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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1839

[image ALT: A photograph of a man of about 35 or 40, in a Union Army uniform, seated side-saddle on a chair, his cap in his right hand, his sword in his left. The scene is on the porch of a house; wooden siding and three sets of window shutters are seen. He is the 19c American army general Isaac I. Stevens.]

Isaac Ingalls Stevens.º

Vol. I

(Born Mas.)

Isaac I. Stevens

(Ap'd Mas.)


Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1835, to July 1, 1839, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Second Lieut., Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1839.

Served: as Asst. Engineer in building Ft. Adams, Newport harbor, R. I.; 1839‑41, — of the repairs of Fairhaven Battery, New Bedford

(First Lieut., Corps of Engineers, July 1, 1840)

harbor, Mas., 1841‑42 — and of the repairs of the defenses of Portsmouth harbor, N. H., 1842‑46; as Superintending Engineer in building Ft. Knox, at the Narrows of Penobscot River, Me., 1843‑46; in the War with Mexico, 1847‑48, being engaged, as Adjutant of Engineers, in the Siege of Vera Cruz, Mar. 9‑29, 1847, — Battle of Cerro Gordo, Apr. 17‑18, 1847, — Reconnoissance of the Peñon, Aug. 12‑13, 1847, and of San Antonio, Aug. 18, 1847, — Battle of Contreras, Aug. 19‑20,  p730 1847, — Reconnoissance and Battle of Churubusco, Aug. 20, 1847, —

(Bvt. Capt., Aug. 20, 1847,
for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco, Mex.)

Battle of Molino del Rey, Sep. 8, 1847, — Reconnoissance of the Southern approaches to the City of Mexico, Sep. 9‑13, 1847, — Battle of Chapultepec,

(Bvt. Major, Sep. 13, 1847,
for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battle of Chapultepec, Mex.)

Sep. 13, 1847, — and Assault and Capture of the City of Mexico, Sep. 13‑14, 1847, where he was severely wounded in the San Cosme suburb; as Superintending Engineer in building Ft. Knox, Me., and of repairs of Portsmouth fortifications, N. H., 1848, — of the improvement of Savannah River, Ga., 1848, — and of building Fts. Pulaski and Jackson, Ga., 1848; as Assistant in charge of the Coast Survey Office, at Washington, D. C., Sep. 14, 1849, to Mar. 31, 1853; and as Member of a Commission for devising plans for the improvement of the James and Appomattox rivers, Va., and of Cape Fear River, N. C., 1853.

Resigned, Mar. 16, 1853.

Civil History. — Author of "Campaigns of the Rio Grande and Mexico," 1851, being a Review of Ripley's "History of the Mexican War." Governor of Washington Territory, Mar. 17, 1853, to Mar. 4, 1857; and Commissioner for Indian Affairs for Washington Territory, Mar. 17, 1853, to Mar. 4, 1857. Author of a Report of Explorations, made by him in 1853‑54, while Governor of Washington Territory, for a "Route for the Pacific Railroad, near the 47th and 49th Parallels of North Latitude, from St. Paul, Min., to Puget Sound," published by order of Congress, 1855. Delegate to the U. S. House of Representatives from Washington Territory, 1857‑61.

Military History. — Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding

(Colonel, 79th New York Volunteers, July 30, 1861)

States, 1861‑62: in the defenses of Washington, D. C., July 30 to

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, Sep. 28, 1861)

Oct. 21, 1861; in command of brigade in the Port Royal Expeditionary Corps, Oct. 21, 1861, to Mar. 31, 1862, being engaged and in command of the land forces which attacked the enemy at Port Royal Ferry, and captured and destroyed the Rebel batteries on Coosaw River, S. C., Jan. 1, 1862; in the Department of the South, Mar. 31 to July 12, 1862, in command of brigade, and subsequently of a division, being engaged in the demonstrations and actions on Stono River, June 3‑10, 1862, — and Assault of the Rebel works at Secessionville, James Island, S. C., June 16, 1862; in command of division at Newport News, Va., July‑Aug., 1862;

(Major‑General, U. S. Volunteers, July 4, 1862)

and in the Northern Virginia Campaign, Aug.‑Sep., 1862, being engaged in various Skirmishes on the Rappahannock, Aug., 1862, — Battle of Manassas, Aug. 29‑30, 1862, — and Battle of Chantilly, where, while leading his division in a charge, he was

Killed,​1 Sep. 1, 1862: Aged 44.

Buried, Island Cemetery, Newport, RI.

Biographical Sketch.

Major-General Isaac I. Stevens was born, Mar. 28, 1818, in North Andover, Mas. He was graduated at the Military Academy, July 1,  p731 1839, at the head of his class; and was promoted to the Corps of Engineers, in which, for seven years, he was engaged in repairing and constructing New England fortifications.

In the War against Mexico, as Adjutant of his corps, Lieut. Stevens was engaged in all the operations of General Scott's army, from the Siege of Vera Cruz to the Capture of the City of Mexico, where, in the San Cosme suburb, he was severely wounded. Though much broken down by a severe ailment, while in the Valley of Mexico, he was always at the front, boldly reconnoitring and ever ready for the fray, showing marked intelligence, sound judgment, and impetuous daring upon the battlefield. For his "gallant and meritorious conduct" at Contreras and Churubusco, he was brevetted a Captain, and a Major for Chapultepec.

After this war, though on crutches, Stevens returned to his usual engineer duties till 1849, when he accepted the position of Assistant in charge of the U. S. Coast Survey Office, which, with great credit to himself and advantage to the Government, he held till Mar. 16, 1853, when he resigned from the Army.

Stevens, ambitious for something higher than the peace occupation of an engineer, decided to accept a civil station which was tendered to him, — that of Governor of Washington Territory, and ex officio, Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Upon his own urgent request, he was also placed in charge of exploring a railroad route to the Pacific, from St. Paul, Min., to Puget Sound, a distance of 2,000 miles through an almost trackless wilderness. With his customary ardor he traversed and examined a belt of some 200 miles wide through a wild and almost unknown country, and was the first to submit to Congress a comprehensive and exhaustive report upon the feasibility of the route, and also the practicability of navigating by steamers the Upper Missouri and Columbia rivers. In a speech at San Francisco, at that early day, he proved the expediency of carrying out his project, and boldly predicted that many of his hearers would see three grand iron roads spanning the Continent, — the Northern, Central, and Southern. Though he did not live to behold his prophecy fulfilled, four grand routes attest to‑day his far-seeing vision.​a

Stevens was prompt in organizing the civil government of his Territory, and as Superintendent of Indian Affairs, in 1854‑55, made treaties with the wild tribes of the Territory by which they relinquished their titles to more than 100,000 square miles of land. His Indian policy was one of great beneficence, guarded most carefully tribal rights, and guaranteed homesteads to all savages adopting the habits of civilized life. In October, 1855, Gov. Stevens crossed the Rocky Mountains to conclude a treaty of friendship with the Blackfeet Indians, at the same time intervening successfully to make peace between them and the hunting tribes of Washington and Oregon. During his absence the disaffected Indians of Washington Territory rose against the whites and committed many barbarities. Without an instant's delay, Stevens forced a passage across the Rocky Mountains in mid-winter to reach his capital, Olympia, called out a thousand volunteers, and conducted a campaign against the revolted Indians which was so vigorous and success­ful that before the close of the year, they were subdued, their chiefs slain, and the hostiles incorporated with the friendly Indians. In this struggle his energy, resolution, and expedients overcame all obstacles, suppressed mutiny, and the many plots of the former employees of the Hudson Bay Company; while sympathizers with the Indians were taken from their homes and confined in the town, and, when the Chief Justice of the Territory issued his writ of habeas corpus for their release, Governor Stevens proclaimed martial law in two counties, caused the Chief Justice to be arrested in his own courtroom, and held a prisoner till the close of the war. During this trying epoch Stevens proved himself another Jackson, stood a protecting shield  p732 against the oppressed, and vindicated himself in a printed document in which the same arguments and nearly the same language were used as in the subsequent proclamation of martial law during the Rebellion.

Stevens, in July, 1857, on being elected Congressional Delegate from Washington Territory, resigned his office of Governor. In the House of Representatives he justified his course in the Indian war, saw his treaties confirmed, his issues of scrip to pay volunteers assumed by the government, and large appropriations secured for the development of Washington Territory.

In the presidential canvass of 1860 Stevens took an active part, being the chairman of the Breckenridge branch of the Democratic party, and author of its able address to the people;​b but, upon the raising of the first banner of secession, he denounced disunion and its leaders, and urged President Buchanan at once to expel Floyd and Thompson from his cabinet.

On hearing of the attack upon Ft. Sumter, Stevens hurried to Washington and tendered his sword to the government. At once he accepted the Colonelcy of the 79th N. Y. Volunteers (Highlanders), which regiment had suffered severely at Bull Run, and was so disappointed in being kept in the field that eight of its companies mutinied. The prompt decision and judicious treatment displayed by the new Colonel soon restored discipline, and so won the respect of the men, that, at their own request, they were transferred to Stevens's brigade, when, Sep. 28, 1861, he was appointed Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers. From the Defenses of Washington he embarked his brigade for the Port Royal expedition. He then attacked the Confederate batteries on the Coosaw, in January, 1862, capturing them with the co-operation of the gunboats. In June, with his division, he successfully attacked the Stono River batteries, but was defeated at Secessionville, where, under protest, he made a desperate assault upon the enemy's works. In July, leaving South Carolina, he joined the Ninth Corps at Newport News, and then participated in the Northern Virginia Campaign, having been promoted Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, July 4, 1962. After various skirmishes on the Rappahannock, he gallantly headed his division in the Battle of Manassas, where his horse was killed under him and half of his command were disabled. Two days after this disaster, Sep. 1, 1862, Stevens, seizing the colors of the Highlander regiment from the dying bearer, led on foot his division at Chantilly through the "sheeted fire" of the enemy, and, like Wolfe, fell a hero in the arms of victory. When found, his hand still firmly clenched that flag he so loved, and under which he was so ready to give up his life.

"At the very hour of his death," says one cognizant of the fact, "the President and Secretary of War were considering the advisability of placing Stevens in command of the Army in which he was serving." However that may be, there is no doubt, had the General lived, his talents, courage, and devotion to the Union cause would have secured his elevation to high command.

General Stevens was of the pure Puritan type of character, a man of facts not fancies, yet not austere with his associates, for he was a genial companion, free from pedantry, fond of humor, and ready for any diverting amusement. Had he lived in the seventeenth century he would have been one of Cromwell's Ironsides, and as distinguished at Naseby and Worcester as in the nineteenth he was in Mexico and at Chantilly. Though not a hard student, Stevens possessed great powers of mental abstraction, and of rapidly concentrating all his intellectual faculties upon any subject to be investigated. No one better understood than he that brain and opportunity are the two great factors of success in life. He enjoyed the former in an eminent degree, and the latter he impulsively  p733 seized and developed to the largest advantage. Added to these two requisites, a soaring ambition pressed him forward on his upward path. Hence, when peace offered few triumphs to an army career, he left the military service for civil preferment, and, when war's alarm roused the nation, he resumed his sword to beat down the enemy and cleave a path to the highest distinction. Stevens was not what would be called a man of letters, but was always acquiring knowledge to be put to useful purposes whenever needed in the cause of humanity, of whose progress he was a believing apostle. Thus armed he became a good engineer; a wise and resolute administrator amid a turbulent people; a sagacious and well-informed legislator; a vigorous debater, presenting his views clearly, concisely, and forcibly, though not oratorically; and was a resolute, energetic, and patriotic soldier, as his brief, brave, and glorious career attests.

The Author's Note:

1 General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pope, in his official despatch of the Northern Virginia Campaign, says: "General Stevens was zealous and active throughout the operations, and distinguished himself in the most conspicuous manner during the battle of the twenty-ninth and thirtieth of August. He was killed, at the head of his command, in the battle near Chantilly on the first of September, and his death will be deeply felt by the army and the country."

Thayer's Notes:

a For a brief assessment of his work, see John D. Galloway, The First Transcontinental Railroad, pp41 and 42, passim.

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b In the Baltimore convention of the fragmented Democratic party, Stevens sided with the South and withdrew: see Dwight L. Dumond, The Secession Movement 1860‑1861, pp87, 89. He later participated in the rump convention at Charleston where he voted for the nomination of Breckinridge.

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Page updated: 27 Dec 14