Harney, General William Selby
b. 1800-08-22
d. 1889-05-09
William Selby Harney, born 22 August 1800 in Haysborough, Tennessee, was a soldier, and later a general, in the United States Army.1 His troops occupied San Juan Island during what came to be known as the Pig War. After the end of the Pig War, Harney, along with G. E. Pickett, was accused by Major Granville Haller of being a Confederate conspirator; as Harney and Pickett were both southern-born, Haller said that they had both conspired to instigate a conflict between the British and the U.S. as part of a plot to help the South in its growing political disagreement with the North.2 However, these accusations were mere speculation on Haller's part, and never amounted to any real actions being taken against Harney or Pickett.
Harney commanded troops in the Washington Territory, and after a pig belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was shot on San Juan by an American settler, Harney's help was requested by the American settlers. The HBC demanded that the pig be paid for by the settler, and if he could not procure the money he would be arrested and taken to Victoria to be put on trial;3 this prompted Harney being called in to prevent any hostilities, and he deployed troops to the island led by G. E. Pickett.4 However, Sir James Douglas, asserted in this despatch that the reasons for which Harney justified the occupation of the island do not exist; the tale which has been imposed upon [Harney] is a fabrication.5 Douglas also stated that the occupation of the Island is owing solely to orders issued by General Harney.6 Eventually Winfield Scott was ordered to take over for Harney,7 and later on Harney was temporarily removed from command of U.S. forces in Oregon Territory.8
Harney's career in the Army started in 1818 and ended when he retired in 1863. Many of his military assignments took place on the frontier and consisted of instilling American influence among the First Nations. In 1846, as the U.S. began moving toward a Mexican-American war, Harney was promoted to colonel and commander of the Second Dragoons, and in this position fought many battles against Mexico. In 1858, Harney made brigadier general and commanded the Department of Oregon. It was during his time in this position that the Pig War took place. After Harney was removed from this position, he commanded the Department of the West, starting in 1861. Harney retired in 1863 and later became a member of the Peace Commision of 1867. Harney died in Orlando, Florida, on 9 May 1889.9
  • 1. Richmond L. Clow, Harney, William Selby, American National Biography.
  • 2. Adam Arenson and Andrew R. Graybill, ed., Civil War Wests; Testing the Limits of the United States (Oakland: U of California P, 2015), 18.
  • 3. Gordon Lyall, From Imbroglio to Pig War: The San Juan Island Dispute, 1853-71, in History and Memory, BC Studies no. 186 (Summer 2015): 75.
  • 4. Ibid., pg. 76.
  • 5. Douglas to Lytton, 12 August 1859, 9709, CO 305/11, 68.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Hammond to Merivale, 30 September 1859, 9774, CO 305/12, 287.
  • 8. Murray to Rogers, 19 June 1860, 6262, CO 305/15, 191.
  • 9. Richmond L. Clow, Harney, William Selby, American National Biography.
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