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Civil War and Washington Territory
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The Civil War started with the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. Washington Territory was just under eight years old and more than a quarter century away from statehood. The most populous town in the territory was Walla Walla, with just 722 people, including 17 Indians and one African American. The population of the entire territory, which until 1863 included all of present-day Idaho and part of Western Montana, was just over 11,500. (This count excluded most Indians.) The nation's far Northwest was a continent away from the blood-drenched battlefields of the War Between the States, slave-free (with only one or two known exceptions), and populated by men and women intent on making new lives in a new land. An indeterminate number of the territory's men went east to voluntarily enlist, most on the Union side, although the siren song of states' rights supremacy drew some to fight for the Confederacy. Others volunteered or were conscripted for the newly mustered First Washington Volunteer Infantry, which never saw battle. Many in the territory were ambivalent on the issue of slavery, but strongly in favor of preserving the union. Although not one shot was fired in anger in Washington Territory due to the war, nor any property destroyed, the people of the Northwest, in common with the rest of the nation, were deeply affected by the outcome of this most lethal of American conflicts.
Slavery in the Territories
In 1787, 18 years before Lewis &
Clark's Corps of Discovery Expedition reached the Pacific Ocean,
the United States Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance establishing rules of
governance for "territories north
of the River Ohio." One of its many and detailed provisions mandated that
the subject territories were to remain free of slavery. More than 60 years later,
the Organic Act of 1848 extended that prohibition to Oregon Territory, which
then included all of what would much later become Washington state. But the ban
on slavery did not mean that the territories were free of racism -- both as
a Territory and as a State, Oregon
sought to bar free blacks from residing within its borders.
When Washington Territory was carved off
from the unwieldy Oregon Territory in 1853, it remained subject to the law
prohibiting slavery, but it did not copy Oregon's attempts to bar free blacks
from settlement. In the years leading up to the Civil War, former slaves and
free black men and women seeking new lives in the Northwest had little choice
but to settle north of Oregon. This they did, albeit in small numbers --
the 1860 federal census counted only 30 African Americans living in Washington
Territory, 26 men and just four women.
In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court, in the
infamous Dred Scott decision, ruled that
Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in the territories. Washington's
Territorial Legislature passed a resolution expressing its approval of the decision,
but the court's ruling turned out to have virtually no practical effect in the
far hinterlands of the Northwest. There was little if any public support for
allowing slavery in the territory, despite the fact that a significant number
of those settling the area had come from the slaveholding states. Unlike in the
intensively agricultural South, there was simply no need for slave labor in the territory, regardless of one's opinions about the morality of what had come
to be called the "peculiar institution."
In an odd anomaly, although slavery
was forbidden in Washington Territory before 1857, slaves were not, providing
they had not originally been enslaved or bought and sold within its boundaries.
Shortly before the Civil War began, there was known to be one slave in the
territory and reports of a second. The latter was a woman, rumored to reside
with her "owner" at Fort Steilacoom; little information about her
has survived. But the existence of the other, a young man named Charles Mitchell, is well documented.
Charles Mitchell: Slave or Free?
Charles Mitchell (1847-1876?) was born
into slavery on a plantation in Maryland, the son of an African American mother
and a white father. His mother, personal servant to a child of the Gibson
family that owned the plantation, died of cholera in 1850. The Gibsons assumed responsibility for her young child's
care, and in 1855 they arranged for Charles to travel to Washington Territory with a
Gibson in-law, James Tilton (1820-1878), recently appointed as the Territory's
first surveyor general.
Young Mitchell's legal status in Washington
Territory after the Dred Scott
decision was open to dispute. As a matter of law, after the Supreme Court's 1857 ruling, slavery was legal in all American
least until statehood was achieved and a vote taken on the issue.
Yet, with apparently just the two exceptions, slaves were not kept in Washington. In
1860, when Mitchell was induced to stow away on a vessel heading for the Crown
Colony of Victoria on Vancouver Island, the question of his status --
property or free person -- suddenly became a very public issue.
Victoria had a large black community in
1860, estimated by some to be as high as 25 percent of the population. A black
man visiting Olympia from Victoria noticed Mitchell and over the course
of several conversations convinced him to flee to Canada, where, he was told,
he would be without question free. He was hidden in the pantry of the mail steamer Eliza Anderson, but was discovered there and
held under lock and key until the vessel docked in Victoria. It was the intent
of the ship's captain, John Fleming, to return Mitchell to the custody of
Tilton on the return trip.
Henry Crease (1823-1905), a Victoria
barrister, took up Mitchell's cause and obtained a writ of habeas corpus compelling his release from the ship. After spending
one night in the Victoria jail, he was given over to the care of the town's
black community. Both James Tilton and Captain Fleming filed protests with the
colonial government, to no avail. In the view of Canadian authorities, Canada
was slave-free, Mitchell was in
Canada, and that was that. Appeals by Tilton to the government in Washington
D.C. went unanswered, and the lad remained on Vancouver Island, where he
reportedly drowned in 1876.
The Mitchell case was a cause célèbre both north and south of
the border. The nature of the relationship between Mitchell and Tilton was
ambiguous, as one historian has described:
"James Tilton was called a master,
an employer, a guardian, an owner, and a man 'like a father to [Charlie].' Conversely,
Charles Mitchell was called a slave, an employee, a ward, property, and
'"like a son to [James Tilton]' ... . In the last analysis, Charles
Mitchell was owned and was not free to come and go as he pleased -- severed
from his family, a black child in a white household" ("Charles
Mitchell, Slavery, and Washington Territory in 1860").
The territorial press coverage of the
Mitchell case shows that Washington Territory, although virtually free of
slaves, was not free of a racist and paternalistic attitude towards African
Americans. In a long recounting of Charles Mitchell's escape and the ensuing
legal actions, the Territory's oldest newspaper, the Olympia Pioneer and Democrat, closely tied to
the Democratic Party, let the veil slip:
"As with most mulattoes, he lacks
stability, and has not the faithfulness and gratitude which distinguishes the
pure African, and was remarkable in his mother's people for the several generations
they have been held in Maryland" ("Fugitive Slave Case").
The Election of 1860
Going into the presidential election of
1860, America's political parties were sharply divided on the question of slavery's place in the nation's
territories. The sitting president, James Buchanan (1821-1875), was a
pro-slavery Democrat, but his party had split into two factions on the issue.
One believed slavery should be decided by a vote of the people of the
individual territories, and it nominated Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) for
president in 1860. The other faction, led by Buchanan's vice-president, John C.
Breckinridge (1821-1875), believed that the federal government should protect
the right of slaveholders to settle in the territories. Breckinridge was
selected to carry its banner in the presidential race.
The Whig Party, once the main opposition
to the Democrats, had been torn apart in the 1850s by internal disputes
over slavery. Its remnants, together with former members of the also-defunct
Know Nothing Party, formed the Constitution Union Party to contend in the 1860 election. Its platform, if such
it could be called, promised to ensure the preservation of the union by simply ignoring the slavery issue. John Bell (1796-1869), a former Whig from Tennessee,
was its nominee for president.
The Republican Party, the fourth to
enter the race, was just six years old and had first contended for the presidency
in the 1856 election, without success. The party was founded on opposition to
the spread of slavery into the territories, but not its complete abolition. In
one of the most fateful moves in American political history, it nominated Abraham
Lincoln (1809-1865) as its candidate. With four men in the race, Lincoln won
the 1860 election with just 39.65 percent of the popular vote, but still defeated
his closest rival, Douglas, by nearly 500,000 votes.
Lincoln had neither threatened nor promised
to end slavery, but he was firmly opposed to its further expansion. This alone was
enough to tear the union apart. South Carolina was the first state to secede,
in December 1860. Before Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, South Carolina had been
followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.
Virginia pulled out of the union in April 1861, Arkansas and North Carolina in
May, and Tennessee in June. When the dust settled, there were 23 states left in
the original United States and 11 in the new Confederate States of America.
Washington Territory and the Issue of Slavery
Residents of Washington Territory could
not vote in the 1860 presidential election, nor did they have the right to participate in
the parties' nominating conventions, but there was no lack of opinions on the nation's
pressing issues. News was long-delayed at a time when neither telegraph nor railroad
tracks had yet arrived, but word of what was going on in the wider country eventually
The Democratic Party dominated
Washington's territorial politics in the years leading up to the Civil War, and
patronage ensured that appointed government officials reflected that
domination. The Republican Party was growing, having gained new members from
the collapsed Whig Party, but it remained in the minority. Territorial Democrats
and Republicans generally hewed to the national parties' lines on the slavery issue,
but without the passion and anger that reigned in the East. Typical for the day
was the attitude of the Democratic Pioneer
and Democrat, printed in Olympia. Its editorials trumpeted the pro-slavery
cause, but noted that it had little significance in the territory, where the
issue had "long since been settled by latitude and climate" ("Our
What was of significance to all was the threat
that the slavery battle posed to the cohesiveness of the nation. Even
before the election of 1860, the Pioneer
and Democrat warned:
"It is the firm settled conviction
of the public mind that we are approaching, nay, have reached a crisis in
political affairs, compared with which all former ones were as gentle gales to
the destroying whirlwind" ("The Present Position of the
But the newspaper left no doubt where
its sentiment lay on the core issue:
"no force of argument can dislodge
the simple but powerful fact, that the abolition of slavery, except by the
lapse of time and the direct destiny of man, could confer no blessings on the
white or colored race in American" ("The Present Position of the
The Republican Party was slowly growing
in influence in slave-free regions, and the election of Lincoln was greeted
with joy within its ranks. A Republican newspaper, the Washington Standard, was started in Olympia in 1860, espousing the anti-slavery
views of the national party and promising to "do battle for the
advancement of free territory, free labor, free speech, and free men"
("The Secession Crisis and the Frontier," 422).
But what of the people? What did they
believe? There were no public opinion polls in 1860, at least not in Washington
Territory, so reliance must be placed on what can be gleaned from the partisan
press and local political developments. From these, it can be seen that moderation was more evident in the
territory than in the overheated East. After the election, Republicans and "Douglas
Democrats" in the lower house of the Territorial Legislature formed a
coalition, much to the dismay of pro-slavery "Breckinridge Democrats."
The Republican position -- to allow slavery to continue in the states in which
it existed while barring its further spread -- seemed to most nearly reflect public
There were, of course, strict
abolitionists in the territory, fueled by moral outrage at the very idea of human
bondage, but the consensus appears to have been much more nuanced. In January 1861 the Territory's first governor, Isaac Stevens (1818-1862), a pro-slavery Democrat
who had supported the candidacy of Breckinridge and was serving as Territorial representative in Washington, D.C., wrote an open letter to the people that was published in the Pioneer and Democrat. Using the single name "Jefferson," Stevens wrote:
"the hope is cherished that the
position you occupy as neutrals -- it
may be as an arbiter -- to the irritating contest between north and south, will
enable you to exercise a beneficial influence upon both sections; on one hand
checking aggression, and on the other restraining rashness, and so helping to
extricate the Union from a danger which no rational man can contemplate without
a shudder" ("Correspondence From the States").
There clearly was deep ambivalence about
slavery in Washington Territory, itself virtually untouched by the scourge.
Should it be abolished throughout the nation? Should it be retained, but only
where it already existed? Should it be allowed to spread with the settlement and
eventual statehood of the territories? Should the issue be determined state by
state on a vote of the people? All views found support, but none dominated.
Washington Territory and the Issue of Secession
On the issue of secession, there was
little such ambivalence. The economic imperative used to justify
slavery in the South was absent in Washington Territory. What people were concerned about was the sundering
of the United States into separate and warring nations. Although it was still
decades away, the settlers in the territory looked forward to eventual
statehood, and the overwhelming majority wanted the country they hoped to join to
stay intact. If permitting the continuation of slavery was the cost of
maintaining the union, then it was considered by many to be a price worth
paying. But allowing the Southern states to secede, for any reason, was
unacceptable, and when first South Carolina and then 10 others did just
that, most in Washington Territory threw their full support behind Lincoln and
his vow to preserve the union whatever the cost.
The evolution of Isaac Stevens on the
issues is instructive. Filling in for an absent delegate from Oregon State, he
had voted for Breckinridge as the Democratic Party's pro-slavery presidential
nominee at the 1860 convention. He actively worked for his election, even though the residents
of the territory he once governed and now represented in Washington, D.C. could
not vote. When Breckinridge lost and the slaveholding states seceded one by one,
Stevens returned to Washington Territory to seek re-election as its delegate to
the national government, hoping to work to preserve the Union. When thwarted, he
first tried to put together a coalition to work for a peaceful resolution to
the growing conflict. When this too failed and war began, Stevens enlisted in
the Union Army, where he fought with distinction and died in defense of the Union cause.
and Democrat, despite having strongly supported Breckinridge, also opposed secession:
"the cheers for a Southern
Confederacy ... oppress the heart of the patriot, while they dimly shadow forth
long years of unknown trouble ....
"In the meantime, as we await the
result of this revolution, let us cherish toward each other kind and
magnanimous feelings, -- and though we hail from different sections, let us not
forget our duty to our country. We are for Union now and forever, and recognize
no disunionist as a fellow partisan" ("Secession").
Another staunchly Democratic newspaper,
the Port Townsend Register, was also adamant:
"Whilst we regret the election to
the Presidency of one whose principles are aggressive of Southern rights, we
maintain that it is the patriotic duty of every good citizen to stand by that
preference which the Nation has expressed conformably to the provisions of the
Constitution. We, therefore, disavow all sympathy with those who place
themselves in the attitude of Rebels against the powers that be"
("The Secession Crisis and the Frontier," p. 427).
Although the overriding desire to
preserve the Union seemed paramount, there was one interesting historical
sidelight as the Union started nonetheless to unravel -- the revival of an
earlier proposal for the creation of an independent nation, the "Pacific
Republic," encompassing all lands west of the Rocky Mountains. But, as had
happened when it was first proposed in 1855, the idea found little public
support and lived on only as the hobbyhorse of a small fringe.
War and Rumors of War
In the tense months between the November
1860 election and Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1861, the press and
political parties of Washington Territory tried mightily to be the
"beneficial influence" that Stevens had hoped for. But they were far removed from the action, largely insulated from the passions that raged back East. While the territorial public was calling for compromise, states in the East, both north and south, were preparing for war. Fed by false rumors that
Lincoln was determined to abolish slavery, Southern states continued to secede
and arm themselves for combat. The Pioneer
and Democrat, faced with the reality of serial secessions and the certainty
of war, briefly and vainly reversed its position, calling for recognition of
the Confederated States "not as a matter of Constitutional right, but as a
matter of principle" ("The
On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces rained artillery
fire upon the Union army's Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina,
the first state to secede. The Union commander, Major Robert
Anderson (1895-1871), was forced to surrender a day later. The Battle of Fort
Sumter officially started the Civil War, the bloodiest by far in United States'
history. There was no accurate contemporary accounting of the dead and
wounded, but most postwar estimates put the number killed at more than 618,000.
A study completed in 2012 placed the toll 20 percent higher, at 750,000. Many
more men died from disease than from wounds, and in contrast to modern American
wars, the dead greatly outnumbered the wounded.
News of the war's start reached Portland
on April 28, 1861, carried by the steamship Cortez.
It then percolated slowly up the coast by land, with the first mention in a
Washington Territory newspaper coming on May 2, 1861, when Steilacoom's Puget Sound Herald, on page 2, announced:
THE WAR COMMENCED!
Battle and Surrender of Fort Sumner
A day later, the same news was announced
in the Pioneer and Democrat in
Olympia under a stack of emphatic headlines ("Attack on Fort
Sumter"). It appears that the news then reaching the territory was
fragmentary, overlapping, and one step ahead of the typesetters. In the same
edition, on page one, the Pioneer and
"A thousand rumors are in circulation,
the principal of which indicates that Fort Sumpter [sic] will be attacked in
the course of a few days" ("By Express and Overland Mail").
It took another week for the news of war
to reach Port Townsend, where it was announced in The North-West newspaper. From the territory's towns, the dire reports slowly
spread by overland mail and travelers' mouths.
In response to the secession crisis, on
April 15, 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation to:
"call forth the Militia of the
several States of the Union to the aggregate number of 75,000, in order to
suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed ... ."
("Commentary: Lincoln's Proclamation").
Although the proclamation referred only
to "the several States of the Union," Washington Territory's acting
governor, Henry M. McGill (1831-1915), on May 10, 1861, took steps to activate
a Territorial militia:
"deeming it expedient that the
militia of the Territory of Washington should be placed in readiness to meet
any requisition form the President of the United States or the Governor of this
Territory to aid in 'maintaining the laws and integrity of the National Union,'
I do hereby call upon all citizens of this Territory capable of bearing arms
and liable to militia duty, to report immediately to the Adjutant General of
the Territory and proceed at once to organize themselves into companies, and
elect their own officers ... ." ("Acting Governor Henry McGill issues
a proclamation ... ")
Barely one week later, Isaac Stevens offered
his services to the Union cause and joined the fray. He would not receive a
command until August 1861, after which he distinguished himself in battle.
Promoted to brigadier general, he lost his life at Chantilly, Virginia, in
Several other officers who went on to fight for the Union or the Confederacy
had before the war served at Washington Territory's Fort Vancouver. On
the Union side, these included General Grant, General Philip Sheridan
(1831-1888), General George B. McClellan (1826-1885) (who, before Grant's appointment, commanded the Union Army), and Brigadier
General Joshua Sill (1831-1862). For the Confederates, the most noted
was General George Pickett (1825-1875), who earned fame, or infamy,
for the failed "Pickett's Charge" at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3,
Governor McGill's call to arms did not bring forth a stampede of patriotic volunteers. His proclamation merely "call[ed]
upon" citizens to enlist, and did not command it. The war was remote and
news was late and sparse. There was still significant sympathy for the Southern
cause, and the full ramifications of secession may not yet have penetrated the
public consciousness. A rather typical view of the situation is set forth by an
early historian of the territory:
"They had long heard
of the threats made by the secessionists to break up the Union, but did not
regard them as serious. They were so far away that only the last and feeblest
reverberations of the guns from Fort Sumpter [sic] reached them. The blare of trumpet,
and soul-stirring throb of drum, that sounded so continually in the ears of
people in the Eastern States, hardly penetrated to their quiet homes, and when
they did it hardly seemed probable that any patriotic response on their part,
if made, could be of any benefit.
"The Democrats had
always been in the majority in the territory. All the governors so far had been
Democrats, appointed by Democratic presidents, and all the delegates in
Congress had been Democrats, and had been elected by considerable majorities.
The majority had, therefore, long been opposed to any interference with
slavery, and inclined to sympathize with the slaveholders, as against the
abolitionists ... . The majority accordingly were but little inclined to march
across the continent to engage in the war on either side, and the minority
probably did not, for some time, comprehend that the attack on Sumpter had
changed the issue from one about slavery, to one about union or disunion"
(Snowden, Vol. 4, 103-104).
Despite this lack of
enthusiasm, on May 14, 1861, Adjutant General Franklin Matthias of Seattle issued
an order appointing men in each of the territory's 22 counties to identify and
record "all persons liable to Militia duty" ("Washington
Territorial Militia In the Civil War," p. 14). This achieved some results,
and county militias were formed that carried such names as the Puget Sound
Rangers, the King County Rifles, and the Jefferson Union Guards. But the
response was far from overwhelming; in the first weeks after the call to arms,
only six of the Territory's 22 counties had responded and the head count of
volunteers stood at just 361, most of whom had no weapons fit to fight with.
The primary role of the
territorial militia was to replace those soldiers from the regular Union army
who were being called to the battlefields of the East. This exodus led to the
immediate closure of several forts in the territory and in Oregon, including
Fort Cascades, Fort Yamhill, Fort Townsend, and Camp Chehalis. By mid-summer
1861, 3,361 federal troops had been removed from the army's Department of the
Pacific and sent east.
Despite the public's tepid response to calls for
volunteers in Washington Territory, there was some resistance from Territorial
officials when, in October 1861, it was announced that California volunteers
would be sent north to replace soldiers who had been called east. J. G. Hyatt,
the militia representative for Whatcom County, wrote to Governor McGill:
"We learn with regret
that the Federal Government have determined to garrison the military posts of
this Territory (made vacant by the withdrawal of the regular troops) by a
Volunteer force from California ... . It
looks very much like a slight to the people of this Territory and that their
loyalty is questioned" ("Washington Territorial Militia In the Civil
War," p. 18)
In another attempt to sign up
troops, Colonel Justus Steinberger was sent from Washington, D.C. in October
1861 "to raise and organize a regiment
of infantry in that territory and the country adjacent thereto, for the service
of the United States, to serve for three years, or during the war ... . ("Washington
Territorial Militia In the Civil War"). Before his search was even well
underway, Union military authorities were expressing doubt about its efficacy.
A December 10, 1861, letter to the army's adjutant general from Brigadier
General George Wright, commander of its Department of the Pacific, said:
considerable difficulty in raising a regiment of Infantry in that country. The
sparse population and the intense excitement caused by the recent discovery of
very rich gold mines may render it impossible to obtain such a large number of
men" ("Washington Territorial Militia In the Civil War," p. 19)
Wright's concerns proved
valid. Steinberger found few volunteers and received little official
encouragement. Resolutions of support for the Northern cause were introduced in
both houses of the Territorial Legislature, but did not pass. Steinberger moved
on to California and eventually managed to raise a regiment of volunteers,
named, somewhat oddly, the "First Washington Volunteer Infantry." Only
two of its 10 companies were recruited from north of California, and one of
those was composed primarily of men from the state of Oregon. Only a single
unit, Company K, was made up exclusively of men from Washington Territory. This
company rarely left Fort Steilacoom, and none of the First Washington Volunteer
Infantry ever got farther east than Idaho, saw a Confederate soldier, or fired a shot in anger.
The difficulties that the Union cause
had recruiting volunteers finally led to the passage of the Conscription Act in
March 1863, the nation's first such coercive call-up of troops. All able-bodied
males between 20 and 45 years of age were required to enlist in the army for three
years, although exemptions could be purchased for $300 and substitutes hired to
serve in place of those not willing. In Washington Territory, this at first
proved even less popular than Steinberger's earlier efforts to muster
volunteers. As one historian recounts:
enrolling officers appointed under the conscription act in 1863, to make up the
lists of able-bodied men subject to military duty, met with some trouble, as
they did everywhere else. The provost marshal established his headquarters at
Vancouver, and special deputies were appointed in all the counties. Edwin
Eells, who served in Walla Walla County, probably met with as much resistance
in the discharge of his duty as any of them. The lawless element, which had
been attracted to that part of the territory by the successive gold
discoveries, was still strong in the community, and it was not patriotic in any
sense. It became openly defiant when it began to be known that it would be compelled
to furnish its share of recruits for the army in case of need. In one saloon a
bucket of water was thrown over the enrolling officer; in another a bunch of
firecrackers was set off under his chair, as soon as he began to write, and in
another all his books and papers were taken away and destroyed" (Snowden,
Vol. 4, 112).
Slowly, however, sympathy for the Union
cause grew in Washington Territory, although it did not ever lead to mass
enlistments. There was much else to be done, building new lives in a new land.
Many men were loathe to leave their homesteads unguarded against attacks by
Indians, which, although rare by then, did still occur. The war was being
fought on battlefields far away; the only Confederate threat to the territory
was the odd privateer roaming ineffectually in the waters of the North Pacific. There was simply little sense of urgency or peril this far west, and no great
Through the entire four years of war the
regular Union Army found no Confederates to fight in the Northwest. In January 1863
it fought its only battle in Washington Territory, in the far southeast corner of
what is now Idaho. Known as the Battle of Bear River or the Massacre at Boa
Ogoi, the enemy was not the Confederate army, but Shoshone Indians.
Although there were scattered
engagements shortly afterwards, the Civil War is generally considered to have ended on
April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) surrendered
to General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) on the courthouse steps in Appomattox,
Virginia. It was almost exactly four years since Southern forces had shelled
Fort Sumter. During that four years more than a million American soldiers, North and
South, had been killed or wounded.
The 1860 federal census
had counted 3,950,528 slaves in the United States. At the end of the Civil War
there were none, and a shameful, dark, and protracted chapter of American history was
at an end. The secessions that had torn the country in two were rolled back,
and the United States was again made whole.
Abraham Lincoln did
not live to enjoy the benefits of peace; six days after
Lee's surrender, John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) assassinated the president, a
tragic coda to a tragic era in the nation's history. Lincoln was succeeded by
his vice-president, Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), and a long process of rebuilding
and reconciliation began. In 1869, Ulysses S. Grant, the general credited for
the victory of the Union forces, was elected to the presidency.
The Legacy of War
Washington Territory's distance from
the battlefields and the reluctance of its men to leap en masse into the cauldron of a far-away conflict left its
population almost totally unscathed by the most deadly war in American history.
When the grisly accounting of dead and wounded was done, it could be seen just
how moderate Washington Territory's contributions had been.
The total number of men from Washington
Territory who volunteered or were conscripted into the First Washington Volunteer Infantry is
uncertain, with different sources providing counts ranging from 964 to 1,521.
Whatever the number, it represented a vanishingly small percentage of the
more than 2,000,000 men who served the Union cause. Casualties were equally modest, and not
a single member of the unit died in battle. The fatalities
that did occur were:
Twelve territorial soldiers who died of
Five who died from "accidents."
Five more who died from "from all Causes
except Battle," which included one murder.
("Union - Troops
Furnished and Deaths").
There were no doubt
other casualties with connections to the territory, including members of the
regular military and men who had moved on their own to enlist in the East. One
such was Isaac Stevens, killed at Chantilly. A few
volunteers and military men from Washington Territory fought for the
Confederate cause, but their numbers and fates appear to be largely unrecorded.
Fifteen men who were awarded the Congressional Medal
of Honor during the Civil War are today buried in Washington state, all but one
of whom moved here after the war ended. A sixteenth recipient, Hazard Stevens
(1842-1918), son of Isaac Stevens, is buried at Newport, Rhode Island.
The memory of the war lived
on in Washington Territory, and then in Washington state, in greater measure
than the actual contributions made by its citizens. In Seattle, Stevens Post
No. 1 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was established in 1878, the largest of
nearly 100 such posts in the Washington Territory organized by veterans of the
Union side. It began the tradition of an annual Memorial Day observance in
Seattle the following year. In 1895, David (1833-1912) and Hulda (1829-1906)
Kauffman donated land on Seattle's Capitol Hill adjacent to Lakeview Cemetery to local
chapters of the GAR for the establishment of a burial ground for Union
veterans. The site fell into disrepair over the years, but between 1997 and
2002 it was rehabilitated by a volunteer group, Friends of GAR, and is still in
use today (2013).
A Washington chapter of the
Sons of Confederate Veterans was established in 1904 and still exists today.
The Robert E. Lee Chapter No. 885 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy
was started in Seattle in 1905 for the stated purpose of providing "care
to the Confederate Veterans and their families" ("History," UDC
website). In 1926, the group erected a monument in Lakeview Cemetery in memory
of "United Confederate Veterans." Although later vandalized of its
bronze decorations, it remains there today, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy is still an active
Washington Territory, far removed from the bloody battles and the keeping
of slaves, suffered almost no loss of life or property in the war, but the
issues that fueled the conflict, and their resolution, touched every corner of the
nation. The blight of slavery was lifted from the land, and the Union that the
territory hoped eventually to join, and did finally join in 1889, was preserved. The Civil
War was a tragic ordeal for the country, but when it was
over, Washington Territory had lost very little and gained much.
Robert W. Johannsen, "The Secession Crisis and the
Frontier: Washington Territory, 1860-1861," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 39, No. 3 (December,
1952, pp. 415-440; Lorraine McConaghy, "Charles Mitchell, Slavery, and
Washington Territory in 1860," BlackPast.org website accessed November 17,
"Northwest Ordinance; July 13,
1787," Yale Law School Avalon Project website accessed November 17, 2012 (http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/nworder.asp);
Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393,
19 Howard 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 (1857); "Abraham Lincoln," Encyclopedia
Brittanica online accessed November 17, 2012 (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/341682/Abraham-Lincoln);
"John Bell," Encyclopedia Brittanica online accessed November 17,
"The American Presidency Project: Minor/Third Party Platforms; Constitutional
Union Party Platform of 1860," University of California at Santa Barbara
website accessed November 17, 2012 (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29571);
"Stephen Arnold Douglas," Illinois In the Civil War website accessed
November 17, 2012 (http://www.illinoiscivilwar.org/douglas-sa.html);
"The Cotton Economy of the Old South," Iowa State University Center
for Agricultural History and Rural Studies website accessed November 18, 2012 (http://www.history.iastate.edu/agprimer/Page28.html);
"Our History," Republican National Committee website accessed
November 18, 2012 (http://www.gop.com/our-party/our-history/);
"The Election of 1860," Tulane University Department of History (Richard B. Latner) website accessed November
20, 2012 (http://www.tulane.edu/~latner/Background/BackgroundElection.html);
"1860 Presidential General Election Results," Atlas of U.S.
Presidential Elections website accessed November 20, 2012 (http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1860);
"Order of Secession of the Southern States," Civil War Gazette
website accessed November 20, 2012 (http://civilwargazette.wordpress.com/2006/12/12/order-of-secession-of-the-southern-states/);
"Commentary: Lincoln's Proclamation," Tulane University Department of History (Richard B. Latner) website accessed November 20, 2012 (http://www.tulane.edu/~latner/Aftermath/AApr15Comm.html);
Clinton A. Snowden, The History of Washington:
The Rise and Progress of an American State, Vol. 4 (New York: The
Century History Company, 1909), 102-112; "Washington Territorial Militia In
the Civil War," The Official History of the Washington National
Guard (Tacoma: Headquarters Military Department), available at (http://washingtonguard.org/museum/documents/FIELDS_VOL_III.pdf);
"Union -- Troops Furnished and Deaths," The
Civil War Home Page website accessed November 21, 2012 (http://www.civil-war.net/pages/troops_furnished_losses.html);
F. A. Kittredge, A. N. Brown, G. W. Easterbrook, "Washington
Territory in the War Between the States," The Washington Historical Quarterly,
Vol. 2, No. 1 (October 1907 -July 1908), pp. 33-39; "About Washington Standard (Olympia, Wash.
Territory) 1860-1921," Library of Congress Chronicling America website
accessed November 19, 2012 (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84022770/);
"The Civil War Era at Fort Vancouver," Center for Columbia River History website accessed November 23, 2012 (http://www.ccrh.org/images/resources/civil_war_sb_low_res1_final.pdf); "Soldiers and Sailors Database," National Park Service Civil War
website accessed November 22, 2012 (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm);
"Washington Territory First Infantry Regiment Clothing Book -- 1862,"
Washington State Digital Archives website accessed November 22, 2012 (http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Collections/TitleInfo/513);
"Washington Division: Sons of the
Confederate Veterans," CV website accessed August 18, 2011 (http://sites.google.com/site/washdivscv/); "History: Robert E. Lee Chapter
#885," United Daugthers of the Confederacy website accessed November 23,
Guy Gugliotta, "New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll," The New York Times, April 12, 2012 (http://www.nytimes.com/); "THE
WAR COMMENCED!," Puget
Sound Herald, May 2, 1861, p. 2; "The Present Position of the
Parties," Pioneer and Democrat (Olympia),
March 2, 1860, p. 2; "Fugitive Slave Case," Ibid., September 28, 1860, p. 2; "Secession," Ibid., December 7, 1860, p. 2; "Correspondence
From the States," Ibid., January
11, 1861, p. 2; "Our Policy," Ibid., January 18, 1861, p. 2; "The
President's Inaugural," Ibid.,
April 5, 1861, p. 2; "Attack on Fort Sumter," Ibid., May 2, 1861, p. 2; "By Express and Overland Mail,"
Ibid., May 2, 1861, p. 1; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of
Washington State History, "Steamer Cortez reaches Portland on April
29, 1861, with news of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter" (by Jack and
Claire Nisbet), and "U.S. Civil War starts with shelling of Fort Sumter on
April 12, 1861 (by John Caldbick), and "Following the outbreak of the
Civil War, Colonel George Wright receives orders on May 2, 1861, to send
soldiers from Fort Vancouver to San Francisco" (by Jack and Claire Nisbet),
and "Acting Governor Henry McGill issues a proclamation on May 10, 1861,
calling on citizens to organize themselves into a civilian militia," (by Jack
and Claire Nisbet), and "Former Governor Isaac Stevens offers his services
to the U.S. Army in the Civil War on May 22, 1861" (by Jack and Claire
Nisbet), http://www.historylink.org/(accessed November 19-22, 2012).
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Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), ca. 1860
Courtesy Library of Congress
Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818-1862) as Civil War General, Virginia, ca. 1862
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. UW3436)
Brigadier General Isaac Ingalls Stevens (1818-1862) (seated), Civil War staff, 1862
Photo by Matthew Brady, Courtesy Washington State Digital Archives (Item No. AR-07809001-ph004525)
Union General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), Cold Harbor, Virginia, June 1864
Courtesy National Park Service
Confederate General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), Richmond, Virginia, April 1865
Photo by Matthew Brady, Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration (Image No. 525769)
Former U.S. Army Captain George Pickett (1825-1875) as Confederate Army General, 1860s
Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (Image No. LC-DIG-cwpbh-00682)
President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) (top hat, center), with Union soldiers, Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862
Photo by Alexander Gardner, Courtesy Library of Congress (Image No. 165-SB-23)
Headlines announcing start of Civil War, May 3, 1861
Courtesy Olympia Pioneer and Democrat
Proclamation by Henry McGill, Acting Governor of Washington Territory, Olympia Pioneer and Democrat, May 17, 1861, p. 2
Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863
Courtesy Library of Congress
Federal census, 1870, excerpt illustrating dramatic effect of abolition of slavery in America
Courtesy United States Census Bureau
John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865)
Courtesy Library of Congress
Grand Army of the Republic members, Vashon Island, 1892
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. WAS0413)
Buffalo Bill Cody (second from left) with Civil War veterans, Seattle, 1914
Courtesy Rainier Valley Historical Society Photograph Collection (Accession No. 96.069.001)
Grand Army of the Republic members, Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle, June 24, 1909
Photo by Frank H. Nowell, Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image No. AYP486)