REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
ISAAC INGALLS STEVENS
By THE EDITOR.*
GENERAL STEVENS was born at Andover, Massachusetts, in 1817. Of his ancestry and early boyhood, the EDITOR has not been able to procure any information. He entered as a cadet the United States Military Academy at West Point, July 1st, 1835, and graduated there July 1st, 1839, ranking first in a class of thirty-one members: General Halleck standing No. 3, Gen. E. O. C. Ord, No. 17, and Gen. E. R. S. Canby, No. 30. He was immediately promoted in the army to second Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers. From that time until 1841, he was engaged as Assistant Engineer in the building of Fort Adams, Newport harbor, Rhode Island. On July 1st, 1840, he was promoted to First Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers, and was engaged upon the repairs of Fairhaven Battery, New Bedford harbor, Massachusetts, 1841-42, and of the defences of Portsmouth harbor, New Hampshire, 1842-46. During the greater part of his latter period, he served also as Superintending Engineer in building Fort Knox, at the Narrows of Penobscot river, Maine.
During the Mexican war he made for himself a brilliant record. When that struggle commenced he was attached to Gen. Scott’s staff. He was engaged as Adjutant of Engineers in the siege of Vera Cruz, March 9th, 1847; and was conspicuous for his boldness and fearless bearing at the reconnaissance of the Peñon, August 12th-13th; of San Antonio, August 18th; at the battle of Contreras, August 19th; the battle of Cherubusco, August 20th; at the battle of southern approaches to the city of Mexico, September 9th-13th; battle of Chapultepec, September 13th, and at the assault and capture of the city of Mexico, September 13th-14th. At the attack upon the Mexican Capital he was in Gen. Worth’s division, and was severely wounded in the San Cosme suburb.
“For gallant and meritorious conduct” in the battles of Contreras and Cherubusco, Mexico, he was brevetted Captain in the regular army, August 20th, 1849, and on September 13th, for like conduct at the battle of Chapultepec, was brevetted Major.
In 1848, Major Stevens was engaged as Superintending Engineer in building Fort Knox, Maine; of repairs of Portsmouth fortifications, New Hampshire; of the improvements of the Savannah river, Georgia; and of building Forts Pulaski and Jackson, in the latter State.
From September 14th, 1849, to March, 1853, he was principal assistant to Professor Bache, of the Coast Survey, and had charge of the Coast Survey Office at Washington, D. C. In the early part of the latter year he was a member of the Commission for devising plans for the improvement of the James and Appomattox rivers, Virginia, and of Cape Fear river, North Carolina.
On March 16th, 1853, Major Stevens resigned his position in the army, to enter the civil service of his country. President Pierce, who had just been inaugurated, was his warm personal and political friend, and two weeks after he assumed his high office, he appointed Major Stevens Governor and Commissioner for Indian Affairs of Washington Territory; at the same time he was placed in charge of the survey of the northern route for the Pacific Railroad, and, the appointment being confirmed by the Senate, he departed for Washington Terrtory, where he entered upon, and continued to discharge, his duties as Governor and Commissioner throughout President Pierce’s term of office.
In May, 1856, a serious dispute occurred between Gov. Stevens and Edward Lander, Chief Justice of the Territory, and brother of the late Gen. Lander. The Governor declared the Territory under martial law, and, on May 7th, 1856, caused Judge Lander to be arrested in his courtroom. The EDITOR has not been able to obtain the history of this conflict, although he has written and applied personally to several old citizens of California, Oregon and Washington; but it is probably safe to assume that the conduct of Governor Stevens was unjustifiable or, to say the least, hasty, inasmuch as it was disapproved, upon investigation, by the authorities at Washington.
During Mr. Buchanan’s administration, 1857-1861, Gov. Stevens was a delegate to the United States House of Representatives, from Washington Territory.
Gov. Stevens was author of “Campaigns of the Rio Grande and Mexico,” (8vo., New York, 1851)—being a review of Ripley’s History of the Mexican War; also of a Report of Explorations made by him in 1853-54, while Governor of Washington Territory, for a “Route for a Pacific Railroad near the 47th and 49th parallels of north latitude, from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Puget Sound,” published by order of Congress in 1855.
When the great breach occurred in the Democratic ranks in 1860, Gov. Stevens became one of the most earnest leaders of the Breckinridge wing of the party, and was President of the Breckinridge National Executive Committee. He acquiesced in the election of Mr. Lincoln, and before the latter was inaugurated, strongly urged upon Mr. Buchanan the propriety of dismissing Secretaries Floyd and Thompson from his Cabinet. At the time of the fall of Fort Sumter he was on the Pacific coast, and as soon as he heard that hostilities were commenced, he hastened to Washington, and was appointed Colonel of the 79th New York (Highlanders) July 31st, 1861. From that time until October 21st, 1861, Col. Stevens served in the defenses of Washington. He commissioned Brigadier-General of Volunteers, September 28th, 1861, and had command of a brigade in the Port Royal Expeditionary Corps from October 21st, 1861, to March 31st, 1862. He had command of the land forces which attacked the enemy at Port Royal Ferry, and captured and destroyed their batteries on Coosaw river, South Carolina. He led the principal column in the unsuccessful assault on the enemy’s position near Secessionville, June 16th, 1862. From March 31st, to July 12th, 1862, Gen. Stevens was in the Department of the South, having command of a brigade and subsequently of a division; being engaged in the demonstration and actions on Stone river June 3d-10th.
On July 4th, 1862, Gen. Stevens was commissioned Major-General of Volunteers, and served in the Northern Virginia Campaign; being engaged in various skirmishes on the Rappahannock during the early part of August; at the battle of Manassas, August 29th-30th; and at the battle of Chantilly, where, “while leading his division in a charge, he was killed, September 1st, 1862, aged forty-four years.”
Gen. Stevens was not a statesman, although a man of varied talents, and ambitious of civil honors. His fame must rest upon his military achievements. His life, though not long, was active and crowded with events. Stout hearted, high-spirited, brave and resolute, he was admirably adapted to the profession of arms. Whenever the flag of his country waved above “the red baptism of the battlefield,” his arm was prompt to strike, and his free and martial spirit followed where duty called. In early manhood and in middle age, within his country’s borders and in a foreign land, he displayed on many memorable instances, the noblest qualities of the soldier and hero. It was the wish of Stevens that, when death sheathed his sword, his name would be enrolled upon the shining list of American Generals; and the aspiration has been fully realized.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 499-502.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.