Military Heritage Chronicles — Civil War in Oregon

Feb. 13, 2019 — When you mention “Civil War” these days, particularly in Western Oregon, most folks immediately think of the annual battle between orange and green, not the battle between blue and grey that took place in the southeastern United States 158 years ago. Although the annual collegiate battle first took place nearly as far back in 1894, other than the common name reference, the similarities probably end there.

However, while none of the battles from the war between the states took place here in Oregon, that doesn’t mean Oregon didn’t feel the impacts from that war.

When the real Civil War started in 1861, Oregon was a fledgling state, having attained statehood only two years earlier. The United States Army already had considerable presence in Oregon, but primarily because of conflicts between the growing number of settlers who were newcomers and the multiple native American tribes around the state, who had been here first.

As the troop demands for the Civil War increased, the North began withdrawing federal troops to feed that need. To fill the gap for keeping peace, volunteer cavalry replacements were recruited, and the 1st Oregon Cavalry was activated in 1862.

While numerous army posts were established around the state throughout our early years, Ft. Stevens was specifically designed to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from potential Confederate raiders. Although the authorization act for its construction came out of Congress in 1862, the Civil War was over before Ft. Stevens was fully operational. It would however, go on to play significant roles in WWI and WWII.

The Civil War left its imprint on Oregon in other ways, besides the veterans who are buried in some of our local cemeteries. Ft. Stevens itself was named after Isaac Stevens, former Governor of Washington Territory, who, as a Union Officer, was killed in 1862 in the Battle at Chantilly.

Harney County in Eastern Oregon was named after William Harney, a Union Officer who survived the Civil War, and known for his pre-war success with Indian tribes.

Baker County and Baker City were named after Edward Baker, another Union Officer killed in 1861 at the Battle of Balls Bluff.

Closer to home, Lane County was named after Joseph Lane, the first Governor of our State, but who was also a southern sympathizer and ran unsuccessfully for the vice presidency against the Lincoln ticket. Even after his retirement from political life to Douglas County, he remained a believer in separation of the states.

There are other connections between Oregon and the Civil War, and you can hear about them plus more detail about the events mentioned here, at our next Military Heritage Day on Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Florence Municipal Airport.

Board Member and Volunteer Dave Burkett, a Civil War living historian, will regale you with more fascinating tidbits about this element of Oregon’s military heritage.

Perhaps at the next collegiate Civil War match up, you’ll have a different perspective of that game’s title!

The Oregon Coast Military Museum is located at 2145 Kingwood St. in Florence and is open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. You can learn more at www.oregon