Book Review: Hidden History Of Civil War Oregon

Hidden History Of Civil War Oregon, by Randol B. Fletcher

As a book written by a longtime Oregon Civil War reenactor and local historian, this short book of 140 pages performs an admirable task in providing a rich array of notable aspects of Civil War history in Oregon. After all, Oregon is not a state that is presumed to have a great deal to do with the Civil War at all, given that no battles were fought within hundreds of miles of the state, and the few brief problems with pro-Confederate residents, like the one-man “Long Tom Rebellion” would not even be worthy of mention as far as the Civil War history of most parts of the United States is concerned. Nevertheless, whether one is a student of the Civil War or someone who wishes to give honor to Oregon history, this is a worthwhile book on Oregon history that demonstrates that even in the Pacific Northwest that the Civil War was of great importance to the lives of important people in the state. It should be noted that many of the people honored in this book moved to Oregon late in life, after having accomplished notable deeds, and only a few, like the last surviving Civil War veteran in Oregon, a 90-day trooper in an outfit known dubiously as “Olney’s Forty Thieves,” performed their notable deeds as residents of Oregon.

In terms of its contents, the book consists of thematic essays, likely taken from a variety of sources and a variety of other works, that are combined to make a worthwhile book. The essays deal with a wide variety of noteworthy and mostly adopted Oregonians, and are even-handed in that they seek to honor both former Union and Confederate soldiers, even if the Confederates fought for one of the worst causes known to mankind. That said, although the author speaks highly of the valor of various individual Confederates, and frames the cause of the Confederacy in terms of local/state identity rather than its true roots in slavery, he is also quick to give praise to the few black Civil War veterans who are buried in Oregon, whose residence here required the bravery to violate immoral laws seeking to prohibit their residence here, as well as the Oregon women who served as nurses. While some people are remembered mostly for their noted deeds before coming to Oregon, like Salmon Brown, the Portland resident who was the last surviving son of John Brown, others are noted for what they did in Oregon, like being mayors and governors, encouraging the education of their children, or such meritorious deeds as building fountains or helping design Portland’s water system, or serving as notable ministers or academics at the University of Oregon or Oregon Agricultural College (later Oregon State University), all of which was done by Civil War veterans.

Despite being a short book, there are at least a few lessons that can be drawn from this book. One of the lessons is that the history of Oregon and Oregonians is heavily involved with outsiders, and that Oregon has been a common place for restless and vagabondish sort of people to live, and an area where outsiders are greater appreciated and respected than in other parts of the country. There are plenty of odd patterns as well, including the fact that while Union veterans tended to congregate in some areas, like Portland and Eugene and Albany, to give a few examples, many former Confederates settled in places like Hood River. Other contrasts are served in the way the war was remembered. Union veterans were a cohesive group that celebrated and memorialized the Civil War in groups as part of the Grand Army of the Republic and other organizations, while former Confederates failed to have any larger group to honor the perhaps thousands of veterans of their side, and only a few of their lives, service, and graves are remembered at all. Perhaps Oregon was a place where some people went to start over and forget about the past, and whether or not they ever forgot about their own past, at least some seem to have been fortunate or unfortunate enough to have their pasts forgotten, or to be forgotten altogether themselves.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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