U.S. Government Employment

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From 1874-1877 Miles Rock worked for the United States Hydrographic Office in the West Indies were he successfully aided in the determination of latitude and longitude. His careful and accomplished work for the Hydrographic Office brought him to the attention of several government and military figures who were then engaged in cartographical work in the American West. In 1878, Miles Rock would join the famous Wheeler Survey as a civilian cartographer. In 1866, George Montague Wheeler graduated from West Point. Despite the abundance of experienced army officers in the years following the Civil War, Wheeler leveraged his West Point education and marriage to the daughter of the influential Francis Preston Blair Jr, to place himself at the forefront of the federal army’s efforts to map the western territories west of the 100th meridian. As a young second lieutenant, Wheeler was deployed to California where he worked as a military topographer. In 1869, he undertook an expansive and dangerous survey of the southwestern desert regions of Nevada and Utah. His surveying operations provided not only valuable and necessary information to the civilian development of these areas, but also furnished the army with indispensable intelligence on the terrain and topography of the hotly contested Apache and Paiute territories. Wheeler’s efforts unfolded against the backdrop of a burgeoning civilian interest in mapping the western territories under the auspices of the Interior Department, and a general decline in the prestige of the federal army’s engineering and scientific efforts. Wheeler’s survey of 1871 would launch his career as a major explorer of the American West. In the words of his commanding officer, General Andrew A. Humphreys, Chief Engineer of the U.S. Army:

"The main object of this exploration will be to obtain topographical knowledge of the country traversed by your parties, and to prepare accurate maps of that section … it is at the same time intended that you ascertain as far as practicable everything relating to the physical features of the country, the numbers, habits, and disposition of the Indians who may live in this section, the selection of such sites as may be of use for future military operations or occupation, and the facilities offered for making rail or common roads, to meet the wants of those who at some future period may occupy or traverse this part of our territory (See: William H. Goetzmann, Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), 467-469)."

Wheeler’s Survey would prove a major success and would be extended until 1879. Miles Rock joined the survey as a civilian cartographer in 1878 working in the American Southwest to produce the maps that would comprise the atlas of American territories west of the 100th Meridian. His notebook of the Wheeler Survey, including instructions on how to use surveying equipment, along with many of the resulting printed maps, survive in the Miles Rock Collection.

Following the conclusion of the Wheeler Survey, Miles Rock successfully applied to the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., to work as an assistant astronomer. In this capacity, he traveled to Chile in 1882 to view the second and final transit of Venus of the nineteenth century. His participation in this expedition further burnished his credentials as a leader figure in American astronomy and cartography, and his memoir of the journey is preserved in the archive.

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