Across our State

Washington's connections to the Civil War

The first battles of the Civil War happened in April of 1861, making this month the 150th anniversary.

Perhaps you have been reading or watching memories of this recently. This week our Secretary of State's office began a display of some of the ways Washington Territory was involved.

To set the scene, in 1861 Washington Territory was sparsely populated. It has just been 10 years since the Denny party arrived in Seattle and it was a small logging town. Most of the people are grouped around the Forts of Vancouver, Nisqually, Steilacoom and Walla Walla. There is a growing town at the head of Budd Inlet, which is the capital of the territory, Olympia. It has been eight years since the first census was taken, which counted 3,965 non-Indians.

So how could we have much of a connection to a war taking place so far away? In two ways.

First, through the generals that had served here, and second, through the survivors who moved here after the war.

Our first territorial governor, Isaac Stevens, spent much time in this state after graduating first of his class from West Point in 1839 at the age of 21. Besides his time in Olympia, Stevens surveyed this area for the railroad, was superintendent of Indian Affairs, represented this area in Congress as Territorial Delegate, then volunteered for the Union in the Civil War. He was assigned to the 79th New York Highlanders as Brigadier General and was shot defending his nation's capital at the Battle of Chantilly (near the present site of Dulles airport) on September 1, 1862. He was just 44 years old.

Isaac and Margaret Stevens' son, Hazard, was a 20-year-old volunteer when wounded in the same battle his father was killed. Isaac had just told his son Hazard to seek medical aid, then grabbed the Highlander banner and lifted it to lead a charge. Both father and son were taken from the battlefield. Hazard recovered from his injuries and became the youngest Brigadier General in the Union Army. He received the Medal of Honor from President Lincoln.

After the war, Hazard returned to Olympia, becoming a lawyer. He and P.S. Van Trump were the first two to climb Mount Rainier, reaching the summit on August 17, 1870. Hazard Stevens died in Goldendale in 1918 and was buried in the family plot in Newport, RI beside his father.

General George Pickett also graduated from West Point, but was last in his class. He served well in the Mexican-American War, then was assigned to Washington Territory in 1856 to oversee the building of Fort Bellingham. While visiting the San Juan Islands, he was almost caught up in a war over the shooting of a pig, which belonged to an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company. With a small force of 461 men, Captain Pickett prevented British warships from landing to arrest the American who shot the pig.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Pickett returned home to Virginia to serve in the Confederate Army even though he didn't agree with slavery. He didn't see much action until the decisive Battle of Gettysburg. He arrived with his men in time for the third day's battle. Since his men were fresh and the others were exhausted, General Lee assigned him to lead the final charge against the front lines of the Union forces. Pickett survived, but half of the divisions, three generals, and other commanding officers were killed. After the war he went back to Virginia and lived out his days as an insurance agent.

Other Confederate officers who served in the Northwest during the 1850's were George B. Crittendon, Nathan Wickliffe, Gabriel J. Rains, William Wing Loring and Robert Garnett.

Robert Garnett was assigned to Fort Steilacoom. In 1856 he led the Yakima Expedition and designed and began the buildings of Fort Simcoe. In 1858 while working with the Indians of the Puget Sound, his wife and son died of disease. He took their remains east to bury them, then returned home to Virginia. In 1861 he volunteered for the Confederate Army and was the first Confederate general killed. A friend among the Union troops following his division found his body and sent it home under a flag of truce. He was one of seven of his West Point classmates who were killed during the Civil War.

Ulysses S. Grant, our 18th president, served as quartermaster of the 4th Infantry Regiment at Fort Vancouver in 1853 and 1854. During that time other soldiers who became Union generals or commanding officers also at Fort Vancouver were Philip Sheridan, Rufus Ingalls, Henry C. Hodges, George Crook and George McClellan. You may visit Fort Vancouver today and see where they lived.

At Vancouver, Grant worked for Hodges. Later when Grant was the Commanding General of the Union Army, Hodges worked for him.

Ingalls served as an aide to General McClellan during the war and President Grant appointed Ingalls Quartermaster General to the Army. An interesting fact about Rufus Ingalls is that he used the Chinook jargon he learned in Washington Territory to send coded messages to others who had served here.

McClellan and Confederate General Loring were together at Fort Vancouver. Loring's first battle was against a force led by General McClellan.

George Crook was best known for his battles with Indians, especially Geronimo, but he became a Union General and also a prisoner of war.

There was a Washington connection among the commanding officers on both sides in the Civil War. Next week we will investigate our second connection.

- Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) is in Olympia during the current legislative session.


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