Henry Martyn Robert
2nd Lt. Henry M. Robert graduated from the USMA in 1857 and immediately posted to the Engineers. He had been born in South Carolina in 1837, but later moved with his family to Ohio as a teenager.
While commanding a detachment of Engineers on road-building projects along the Columbia River, Robert was given the order to embark for San Juan Island late in 1859. Upon arriving on the island in the midst of the Pig War crisis, Robert was given orders by Lt. Col. Silas Casey to design and construct an earthen artillery mount, or “redoubt”, for the installation of large guns near the American Camp.
Work began on the project, Robert’s first large project in his new career. The crisis was diffused and Robert’s engineers were ordered off the island for duties elsewhere. Lt. Robert stayed for a time with some of his engineers at Ft. Steilacoom during 1859–60 awaiting further orders. While on post, his men became acquainted with and entertained by the infantry companies on post. Much of this time is documented by one of Robert’s privates, a William Peck.
When the Civil War erupted back East, Roberts was assigned the duty of preparing Federal defenses around Washington City. The Lt. had contracted malaria while en route to the Pacific Northwest in the 1850s; thus, he sought duty away from the warm Southern climate that might aggravate it more. Instead, Lt. Robert prepared defenses around New Bedford, MA now in the company of a new bride and a rapidly growing family.
The young lieutenant returned to the USMA as an instructor for the remainder of the war, but returned to the Pacific Coast in 1867 as Chief Engineer of the Department of the Pacific. While in San Francisco, Robert developed a written guide for managing meetings at his church, a guide based on what he had learned about the most efficient means of employing parliamentary procedure.
Later, while posted in Wisconsin during the 1870s, Robert expanded on his earlier pamphlet and published it in book form, a book titled Robert’s Rules of Order. The book was a remarkable success and its demand exceeded Robert’s own expectations.
In the 1880s, Col. Robert was appointed by President Cleveland to design and develop the new Port of Galveston in Texas. His innovative use of river hydrology to clear sandbar obstructions was both daring and efficient.
In 1901, Robert retired from the Army as a Brigadier General, but continued as a consulting engineer and author in New York. That same year, he returned to Galveston to reconstruct the harbor after the disastrous hurricane of 1900. General Robert designed the sea wall that protected the city from two major storms and one that still stands today as a testament to his engineering prowess.
Furthermore, it is also the continued success of his book, Robert’s Rules of Order, that highlights his far-reaching influence today.