughter of former Congressman Robert B. Hawley, who later became President of the Cuban American Sugar Company. Two sons were born; Calvin Hawley Oakes, formerly an officer of the American Foreign Service and now residing in Washington, D. C., and John Cogswell Oakes, Graduate of the Military Academy, Class of 1928, and Colonel, U.S.A., Field Artillery, also of Washington, D. C.

The first Mrs. Oakes died in 1908, and in 1912 Colonel Oakes married Myra Bingham Hendryx, of Fernbank, Ohio, who died February 12, 1947. She was a great-granddaughter of ex-President William Henry Harrison, and a second cousin of ex-President Benjamin Harrison.

Colonel Oakes is survived by both sons and by five grandchildren.


Gifts made in memory of a loved one will appear on the Memorial Gift webpage within 24 hours. For more information on memorial giving at West Point or to order a complimentary commemorative page, please phone 845-446-1655 or email: