Little Egypt Heritage Articles
Stories of Southern Illinois
(c) Bill Oliver
22 February 2004
Vol 3 Issue: #08
Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen of Little Egypt,
Michael Howard Phillips [3 February 1962 16 February 2004]
When I was a boy we would on occasion visit some cousins
whose Father and Uncles were in the construction trades.
These ironworkers would fit I-beams together to build tall
buildings. These men were Mohawk and they were at "home"
walking high above the ground. Never to my knowledge did
any of them ever lose their footing.
The last occupation that my Grandpa Oliver had was as the
operator of a crane. He was a man of great height, strength
and ingenuity. He made several improvements to his crane
which allowed him to "sling" railroad ties onto railroad
flatbed cars with greater safety. He was a "safety" minded
man and was diligent toward that end.
A distant Grand Uncle of my wife's was a Civil War General
of the Calvary. However, he was a Structural Engineer by
training and built bridges following that tragic period of
And, you wonder, what this has to do with heritage. Well,
it is a long stretch, but this past week a 100 ton custom
constructed crane came crashing to the ground. It was a
small miracle that only three workers lost their lives and
five more were "injured". One of these men who lost their
lives was the son of a first cousin. This tragedyfollows
so closely to our own daughter losing her battle with
Sarcoma cancer and makes it that much "closer to home".
I wonder what General William Sooy Smith would think of
modern bridge construction. He was an innovator himself.
Born on the 22nd of the wonderful month of July 1830 in
Tarlton, Ohio, General Smith's life was well connected to
Ohio, Illinois and Nebraska. He graduated from Ohio
University in 1849 and then attended the US Military Academy
at West Point. He graduated from West Point sixth in his
class of 1853. After a year of service, he resigned to work
with Colonel James D Graham, of the United States
In 1855 he moved to Buffalo, New York where he was the
principal of a high school. Two years later he made the
first surveys for the international bridge crossing the
Niagara river. Then he was elected engineer and secretary
of the Trenton Locomotive works, in Trenton, New Jersey. At
that period of our country's history this company was the
major iron-bridge manufacturing company in the United States
of America. He remained with this company until 1861 and
traveled to Cuba, among other places. Also, while working
for the Trenton Locomotive works he introduced improvements
to sinking cylinders pneumatically to build the Savannah
With the Civil War commencing, William S Smith returned to
Ohio to accept a commission as Lieutenant-Colonel.and served
as assistant adjutant-general at Camp Denison. Upon being
promoted to full Colonel he was given command of the 13th
Ohio regiment and participated in the West Virginia
campaigns. He was present at Shiloh, Perryville and took
part in the Vicksburg campaign as commander of the 1st
division of the 16th corps. He was made chief of cavalry of
the Department of the Tennessee, and was attached to
Generals Grant and Sherman, until September 1854 due to
impaired health he resigned his commission, retiring to his
farm in Maywood, Illinois.
Returning to civil engeneering, in 1867 he sank the first
pneumatic caisson in building the Waugoshanee light-house at
the western entrance of the Straits of Mackinaw. Since he
had been largely engaged in the building of bridges it
should be noted that he built the first great all-steel
bridge across the Missouri river at Glasgow, Missouri. In
Nebraska he was involved with the constructioin of the Omaha
and the Leavenworth bridges, as well as the bridge over the
Missouri river at Plattsmouth, Nebraska.
By 1890, General Smith, by virtue of his expertise in
foundations and structural engineering, was part of the
building of every tall building being built in Chicago
during this period of time. An example of his work was the
Chicago Public Library, now the Chicago Cultural Center.
His foundations were so accurate in this building that there
has been no appreciable settling in the building.
General William Sooy Smith retired to Medford, Oregon, where
he died on March 4th, 1916 at the age of eighty-six. He is
buried in the Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Cook
County, Illinois. His grave was unmarked until the West
Point Society of Chicago placed a monument in his memory in
This week, to divert my mind to other things I chose to
write some family heritage. Yes, Mike Phillips, you are in
good company in an honorable profession and you are sorely
missed by family and friends.
e-la-di-e-das-di ha-wi nv-wa-do-hi-ya nv-wa-to-hi-ya-da.
(May you walk in peace and harmony)
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