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
  • Posted 8/01/2011
  • Essay 9893
On May 2, 1861, Colonel George Wright (1803-1865), the officer in charge of the U.S. Army's District of Oregon, which includes all troops within Washington Territory and the state of Oregon, receives orders to send three companies of soldiers from Fort Vancouver to San Francisco. Their duty is to guard the Pacific coast against the threats of Western secessionists who are agitating after the outbreak of the Civil War.

Troops Ordered to Move

The first order had been written on April 25 in San Francisco, at the headquarters of Brigadier General Edwin Sumner (1797-1863). Sumner was Commander of the Department of the Pacific, which comprised all U.S. Army forces west of the Rocky Mountains. His official instructions read:

"Col. George Wright,
Ninth Infantry, Commanding, District of Oregon, Fort Vancouver;
Brigadier-General Sumner, commanding the department, directs you to send the light battery of the Third Artillery, guns, horses, and men, by the first steamer to this place" (War, 469).

A day later, on April 26, a second dispatch ordered two more companies of the Third Artillery to San Francisco:

"Special Orders, No. 66
Headquarters, Department of the Pacific,
San Francisco, April 26, 1861
Companies G and M, Third Artillery, will be sent by the commander of the District of Oregon to this place
By command of Brigadier-General Sumner" (War, 470)

The message traveled by telegraph from San Francisco to Shasta, then by overland stage to Portland, and by Tracy & Co.'s Express to Fort Vancouver, where it reached Colonel Wright on May 2, seven days after its dispatch.

Farewell to Captain Hardie

One of the companies to be transferred was commanded by Captain James A. Hardie (1823-1876), who had served under Wright for three years, most recently as his Assistant Adjutant-General. The day after receiving the orders transferring Hardie to California, Wright wrote: 

"My Dear Captain: I cannot part with you without expressing how highly I appreciate you both personally and officially, and the deep regret I feel at severing a connexion which has afforded me so much pleasure during the last three years ... . The zeal, ability, and intelligence, which have distinguished your performance of the arduous duties imposed upon you, deserve the highest commendation. 

"I must now bid you adieu, my dear Captain, praying for the health and happiness of yourself and family, and assuring you of the sincere friendship of your friend & svt.G. Wright"  (Schlicke, 218). 

At 5 a.m. on May 5, the steamer Cortez departed Portland and crossed the Columbia to Fort Vancouver to take aboard the three companies, their horses, and their artillery. Upon their arrival in San Francisco, they spent five months guarding the harbor.

In October 1861, they embarked for New York to join Union forces fighting the Confederacy.

Sources: Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Oregon, Vol. 2 (San Francisco: The History Company, 1888); Puget Sound Herald, May 9, 1861, p. 2, col. 1; Carl P. Schlicke, General George Wright: Guardian of the Pacific Coast (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988);  The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 50, Part 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897).

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