Biography of Hon. Isaac Ingalls Stevens

HON. ISAAC INGALLS STEVENS. – Governor Stevens was born at Andover, Massachusetts, March 18, 1818. He graduated from West Point in the class of 1839, of which he stood at the head, and immediately thereafter was commissioned second lieutenant of engineers. In 1840 he was promoted to a first lieutenancy. In the war with Mexico (1846-1848) he served on the staff of General Scott and for gallant and meritorious services at Contreras, Churubusco and Chapultepec earned the brevet rank of major. He was severely wounded in the capture of the City of Mexico from the effect of which he suffered during life. At the close of that war, Alexander Dallas Bache, Superintendent of the United States coast survey, appointed him chief clerk in charge of the office at Washington, District of Columbia, a position he resigned in March, 1853, to accept the first governorship of Washington Territory. He journeyed thither across the continent, exploring a route from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to Puget Sound.

On the 29th of September,1853, he entered the territory and assumed the performance of his gubernatorial duties therein. He issued his proclamation thereof at the crossing of the dividing ridge on the summit of the Rocky Mountains bearing that date. During the years 1854 and 1855, as superintendent of Indian affairs, he concluded treaties with the native Indian tribes within the territory, by which the so-called Indian title to an area of land including one hundred thousand square miles was extinguished. In the latter year he also served as a member of the joint commission to effect peace and amity between the tribes divided by the Rocky Mountains, viz., – the Blackfeet and other nations in the buffalo country east of the mountains, and those tribes upon the western side whose necessities compelled them to cross the mountains in quest of buffalo, at that time and prior thereto the great source of food and raiment to the aborigines. During his absence at the Blackfoot Council, the Indian war of 1855-56 had been inaugurated. Upon his return to Olympia, he called out one thousand volunteers, assumed general direction as commander-in-chief, and prosecuted the war with vigor until peace was restored in the fall of 1856. At the election in July,1857, he was chosen delegate to Congress, and served with distinction to himself and benefit for his territory for two terms, ending March 3, 1861.

Early after the breaking out of the Rebellion he hastened East, and offered his services and sword for the preservation of the integrity of the Union and the perpetuity of the life of the nation. They were accepted; and he was appointed colonel of the Seventy-ninth Regiment, New York Volunteers (the Highlanders). Eight companies of that regiment, dissatisfied with being commanded by a West Point officer, mutinied. But his resolute courage and energetic conduct restored discipline; and he soon had become the idol of his regiment. Gaining distinction in many engagements in which he took a conspicuous part, he had been promoted (July 4, 1862) major-general United States volunteers.

On the morning of September 1, 1862, his division encountered the Confederate forces near Chantilly, Virginia. Major-General Stevens, with his characteristic dash, seized the colors of his old regiment (their color-sergeant had just fallen; and the line was wavering). On foot at the head of that regiment, bearing aloft those colors with his own hands, and while cheering his old comrades, his gallantry animating the whole division, he was shot through the head and instantly killed; and when his body was found among the pile of slain, in his death-grip was clenched the flagstaff he had so gallantly borne in the face of the foe. That check of the Confederate advance, which he there and then had caused, afforded the precious time and opportunity so needed on that day of gloom and saddened memory to put the nation’s capital in a state of defense, and save the world and it from that humiliation, – its fall into the hands of the enemy.


History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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