Who was Peter Conover Hains?


Peter Conover Hains (06 July 1840 to 07 November 1921) was a major general in the United States Army, and a veteran of the American Civil War, Spanish-American War, and the First World War.

Major General Hains at his desk in April 1918.

He is best known for his engineering efforts, such as the creation of the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., and for laying out the Panama Canal.

Early Life and Career

Hains was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy from New Jersey, and graduated from West Point ranking 19th in the Class of June 1861. Among his classmates were Medal of Honour recipient First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, and Major Generals George Custer, USA, and Pierce Manning Butler Young, CSA.

Civil War

Commissioned and promoted second and first lieutenant in the 2nd US Artillery on 24 June 1861, Hains briefly commanded Battery M, 2nd US Artillery, in the US Horse Artillery Brigade, until transferring to the Corps of Topographical Engineers on 24 July 1862. He won a brevet promotion to captain on 22 May 1862, for actions at Hanover Court House. Less than a year later, on 03 March 1863, Hains transferred again – this time into the Corps of Engineers.

During the Siege of Vicksburg, Hains was cited for meritorious conduct (serving as the acting/interim chief engineer of the XIII Corps), and was awarded a brevet promotion to major upon the capture of the city, 04 July 1863. Promoted to captain in the Engineers on 18 July, he served out the remainder of the war, and received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel for his service during the war.

Postbellum Career

Hains remained with the regular army following the war, and was promoted to major in September 1870. Much of his notable post-war service was in designing lighthouses for the US Lighthouse Board. Among other accomplishments, Hains designed the Morris Island and St. Augustine lighthouses. He became a lieutenant colonel in 1886 and was promoted to colonel in August 1895. He designed the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., thus solving the drainage problems and foul smell of most of the Washington area marshlands. The tip of East Potomac Park is named Hains Point in honour of Peter Conover Hains.

Still in the Army during the Spanish-American War, Hains served as a brigadier general of volunteers from August to November 1898. He was promoted to brigadier general in the Regular Army on 21 April 1903. He successfully lobbied for the construction of the Panama Canal site over one proposed in Nicaragua.

Hains retired from active service in 1904, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 64.

Later Life

On 15 August 1908, two of his three sons, Peter C. Hains II and Thornton Jenkins Hains, a well-known author of sea stories, were involved in the murder of William E. Annis at the Bayside Yacht Club, Long Island. The crime, and the subsequent separate trials for the brothers, became one of the notorious cases of its day, front-page news across the country. Thornton was acquitted in January 1909; Peter was convicted of manslaughter in May 1909 and sent to Sing Sing, but, on General Hains’ appeal, was pardoned by the Governor of New York in 1911. The General spent much of his savings financing the defence of his sons.

In recognition of his long and distinguished career, General Hains was promoted to major general on the retired list in 1916.

He was recalled to active duty during the First World War, in September 1917, at the age of 77. He served as the chief engineer for the Norfolk Harbour and River District and then as chief engineer for the Eastern Division of the Corps of Engineers. He left active duty in the Fall of 1918.

Hains was the oldest officer to serve on active duty since Major General John E. Wool retired in 1863 at the age of 79. (The oldest active duty officer in the history of the US Army was Brevet Brigadier General John Walbach who died on active duty in 1857 at the age of 90.) He was also, probably, the only person to serve on active duty with the US Army in both the American Civil War and the First World War.

General Hains died at Walter Reed Hospital in 1921 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His widow died in 1925 and was buried beside him.

He was a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and the Military Order of Foreign Wars.


Hains Point in Washington is named in memory of General Hains.

The honour of oldest Army officer to serve belongs to Hains, who was in uniform at the age of 76. He was a classmate of George Armstrong Custer at West Point and ordered the first shot fired by the Union artillery at the Battle of Bull Run. He retired in 1904, was recalled to duty twelve years later for service during World War I, the only Civil War Officer to see duty in World War I.

Military Family

His sons, John Power Hains and Peter Hains Jr., were both army officers. His grandson and namesake, Peter C. Hains, III, was also a major general in the US Army. All are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Further, his greatgrandson, Peter C. Hains IV, COL USA and great-greatgrandson, John Power Hains II, MAJ USA served as Army officers while another great-greatgrandson, Paul Hains, LT. COL USA served as an Army National Guard officer.

Dates of Rank

  • Cadet, USMA: 01 July 1857.
  • 2nd Lieutenant: 24 June 1861.
  • 1st Lieutenant: 24 June 1861.
  • Brevet Captain: 27 May 1862.
  • Captain: 18 July 1863.
  • Brevet Major: 04 July 1863.
  • Brevet Lieutenant Colonel: 13 March 1865.
  • Major: 22 September 1870.
  • Lieutenant Colonel: 16 September 1886.
  • Colonel: 13 August 1895.
  • Brigadier General, Volunteers: 27 May 1898.
  • Discharged from Volunteers: 30 November 1898.
  • Brigadier General: 21 April 1903.
  • Retired: 06 July 1904.
  • Major General, Retired List: 29 August 1916.

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