Oregon Civil War History

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Oregon in the American Civil War

Oregon Civil War History


Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern boundaries, respectively. The area was inhabited by many indigenous tribes before the arrival of traders, explorers, and settlers who formed an autonomous government in Oregon Country in 1843. The Oregon Territory was created in 1848, and Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859. Founded as a refuge from disputes over slavery, Oregon had a "whites only" clause in its original state Constitution.

Humans have inhabited the area that is now Oregon for at least 15,000 years. In recorded history, mentions of the land date to as early as the 16th century. By the 16th century, Oregon was home to many Native American groups, including the Coquille (Ko-Kwell), Bannock, Chasta, Chinook, Kalapuya, Klamath, Molalla, Nez Perce, Takelma, and Umpqua. The first Europeans to visit Oregon were Spanish explorers led by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo who sighted southern Oregon off the Pacific Coast in 1543. During the 18th and 19th centuries, European powers – and later the United States – quarreled over possession of the region until 1846 when the U.S. and Great Britain finalized division of the region.

Oregon Civil War History Map
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Oregon, Slavery, and Civil War History Map

The Oregon Country was a predominantly American term referring to a disputed ownership region of the Pacific Northwest of North America. The Oregon Country was originally claimed by Great Britain, France, Russia, and Spain; the Spanish claim was later taken up by the United States. The extent of the region being claimed was vague at first, evolving over decades into the specific borders specified in the US-British treaty of 1818.

The region was occupied by British and French Canadian fur traders prior to 1810, and American settlers from the mid-1830s, with its coastal areas north from the Columbia River frequented by ships from all nations engaged in the maritime fur trade, most of these from the 1790s through 1810s being Boston-based. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 ended disputed joint occupancy pursuant to the Treaty of 1818 and established the British-American boundary at the 49th parallel. Oregon was a distinctly American term for the region, while the British used the term Columbia District instead.
In 1848, the U.S. portion of the Oregon Country was formally organized as the Oregon Territory. In 1849, Vancouver Island became a British Crown colony, with the mainland being organized into the colony of British Columbia in 1858. Shortly after the establishment of Oregon Territory there was an effort to split off the region north of the Columbia River, which resulted in the creation of Washington Territory in 1853.
The Territory of Oregon was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from August 14, 1848, until February 14, 1859, when the southwestern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Oregon. Originally claimed by several countries, the region was divided between the U.S. and Great Britain in 1846. When established, the territory encompassed an area that included the current states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, as well as parts of Wyoming and Montana. The capital of the territory was first Oregon City, then Salem, followed briefly by Corvallis, and lastly as Salem, the seat of government for the State of Oregon.

Oregon Civil War History Map
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Growth of the United States, From Sea to Shining Sea Map

At the outbreak of the Civil War (1861-1865), regular U.S. Army troops in the District of Oregon were withdrawn from posts in Oregon and Washington Territory and sent east. Volunteer cavalry and infantry were recruited in California and sent north to Oregon to replace the Federal troops and keep the peace and protect the populace. Oregon raised the First Oregon Cavalry that was activated in 1862, fought in the Snake War, served until June 1865, and was mustered out in 1866. During the Civil War, immigrants to the new found gold fields in Idaho and Oregon continued to clash with the Paiute, Shoshone and Bannock tribes of Oregon, Idaho and Nevada until relations degenerated into the bloody 1864-1868 Snake War. The First Oregon Volunteer Infantry Regiment was formed in 1864 and its last company was mustered out of service in July 1867. Both units were used to guard travel routes and Indian reservations, escort immigrant wagon trains, and protect settlers from Indian raiders. Several infantry detachments also accompanied survey parties and built roads in central and southern Oregon.

Euro-American settlers, miners, and ranchers flooded into central and eastern Oregon in the 1850s and early 1860s. These newcomers moved through Native lands, sparking unrest between the Northern Paiute, Shoshone, and Bannock. Established as a new state in 1859, the inhabitants of Oregon felt the reverberations of Civil War from across the continent.

Among the settlers, there were a large number of Southern sympathizers. Union supporters called Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas Counties Oregon’s “Dixie” because of its support for the Confederacy. These counties were settled by people from the borderland states of Kentucky and Missouri or from heavily Democratic regions in southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Many of these people brought with them the same sectional allegiance, racial prejudice, and political philosophy that were being debated on the national stage. Furthermore, the veterans of the Rogue River Indian War of the 1850s were still waiting for war reimbursements, which made them bitter towards the Federal government. As there was a majority of Union supporters in Oregon, the tensions resulted in no more than a rhetorical battle of words carried on between pro-Union and pro-Confederate supporters throughout the war. Although the settlers adopted these arguments from the national debate, they reflected in local politics and created distrust between neighbors.

Although the Civil War was a distant event for most Oregonians and the Native inhabitants of this region, it still had an indelible impact on their lives. Oregonians entered the national debate on slavery, emancipation, and states’ rights, and in turn, communities divided. These debates did not erupt in the kind of violence seen elsewhere in the country. Violence did occur between the Native population and the local regiments, in which Natives managed to elude the First Oregon Cavalry during the war. Although Oregon remained loyal to the Union, Democratic governor John Whiteaker recommended a “policy of defense only” given their distance from the field of battle. His idea of defense of the Union generally meant military campaigns against the Native inhabitants of Oregon. See also Oregon in the Civil War (1861-1865).

Oregon and Secession Map
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Southern Secession Map

Phisterer, 1885
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Total Troops from Oregon

Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Oregon, a free state, had a population of 52,465. In 1860, the state’s population was comparable to the size of an average city in the United States. Although President Lincoln exempted Oregon from his initial Call For Troops on April 15, 1861, 1810 Oregonians, known as Oregon Volunteers, would serve the Union during the course of the Civil War. During the conflict, Oregon, as part of the Union's Department of the Pacific, raised one regiment of cavalry and one regiment of infantry. The First Oregon Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, officially First Oregon Cavalry, served from April 1862 to its mustering out on November 20, 1866, while the First Oregon Volunteer Infantry, respectively, was assigned to central Oregon and served from November 1864 to July 19, 1867. According to Fox's Regimental Losses, Oregon suffered 46 killed during the nation's four year Civil War, and the losses sustained by the state were the least of any Union state. Nevada, however, which received statehood on October 31, 1864, and just six months prior to cessation of hostilities, suffered 33 in killed.
Notable Oregonian Edward Dickinson Baker was a skilled lawyer, a renowned orator, and a member of President Lincoln’s inner circle. He was also the only United States senator ever to die in a military engagement. Edward D. Baker of Oregon was killed on October 21, 1861, while leading his Union regiment in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, Virginia. As a Union colonel, he had led the regiment that he helped raise when the Civil War began in the spring of 1861.
The Battle of Ball's Bluff, VA, was a disastrous Union defeat in the first year of the Civil War when Confederate Brig. Gen. Nathan "Shanks" Evans stopped a badly coordinated attempt by Union forces under Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone to cross the Potomac at Harrison's Island and capture Leesburg. On October 21, 1861, a Union force commanded by Col. Edward D. Baker crossed the Potomac River and scaled Ball's Bluff on the Virginia shore, determined to capture Leesburg. Quickly surrounded by confederates, Baker was killed and his men stampeded over the bluff. Many drowned, and their bodies washed ashore downstream in Washington. Ball's Bluff witnessed more than 900 Union casualties, while Confederate losses were approximately 150. This Union rout, coupled with Senator Baker's death, had severe political ramifications in Washington and led to the establishment of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which investigated the defeat.
Baker had practiced law in Springfield, Illinois, before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1845, defeating his friend Abraham Lincoln for the Whig nomination. In 1846, he resigned from the House of Representatives to command a brigade in the Mexican War. Baker moved to Oregon in 1860 and was elected to the Senate that same year. A skilled orator, he made a lasting impression upon the Senate when, dressed in military uniform, he delivered his famous call to arms on August 1, 1861. “We will rally the people, the loyal people, of the whole country,” he exclaimed, “they will pour forth their treasure, their money, their men, without stint, without measure.” Senator Baker was struck during the Battle of Ball's Bluff at approximately four o’clock by a volley of bullets through his heart and brain that killed him instantly. Consequently, almost three years after his death (1864), Baker's widow, Mary Ann, was placed on the government pension roll, receiving $50 per month. Colonel Baker, however, was listed on the pension with the rank of brigadier-general (one rank above colonel) because at the time of his death, Lincoln had already nominated Baker for promotion to brigadier-general and said nomination had been pending confirmation by the US Senate.
While other notable persons with Oregon ties were some Medal of Honor recipients who spent their retirement years as Oregonians, Union Gen. George Wright, as a U.S. Army colonel prior to the Civil War, commanded the short-lived Department of Oregon (September 13, 1858-January 15, 1861). See also Oregon Civil War Medal of Honor Recipients.
Prior to the Civil War, the United States Army established forts in the new territory to guard the Indian reservations and maintain a military presence, especially in areas where the settlers discovered gold. After Fort Sumter, the military believed it was necessary to move these detachments back east, which left state officials scrambling to restore a military presence. In 1861, a gold strike in Canyon City caused Native groups to retaliate against the scores of miners that were trespassing on their territorial land. The United States Army sent companies of volunteers from California to assist until the state was able to raise six companies of cavalry from its own population. The formation of the regiment began November 1861 and by the summer of 1862, the First Oregon Cavalry was serving throughout eastern Oregon and into southeastern Washington Territory. In early 1864, an infantry regiment was also raised. Company E of the First Oregon Cavalry was involved in a series of expeditions against Native population from 1863 to 1864. These expeditions were a part of the Snake Indian War, which refers to the major Native American conflicts in the Pacific Northwest in the Great Basin and Snake River areas of southeastern Oregon and southern Idaho. The Native groups were able to elude the First Oregon Cavalry until 1865. However, the United States Army was able to effectively subdue the Native population and force them onto reservations when they returned in 1866. Soldiers in the First Oregon Cavalry mustered out in 1866.
When general calls for troops from the Lincoln administration were placed upon the states at various dates during hostilities, no quotas were assigned to Oregon. While none of the state's units fought in any Civil War battle, the following narratives for both volunteer regiments indicate loyalty to the Union.

Oregon and the American Civil War Map
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From Oregon Country to Oregon Territory to the State of Oregon

First Oregon Cavalry was organized at large in Oregon from February to April, 1862, and was under the command of Cols. Thomas R. Cornelius, Reuben F. Maury; Lieut.-Cols. Reuben F. Maury, Charles S. Drew; Majs. Charles S. Drew, J. S. Rinearson, Sewall Truax. The regiment concentrated in Williamette Valley and ordered May, 1862, to Walla Walla Country and Mining Districts of Nez Perce and Salmon River Countries to protect emigrants and miners. Headquarters at Fort Walla Walla, Washington Territory.
Company "A" moved from near Oregon City to Fort Dalles; thence to Fort Walla Walla, Washington Territory, June 24-July 12, 1862. Left Fort Walla Walla July 25, 1862, for Salmon Falls on Snake River Expedition against Snake Indians in Idaho August 19-October 11, 1862, and protecting emigrant roads until November. At Fort Dalles until April, 1863. Ordered to Fort Walla Walla April 20. Expedition against Snake Indians in Idaho May 4-October 26, 1863. Expedition from Fort Walla Walla to Snake River, Washington Territory, February 16-23, 1864, and to Southeastern Oregon April 30-October 6, 1864. Expedition from Fort Boise to Salmon Falls, Idaho Territory, and skirmishes August 27-October 5, 1864. At Fort Vancouver and other stations in Oregon and Idaho until muster out. Expedition from Camp Lyon, Idaho Territory, to Malheur River, Ore., and skirmish July 2-13, 1865.
Company "B" moved from Salem, Ore., to Fort Vancouver; thence to Fort Walla Walla via Fort Dalles May 14-June 2, 1862. Left Fort Walla Walla July 25. 1862, for Salmon Falls on Snake River. Expedition against Snake Indians in Idaho August 19-October 11, 1862, and protect emigrant roads until November 1, 1862. At Fort Walla Walla until April, 1863. Moved to Fort Lapwai June 13, 1863; thence to Canyon City July 10. Ordered to Fort Vancouver September 29, 1863, and duty there until April. 1864. Expedition to Southeastern Oregon and skirmishes April 20-October 6, 1864. Duty at Forts Vancouver, Walla Walla, Boies and other points in District of Oregon until muster out. Expedition from Camp Lyon, Idaho Territory, to Malheur River, Ore., and skirmish July 2-13, 1865.
Company "C" moved from near Oregon City to Fort Vancouver June 24, 1862. (A Detachment ordered to Jacksonville, Ore., July 2, 1862.) Duty there and at Klamath operating against Indians in Rogue River District until June, 1865. At Fort Steilacoom and other points in District of Oregon until muster out.
Company "D" moved from near Oregon City to Fort Dalles; thence to Fort Walla Walla June 24-July 12, 1862. Left Fort Walla Walla July 25 for Salmon Falls on Snake River. Expedition against Snake Indians in Idaho and protecting emigrant roads August 19 to October 11, 1862. At Fort Walla Walla November, 1862, to April, 1863. Expedition from Fort Walla Walla against Snake Indians in Idaho May 4-October 20, 1863. Ordered to Fort Dalles October 29, and duty there until April, 1864. Expedition to Southeastern Oregon and skirmishes April 20-October 6, 1864. Ordered to Fort Vancouver October 6, 1864. Duty at Fort Vancouver, Fort Walla Walla and other points in the District of Oregon until muster out. Expedition from Camp Lyon, Idaho Territory, to Malheur River, Ore., and skirmish July 2-13, 1865.
Company "E" moved from Salem to Fort Vancouver; thence to Fort Walla Walla via Fort Dalles May 14-June 3, 1862. Duty at Fort Walla Walla until April, 1863. Expedition to Grand Ronde Prairie August 10-22, 1862. Expedition against Snake Indians in Idaho May 4-October 20, 1863. At Fort Walla Walla until April, 1864. Expedition from Fort Walla Walla to Snake River, Washington Territory, February 16-23, 1864. Expedition from Fort Walla Walla to Southeastern Oregon and skirmishes April 20-October 6, 1864. At Forts Dalles, Colville and other points in District of Oregon until muster out.

Oregon Civil War History
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Map of 19th Century military forts and outposts in the Pacific Northwest

Company "F" moved from near Oregon City to Fort Dalles; thence to Fort Walla Walla June 24-July 12, 1862. Duty near Lewiston, Nez Perce Reservation, July 25 to November 1, 1862. Garrison at Fort Lapwai until May, 1865. Expedition from Fort Lapwai to the Meadows August 22 to September 20, 1863. At Fort Walla Walla and other points in District of Oregon May, 1865, to muster out.
Companies "G," "H," "I," "K," "L" and "M" authorized January, 1863. Companies "G" and "H" at Camp Watson on Rock Creek, Ore.; Company "I" Fort Klamath, Company "K" at Fort Dalles and Companies "L" and "M" at Fort Boise. Expedition from Camp Lincoln, near Canyon City, to Harney Lake Valley March 24-April 16, 1864 (Detachment). Skirmish, Harney Lake Valley April 7 (Detachment). Expedition from Siletz Block House to Coos Bay, Crooked River, April 21-May 12, 1864 (Co. "D"). Skirmish, Crooked River May 18 (Detachment). Skirmish near Fort Klamath June 24, 1864 (Detachment). Expedition from Fort Boise to Booneville July 20-August 17, 1864 (Detachment). Expedition from Fort Boise to Salmon Falls, Idaho, August 27-October 5, 1864 (Detachment). Skirmish, Harney Lake Valley September 23, 1864 (Cos. "F" and "H"). Operations on Canyon City Road January 1 to November 30. Skirmish on Owyhee River July 17, 1865 (Detachment). Regiment mustered out November 20, 1866.
First Oregon Infantry was organized at large November 11, 1864, to January 2, 1865. Ordered to Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory, December 19, 1864. Duty in District of Oregon by Detachments at Fort Vancouver, Fort Klamath, Fort Yamhill, Fort Steilacoom, Fort Dalles, Fort Walla Walla, Colville, Fort Hoskins and Fort Boise, Idaho Territory, covering Boise and Snake River Country and the Owyhee Mines from Indian Raids. Mustered out July 19, 1867.
The unit was under the command of Col. George B. Curry; Lieut.-Cols. George B. Curry, John M. Drake; Maj. William V. Rinehart. This regiment, recruited from the state at large, was mustered into the U.S. service between Nov., 1864, and June, 1865, to serve for one and three years. Its field officers were all serving as captains in the 1st Oregon cavalry when promoted. It saw service against the Indians in Oregon and Idaho during 1865 and 1866, being employed during the former year in guarding the roads between the Dalles and Boise, Boise and Salt Lake, Owyhee and Chico, and Owyhee and Humboldt, Cal. In the fall of 1865 a portion of the command went into winter quarters at old Fort Hall, at the junction of the Salt Lake, Virginia City and Boise roads, the station being called Camp Lander. Another detachment made its winter quarters at Camp Reed, on the Salmon Falls creek, having only tents for shelter. In 1866, in the Harney Lake valley, Co. H, Capt. Loren L. Williams, did some of the best fighting of the season, being compelled to march a long distance on foot, surrounded by Indians, both mounted and on foot. They succeeded in killing 15 of the Indians, and escaped with a loss of only 1 killed and 2 wounded. In Oct., 1866, orders were received to disband the Oregon volunteers, and the regiment was mustered out by companies at different dates from Oct. 31, 1866, to July 19, 1867. See also Oregon American Civil War History.

Map of Oregon Civil War Battles and Battlefields
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High Resolution Map of Oregon

Agriculture, mining and logging remained the major industries in Oregon during Reconstruction.

Although the First Oregon Cavalry mustered out in 1866, tensions between settlers and Natives did not abate. When the Army returned to Oregon, they effectively subdued the Natives and forced them onto reservations. Conflicts continued on into the 1870s, with the Bannock War of 1878. Settlers from the Eastern United States continued to come to Oregon after the war, including 15,000 Civil War veterans.

In the 1880s, the proliferation of railroads assisted in marketing of the state's lumber and wheat, as well as the more rapid growth of its cities. This included the connection of the state to the Eastern United States via links to the transcontinental railroads that allowed for faster movement of goods and people. Immigration to Oregon increased after the connection to the east. Additional transportation improvements included the construction of several locks and canals to ease river navigation.

See also

Sources: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Library of Congress; National Archives; National Park Service; US Census Bureau; The Union Army (1908); Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States (1885). New York: C. Scribner's Sons; Hardesty, Jesse. Killed and died of wounds in the Union army during the Civil War (1915): Wright-Eley Co.; senate.gov; Edwards, Glenn Thomas, Oregon Regiments in the Civil War Years: Duty on the Indian Frontier, unpublished Master of Arts thesis, Department of History, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, June 1960; Charles Henry Carey, History of Oregon, The Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, Portland, 1922; Carey, History of Oregon; Corning, Howard M. (1989) Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing; Horner, John B. (1919). Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature. The J.K. Gill Co.: Portland; Mackie, Richard Somerset (1997). Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific 1793-1843. Vancouver: University of British Columbia (UBC) Press. ISBN 0-7748-0613-3.


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