The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume III, Number 1, Pages 22-24
Glenn Aplin is an Associate Professor of Education at Eastern Washington University.
Though the main theater of America's tragic conflict, the Civil War, was far to the east, a number of incidents occurred which strongly affected the populace of the Pacific Northwest between 1856 and 1865. Many of the settlers in the Oregon Territory in the 1850's were from the border states of the South. They came seeking a better life, but also carried with them their Southern sympathies and traditions.
In the Willamette Valley, the far-reaching effects of the Civil War caused the closure of a prominent institution, Columbia College in Eugene, Oregon. The college had been established in 1856 by the Cumberland (Southern) Presbyterian Church as a co-educational institution. The most famous student who attended this institution was Cincinnatus H. "Joaquin" Miller, the pro-Southern poet and journalist.
In 1859 the institution's Presbyterian Synod selected a new college president, Mr. M. I. Ryan, a Southerner. Though he was a good president, Mr. Ryan's term of office was a short one. Taking offense at an anti-slavery news article he read in the "Eugene People's Press," President Ryan assaulted the editor of the newspaper with a revolver. Though the shot went wild, the President hastily fled from the community, and this Civil War-related event closed the doors of Columbia College permanently.(1)
In 1849 General Joseph Lane, a hero of the Mexican War, was appointed by Democratic President Polk to become the first governor of the Oregon Territory. The colorful war hero soon proved to be an able and determined administrator. Governor Lane's short but colorful career as Oregon's chief executive ended in 1851 with the election of a Whig president, Zachary Taylor. Lane was not idle long, however, for he served as Oregon's territorial delegate to Congress from 1851 to 1859, and worked for the admission of Oregon to statehood.
When Oregon became a state in 1859, Joseph Lane was elected to the United States Senate. By 1860 the sectional feelings dividing the nation and threatening to tear it apart were reflected in the fortunes of Senator Joseph Lane. In the election campaign of 1860, Abraham Lincoln (who had been offered the governorship ofthe Oregon Territory by President Taylor in 1849) was the Republican presidential candidate. The Democrats, unable to agree on a candidate, had split into two parties with Stephen Douglas the candidate of the Northern Democratic Party. Senator Lane then revealed his secessionist leanings by accepting the nomination as the running mate of John Breckenridge on the pro-slavery Southern Democratic Party ticket. Though Lincoln won the election of 1860, Oregon was the only northern state to give more votes to the secessionist Southern Democratic Party than it gave to Stephen A. Douglas.(2) It was even said that Joseph Lane and other western Congressmen favored the creation of a Pacific Republic, which would support the South if Civil War came about. But these rumors were unfounded, and, when the Civil War broke out, Lane returned to Oregon where he died in 1881.
The Confederate Flag Flew in Oregon
Present-day Lane County (Eugene) and Jackson County (Medford) were the two strongest centers of pro-Southern feeling in Oregon; however, many other communities ranked close behind them due to the geographical origins of their settlers.
A few miles west of Eugene on the Old Territorial Road is the site of the town of Franklin which was known as Smithfield during the Civil War era.
In August of 1862 the men of Smithfield, true to their Southern traditions, cut and peeled a young fir tree and erected it in front of the town's general store. The women sewed a Confederate flag, the "stars and bars," and the colors were raised to the top of the flag pole. They also confiscated a cannon and prepared to defend their Southern traditions and their community.
When the news reached both the state capitol and Washington, D.C., word was sent to the local officials in Eugene ordering them to proceed to Smithfield and seize the rebel flag. The sheriff and other law enforcement officials received the orders, but did not dare to carry them out. They were well aware of the reputation these hardy Southerners had for shooting game with their long-barreled Kentucky squirrel rifles. In desperation the federal authorities sent orders to Vancouver Barracks for a troop of U.S. cavalry to proceed to the rebel strong point at Smithfield. Thus, it was that in August 1862, the U.S. cavalry rode into Smithfield, Oregon, and after a brief skirmish, hauled down the only flag of the Confederacy which flew west of Missouri.(3)
Washington's Civil War Infantry Regiment
The state of Washington also had its military activity during the Civil War Period. The Washington First Volunteer Infantry Regiment was sent to Alcatraz Island, California, for basic training and then returned to Ft. Vancouver, its home station. Its purpose was to replace the federal army troops which had been sent east for action in major theaters of war. From Ft. Vancouver, First Infantry troops were sent to Fort Walla Walla, Fort Colville, Hoskins, Boise, Steilacoom, Camp Lapwai, and to Fort Dalles, Oregon. Its missions were to keep the Oregon Trail open and to protect the settlers from hostile Indians. Though the losses of Washington's First Volunteer Infantry Regiment were not incurred on well-known battlefields of the East, the men served the important purpose of protecting the nation's citizens. When it was disbanded in December, 1865, a total of 964 local troops had served in it, many of whom were wounded and twenty-two of whom died on the battlefield.(4)
All of these events in the Northwest reflected the complex problems raised by America's most divisive conflict and the varied geographical origins of its sons and daughters. In view of these events, for the Pacific Northwesterner, the Civil War was not "like the sound of a distant trumpet," but instead, became a part of the folklore and history of his own immediate section of the nation.
(1) Joseph Schafer, "A Historical Survey of Public Education in Eugene, Oregon," Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 2 (March, 1901), p. 56.
(2) Oscar Winther, The Great Northwest, (New York, 1952), p. 162.
(3) Elwin McCornack, "When the Rebel Flag Flew on the Long Tom," Lane County Historian, Vol. 6, (March 1961), p. 14.
(4) F.H. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 1, p.17, (New York, 1959).