Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996 Page: 19
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SIBLEY, AN INVENTOR AND MECHANICAL DESIGNER HIS ENTIRE LIf, WAS TRAINED EXTNSIVELY IN ENGINEERING
SCIENCE AT WEST POINT. HE WAS TO BECOME ONE Of TH GREATEST DEVELOPERS Of MILITARY IMPLEMENTS.
Entering West Point in 1833 at the age
of 17, he graduated thirty-first in a class of
45 (having to repeat his sophomore year
for being deficient in "Natural Experimental
Philosophy"). Undeterred by any
inconvenience a supposed ideological
shortcoming might have posited on a
young cadet's future, Sibley began immediately
his near meteoric career ascension.
Commissioned a second lieutenant
in the 2nd Regiment United States Dragoon,
he was soon dispatched to Florida
where he campaigned against the Seminole
uprising. Promoted to first lieutenant
in 1840, he was made regimental
adjutant the following year. On a recruiting
trip to New York that winter, he met
and fell in love with Charlotte Kendall,
marrying her on Governor's Island. From
1842 to 1843 Sibley was based in garrison
at Fort Jesup, Louisiana, seeing military
duty at Fort Washita in the Indian Territory.
With the annexation of Texas in 1845,
Sibley was deployed as part of the occupying
forces. In February of 1847 he was
promoted to the captain of the Company
1, 2nd Dragoons and upon declaration of
war with Mexico, he and his company
were sent to do battle in the sieges of
Veracruz and Medellin (alongside Robert
E. Lee and General Winifield Scott). He
was awarded a brevet majorcy for "Gallant
and Meritorious Conduct" for his efforts at
Medellin. In command at the battles of
Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, and
the capture of Mexico City, Sibley was
transferred soon after war's end back to
Texas where he commanded Company I at
Fort Graham, and later at Fort Croghan.
During the next 10 years he would serve as
commander of the post on the Clear Fork
of the Brazos ("Fort Phantom Hill"), as
well as Fort Belknap, lead several expeditions
to quash insurrections in the Kansas
Territory, and later join forces with Albert
Sidrtey Johnston during the Mormon campaign
of 1857 in Utah.
Sibley, an inventor and mechanical
designer his entire life, was trained extensively
in engineering science at West Point.
He was to become one of the greatest
developers of military implements the U.S.
armed forces had access to. Perhaps his
most famous invention was the "Sibley
Stove". A conical affair of lightweight sheet
iron, it came in five sections that could be
easily and quickly assembled. The bottom
of the stove was completely open and sat on
the ground. Soldiers could sleep around it
in a circle, warming their feet. A stove pipe
was attached to the top and jutted through
the roof of the tent - most likely a "Sibley
tent". The tent was patented by Sibley in
April of 1856. Devised after studying the
traditional tipi of the plains Indians, the
Sibley tent could sleep up to 20 men, was
durable, transportable, and easily assembled.
In an 1861 article in the New Orleans Picayune
the tent was described as "of conical
shape with a hole at the top supported by a
pole nine feet in length and a tripod at the
base, of three feet. Its diameter at the base is
18 feet. There is a fly at the top that is
trimmed by the direction of the wind, and
while it affords free circulation, a fire can be
built in the center in cold weather in case of
necessity". (The government was to eventually
purchase more than 47,000 of the
Sibley tents, agreeing to pay a $5 royalty for
each, but with the advent of the Civil War,
royalties were paid on less than 3,900 tents.)
Sibley went on to design an advanced
artillery shell made of compressed cotton,
which offered greater stability and accuracy,
and when lubricated would cleanse
the rifle barrel upon each firing. He also
devised a raft-like preserver meant to assist
troops crossing bodies of water. He
developed an aquatic mail buoy, a camp
rocking chair, a field bake oven, hospital
tents, and numerous other military implements
meant to facilitate and serve during
time of war.
By 1860 Sibley was transferred to New
Mexico where he led maneuvers from Fort
Marcy in Santa Fe and from Fort Defiance,
in addition to commanding posts in Albuquerque
and Taos. It was in Taos during
the spring of 1861 that Sibley resigned his
commission - the very day he had been
promoted to major - to align himself
with the Confederacy. In the confusion
and delay of frontier communications,
Sibley went ahead and assumed command
of Fort Union (for the Union), as he had
Army officers gathered around the Sibley tent, a conical structure that could sleep up to 20 people, invented
by Henry Hopkins Sibley. Photo from the National Archives.
HERITAGE * SUMMER 1996 19
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996, periodical, Summer 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45405/m1/19/: accessed June 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.