Commissioned Second lieutenant engrs. United States Army, 1805, 1st. Lieutenant, 1810, captain, 1812.
Assistant engineer harbor defenses New York City, 1808, special supervisor Fort Clinton, Castle Garden, New York. Assistant in defenses of New Haven, New London (Connecticut), Sag Harbor. Chief engineer United States Army on Niagara frontier, 1812.
Brevetted major, 1813, lieutenant colonel, 1814. Engaged in coastal fortifications, 1815-1838. Promoted major, 1818, Lieutenant col, 1828, colonel, 1838.
Chief engineer United States Army, inspector United States Military Academy, 1838-1864. Served with General Winfield Scott as chief engineer and member so-called Little Cabinet. Originated successful plan of operations at Battle of Veracruz during Mexican War.
Brevetted brigadier general, 1847. Member Lighthouse Board, 1851-1858, 60-64. Instrumental in putting into use system of lighting by Fresnel lenses.
Commd brigadier general United States Army, 1863. Supervisor defensive works around Washington, District of Columbia. Member board to regulate and fix heavy ordnance, 1861-1862.
Brevetted major general by United States Congress, 1864. Published Essays on Hydraulic and Common Mortars and on Lime-Burning, 1838. Corporator National Academy Sciences, 1863.
Studied conchology, 2 shells (gemma and succinca tottenii) named for him. Fort Totten (New York City Harbor) named for him.