Colonel Benjamin L. Beall takes command of the U.S. Army's District of Oregon on September 13, 1861.

  • By Jack and Claire Nisbet
  • Posted 9/14/2011
  • Essay 9916

On September 13, 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, transfers command of the district to Colonel Benjamin L. Beall (1801-1863) and departs for San Francisco to report for duty at the headquarters for the Department of the Pacific.

The orders directing Beall to relieve Wright of his command had been issued on August 26, 1861, at the Department of the Pacific headquarters in San Francisco. Colonel Beall reached the Columbia River on the steamer Cortez five days later and immediately proceeded to Fort Vancouver.

Wright Stays On

Although the orders did not specify Wright's ultimate destination, he had been awaiting a summons to active duty in the East ever since news of the outbreak of the Civil War had reached the Northwest. After 39 years in the U.S. Army, he felt the Union forces could benefit from his experience and leadership. Despite his desire to report to San Francisco as soon as possible, he felt a responsibility to the region he had served for the past five years. On September 3, he wrote to his superiors in San Francisco that Beall had arrived, but that

"I have not yet transferred to him my command. He is totally unacquainted with affairs in this district, and it is of importance that before relinquishing the command I should put in a train of execution all the recent orders and instructions from department headquarters" (War, 604).

During the following week, Wright laid out the situation of affairs in the district and the distribution of men among the eight posts of the district, which encompassed present-day Washington, Oregon, Northern Idaho, and Western Montana. "The present disposition of troops is believed to be the best that can be made," he wrote. "The companies are generally much reduced and have many men detached" (War, 619). Since the beginning of the war, 14 companies had been called to duty elsewhere, "leaving an inadequate number of troops necessary for the protection of the settlements" (War, 618), and before departing, Wright wrote to the governor of Oregon to request that a company of volunteer cavalry be mustered into service.

Beall Takes Command

On September 13, Wright officially transferred his command to Beall, and six days later he boarded the steamer Sierra Nevada for San Francisco. Wright was well-known throughout the Northwest for his role in suppressing tribal unrest in 1855 and 1856, and before he embarked,

"our citizens gave evidence of their appreciation of Col. Wright's services as an officer here, during the most trying times of the history of this country, by firing a national salute on his departure. No more faithful officer, better soldier, truer patriot can be found in the service of government. The people of Oregon and Washington Territory part with him with deep regret, and their wishes will follow him that he may earn new honors, and that the government will award him due position for his long and successful services in her behalf" (City).

When Wright reported to the headquarters of the Department of the Pacific several days later, he learned that he was not to proceed to Washington, D.C. after all, but was to take charge of federal forces in Southern California, where Confederate sympathizers were reported to be leading a secessionist movement.

Sources: Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Oregon, Vol. 2 (San Francisco: The History Company, 1888); West Pointers and Early Washington ed. by John A. Hemphill (Seattle: The West Point Society of Puget Sound, Inc., 1992); "New Commandant," Oregonian, September, 1861, p. 2; "City" Ibid., September 20, 1861, p. 3; 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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