California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Californians and the Military
Major General Henry Wager Halleck
 

The final surrender of the Mexican forces to Colonel John C. Fremont took place at San Fernando near Los Angeles January 12 1847

News of the Treaty of Peace between the United States and Mexico reached California August 7 1848 and was proclaimed by the Military Governor, Brevet Brigadier General Bennet Riley U. S. Army together with the probability that the Congress would very soon organize a territorial government

To meet the constantly perplexities of government greatly augmented by the gold rush, meetings were hold in San Francisco, Monterey, Sonoma, and San Jose for the purpose of forming a civil provisional territorial government. Early In 1849, the Argonauts from "around the horn" or via Panama, the caravans from across the western desert, Chinese, Peruvians, Chileans in fact all manner of men, women and children were arriving In California.

The Congress of the United States had just failed, after a six months struggle to grant a territorial government so an June 3, 1849 , a proclamation was issued by Governor Riley, "recommending the formation of a State constitution or a plan for a territorial government."

'The proclamation was posted in all public places. General Riley and his staff, on horseback traveled the mining regions to explain the Propositions contained in the proclamation. The business of constitution-making seemed something visionary to many and a matter of no importance to the indifferent.

The convention was to consist of thirty-seven delegates. The election of delegates was held on August 1, 1849. The convention met in Colton Hall, in the town of Monterey, at 12 o'clock noon on Saturday, September 1, 1849, and admitted to seats quite a number of delegates in excess of those contemplated in the proclamation, in fact, forty-eight delegates. The convention elected Dr. Robert Semple as its President and Captain William G. Marcy as Secretary.

Brevet Captain Henry Wager Halleck, the Military Secretary of States, was there and in a lone measure its brains because he had given more studious thought to the subject than any other, and General Riley had instructed him to help frame the new constitution.

The convention adopted the Constitution on October 10th and adjourned on October 13, 1849. The Constitution, thus framed, was ratified by the people at an election hold November 13th and it remained in force for thirty years.

The first state capital -was located at Pueblo de San Jose. It was here on Thursday, December 20, 1849, in the afternoon session that the Senate and the Assembly jointly proceeded to elect the two United States Senators. The first ballot indicated the following:

 

 John C. Fremont  29 votes
 William M. Gwin  22
 Henry W. Halleck  12
 Thomas J. Henly  11
 Thomas Butler King  10
 J. W. Geary  5
 Robert Sample  3

Forty-six votes were cast for two senators. Fremont received a majority of all the votes cast and was duly declared elected. On the second ballot, no one had a majority, the third ballot was as follows:
 
 William M. Gwin  24 votes
 Henry W. Halleck 18
 Thomas J. Henly  3
 Thomas Butler King  1

Gwin was declared elected by the majority of votes cast.

There was much pressure of outside influence for other candidates than for the former military secretary of state. The Legislature did vote a salary of $10,000 a year for General Riley and $6,000 a year for Brevet Captain Halleck from the commencement of their offices.

This first Legislature was to go down in history as the "Legislature of a thousand drinks."

What would have been the destiny of Brevet Captain Halleck, had he been elected an one of the first two United States Senators from California?

Henry Wager Halleck was born in Westernville, Now York, January 16, 1815, When he was ready for higher education, a generous relative, Henry Wager, sent him, to Union Collage where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa; and later he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York on July 1, 1835. He graduated with his class in 1839 and was commissioned second lieutenant of Engineers. He was number three in a class of thirty-one. He remained at West Point for two more years an assistant professor of engineering.

In the fall of 1844, he accompanied Marshal Bertrand to Europe. The inspiration of this tour abroad caused him, on his return home,to write a, Report on the Means of National Defense, which was published by the Congress (Senate Document Number 85, 28th Congress; 2nd Session) and was so highly thought of that he was invited by the Lowell Institute of Boston to deliver twelve lectures. These he published in 1846 under the title, Elements of Military Arts and Science, a book which was looked upon as authoritative and had a wide circulation during the Civil War among regular and volunteer officers.

Halleck was promoted to First Lieutenant of Engineers an January 1, 1845. When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, he was sent on the transport Lexington to Monterey, California, by way of Cape Horn. During the voyage of seven months,, he translated Henri Jomini's, Vie Politique et Militaire de Napoleon, which he published in four volumes in 1864.

Halleck was large, somewhat heavy, with scant light curly hair, a heavy chin and pale blue steady eyes - the image of composure and dignity.

"A regimental clerk with the personality of a cold muffin" one of his colleagues said of him. But the colleague was not one of the number close to Halleck. He was a man of hard practical brain, a born pedagogue and as stiffly formal as a judge.

Halleck was probably the first American to appreciate early California history certainly he was the very first collector of Californiana. While In Monterey he began to gather Spanish documents which eventually numbered several hundred, consisting of some 4000 pages; originals and transcripts of originals - official reports of missions, explorations, Indian uprisings, governmental and political matters, taken from the heart of the records at Monterey. This acquisition, though a bit high-handed, and possibly illegal, was historically fortunate. For if Edwin M. Stanton, agent for the Federal Archives Commission had not found them while on his mission to California in 1858, and had not deposited the documents in the Surveyor-General's office in San Francisco where they belonged, Hubert Howe Bancroft could not have had them copied and thus have preserved their contents, As it is, copies of Halleck's documents and transcripts are now secure in the Bancroft Library at the University of California - all that remains, of the archives of territorial California, the originals having been lost In the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.

During the "fabulous 50s" in San Francisco, Halleck, in spite of a coolly reserved and none too friendly personality, grew into deserved prominence. He was a lawyer, businessman author Director
General of the famous New Almaden (quicksilver) Company near San Jose, a director in the banking house of Parrott and Company, President of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (San Francisco to San Jose) and the builder of the Montgomery Block known at first, as "Halleck's Folly." He was 'the owner of the 30,000 acre Rancho Nicasio In Marin County*

He continued as aide to General Riley and was inspector and engineer for fortifications of the Pacific Coast. His promotion to captain of engineers was dated July 1. 1853, Because of the usual reduction of the army after a war, and the hopeless future in a profession little rewarded by the government, he resigned from the service an August 19, 1854.

Halleck married Elizabeth Hamilton, the granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton on April 10, 1855. From this union was born an only child, Henry Wager Halleck, Jr. in 1856.

On the front page of the, Alta California, appeared this notice that was run daily for a month:

"Halleck, Peachy and Billings, Attorneys and Solicitors, San Francisco offices, the room at present occupied by Peachy and Billings on the north side of Sacramento Street, between Kearny and Dupont Streets. Mr, Billings, Commissioner for New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. H. Wager Halleck, Arch'd Carey Peachy, Frederick Billings. January 1, 1850"

Several years later, a person with a clever and lively sense of humor said, "Halleck went on to become chief of the Federal armies, Billings became, a railroad multimillionaire, but Peachy lived. "

The Hallecks lived in an unpretentious home in the exclusive South Park district on Rincon Hill at the corner of Second and Folsom Streets.

His library, which was housed in his law office, was already large with cart loads of old Spanish documents on parchment, Spanish land titles, books on engineering, law optics, metallurgy, architecture, mining, heraldry and many other subjects.

Halleck's business and engineering ability enabled him to finance design and direct, the erection of a four story brick building an the corner of Montgomery and Washington Streets. He had in mind a major conflagration in San Francisco In June, 1851, and his valuable library so he planned the building with yard-thick walls for fireproofing and proof even against the kind of an earthquake "with
torque as a laundress wringing a sheet.

The housewarming Of the Montgomery Block was bold two days before Christmas 1853, just fourteen months after the Chinese began digging out mud for the foundation. (Montgomery Street, at that time, running along the edge of Yerba Buena cove, towards its northern end, was separated from the bay by the filling in of the whole cove and to now a number of blacks from the water)

It was in front of this building that James King of William was abet and fatally injured by James Casey; an act which reactivated the Vigilantes of 1856.

Mr. 0. P. Stidger at his office, in the Montgomery Block drafted the proclamation of the Republic of China for Dr. Sun Yat-Sen,

Henry W. Halleck was commissioned a Major General in the California Militia by the Governor of California. The following letters give an indication of his activities during his nine months service an a California militiaman:

 

 San Francisco Dec 17th 1860

To His Excellency
J. G. Downey
Gov. of California

Sir:

I have received through your private secretary, the commission of Major General of the 2d Division of California Militia. I have accepted duly qualified.

I sincerely thank you for this mark of Your confidence, and hope that my future conduct my prove that it has not been misplaced.

Very respectfully
Your obt servt
H.W. Halleck

 

 

San Francisco Jany 21st 1861

To His Excellency
J. C. Downey, Gov. & C
Sacramento

Dear Governor

I take the liberty of addressing you unofficially on a matter connected with our militia organization.

When I entered upon my duties as Major Genl of the division I could find no records of any kind and nothing to show who were really officers of the division. On applying to the Gentleman who acted as Asst Adjt Genl to my predecessor, he informed me that there were no records of any kinds that he had never had a commission, and that he believed no officer of the division staff had been commissioned, except the surgeon, and that there was no order or regulation fixing the rank of staff officers. I have moreover, been informed that there is no uniformity as to the rank of such officers in the different divisions & brigades, each general appointing as he pleased. Perhaps this may not be so

Art. 2835. Mood's Digest, authorizes the Governor to fix the rank of such officers and provides that they are to be appointed by the Generals as for officers of the same grade in the Army of the U.S. But in the Army of the U. S. there is no law or fixed rule (except as to Aides do Camp), the Secty of War assigning to any General such Staff officers as he may deem proper. It follows therefore, from our Statute that the Governor must not only commission & fix the rank of these Staff officers, but he must also designate that these officers shall be, that is; how many and of what name they shall be.

I have postponed appointing any one to the Staff of this division, till some order or regulation shall be made so as to reader the organization uniform throughout the state. After consulting with some Army officers I have drawn up the form of an order upon this matter which I inclose herewith for your consideration. With such modifications as you may deem advisable, I think it will make our organization as good as it can be made under our present defective law.

At the request of some members of the legislature I am preparing a project of a new law, which I will submit for your examination.

very respectfully
Your obt Servt
H. W. Halleck

 

 Head Quarters, 2d Divisions
San Francisco February 9th 1861

To His Excellency, J. 0. Downey
Gov. & Commander in Chief,

Sir I have made the following appointments to the staff of this division and I submit them to your Excellency for commissions:

1. LaFayette Hammond of San Francisco, to be Assistant Adjutant General, with the rank of Lt. Col,

2. William T. Lewis of San Francisco, to be Engineer Officer with the rank of Liut. Col.

3. Samuel 0. Houghton of San Jose, Santa Clara County, to be Ordnance Officer, with the rank of Lt. Col.

4. William F. Rodgers, of San Leandro, Alameda County to be Paymaster, with the rank of Lt. Col..

5. De Witt C. Thompson of San Francisco to be Division Inspector, with the rank of Lt. Col.

6. Robert C. Rogers., of San Francisco, to be Judge Advocate, with the rank of Lt. Col.

7. Alexander Weill, of San Francisco, to be Aide de Camp, with the rank of Major.

Very respectfully
Your obt Servt
H. W. Halleck
Major Genl. 2d Division.

 

San Francisco Cala, Sept 18, 1861

To His Excellency
John G. Downey
Gov Commander in chief

Governor.

Having been appointed a Major General in service of the United States I hereby resign my Commission of Major General at the Second Division of the Militia of the State.

In separating myself from your Command, permit me to thank you for your kindness and to assure you that I leave you with great regret.

I sincerely hope that the same wise and discreet policy which has marked your Administration may be continued by your Successor and that California may continue faithful to the Union and be spared the terrible Evils of Civil War.

Very respectfully
Your obt servt
H. W. Halleck

Halleck was immediately sent West after he reached Washington to smooth out the military mess in Missouri in which his fellow California pioneer, Major General John C. Fremont, had so completely entangled himself.

The big job of reorganization was done with cool impartiality and without any fuss or newspaper trumpeting.

General Halleck seemed to have made good. Out on the western front he took over what was left of Fremont's soldiers, reorganized and drilled them Into armies which produced good results for Generals Grant and Sherman. He wisely advised the President to correct a military error by having three independent commands in the West. Lincoln saw the point and placed General Halleck in command. It was during his cautious advance on Corinth that his soldiers began calling him *Old Brains."

On July 11, 1862, Lincoln Issued an order appointing Major General Halleck "to command the whole land forces of the United States as general-in-chief," and to report for duty in Washington.

He finally arrived in the capital about the 23rd of July. He came reluctantly and only bemuse he felt he had to obey the orders of the Commander-in-Chief . He wanted to stay in the West, and he was sure he would hate Washington and all its politicians. He would be subject to much ridicule, and he would receive but little praise, for his work.

He was supreme commander in name but rarely in fact. He provided Lincoln with military advice, which was sometimes accepted, but he exercised little actual control over military operations. His tenure of command was an experiment in unified direction of the armies that did not work out well because Halleck disliked responsibility and did not want to direct. He delighted to counsel but he hated to decide. Nevertheless the experiment was necessary and for Lincoln It was educational. The government was groping toward a modern command system and Lincoln learned much from his experiment with Halleck. The trial of Halleck prepared the way for Grant.

Halleck had the reputation of being the most unpopular man in Washington. It was a title he worked hard to deserve. Surly and gruff in manner, he had no restraints about insulting people, even important governmental officials. He detested politicians and he let them know it.

Before the war Halleck was considered to be the foremost American authority on the theory of war. He knew the history and the rules of war, but he did not always know how to apply the rules to American situations. He was always inclined to go by the book when sometimes he would have done better to throw it away. Nevertheless, his knowledge of war qualified him to be a valuable military adviser to President Lincoln. He could provide the President with the kind of technical information that the President did not have and that he needed to solve certain military problems.

If Lincoln had wanted only an adviser, he could not have chosen a better me than General Halleck But the President intended him to do more than counsel; he wanted him to command. On one occasion Lincoln said that he was Halleck's friend because nobody else was.

On March 9, 1864, Major General U. S. Great was summoned to Washington to be General-in-Chief of the Union forces with the rank of Lieutenant General, which was revived for him

Halleck became Chief of Staff and remained in Washington to act as the channel of communications between Grant and the Government, and the interpreter of the soldiers' military language. This arrangement, arrived at early in 1864, was not merely practical and sensible - It was superior to any system for the conduct of war which had been devised in Europe until von Moltke in 1866 and 1870 displayed the Prussian methods.

Because of Halleck, Lincoln and Grant never misunderstood each other as Lincoln and McClellan had.

On August 30, 1865, after the termination of hostilities, Halleck was to command the Military Department of the Pacific with headquarters in San Francisco. From there on March 6,1869, he was transferred to command the Department of the South with headquarters at Louisville, Kentucky. This was his last assignment, for he died at Louisville on January 9, 1872, in the arms of his brother-in-law, Schuyler Hamilton. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

Doubtless the great strain of his four years in Washington hastened his end, which was all the more tragic because of his happy domestic life.

No official worked closer with President Lincoln than did his Chief Of Staff, who left no memoirs for posterity and apparently destroyed his correspondence and memoranda

Halleck's estate at his death showed a net value of $474,773.16.

The widow Halleck married Colonel (Brevet Major General) George Washington Cullum on September 23, 1875. Cullum had served as General Halleck's Chief of Staff In the war In the West and than served on his staff In Washington,

On her demise, Colonel Cullum inherited a considerable fortune which van largely devoted to public uses by his own will.

In the business district of San Francisco is a street three blocks long, named in Halleck's honor, and also a statue in Golden Gate Park.

Updated 15 August 2006


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