Thursday, June 16, 2011

Senator Baker's Appointment

Col. Edward Baker in Harper's Weekly
On June 16, 1861, Senator Edward Baker was in New York City. Congress had adjourned from the special session called by President Buchanan in March to determine what to do about secession, but President Abraham Lincoln, a personal friend of Senator Baker, had called Congress into special session on July 4. Even if Baker hadn't represented Oregon and been unable to make the long cross-country journey (the Pacific Railroad Act, which would lay the groundwork for a transcontinental railroad network, was still a year away), he would not have gone home. That's because Senator Baker was also Colonel Baker.

One month after the fall of Fort Sumter, Lincoln had asked Baker to be a general in the 75,000-strong U.S. Volunteer force he had called up, and be responsible for raising a portion of those volunteers. Baker had been one of the first people Lincoln met when he moved to Springfield in 1837. In evenings, Lincoln would gather with the men of the town to talk current events and Baker (as well as Stephen Douglas) was frequently in attendance. The plain-spoken Kentuckian and the London-born lawyer hit it off, and Lincoln named his second son, born in 1846, Edward Baker Lincoln.

In 1845, Lincoln inspired Baker to run for the 7th Congressional District seat, but Lincoln himself was running for the same seat. In a narrow result, Baker edged out Lincoln, but then lost the Whig nomination to a third candidate, John Hardin. Lincoln, however, had convinced the party to adopt a one-term limit for Hardin, to be followed by Baker's nomination two years later (and presumably Lincoln's two years after that). Baker was duly elected to the Congress, but right as the Mexican War broke out.

Like Lincoln, Baker had been part of the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War, but unlike Lincoln had seen combat in it. He accepted a position as colonel of the 4th Illinois Volunteers and went to war, eventually rising to command a brigade at the Battle of Coro Gordo, when the 4th Illinois as part of Winfield Scott's army flanked the Mexican army using a trail discovered by Robert E. Lee (the regiment surprised General Santa Anna and were able to capture his wooden leg, which is on display at the Illinois State Military Museum). John Hardin also led a regiment and died a hero's death at Buena Vista. Lincoln stayed behind and worked hard to be elected on an anti-war platform.

Baker returned in time to run in the general election again, but rather than contest Lincoln in the primary, he ran for the 6th District and won as a Whig. Unlike Lincoln, he did not become engaged in the Congressional battles against the acquisition of Mexican lands, and had some expectation of a cabinet position when Democrat Franklin Pierce was elected (even over 150 years ago the parties liked to have token members of the other party in their cabinets). Instead he moved to the West Coast, first to San Francisco for several years, then to Oregon, where he was elected as a Republican to be the new state's third Senator in 1860, the first to a full six-year term (thanks to rival southern and northern Democratic candidates).

When Lincoln issued his call for volunteers, Baker shared the concern of many West Coast inhabitants that they would not be represented in the armies of Union. The militia for the states of Washington, Oregon, and California were needed there, especially in California where a significant portion of the state's south wanted to be an independent country. Still, Baker was determined that West Coast men be represented, even if they weren't physically present, and received permission to raise a regiment of men from Philadelphia called the 1st California Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

So it was with enthusiasm that Senator Baker sat down in an office in New York City on June 16 to write a letter to his friend Lincoln on behalf of another West Coast transplant trying to become an officer in the Union army.

    Colonel Joseph Hooker has just arrived from the Pacific Coast and will wait on you in person.
    He desires to draw his sword for his country. He is an educated soldier. The history of the Mexican War in which he bore distinguished and honorable part. No regular officer of his rank won more renown, and no man of any real rank showed more gallantry. His testimonials are of the very highest order. I have known him well and add mine. You cannot rely too much on his capacity as a soldier.

With Baker's letter of introduction, Hooker made arrangements to bring it with his credentials to Washington for presentation to the President, while Baker returned to making plans for his regiment.

Parts of Baker's biography are drawn from Dorris Kearns Goodwin's superb Team of Rivals. His interaction with Hooker is covered in Walter Herbert's Fighting Joe Hooker.

1 comment:

  1. Who said California was not involved in the Civil War - we haven't even had the Battle of Manassas and they're already getting involved. From what I have learned about the Mexican War and the men involved, it seems like a lot them couldn't wait to get back into action and the Civil War was a great way to do it.