Oregon in the Civil War

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Oregon in the American Civil War

Oregon and the Civil War (1861-1865)

Oregon (1861-1865)

As soon as the question of jurisdiction at issue between the
United States and Great Britain was settled, Congress in 1848
gave to Oregon a territorial form of government, and at the same
time extended to her that provision of the ordinance of 1787
which prohibited slavery. In the vote on the adoption of the
state constitution in 1857, it was agreed to leave to the choice of
the people the question of the admission of negroes, free or en-
slaved, a special provision being made for certain sections to be
inserted or rejected, according to the vote upon them. There was
a majority of 3,980 in favor of the adoption of the constitution
as a whole, but on the special sections dealing with the negro,
there was a majority against slavery of 5,082, and against the
admission of free negroes of 7,559, out of a total vote polled of
about 10,400. The constitutional convention had ordered that,
should the constitution be ratified, a general election should be
held in June, 1858, for the election of the first general assembly
and state and county officers. The assembly chosen was to as-
semble at Salem on the first Monday in July following, organize
the state government, and elect two U. S. senators. At the elec-
tion in 1858 there were three parties in the field, Oregon Demo-
crats, national Democrats, and Republicans. From its organiza-
tion the territory of Oregon had been strongly Democratic, and
that party now secured its usual victory, electing John White-
aker, first state governor, and L. F. Grover, representative in
Congress. When the legislature met in July, it chose ex-Gov.
Joseph Lane and Delazon Smith U. S. senators. Gov. Whiteaker
was inaugurated July 8, 1858. The laws passed by the legislature
were not to take effect until the state was finally admitted into
the Union, which did not occur until Feb. 14, 1859. Meantime,
months of suspense over the probable action of Congress ensued.
The contingency had been provided for by the election of a ter-
ritorial legislature at the same time with the state legislature.
The former body met in Dec, 1858, and proceeded with the usual
business, but when it adjourned Jan. 22, 1859, it did not know
whether its acts were invalid, or whether the state was still out
of the Union. The Democratic majority in Congress had refused
to admit Kansas with a population too small to entitle her to a
representative in the lower house, unless she would consent to
come in as a slave state, but it now proposed to admit Oregon,
which had barely one-half of the required population of 93,000,
under a constitution prohibiting slavery. (Oregon's population
in 1860, according to the U. S. census, was only 52,465, but the
number of her people was greatly exaggerated by her agents
in Washington.) The Republicans in Congress recognized the
invidious distinction and cited not only her defective population,
but also the clause in her constitution debarring free negroes
from emigrating to Oregon. The Democrats favored the state's
admission, as it would give the party two more senators and an
additional representative. Naturally the Republicans were op-
posed to it for the same political reason.

Gov. Whiteaker convened the legislature in special session
May 16, 1859, and the organization of the state was completed.
The terms of Representative Grover and Senator Smith had ex-
pired by limitation March 4, 1859, and hence their successors were
to be chosen. At a special election held June 27 Lansing Stout,
Democrat, was elected representative in Congress by a majority
of only 16 votes over his Republican opponent, David Logan.
The close vote was a great surprise to both parties and presaged
the overthrow of the Democratic party, which had been so long
dominant in the affairs of the territory, but now rent by internal
dissensions. Its former idol, Joseph Lane, was accused of play-
ing fast and loose with his constituents, as he was known to be
a pronounced pro-slavery man and a strong southern sympathizer.
Senator Smith had proved himself while in Washington not only
an adherent of the discredited Lane, but had forfeited the respect
of his party and earned for himself the sobriquet of "Delusion"
Smith. The Democratic majority in the legislature in May, 1859,
preferred to leave the seat vacant rather than return Smith to the
senate. Despite the split in the ranks of the Democrats, that
party again triumphed at the Congressional and state election
held in June, i860. George K. Shell was elected Congressman
by a majority of 104 over Logan, who was again the candidate
of the Republicans, while the Democratic majority in the legis-
lature was larger than ever. The final split in the ranks of the
Oregon Democracy took place on receipt of the news from the
national conventions at Charleston, Baltimore and Washington.
The nomination of Lane on the Breckenridge ticket by the ex-
treme pro-slavery wing of the party, alienated that large element
in the party which held the preservation of the Union to be para-
mount to the interests of any section. Lincoln and Hamlin stood
an excellent chance to carry the country against Douglas, with
the Breckenridge ticket in the field, and it was known that the
South had threatened to withdraw from the Union in the event
of Lincoln's election. The Douglas faction in Oregon held its
own state convention. Its platform warmly eulogized the Union
of the states and denounced secession in no unmeaning terms.
There was little essential difference between the Douglas platform
and that of the Republicans.

When the new legislature assembled in Sept., 1860, a fusion of
the Douglas Democrats and the Republicans had control on joint
ballot, and were able to elect J. W. Nesmith, Independent, and
E. D. Baker, Republican, U. S. senators, the former for the long
and the latter for the short term. At the presidential election
in Nov., 1860, Lincoln received a plurality of 270. The whole
vote of the state stood as follows: Lincoln, 5,344; Douglas, 4,136;
Breckenridge, 5,074; Bell and Everett, 197; total vote, 14,751.
Sheil's election in the preceding June had been declared unau-
thorized, and a Congressman was again voted for at the time
of the presidential election, A. J. Thayer defeating Sheil, who was
again a candidate, though Congress ultimately gave Sheil the
seat. Oregon cast its electoral vote for Lincoln, thus consum-
mating the political revolution of 1860. One of the prime causes
of this revolution was the popular opposition to the scheme of a
Pacific republic — independent, slaveholding and aristocratic in
its proposed organization — known to be favored by Senator Lane
and by the California senators, as well as by the southern states.
While the scheme was regarded as visionary and unlikely to suc-
ceed, it was nevertheless feared that its advocates might provoke
civil war in their midst. Senator Gwin of California was re-
garded as one of the prime movers in the scheme for an inde-
pendent Pacific republic.

Though his pro-slavery leanings were well known, it came as
something of a shock to the people of Oregon when it was
learned that Lane had offered both his own services and those of
his sons to fight the battles of secession. The overland telegraph
to the Pacific was not in operation until Oct., 1861, and hence
news of the stirring events which marked the beginning of the
civil war was received by the pony express, from 10 to 20 days
late. Oregon did not learn of the fall of Fort Sumter until April
30, 1861, when the thrilling intelligence that actual warfare had
been begun aroused all the latent patriotism of the far-north-
western state, blotting out party lines as quickly as in New York.
A considerable element of the population in the new state was
from the South, and many of these people were in hearty ac-
cord with the movement for the dissolution of the Union. Gen-
erally speaking, political conditions in Oregon at the beginning
of the war were not unlike those prevailing in the neighboring
state of California. A few of the newspapers and some of the
bolder spirits in the community, were outspoken in their expres-
sions of disloyalty, but the great majority of the people were for
the Union, with the result that the Union party remained dom-
inant throughout the continuance of hostilities. Gov. Whiteaker
was out of sympathy with this large majority of the people and
was asked to resign. When ex-Senator Lane reached home at
the end of April, 1861, he was received with hatred and insult.
So bitter was the sentiment against their former leader, the peo-
ple even hung him in effigy at Dallas. In striking contrast with
this attitude toward the discredited Lane was the universal ex-
pression of sorrow when the first messages brought across the
continent by the overland telegraph in October told the news
of Senator Baker's death at the battle of Ball's bluff. When the
war began Baker raised a regiment in Pennsylvania and gave
his life, a willing sacrifice on the altar of his country.

A few months before the war began, the military department
of Oregon was merged in that of the Pacific, Brig.-Gen. E. V.
Sumner commanding; Col. George Wright, later in command of
the whole department of the Pacific, was in immediate command
in 1861 of the district embracing Oregon and Washington. The
Indians of Oregon took advantage of the prevalence of war, as
they did in the other western states and territories, to indulge
in repeated acts of hostilities against the whites, particularly in
the vast and little known eastern and southern parts of the state.
During 1861 most of the regular troops stationed in Oregon and
Washington were withdrawn to reinforce the Federal armies in
the East, and there only remained in the district some 700 men
and 19 commissioned officers. The sparse population of miners
and stockmen settled in the above mentioned region suffered
much at the hands of the Indians, as did the emigrant trains en-
tering Oregon by the valley of the Snake river. No serious In-
dian outbreaks occurred in 1861, and as the Federal troops were
withdrawn from the various posts in Oregon and Washington
they were replaced by volunteer companies from California. On
Oct. 28, 1861, 350 volunteers arrived at Vancouver, and five more
companies under command of Maj. Curtis came in the latter part
of November. An attempt was made in the summer of 1861 to
enlist a cavalry company through the state authorities, but the
suspicion which prevailed concerning the loyalty of the governor
and the enrolling officer, A. P. Dennison, hindered the undertak-
ing and the enlisted men were disbanded. Under the various
calls for troops during the war no quotas were assigned to Ore-
gon, but a regiment of cavalry and one of infantry were raised
within her borders and mustered into the U. S. service, the for-
mer for three years, and the latter for one and three years. The
state is credited with a total of 1,810 men furnished during the

Authority to raise ten companies of cavalry for three years'
service was given to Col. Thomas R. Cornelius by the war de-
partment in Nov., 1861. The work of recruiting the regiment
went rapidly forward and by the following May six companies
were fully organized. The men enlisted with the hope of going
east to participate in the more stirring scenes of the war, sup-
posing that they were to form part of the 500,000 troops author-
ized by Congress. They were needed at home, however, where
they performed hard service, but not of the kind they would
have chosen.

During the year 1862 the Oregon immigration was very large,
settling chiefly in the mining region east of the Snake river, and
in the valleys of the Grande Ronde, Powder river, John Day and
Walla Walla, and portions of the Oregon troops were employed
in 1862, 1863 and 1864, in escorting these immigrant trains.
Early in 1863 a call was made for six volunteer companies to
complete the organization of the 1st cavalry. There was little
enthusiasm, however, and recruits came in slowly, most of the
disengaged men of the state who had not enlisted being at work
in the mines. Only one company was raised during the sum-
mer and fear was expressed that a draft would be resorted to,
as the government had sent Provost Marshal J. M. Keeler to
make an enrollment of those subject to military duty. It can
hardly be said that Oregon was doing her full duty at this time
in raising troops for the U. S. service. She had only seven com-
panies in the field, while California had nearly nine regiments,
and her troops were stationed all the way from Puget Sound to
Texas, some of them even in the Willamette valley. Troops were
needed to protect the Oregon frontiers, to safeguard the immi-
gration routes, and to punish the predatory Snakes. An excel-
lent militia law had been enacted by the legislature in 1862,
which placed several regiments at the disposal of the governor.
By the terms of this law the governor, adjutant-general, and sec-
retary of state were constituted a military board with authority
to audit all reasonable expenses incurred by volunteer organiza-
tions in the service of the state. In 1863 the war department au-
thorized the establishment of a post on the Boise river, and an-
other at Fort Klamath, between the Klamath and Goose lakes,
near the southern immigrant road, for the better protection of the
main overland routes of travel. Considerable alarm was felt by
the people of Oregon because the state was devoid of any coast
defenses, and this alarm was accentuated by the action of the
French government in Mexico. To remedy this state of affairs
the Congress of 1861-2 appropriated $100,000 for defensive
works to be constructed at the mouth of the Columbia, and by
the summer of 1864 Fort Stevens, on the southern side of the
entrance to the river, was practically completed. Strong earth-
works were also erected on the north side of the river, afterward
called Fort Canby, and both forts were garrisoned in the autumn
of 1865.

In 1864, to encourage future enlistments, the legislature passed
a liberal bounty act, which gave to every soldier enlisting for
three years or during the war, $150 in addition to other boun-
ties and pay already provided for, and at the same time a fund
was provided for the purpose by levying a tax of one mill on the
dollar upon all the taxable property of the state. Also, $100,000
were appropriated as a fund from which to pay $5 a month as
additional compensation to volunteers already in the service.
Thereupon Gov. Gibbs issued a call for a regiment of infantry
in addition to the companies then in the U. S. service, who were
"to aid in the enforcement of the laws, suppress insurrection and
invasion, and to chastise hostile Indians" in the military district
of Oregon. The regiment was to be known as the 1st infantry
Oregon volunteers, and the governor made an earnest appeal to
county officers to avoid a draft by vigorously prosecuting the
work of procuring enlistments. Extra inducements were offered
by several of the counties to procure the required volunteers.
Polk county raised $1,200 as extra bounty and was the first to
complete her enlistment; Josephine county provided an additional
$2,500, and Clackamas county offered similar inducements. Six
of the companies were organized by the end of the year, three
more during the first three months of 1865, and the tenth in June,
1865. The infantry regiment, together with the 1st cavalry
(consolidated into a battalion of four companies composed of
veterans and recruits in 1865), were employed during 1865-66 in
numerous expeditions against Indians, in guarding the stage and
immigrant routes, and in scouting and garrison duty. Gen. Mc-
Dowell, who succeeded Gen. Wright in the command of the De-
partment of the Pacific in 1864, made a requisition on Gov.
Gibbs for a second regiment of cavalry, to retain the designation
of the 1st Oregon cavalry, but to be recruited up to the maximum
of twelve companies. Gov. Gibbs accordingly issued his proc-
lamation reminding those liable to perform military duty of the
bounties provided by the state and the general government, and
that the latter would furnish horses to the new regiment, but the
response was very inadequate, only the battalion of cavalry above
mentioned (Cos. A, B. C and G being organized). In Oct., 1865,
orders were received to muster out the volunteers, and by the
middle of the following summer only Co. B, 1st cavalry, and Co.
I, 1st infantry remained in the service, the former being mus-
tered out in Nov., 1866, and the latter in July, 1867. The place
of the volunteers was taken by numerous companies of regular
troops, which continued to wage relentless warfare against the
hostile Indians of Oregon for several years longer.

There were only two parties in the field during the state elec-
tion of 1862, Union and Democrat. Addison C. Gibbs, the Union
candidate for governor, received 7,039 votes, as against 3.450
for his Democratic opponent, John F. Miller, and the majority
of all the principal Union candidates was in excess of 3,000. John
R. McBride, Union, was elected to Congress by a majority of
3,177 over the Democratic candidate, A. E. Wait, who had re-
signed his place upon the bench to make the race. Gov. Gibbs
was inaugurated Sept. 10, 1862, for a four years' term. The leg-
islature chosen this year had a Union majority, and elected Ben-
jamin F. Harding of Marion county to the U. S. senate by a ma-
jority of 9 over all others. This legislature gave evidence of its
strong Union sentiments by the passage of an act compelling the
acceptance of U. S. notes in payment of debts and taxes, and
also made provision for the payment of Oregon's share of the
direct tax levied by Congress in 1861. This amounted to over
$35,000, which was equal to seven-eighths of the entire annual
revenue of the state. The receipts of the state treasury for the
two years ending Sept. 8, 1862, where $91,788, and the expenses
during the same period were $55,831. According to the message
of Gov. Whiteaker, the funds in the state treasury on Sept. 7,
1862, amounted to only $40,314. As funds were needed to ad-
minister the state government, $10,000 of the direct tax levied
by the United States were ordered to be paid at any time when
called for, the remaining $25,000 any time after March 1, 1863,
and the treasurer was to pay the whole amount appropriated in
coin. With regard to the legal-tender question, which caused
much disturbance to business in Oregon, as elsewhere on the
Pacific coast, the matter was finally adjusted by the passage of
a specific-contract law in Oregon in 1864, thereby following the
example of California. By this law every possible impediment
to the exclusive use of metallic currency, which did not contra-
vene any law of Congress, was removed, and thereby satisfied the
popular will which was strongly opposed to the introduction of
paper money of fluctuating value.

Though Oregon only furnished a total of 1,810 volunteers to
the Federal government during the Civil war, it should be borne
in mind that the state was new, sparsely populated, and far re-
moved from the actual scenes of hostilities. Her volunteers were
not permitted to go East and participate in any of the great cam-
paigns, but were employed at home in the arduous though some-
what inglorious service of curbing the disloyal element, chastising
hostile Indians, and protecting emigrant routes. Her action in
raising these troops, permitted the government to withdraw the
force of regulars for service in the East, and the attitude of the
state and its citizens was patriotic and loyal throughout the war.

First Cavalry. — Cols., Thomas R. Cornelius, Reuben F. Maury; Lieut.-
Cols., Reuben F. Maury, Charles S. Drew; Majs., Charles S. Drew, J. S.
Rinearson, Sewall Truax. This regiment, composed of seven companies,
was recruited from the state at large, the first six companies being mus-
tered into the U. S. service between Nov., 1861, and June, 1862, for three
years. Co. G was mustered in Aug., 1863. As soon as the six com-
panies were organized in 1862, they were ordered to Vancouver, where
they were uniformed and armed with old-fashioned muzzle-loading rifles,
pistols and sabres and then proceeded to the Dalles. The regiment \yas
employed until its final muster out in scouting expeditions, chastising
hostile Indians, guarding emigrant trains and hunting down robber
bands. The regiment served by detachments at various posts in Oregon
and Washington, and its members were much disappointed because they
were never ordered east. The men marched thousands of miles in all
kinds of weather in pursuit of their wily foes, but it was not real war-
fare and there was small chance to gain renown. The personnel of the
regiment was of a high order, its members being for the most part sons
of well-to-do farmers, whose habits of temperance and morality gained
them the name of the "puritan regiment." The number of desertions
from this class during the term of three years was only 3. The re-
mainder of the regiment was recruited from the floating population of
the state and in this portion the desertions were more numerous. The
regiment, or portions of it, took part in the following engagements :
Harney Lake valley. Crooked river, John Day's river, south fork John
Day's river, Malheur river, besides a large number of minor affairs, par-
ticipated in by small detachments. The original members of the regi-
ment (except veterans reenlisted) were mustered out as their terms of
service expired, and the organization, composed of veterans and recruits,
was consolidated into a battalion of four companies (A, B, C and G)
July 18, 1865, and continued in service. It was mustered out by companies
at different dates from May 26 to Nov. 20, 1866.
First Infantry. — Col., George B. Curry; Lieut.-Cols., George B. Cur-
ry, 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 of-
ficers were all serving as captains in the 1st Oregon cavalry when pro-
moted. 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 dis-
tance 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
Source: The Union Army, vol. 4


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