About Peter Conover Hains
Peter Conover Hains (July 6, 1840 – November 7, 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. 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 Honor recipient First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing, and Major Generals George Custer, USA, and Pierce Manning Butler Young, CSA.
Commissioned and promoted second and first lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery on June 24, 1861, Hains briefly commanded Battery M, 2nd U.S. Artillery, in the U.S. Horse Artillery Brigade, until transferring to the Corps of Topographical Engineers on July 24, 1862. He won a brevet promotion to captain on May 22, 1862, for actions at Hanover Court House. Less than a year later, on March 3, 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, July 4, 1863. Promoted to captain in the Engineers on July 18, he served out the remainder of the war, and received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel for his service during the war.
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 with the U.S. Lighthouse Bureau. Among other accomplishments, Hains designed the Morris Island and St. Augustine lighthouses. He became a lieutenant colonel in 1886,and was promoted to colonel on 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.
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 April 21, 1903. He successfully lobbied for the construction of the Panama Canal site over one proposed in Nicaragua.
Hains retired from active service in 1904.
On August 15, 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 defense of his sons.
General Hains was recalled and promoted to major general during the First World War, in 1916. He died at Walter Reed Hospital.
Hains Point in Washington is named in memory of General Hains.
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 U.S. Army. All are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.