Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hidden History of Civil War Oregon by Randol B. Fletcher

Randol Fletcher's collection of stories details the connections between Civil War soldiers and Oregon.  Hidden History of Civil War Oregon features 16 narratives of noteworthy Oregon Civil War veterans.  The problem with Fletcher's work is that the connections with Oregon are often fleeting.  In most cases, the veterans are men who lived in Oregon long after the Civil War.  So the collection is much like someone who lived his whole life in Ohio, retires in Texas, and becomes a Texan.  In fact some of the veterans that Fletcher highlights spent their time in Oregon quietly trying to forget the horrors of the war.  The only notice of their service may be a line on their tombstone. 

This fragile link does not diminish the stories that Fletcher shares with his readers.  Some of the better biographic sketches are of veterans Virgil Earp who reunited with his long-lost daughter in 1899 after being reported killed, Ben Arnold and B. J. Hawthorne who survived Pickett's charge and became leaders of Oregon universities, Dr. J. R. N. Bell who was a Trustee of what became Oregon State University, and Andrew Drew a former slave who joined the USCT and served as Chaplin of the Oregon GAR. Fletcher's history includes several Medal of Honor winners who settled in Oregon after the war.  Some of the veterans became members of the the GAR and gathered annually to remember their experiences.  Others like John Brown's son, Salmon, wanted to escape his father's notoriety but remained a local celebrity.

Battle of Ball's Bluff
Of course, the most famous soldier with Oregon roots was Senator Edward Baker who was killed at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. Baker became an Oregon Senator in 1860 when local politicians convinced him to move from San Francisco and seek the post.  Baker helped his old friend Lincoln win Oregon and California.  The state legislature elected Baker to the Senate.  When the war started, Baker volunteered for military service, but retained his Senate seat. He raised a regiment of infantry composed of men from Pennsylvania, New York, California, and Oregon.  The regiment was called the 1st California Volunteers.

Reverend Philip Mulkey
The most direct link to Civil War events in Oregon is the Long Tom Rebellion.  It began on May 6, 1865 when Philip Mulkey walked the streets of Eugene City hollering "Hurrah for Jeff Davis and damn the man that won't!" The preacher was arrested by Union soldiers from the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry and placed in the Lane County jail.  Outside a pro-Union lynch mob gathered.  In response pro-Confederate sympathizers from Mulkey's home along the Long Tom River gathered arms and prepared to liberate the preacher.  The Union mob broke into the jail and tried to take Mulkey.  Mulkey drew a knife and slashed one of the mob which allowed time for the Oregon infantry to arrive and disperse the crowd. That night, Mulkey was quietly taken to the stockade at Fort Vancouver and the crises was over.

The genesis of Randol Fletcher's Hidden History of Civil War Oregon may be from leading cemetery restoration projects in Eugene, Corvallis, and Portland.  It could have come from his four great-great grandfathers who fought on both sides during the war.  Fletcher is a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and a Civil War reenactor.  He has published articles on the Civil War in Oregon Magazine, Columbia Magazine, and The Banner.

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