One region of the United States that never shares in the Civil War conversation is the
Pacific Northwest. Washington State was only a territory when war broke out in April of 1861. Despite three thousand miles distance and a small population, Washington Territory still had some Civil War experience.
Notable figures in the Civil War had at one time or another been in Washington. Ulysses S. Grant served for a time at Fort Vancouver in 1853. Philip Sheridan had fought in the Indian Wars of 1855-56 near Yakima. John C. Fremont once surveyed the boundaries of the territory. Governor Isaac Stevens joined the Union and died while leading his men in a charge at the Battle of Chantilly in Virginia on September 1st, 1862.
One future Confederate included the first U.S. Marshal of Washington Territory and second delegate to Congress, J. Patton Anderson, who would act as a delegate from Florida to the constitutional conventions of the Confederacy. Another was George Pickett who, before his failed charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, was captain in charge of Company D, 9th Infantry in the San Juan Islands during the “Pig War” of 1859. Before that, Pickett helped construct Fort Bellingham (today the city of Bellingham) in 1856 where his house still stands as the oldest wooden structure on its original site in Washington State.
During the war, federal troops stationed in Oregon, California, and Washington Territory were called to the defense of Washington, D.C. and other theaters of war, leaving western forts and outposts to be defended by volunteer forces. On October 18th, 1861, the U.S. War Department authorized Colonel Justus Steinberger to enlist a regiment of volunteers in the western region and appointed officers with the approval of the Washington Territory governor. The First Washington Territory Volunteer Infantry were trained to defend against potential conflicts with Native Americans and foreign invaders and was in service for the full course of the war but saw no action. The final volunteers of the regiment were finally mustered out of service in 1866.
In the mid-war years, Washington Territory was carved up. On March 3rd, 1863, by act of Congress, the Idaho Territory was formed, taking all of present day Idaho, Montana, and most of Wyoming with it, leaving only present-day Washington to be called the Washington Territory. Decades later, Washington was admitted to the Union as a state in 1889.
After the war, Washington Territory was witness to many more conflicts with Native Americans. Buffalo Soldiers were stationed at Forts Lawton and Wright. Some veterans of the Civil War came west and settled around the state. Today, a Grand Army of the Republic cemetery can be visited on Capitol Hill in Seattle.
By: Will Sullivan