The Infamous Black BirdSouthern Oregon History, Revised

First-person assessments of some Oregon officers.

Benicia Barracks, June 20, 1864.
    It having been the good fortune of the writer to be acquainted, by long service, with a majority of our leading Union generals while on this coast, a brief sketch of their military history in this Department may prove of interest to your readers.
Major General Sheridan.
    I will commence with Major General Philip H. Sheridan. General Sheridan was promoted in 1855 from Brevet Second Lieutenant of the Eighth Infantry to Second Lieutenant of the Fourth Infantry, came to California the same year with recruits for the companies of the First Dragoons stationed here, and was immediately upon his arrival assigned to service in the field with a detachment of Captain A. J. Smith's Company (C) of the First Dragoons, surveying a section of the Pacific Railroad to connect Oregon with California. He was employed on that duty, above the Dalles, when the Indian war of 1855 broke out, and joined at once Major Rains' battalion, then organizing at the Dalles for an expedition against the Yakima Indians. On that expedition Lieutenant Sheridan showed himself an energetic and able cavalry leader, being constantly in the saddle, scouring the country in advance of the battalion, and although often attacked by large bands of Indians, returned in December to the Dalles without the loss of a man or a horse, while Colonel Nesmith's regiment of Oregon Volunteers, without killing a single Indian, lost one-half their horse--partly run off by the Indians, partly by the heavy snow storms of November. Lieutenant Sheridan remained at Vancouver until the spring of 1856, when General Palmer, having established an Indian reservation at Grand Ronde, in Yamhill County, Sheridan was ordered with his detachment to the Calapooia Mountains, there to collect the Indians and conduct them to the reservation, where he remained in command until the month of July of the same year, when he was ordered by Captain Augur to remove the Rogue River Indians from the Grand Ronde to the Siletz. After performing that duty he was temporarily attached to Captain Augur's Company (G) of the Fourth Infantry, then building a new post in King's Valley, afterwards designated as Fort Hoskins. Sheridan, in addition to quarters for men and officers, and storehouses, built in three months a military road thirty-five miles long from Fort Hoskins to the Siletz and erected a strong blockhouse at that point. Until the whole was completed he did not come himself into quarters, but by his presence and his energetic supervision completed the herculean task before the first of December, 1856. In February 1857, by mismanagement of the Indian Department, the Indians on the reservation broke out, and would have destroyed all the public buildings but for the activity of Sheridan, who, without waiting for transportation or supplies, started out for the Yaquina Bay, which was the only point where the Indians could leave the reservation, and after stationing twenty-five men at that point, accompanied by only four or five men, went himself through the different rancherias on the reserve, taking away from the Indians all their rifles, pistols and bowie knives, and made them understand that he would only subsist such as would submit to the rules of the Indian Department, and that for the dissatisfied he had nothing but a tree and sufficient rope to bring them to their senses, illustrating his speech by hanging as a warning three chiefs. In May 1857, Lieutenant Sheridan was ordered to rejoin his Company (D), of the Fourth Infantry, Captain D. H. Russell commanding, at the Grand Ronde, where, being assigned to duty as quartermaster, he built a post designated as Fort Yamhill. He remained on that duty and at that point until the breaking out of the rebellion, when the regiment was concentrated in Lower California, and from there ordered to the East in the fall of 1861. His career since is [a] matter of national history. In person, General Sheridan is five feet four, with the head and shoulders of a giant on the legs of a child; he is round-shouldered, with a faint outline of a hunch on his back, but none who knew him ever dared mock him for his deformity. His administration as quartermaster and commissary was as signal as his energy and zeal in the field. Nothing escaped him, and, having been connected with many officers in the Quartermaster's Department, I have never met with any whose administrative faculties were superior to his, and but very few who were his equals.
    In a future communication I will send you a sketch of General Augur, commanding the defenses of Washington.
Sacramento Daily Union, June 24, 1864, page 3

Major General Augur.
    It seems to have been the will of Providence that all great men, under the most adverse circumstances, have the intuition of their future greatness, so that they preserve themselves for the responsibility attached to exalted positions. This was eminently the case with Major General Augur, who, while as yet a subaltern with no higher prospects before him than a captaincy in his old age, had that faith in his rapid advancement that he would devote all his leisure hours to qualify himself for the command of large armies by making himself familiar with all the standard works of military writers and engineers, whom he would study in the original languages in which they were published. Arriving on this coast in 1853, a lieutenant in the Fourth Infantry, he was promoted the same year to a captaincy in the same regiment, and was stationed at Vancouver until the spring of 1855, when he was assigned to the command for Fort Dalles. In the fall of 1855 he joined with his company the battalion under Major Rains, and when the expedition returned to winter quarters was again ordered to Vancouver. In March 1856 he was ordered to Fort Orford, and upon his assuming command there at once took the field against the Indians in Southern Oregon and Northern California, his command consisting of his own company and Major J. F. Reynolds' Company H, of the Third Artillery. After two successful engagements with the Indians at the mouth of the Illinois River and at the Tututni rancheria, he joined Colonel Buchanan's battalion, then engaged at the mouth of Rogue River, and was constantly detached by that cautious commander whenever Indians would appear in large numbers in the vicinity of his camps, himself acting as a reserve and coming in after the Indians would be defeated for the full credit of the victory. The most noteworthy of these engagements was the one at the Big Bend of Rogue River, where at the head of fifty-four men of his company Captain Augur charged upon four hundred Indians who had surrounded Captain A. J. Smith, and had already placed most of his men hors de combat. This signal action was claimed by both General Lamerick, who was twelve miles further up the river, and by Colonel Buchanan, who was seven miles below, as a victory gained by themselves at the head of their respective commands, although neither of them arrived on the ground until an express from Captain Augur informed them that he had relieved Captain Smith and had driven off the Indians from the river. Thence Captain Augur, with his company, followed up his success by surprising the warriors of the lower tribes and compelling the chiefs of eight of those tribes to surrender unconditionally. Having thus gathered over 1,200 Indians he returned to Fort Orford, where the other tribes, duly frightened into submission, soon after came in. Colonel Buchanan, not having any further Indians to observe, followed with his bodyguard of four companies, and thus ended the Indian campaign of 1856 in Southern Oregon. From Fort Orford Captain Augur was ordered to establish a post at the middle pass of the Coast Reservation, which he did in King's Valley, Oregon, and designated it Fort Hoskins, as a tribute to the memory of a former adjutant of his regiment, who fell at Monterey, Mexico. He remained in command at Fort Hoskins until, at the breaking out of the rebellion, he was promoted in one of the additional regiments of the regular army raised by authority of Congress. During that interval he discharged the duties of post commander to the satisfaction of the different generals in command of this coast, and in a controversy with J. Ross Browne, arising out of the selection made by him of the site of Fort Hoskins, demolished the report of the special agent, and received the endorsement not only of the general in chief, but also that of the Secretary of War. If in the present war his name has not been heralded by the press it is not because of his indifferent services; none have been more arduous and more distinguished, but a thorough soldier and a perfect gentleman, he is too modest to publish glowing accounts of his own prowess, and does not ingratiate himself with newspaper correspondents. It does not detract from his services to the country that he has tutored some of our best generals. Sheridan was temporarily attached as a second lieutenant to his company. A. V. Kautz was his second lieutenant for three years, and both have proved themselves worthy of their first leader in the army, and have amply repaid to the country the debt of gratitude contracted by their education.
    Our next subject will be A. V. Kautz, cavalry commander of Butler's corps.
Sacramento Daily Union, July 2, 1864, page 1

Benicia, July 9, 1864.
Colonel Black.
    After a few days absence celebrating the glorious Fourth in the Queen City of the Plains, meeting many old friends who had given me up as lost on some of the eastern battlefields, I am again in the traces, growling and grumbling at the routine of a garrison life. Having experienced all possible military situations, I must say that the soldier who cheerfully and faithfully performs his duty in a garrison is deserving of as much credit as his more fortunate comrade who perils his life on the battlefield for the defense of our country and the progressive civilization of the nineteenth century. Our California volunteers are about to lose a distinguished leader, who is ordered to West Point as Commandant of Cadets. I refer to Colonel Black, of the Sixth, whom the War Department cannot spare any longer on this coast. He will carry with him the good wishes of every member of the regiment, whom he has brought to such a state of efficiency that it will compare favorably with any of the regular regiments now organized. A first lieutenant of the Ninth Infantry in 1856, he has gained every step up to his present rank on this coast, and, while being a strict disciplinarian, has not made an enemy. His late services in Humboldt are fresh yet before the mind of the people. It was actually a case of veni, vidi, vici. The threatening cloud has disappeared, and, thanks to his prompt measures, an Indian war has been nipped in the bud at a trifling expense to the country and with a very small loss of life.
    This brings me to the subject of my chronicle of this day--A. V. Kautz having been at one time stationed at Fort Orford and kept all the Indian tribes within his district in complete subjection with only a detachment of twenty men. From Fort Humboldt up to Coos Bay the traveler and the miner could proceed in entire security, such was the prestige of his name over the numerous tribes of Indians in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Born in Germany, he emigrated to the United States with his parents and was living with them in Ohio at the breaking out of the Mexican War. He was then but a boy, and followed one of the Ohio regiments as a drummer. He distinguished himself to that extent that at the close of the Mexican War as a reward for his bravery he was sent to West Point, where he graduated in 1853 as a second lieutenant of the Fourth Infantry. He served in that capacity in Captain Augur's company until December 1855, when by the death of Lieutenant Slaughter, killed by Indians in Washington Territory, he was promoted first lieutenant of Captain Kane's Company (C), of the same regiment. While in Captain Augur's company, he was entrusted with the command of Fort Orford during 1854 and 1855, and when he joined his new company he was assigned to duty as quartermaster and commissary at Steilacoom. Of his efficiency as a subordinate officer, no better proof can be given than the little pamphlet published by him since the war, and known as "The Company Clerk." To inexperienced volunteer officers it has proved a safe guide, to the regular officers a most valuable reference, and the whole service has been greatly benefited by its publication.
Sacramento Daily Union, July 13, 1864, page 3

Benicia, July 19, 1864.
General Grant.
    It has been the misfortune of all great men to be ubiquitous to the extent of having their previous history so much obscured by various localities claiming to have once patronized them and honored them and foreshadowed their future greatness, that the world at large does not know which of these claims are founded in truth. Since General Grant has attained his present eminence, there has not been a solitary town in Oregon or Washington Territory, or even Northern California, in the vicinity of which existed a camp, but what claimed to have at one time held our greatest general as one of its most honored citizens, while the naked truth is that a more unpretending, unnoticed officer never came to this coast, and but for this war, which brought him out first among our different leaders, very few outside of those who served immediately under him would even have recollected the obscure subaltern of 1852. Regimental quartermaster of the Fourth United States Infantry, from April 1847 until August 1853, Lieutenant Grant remained at Fort Vancouver until the latter period, when, by his promotion to captain in the Fourth Infantry he joined his company at Fort Humboldt, where he was stationed on the 31st of July 1854, when his resignation was accepted. His record in the regiment was that of a quiet, unpretending, not over-brilliant officer, and within a few months after leaving it his name was almost forgotten. In his case, there were no opportunities offered by which he could call the attention of the people to his qualifications for a higher position, and having made no intimacies among his brother officers, he was entirely lost sight of. What his motive was to resign was never known, but it is fair to presume that the inactivity to which a garrison life condemned him had no small share in deciding him to that step, but that he was compelled to resign was never hinted at until he reappeared before the public as the hero of Fort Donelson, but he has outlived the malice of his detractors, and he stands today before the American people as the true patriot, a title no less honorable than the lofty one of the greatest military leader of this century. With him closes our series of leading generals springing from the Fourth United States Infantry. Others of the same regiment, equally meritorious, have not, for want of opportunities, shone as prominently before the public, but they are nonetheless entitled to the regard and gratitude of their fellow citizens, and when this rebellion is subdued, generals Alvord, Judah, Russell, Prince, Crook and others whose names are less familiar to our population will be pointed at with pride by the regiment in which they first perfected themselves in their profession. And perhaps the brightest record among them all will be that of a venerable general who first came to this coast with it, and who, by his prudence and his sagacity, has helped to keep away from us the calamity of a civil war. To General Wright the people of Oregon and Washington Territory owe their respite from Indian wars, and to him as much as anyone else under Providence do we owe our present state of peace, quietness and prosperity. In my next, I will endeavor to do justice to the hero of Gettysburg, the lamented Major General J. F. Reynolds.
Sacramento Daily Union, July 22, 1864, page 2

Benicia, July 24, 1864.
John F. Reynolds.
    The subject of our chronicle of today, John Fulton Reynolds, graduated on the 1st of July, 1841; was promoted first lieutenant Third Artillery in Jun 1846; brevet captain for gallantry and meritorious conduct in the battle of Monterey, September 23, 1846; brevet major for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Buena Vista, February 23, 1847; and captain of Company H, Third Artillery, March 3, 1855, vice Edward J. Steptoe, promoted major of the Ninth Infantry. The breaking out of the Indian war of 1856 found him with his company at Fort Orford, whence he took the field with Captain Augur and with him joined Colonel Buchanan's battalion. During that campaign, in which he took a very active part, being on several occasions detached under Captain Augur, he was distinguished for his skill as an artillerist, making his howitzers give a good account of themselves and not wasting a single shot; by his intrepidity whenever Indians would stand [and] fight, and by his unvaried kindness to men who became exhausted by the severe marches through a country where the surveyors had not yet made their appearance. Often have I seen him dismount from his horse and gently assist upon it some worn-out soldier who otherwise would have been left behind, and would have met with a cruel death at the hands of the relentless Indian. At the close of the war he was ordered to the East to take command of Light Battery Company C, which he brought out to Vancouver via Salt Lake in 1859. His services since the breaking out of the rebellion until he met with a glorious death at Gettysburg have become a matter of history, but his kindness to the humble soldier, blended with a strict observance of all military rules is, perhaps, one of his greatest titles to the gratitude of the American people, for he was not one to waste uselessly the energies of his troops, nor to lead them heedlessly to be slaughtered where nothing could be gained by the sacrifice. His regiment, while pointing with pride to Reynolds, Ord, Hardee, Kip and to our distinguished Deputy Provost Marshal, General Mason, must ever regret that it did honor Bragg and Ransom, and regret it the more that as with the Fourth Infantry the majority of its officers remained loyal and true.
Sacramento Daily Union, July 28, 1864, page 6

By Fred Lockley
    Army officers are like pawns moved over the checkerboard of this country by the Secretary of War, the chief of staff and the other chess players at the national capital. It is rather surprising to look over the list of officers who have achieved distinction and find how many of them have served at one time or another in Oregon, Washington or elsewhere on the Pacific Coast. Some of them have left permanent memorials of this in the way of counties, cities, mountains or streams named for them. For example, Harney County is named for General William Selby Harney; Crook County for Major General George Crook; Grant County for General U. S. Grant; Gilliam County for Colonel Cornelius Gilliam; Lane County for General Joseph Lane; Sherman County for W. T. Sherman; Baker County for Colonel E. D. Baker, Oregon's United States Senator who was killed at Ball's Bluff in the early days of the Civil War. Many of our cities are named for early-day army officers, such as Sheridan, Canby and Meacham.
    General  William  Selby Harney, for whom Harney County was named, was a Tennesseean, having been born at Haysboro on August 27, 1800. His father, Thomas Harney, was an officer in the Revolutionary War. William S. Harney was appointed a second lieutenant in the First United States infantry from Louisiana in 1818. He was a major in the Black Hawk War and also served in the Florida War. He commanded an expedition into the Everglades, and during the Mexican War he was brevetted brigadier general for gallantry. At the battle of the Sand Hills on the Platte River, in the fall of 1855 he defeated the Sioux Indians. In the summer of 1858 he was made brigadier general and was assigned to command all the departments of Oregon. While here he took possession of the island of San Juan to protect American interests from Great Britain. In 1861, while en route to Washington, D.C., he was captured at Harpers Ferry, Va., and taken as a prisoner of war to Richmond. General Lee urged him to take a commission in the Confederate army, as he was a Southerner. He refused, and was released, but took no prominent part in the Civil War.
    George Edward Pickett was another officer well known to early-day Oregonians. He was born at Richmond, Va., January 25, 1825. He moved to Illinois, from which state he was appointed to West Point, graduating in 1816. He served in the Mexican War and was brevetted lieutenant for gallant conduct. He was once more promoted for gallantry, becoming a captain on September 13, 1847. He was a captain while stationed in the Pacific Northwest. In 1856 he was ordered, with 60 men, to San Juan Island. In spite of the overwhelming British force he notified the British government that he would resist the landing of the British troops to the death. He was commended by General Harney for his cool judgment, ability and gallantry. He was voted a resolution of thanks by the legislature of Washington Territory. Immediately upon the breaking out of the Civil War he became a major in the Confederate army and shortly thereafter was promoted to colonel, and on January 14, 1862 was made brigadier general in command of Virginia troops.  His brigade soon won the title of the "Gamecock Brigade." On October 10, 1862 he was severely wounded. He recovered from his wound and was made major general and commanded a division of Longstreet's corps. Pickett's charge at Gettysburg will go down in history as one of the most heroic and desperate exploits of the Civil War. He died at Norfolk, Va., in the summer of 1865.
    Another army officer of whom I have heard many old pioneers speak is General Benjamin Alvord, a native son of Vermont. He was born at Rutland, August 18, 1813. He graduated from West Point in 1833, served in the Seminole War, later became an instructor in mathematics at West Point, participated in the military occupation of Texas in 1846 and fought through the Mexican War, being brevetted major for gallantry. In 1854 he came to Oregon, serving in this state till 1862, when he was made brigadier general of volunteers. He later became brigadier general and served from 1872 to 1881 as paymaster general of the army with headquarters at Washington, D.C. He was the author of numerous abstruse mathematical works, such as on the "Tangencies of Circles and of Spheres" and "The Interpretation of Imaginary Roots in Questions of Maxima and Minima."
    General John Ellis Wool, who was born at Newberg, N.Y., in 1784, and whose father was a soldier of the Revolutionary War, was another army officer who served in Oregon. He raised a company of volunteers and served through the War of 1812. He was badly wounded at the battle of Queenstown Heights. On October 13 he became a captain of the 13th Infantry and on April 13, 1813 was made a major in the 13th Infantry. In 1816 he became a colonel and was made inspector general of the army. In 1826 he was brevetted brigadier general, receiving his commission as brigadier general in 1841. In 1832 he was sent to Europe, where he witnessed the siege of Antwerp by the French army. In 1836 he was put in charge of the removal of the Cherokees to their new agency. At the breaking out of the Mexican War he was given the task of equipping 12,000 volunteer troops. He was made second in command to General Taylor. With 3000 men he marched from San Antonio to Saltillo. For leading the assault in the battle of Buena Vista he was brevetted  major general and was voted a sword and a vote of thanks by Congress. He was also given a sword by the legislature of the state of New York. In 1854 he took the field against the hostile Indians in Oregon. His criticism of volunteer officers in the Cayuse War led to much friction. His quick action in reinforcing Fortress Monroe in the spring of 1861 saved that fortress to the Union. In May 1862 he occupied Norfolk, Va., and Portsmouth, and a few days later was commissioned major general. To him was assigned the task of suppressing the draft riots in New York. He died in the fall of 1869.
    Thomas Lincoln Casey, who was born in New York in 1831 and whose brother, Silas Casey, was in the United States navy and whose father was a general in the United States army, commanded the engineering corps on the Pacific Coast from 1859 to 1861. He became a brigadier general and chief of engineers of the United States army.
    If you will check over the list of the officers who have distinguished themselves in the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the World War, and in  our numerous Indian wars, you will be surprised to see what a large proportion of these men hailed from the West or have seen service in the West.
Oregon Journal, Portland, December 9, 1924, page 12

Last revised December 7, 2023