(Born Ky. Ap’d Ind.)
Edward Richard Sprigg Canby – Born Nov. 9, 1817, Piatt’s Landing, KY.
Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1835, to July 1, 1839, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to Second Lieut., 2d Infantry, July 1, 1839.
Served: in the Florida War, 1839-42, being on Quartermaster duty, 1840-41; in transferring Indians to Arkansas, 1842; in garrison at Ft. Niagara, N. Y., 1842-45; on Recruiting service, 1845-46; as Adjutant, (First Lieut., 2d Infantry, June 18, 1846, to June 11, 1851) 2d Infantry, Mar. 24, 1846, to Mar. 3, 1847; in garrison at Detroit Barracks,
(Bvt. Captain, Staff Asst. Adjutant-Gen., Mar. 3, 1847, to Mar. 3, 1855) Mich., 1846, – and Newport, Ky., 1846.
In the War with Mexico, 1846-48, being engaged in the Siege of “Vera Cruz”, Mar. 9-29, 1847, – Battle of “Cerro Gordo”, Apr. 17-18, 1847, – Battle of “Contreras”, Aug. 19-20, 1847, – Battle of “Churubusco”, Aug. 20, 1847, – Assault
(Bvt. Major, Aug. 20, 1847, for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco, Mex.) and Capture of the City of Mexico, Sep. 13-14, 1847, – and as Asst. Adjutant – (Bvt. Lieut.-Col., Sep. 13, 1847, for Gallant Conduct at the Belen Gate of the City of Mexico)
General of General Riley’s brigade, 1847-48; as Asst. Adjutant-General of Pacific Division, Feb. 27, 1849, to Feb. 22, 1851, – in the Adjutant-General’s Office, Washington, D. C., Feb. 22, 1851, to Mar. 3, (Major, 10th Infantry, Mar. 3, 1855) 1855, being on a tour of inspection of posts on the Arkansas and Red Rivers, in Florida, and on the Gulf Coast east of the Mississippi, Nov. 30, 1853, to July 15, 1854; in garrison at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., 1855; and on frontier duty at Ft. Crawford, Wis., 1855-56, – Ft. Snelling, Min., 1856, 1857, – Utah Expedition, 1857-60, – Ft. Garland, N. M., 1860,- and commanding Navajo Expedition, 1860-61.
Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861-66: in command (Colonel, 19th Infantry, May 14, 1861) of the Department of New Mexico, June 23, 1861, to Sep. 18, 1862, being engaged in the Defense of “Fort Craig”, Jan.-Feb., 1862, – Combat of “Valverde”, Feb. 21, 1862, – and Action of “Peralta”, Apr. 15, 1862; in command (Brig.-General, U. S. Volunteers, Mar. 31, 1862)
Draft Rendezvous, at Pittsburg, Pa., Nov. 7, 1862, to Jan. 15, 1863; on special duty in the War Department at Washington, D. C., Jan. 15, 1863, to May 7, 1864, except while detached, July 14 to Nov. 15, 1863, in command of the City and Harbor of New York, to suppress “Draft Riots”.
In command of the Military Division of West Mississippi, (Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, May 7, 1864) May 11, 1864,1 to June 3, 1865, being, while on a tour of inspection, severely wounded by Rebel guerrillas, on White River, Ark., Nov. 4, 1864; in command of the forces in the Mobile Campaign, Mar.-May, 1865, resulting in the Capture of the “Spanish Fort”, Apr. 8, – and of Blakely, Apr. 9, (Bvt. Brig.-General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865, for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of “Valverde”, N. M.) 1865, -Occupation of Mobile, Apr. 12,2 – and of Montgomery, Apr. 27, (Bvt. Maj.-General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865, for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Capture of “Ft. Blakely”, and Mobile, Ala.) (p19) 1865.
Ssurrender of Lieut.-General R. Taylor’s Rebel Army, May 4, 1865, and of the Rebel Forces in the Trans-Mississippi Department, under General E. K. Smith, May 26, 1865; in command of the Department of the Gulf, June 3 to July 17, 1865, – of the Department of Louisiana and Texas, July 17 to Aug. 5, 1865, – and of the Department of Louisiana, Aug. 5, 1865, to May 27, 1866. Brig.-General, U. S. Army, July 28, 1866.
Served: in command of the Department of Washington, Aug. 13, (Mustered out of Volunteer Service, Sep. 1, 1866) 1866, to Aug. 26, 1867; as President of Special Commission for Decision of Claims in the War Department, Aug. 9, 1866, to Aug. 26, 1867; as Member of Board to prepare plan for a new War Department Building, Oct. 4, 1866, to Aug. 26, 1867; in command of Second Military District, Sep. 5, 1867, to July 28, 1868, – of Department of Washington, Aug. 14 to Nov. 12, 1868, – of Fifth Military District, Dec. 1868, to Apr. 8, 1869, – and of First Military District and Department of Virginia, Apr. 8, 1869, to Apr. 30, 1870; under special orders, Apr. to Aug. 1870; and in command of the Department of Columbia, Aug., 1870, to Jan., 1873, – and of the Division of the Pacific, Jan. to Apr. 11, 1873.
Degree of LL. D. conferred by Wesleyan College, 1870.
Buried, Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, IN.
Bvt. Major-General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby was born, Aug. 1817, in Kentucky, and was mortally wounded, April 11, 1873, by the hand of the treacherous savage, “Captain Jack,” while he was endeavoring to mediate for the removal of the Modoc Indians from their rocky fastness, the “Lava Beds,” near the northern border of California, to a reservation where the tribe could be maintained and protected by the proper civil agents of the government. Modoc George then shot him through the head, and another savage stabbed him behind the ear with a knife.
Comment – the material is from a different time in our history and the reader should keep in mind the attitude we had toward the Indian in the past.
While Canby was yet a boy, his parents removed from Kentucky to Indiana, where he was liberally educated, and at the age of sixteen sent to West Point. Upon graduating from the Military Academy, he was promoted, July 1, 1839, to be a Second Lieutenant in the Second Regiment of Infantry. Immediately he was sent to Florida to fight the Seminole Indians, where he remained three years, most of the time being engaged on Quartermaster duty. At the close of this war, in 1842, he was employed in removing the Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws beyond the Mississippi to the present Indian Territory, where they have become good, civilized, and industrious citizens. From this time till 1846, he was in garrison at Ft. Niagara, N. Y., and on Recruiting service. Already he had shown such soldierly qualities that he was made, May 24, 1846, the Adjutant of his regiment; soon after, Jan. 18th, became a First Lieutenant; and, Mar. 3, 1847, an Assistant Adjutant-General, with the rank of Captain, in the Staff. Upon his promotion to the latter position he left his regiment, then in the field, to become the Chief of Staff of General (p20) Riley’s brigade of General Scott’s army, with which he served from the Siege of Vera Cruz to the Capture of the City of Mexico, winning two brevets for his distinguished gallantry.
After the Mexican War he was ordered to California, where for two years, during the conversion of this Mexican Province into an American State, he performed the onerous duties of Assistant Adjutant-General of the Pacific Division. In 1851 he was transferred to Army Headquarters in Washington city, and soon after, upon his promotion, June 11, 1851, to a Captaincy of Infantry, he relinquished his line for his staff appointment. In 1853-54 he made an extended tour of inspection of the posts on the Arkansas and Red Rivers, in Florida, and on the Gulf coast east of the Mississippi, which admirably prepared him for his future command over all of this vast territory during the Civil War.
Under the Act of Congress creating four new regiments, Canby was appointed, Mar. 3, 1855, Major of the 10th Infantry, with which he was engaged on frontier duty in western Wisconsin and Minnesota till 1857, when he joined the Utah Expedition, taking, in 1858, command of Ft. Bridger, garrisoned by portions of the Second Dragoons, and Seventh and Tenth Infantry. He held this post till 1860, when he was appointed commander of the expedition against the Navajo Indians. On the advent of the Civil War, he was in command of Ft. Defiance, N. M., and, though of Southern birth,b he promptly sided with the national cause, his loyalty being soon brought to a severe test.
Upon the increase of the Regular Army, consequent upon the outbreak of the Rebellion, Canby was appointed Colonel of the Nineteenth Infantry, his commission dating from May 14, 1861, and was put in cdm of the Department of New Mexico, after the defection of his seniors. He successfully defended this territory against General Sibley’s formidable inroad from the direction of Texas, at Fort Craig, Valverde, and Peralta, in which conflicts he exhibited admirable judgment, cool courage, and excellent generalship. After these severe trials he had the satisfaction of seeing the invaders retreat, leaving behind them, in dead, wounded, sick, and prisoners, one half of their original forces.
Leaving New Mexico when notified of his promotion, Mar. 31, 1862, to be a Brigadier-General, United States Volunteers, he took command in November of the Draft Rendezvous at Pittsburg, Pa., which he relinquished, June 15, 1863, when ordered on special duty in the War Department, becoming there the trusted adviser of its head in the many momentous matters connected with the conduct of the Civil War. So great was Secretary Stanton’s confidence in Canby’s ability, firmness, and discretion, that he placed him, July 14, 1863, in command of the city and harbor of New York, where his courage, skill, and judgment did so much to successfully suppress the Draft Riots which threatened the prosperity of the commercial metropolis of the nation. Except the victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the preservation of peace and order here did most to turn the trembling scales of fate in favor of the loyal North.
Upon Canby’s return to the War Department he soon won the good opinion of the President and the Secretary of War that he was promoted, May 7, 1864, to be a Major-General, U. S. Volunteers, and placed in command of the Military Division of West Mississippi, extending from Missouri to the mouth of the Mississippi, and from Texas to Florida. His first act in his new command was to take charge of General Banks’s retreating forces at Atchafalaya, and conduct them safely to New Orleans.
Canby had brought with him from Washington instructions to carry out, if possible, the contemplated movement against Mobile; but not having an adequate force he could not undertake it at once, particularly as the successes of the Confederates against Banks emboldened them to p21threaten several points on the Mississippi and the whole line of the Arkansas River. As soon as possible, however, he sent a division to Dauphin Island. Farragut’s gallant passage of the forts into Mobile Bay, Aug. 5, 1864, and Granger’s subsequent reduction of Forts Gaines and Morgan with the assistance of the Navy, are familiar and memorable events, adding lasting laurels to our gallant tars, which the land forces were joyous and proud to share. To Canby, as the Commander of the Military Division, the National Thanks were thanked by the President of the United States, Sep. 3, 1864, for the “skill and harmony with which the recent operations in Mobile harbor, and against Ft. Powell, Ft. Gaines, and Ft. Morgan, were planned and carried into execution.”
Two months later we find Canby engaged in making a tour of inspection on White River, where, Nov. 4, 1864, he was severely wounded by hostile guerrillas.
Though we now had possession of Mobile Bay and the forts at its entrance, the strongly fortified city at its head had yet to be taken. While the Confederates were actively adding new intrenchments and redoubts to Spanish Fort and other defensible points on the approaches to Mobile city, Canby, just recovering from his wound, was drawing together forces from all quarters of his command. With his admirable administrative talent, he organized and equipped these to form a respectable army. In person, with the Thirteenth Army Corps under Granger, and the Sixteenth commanded by A. J. Smith, Canby moved along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, while Steele’s column marched from Pensacola on the Pollard road to cut the Confederate communications between Montgomery and Mobile. Spanish Fort, the most advanced work on the route to Mobile, was carried by assault, Apr. 8, 1865, after a siege of thirteen days; Blakely stormed on the 4th, at the end of eight days of open trenches; Forts Huger and Tracy, with the aid of the Navy, reduced, Apr. 11th; and the commercial capital of Alabama occupied, Apr. 12, 1865. Thus, with an army of 45,000 men, was terminated the Mobile campaign of twenty-two days. Again were tendered, May 16, 1865, the Thanks of the President and the War Department “to General Canby, and the officers and soldiers of his command, for their gallantry, energy, and successful military skill, in the siege and reduction of the strongly fortified city of Mobile, and for the achievements that have rendered their campaign one of the most brilliant and important of the war.”
Soon after, Canby had the honor to occupy Montgomery, the first Confederate capital, and May 4th to receive the surrender of the army of Lieut.-General Richard Taylor; followed, May 26, 1865, by the capitulation of the rebel forces in the Trans-Mississippi Department under General E. K. Smith, which terminated the Civil War.
On Mar. 13, 1864, for his meritorious services at the Battle of Valverde, N. M., Canby was brevetted a Brigadier-General in the Regular Army, and a Major-General for his gallantry in the Capture of Fort Blakely and Mobile, Ala.
The war having closed, Canby returned to New Orleans, where he remained in command of a Department, under various names and with changing limits, from June 3, 1865, to May 27, 1866, when he was relieved at his own request, having been several times overruled by his superior officer, while, however, enjoying the full confidence of the Government at Washington. Canby, throughout the war, had shown himself an excellent military commander, and with the return of peace highly distinguished himself as a civil governor. Clear-headed, just to all, he controlled his Department with unflinching firmness, and with dexterity and discretion nipped in the bud every attempted disorder essayed in the turbulent city where he held his headquarters. No riots took place in (p22) New Orleans till after he relinquished his command in Louisiana.c Canby also saved the United States millions of money by stopping ruinous raids upon the Treasury under bogus southern claims and carpet-bagger cotton swindlers. Had he held supreme control in his Department, many salutary reforms would have been effected, and the Mississippi levees been rebuilt in the autumn of 1865 out of the $800,000 realized from the sale of abandoned crops. Official interference and red-tape routine, however, put off the application of this fund till the following year, after the river had risen and swept away all that had been done, and destroyed millions of property. His civil administration had the foresight of wise statesmanship, and was maintained with the rigor of military justice, which won for him the highest esteem and goodwill of President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton, both of whom had such unbounded confidence in his integrity and wisdom that he was appointed a Brigadier-General in the Regular Army, to rank from July 28, 1866.
Upon being relieved from his Southern duties, Canby was put in command of the Department of Washington, and made President of a Special Commission for the Decision of Claims in the War Department; and, subsequently, Member of the Board to prepare plans for a new War Department building. Here he rendered most invaluable services, and again saved the nation millions of treasure. Hardly had he completed these duties when there were disturbances in Texas, and Canby was immediately sent to that State. Again there were troubles in Virginia, and he was transferred to Richmond. Then came difficulty in South Carolina, and at once Canby was ordered to Charleston. Wherever he went, order, good feeling, and tranquility followed his footsteps.d His superior knowledge of law and civil administration were only equaled by his chivalrous devotion to his profession, and his constant fidelity to the wishes of the Government.
When fatigued by a long and laborious career, in 1869, he voluntarily consented to take command of the Department of Columbia, where he expected to enjoy the repose he so much coveted; but ere long his rest was suddenly disturbed by the Modoc difficulty, which it was all-important should be ended by peaceful means, and it seemed almost providential that it should have occurred in the sphere of Canby’s command, for he was specially adapted for this duty. He had never shared the fierce hatred of the Indians so common on our border, but had ever leaned to the side of humanity in his dealings with them. Only four days before his death he sent a dispatch to Washington, which, read in the tragic light of after events, shows plainly and touchingly both his generosity to his slayers, and his sagacious doubts of them: “I do not,” says he, “question the right or the power of the General Government to make any arrangement that may be thought proper, but I think they should make such as to secure a permanent peace, together with liberal and just treatment of the Indians. In my judgment, permanent peace cannot be secured if they are allowed to remain in this immediate neighborhood. The Modocs are now sensible that they cannot live in peace on Lost River, and have abandoned their claim to it, but wish to be left in the Lava Beds. This means license to plunder and a stronghold to retreat to, and was refused. Their last proposition is, to come in and have the opportunity of looking for a new home not far away, and if they are sincere in this the trouble will soon be ended. But there has been so much vacillation and duplicity in their talk that I have hesitated about reporting until some definite result was attained.”
The untimely taking off by assassin hands of the noble Canby in the fullness of all his faculties, in the pride of his strength, and in the midst of his usefulness, gave a sudden shock to the entire nation, which mourned its knightly soldier, who had so borne himself, for more than a third of a p23century, that not a stain tarnished his shining escutcheon, nor marred the beauty of his unsullied life. “Thus perished,” says the General-in-Chief in his touching Obituary Order, “one of the kindest and best gentlemen of this or any country, whose social equaled his military virtues. . . Though dead, the record of his fame is resplendent with noble deeds well done, and no name on our army register stands fairer or higher for the personal qualities that command the universal respect, honor, affection, and love of his countrymen.”
Canby in stature was tall, slender, compactly built, and of commanding military presence; in manner modest, gentle, and reserved; and in disposition genial, open-hearted, and delicately refined, though terribly severe and stern to those who approached him with sinister designs. He was ceremoniously courteous, but studiously reticent with whoever sought him on official business, which prevented his winning marked influence with the multitude; but his frankness and truthfulness with his intimates inspired them with the most perfect trust and the highest confidence in his rectitude. His subordinates considered him almost infallible; hence, without apparent effort, he maintained the most perfect discipline in all his commands. Devoted to his profession, his great ambition was faithfully to perform the duties assigned to him, and secure the approbation of his superiors. Yet he was not a mere martinet, loving order and routine as matters of regulation formalism; but was a well-educated soldier, with fine literary attainments, general culture, and scholastic refinement. He not only understood and sagaciously applied the principles of war, but he was a General in a broader sense, for he knew how to command the hearts and actions of men, to administer to their comfort, and govern them with justice, and according to the laws of the country, in which he was well versed. In the field, though courageous and daring, he had little of the dash of the cavalry sabreur; yet was a tower of silent thought, grasping the whole theatre of operations, and selecting the true objective point where to strike the vigorous and fatal blow with which to terminate the campaign. Rarely making professional mistakes, and unselfish by nature, he commanded the universal respect and affection of his peers, with whom he had none of those jealousies and wrangles too often disgracing the military vocation. No one questioned his motives, for his pure and loyal heart was without guile, and the tongue of defamation never ventured to assail his spotless name. Though of Southern birth, in the Civil War he followed the flag under which he had been educated, and, after its termination, so just was his administration over the vanquished that even in the capital of the Confederacy a public meeting was called, and resolutions passed of high respect to his memory, when he was killed. The Rev. Dr. Baylis, in his funeral sermon over the remains of the Peace Commissioners slain by the Modocs, says: “Canby was a man of tireless industry, of vast culture in his profession, brave as a lion, and tender as he was brave; his sense of honor almost excessive; as profoundly sincere in his opinions and feelings as he was honest in his transactions; pure in speech and irreproachable in life; possessing silence, which is golden, and a clear, strong thinking power which is equally so; a man able to command and govern, and win the favor of the governed; wise in counsel; brave in war; strong in administration; a man of conscious power, therefore to be trusted in critical junctures, and who, more than once, during the war and afterwards, brought order out of chaos in all the fields to which he was assigned. . . . What we reverence, after all, is character, – broad, strong, noble character. We have ready applause for brilliant deeds, and are not slow to admire genius; and yet the thing which most commands our profound and abiding reverence is not the flash of some brilliant achievement, but the steady, strong, broad progress of noble character. And this is the kind of power with which the memory (p24) of General Canby comes to us to-day. He was great in war and good, and equally so in peace. There are no private discounts to reduce the excellency and glory of his public record.”
The Author’s Notes:
1 The National Thanks were tendered by the President of the United States, Sep. 3, 1864, to General Canby, for the “skill and harmony with which the recent operations in Mobile harbor, and against Ft. Powell, Ft. Gaines, and Ft. Morgan, were planned and carried into execution.”
2 The thanks of the President and the War Department were presented, May 16, 1865, “to General Canby, and the officers and soldiers of his command, for their gallantry, energy, and successful military skill, in the siege and reduction of the strongly fortified city of Mobile, and for the achievements that have rendered their campaign one of the most brilliant and important of the war.”
Bill Thayer’s Notes:
a For fuller and better details, see “Edward R. S. Canby, Modoc War, 1873” (Oregon Hist. Q. 33:70-78).
b This is at best very misleading. Kentucky is not a Southern state and was not part of the Confederacy; and Canby’s birthplace on the Ohio River, Piatt’s Landing – named, by the way, for his grandfather Robert Piatt who established it – is about as far north in Kentucky as you can get, sharing its history not with Dixie but with Ohio and Indiana, to which latter State Canby’s parents moved when he was still a child.
c For a local perspective on Canby’s brief regime in Louisiana, see Kendall’s History of New Orleans, pp297-300, 303-304.
d For a very different view, see Hamilton, History of North Carolina, III.94-96, and elsewhere in that chapter, passim.