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Chapter 2:

No minute and detailed account has been given of those military operations in Mexico in which Lieutenant McClellan was engaged,--which, indeed, could not have been done without swelling this part of the memoir to a disproportionate bulk. Our aim has been merely to present a continuous and intelligible narrative of what was done by him. The movements of the campaign, its sieges, assaults, and battles, were planned by others; and he can claim no higher merit — though this is not inconsiderable — than that of having faithfully executed the orders received from his superiors in rank. Nor has the moral element involved in the Mexican War — the question how far it was provoked or unprovoked, [32] or how far we were right or wrong — been taken into consideration. Such an inquiry has now become as obsolete as would be a discussion of the moral judgment to be passed upon the conspirators who took the life of Julius Caesar. But no candid person, whatever he may think of the merits of the contest, can deny that the conduct of the war and its results reflected the highest honor upon the courage of the American army, both regulars and volunteers, as well as upon the skill and accomplishments of our officers. Not that there were not grave errors committed, both at Washington and in the field; not that the volunteers did not sometimes show the infirmities of raw troops; but these shadows in the picture were as nothing to its lights. The whole campaign was especially remarkable for the brilliant, dashing, and reckless courage displayed in it,--for that quality which the French call élan, which is so captivating to civilians, and for the want of which so much fault has been found with our officers and soldiers in the present civil war. But the tactics in the Mexican War were founded upon and regulated by an accurate knowledge of the enemy; and the distinguished and veteran soldier who led our armies in that campaign would never have taken the risks he did had the Mexican soldiers been like those in the Southern army, and the Mexican officers men like Lee, Johnston, Jackson, and Beauregard.

The public mind judges of military movements and of battles by the event: the plan that fails is a bad plan, and the successful general is the great [33] general. Without doubt, this is a correct judgment in the long run; but in particular cases the rule could not always be applied without injustice. Hannibal was defeated by Scipio at Zama, and Napoleon was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo; but it does not follow that Scipio was a greater general than Hannibal, or the Duke of Wellington than Napoleon. Mexico was taken by a series of rapid and daring movements, and Richmond has not yet been taken; and thus the inference is drawn that, had the latter city been assailed in the same way as the former was, it too would have fallen, as Mexico did. But those who reason thus forget the sharp lesson we learned at Bull Run,--a disastrous battle forced upon the army by a popular sentiment which ignorantly clamored for the dash and rapidity which accomplished such brilliant results in the Valley of Mexico. Nelson won the battle of Aboukir by a very daring and dangerous plan of attack, which had the good fortune to be successful. Cooper, in his preface to the last edition of “The two Admirals,” says that had he attacked an American fleet in the same way he would have had occasion to repent the boldness of the experiment; but then Nelson, who, like all great commanders, was a man of correct observation and sound judgment, would probably not have tried such an experiment with an American fleet.

To Lieutenant McClellan his year of active service in Mexico was of great value in his professional training; for it was a period crowded with rich opportunities for putting into practice the knowledge [34] he had gained at West Point, and which was still fresh in his mind. The corps of engineers attached to the army was so small that much work was of necessity exacted from each officer, and higher responsibilities were devolved upon the younger men than would have been the case in any European army. Lieutenant McClellan had an unusually large experience both of field-work and in the investment of fortified places. And it is no more than just to him to add that he proved himself equal to every trust laid upon him. His knowledge of his profession was shown to be thorough, exact, and ready, and his coolness and self-possession on “the perilous edge of battle” was like that of the bronzed veteran of a hundred fights. The number of men in our country-indeed, in any country — competent to pass a correct judgment upon military measures and military men, is not large; but upon this select body Lieutenant McClellan had made his mark during the Mexican War, and he was recognized by them as a soldier upon whose courage, ability, and devotion his country might confidently repose in her hour of need.

Lieutenant McClellan remained with his company in the city of Mexico, in the discharge of garrison-duty, till May 28, 1848, when they were marched down to Vera Cruz and embarked for home, arriving at West Point on the 22d of June. After his return he was brevetted first lieutenant for conduct at Contreras, and afterwards captain for conduct at Molino del Rey, which latter honor he declined, as he had not been present in the battle. [35] He was afterwards brevetted captain for conduct in the capture of Mexico, and his commission was dated back to that period.

Upon his return, his company was stationed at West Point, and he remained there with them till June, 1851, much of the time in command. His leisure hours were spent in studies connected with his profession. Among other things, he prepared an elaborate lecture upon the campaign of Napoleon in 1812, which was read before a literary society. Of this discourse he thus speaks in a letter to his sister-in-law :--“Well, it is over at last; and glad I am of it. I read the last part of my Napoleon paper last night. I have been working hard at it ever since my return, and the ink was hardly dry on the last part when it was read. The affair amounted to one hundred and eleven pages in all; and they compliment me by saying that it gave a clear explanation of the campaign: so I am contented. I hardly know, but I have an indefinite idea that we have had fine weather since I returned. I have some indistinct ideas of sunshine, and some of rain; but I have been so intently occupied with the one subject that I have thought of but little else. Now I must go to work with my company. I've enough to do to occupy half a dozen persons for a while; but I rather think I can get through it. I have had no time to read any of Schiller; but now I will go at it. I have some thought of writing a paper on the Thirty Years War for our club.”

His familiar letters breathe a strong desire for a more stirring and active life than that he was now [36] leading, the monotony of which was the more keenly felt from its contrast with the brilliant excitements of the Mexican campaign. In one of his letters he tells his correspondent that his highest pleasure is to fall in with some comrade of the war, and talk over its hardships, perils, and successes and revive their impressions of the glorious scenery of Mexico. And yet he was never idle. Here is a specimen of his habits of work, taken from a letter to his brother, Dr. McClellan, dated January 10, 1849:--“On Christmas day, orders were received here from the Chief Engineer, requiring plans and estimates for several buildings to be furnished him for the Military Committee of the House, by to-day at latest. Among those required was a barrack for our company; and I had to make all the drawings: the barrack had to be planned and drawn in the short time allotted; and from two weeks from to-day until last Saturday night at twelve o'clock, I drew every day, morning, afternoon, and night, working Sundays, New-Year's day, and all. I had to make eight different drawings on the same large sheet, fifty-two inches by thirty-two, all drawn accurately to a scale, all the details, &c. painted: so, you may imagine, I had my hands full.”

In the winter of 1849-50, he prepared for tho use of the army a Manual of Bayonet Exercise, mostly taken from the French of Gomard. This was submitted by General Scott, the commander-in-chief, to the Secretary of War, in which he strongly recommended its being printed for distribution to the army, and that it should be made, by regulation, [37] a part of the system of instruction. The recommendation was adopted by the War Department, and the manual was officially printed. It forms a small duodecimo volume of about a hundred pages, with a number of plates in outline.

In June, 1851, Captain McClellan was ordered to Fort Delaware, as assistant to Major John Sanders in the construction of the works there. Here he remained till near the close of the ensuing winter.

Early in March, 1852, Captain Randolph B. Marcy, of the Fifth Infantry, was .directed by the War Department to make an exploration of the country embraced within the basin of the Upper Red River; and Captain McClellan was assigned to duty with the expedition. The other officers accompanying it were Lieutenant Updegraff and Dr. Shumard. Captain J. H. Strain, of Fort Washita, and Mr. J. R. Suydam, were also with it, but not in any official capacity. The private soldiers were fifty-five in number. There were also five Indians, serving as guides and hunters. Up to this time the region round the head-waters of the led River had been unexplored by civilized man; and the only information we had as to the sources of one of the largest rivers in the United States was derived from Indians and semi-civilized Indian hunters.

The expedition started from Fort Belknap, upon the Brazos River, on the 2d of May, and marched to Red River at the mouth of the Little Witchita, and up the right bank of the latter stream to the mouth of the Big Witchita, where they crossed Red River. Proceeding westward, between Red River [38] and a branch of Cache Creek, they struck the north fork of Red River at the west end of the Witchita Mountains, and followed that stream to its source in the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain. Here an excursion was made to the valley of the Canadian River, at Sand Creek, in order to verify the position of the party by the survey which had been made along that stream by Captain Marcy in 1849. They then travelled south to the Kech-ah-que-ho, or main Red River, and, leaving their train at the place where the river comes out from the bluff of the Llano Estacado, ascended it to the spring which forms its source. From this they returned down the left bank of the river to the Witchita Mountains, which were examined, and thence they proceeded to Fort Arbuckle, on the Washita River, in the Indian Territory, arriving there July 28. Here the expedition terminated.

Captain Marcy brought back his command without the loss of a man. In his Report he says, “I feel a sincere regret at parting with the company, as the uniform good conduct of the men during the entire march of about a thousand miles merits my most sincere and heart-felt approbation. I have seldom had occasion even to reprimand one of them. All have performed the arduous duties assigned them with the utmost alacrity and good will; and when (as was sometimes the case) we were obliged to make long marches, and drink the most disgusting water for several days together, instead of murmuring and making complaints, they were cheerful and in good spirits. I owe them, as well as the [39] officers and gentlemen who were with me, my most hearty thanks for their cordial co-operation with me in all the duties assigned to the expedition. It is probably in a great measure owing to this harmonious action on the part of all persons attached to the expedition that it has resulted so fortunately.” Of Captain McClellan the introduction to the Report speaks thus:--“The astronomical observations were made by Captain George B. McClellan, of the Engineer Corps, who, in addition to the duties properly pertaining to his department, performed those of quartermaster and commissary to the command. An interesting collection of reptiles and other specimens, in alcohol, was also made under his superintendence, and put into the hands of Professors Baird and Girard, of the Smithsonian Institution, whose reports will be found in the appendix. For these and many other important services, as well as for his prompt and efficient co-operation in whatever was necessary for the successful accomplishment of the design of the expedition, I take this opportunity of tendering my warmest acknowledgments.”

The party were: received with peculiar warmth of welcome by the, garrison at Fort Arbuckle; for they were supposed to have been, all massacred by the Comanche Indians. The account was brought by a Keechi Indian, and was so circumstantial and minute in every particular, and showed so perfect a knowledge of the movements of the expedition, as well as of its numbers and equipment, that it was believed to be true. The report was carried to the [40] United States; and for several weeks the relatives of Captain McClellan mourned him as dead.

Captain Marcy's Report was published by order of Congress, and is one of those books which many receive, but few read. And yet it is well worth reading; for it has that fresh and spontaneous charm of style which we so often observe in the writings of superior men who are not men of letters by training and profession, and who tell us in a plain way of what they have seen and done. Besides a graphic and animated description of the country traversed by the expedition, it contains an excellent account of the Indian tribes that roam over it,--not that impossible creature, “the noble savage” of the poet, the sentimental red man of the novelist, nor yet the degraded outcast that withers in the shadow cast by the white man and grafts upon his own wild stock all the vices of civilization; but the Indian as he really exists,--a mingled web of virtues and vices, and certainly holding no low place upon the scale of savage and nomadic life.

And the remark which has just been made as to Captain Marcy's Report may be further extended; and it may be said that comparatively few persons know any thing of what may be called the civil victories of the American army. How few there are who are aware of how much has been done for science, and especially for geographical science, during the last thirty or forty years, by the able and accomplished officers of the regular army!--what toils and hardships they have endured, what perils they have met, and what laurels, unstained [41] by blood and tears, they have won! One might feel indignant at the injustice which deals out what is called fame with so unequal a hand, were it not for the reflection that men who are competent to add to the intellectual wealth of the world, and enlarge the domain of knowledge, have learned to take popular applause at its true value, and to find in the faithful discharge of honorable duty a satisfaction which is its own reward.

After his duties upon Captain Marcy's expedition had ceased, Captain McClellan was ordered to Texas as chief engineer on the staff of General P. F. Smith. lie sailed from New Orleans, accompanying General Smith, August 29, and arrived at Galveston on the 31st. In a letter to his brother, dated September 3, he says, “Galveston is probably the prettiest and most pleasant town in Texas. It is built on a perfectly level island, which forms a portion of the harbor, and near the point. The houses are all of frame, with piazzas, and very pretty and neat: all are surrounded with shrubbery. They have there the most beautiful oleanders I ever saw: they, with many other flowers, the banana, china-tree, orange, lemon, palm, &c. &c., present, you may imagine, a charming relief to the monotony of the level site. There is almost always a fine breeze and an elegant surf. The roads were excellent when we were there, on account of the frequent rains, which pack them down.”

From Galveston he accompanied General Smith in a tour of military inspection, visiting Indianola, [42] St. Joseph's, and Corpus Christi. Of this last place he writes, “Corpus is about two miles from the head of Corpus Christi Bay, which is separated from Nueces Bay by a reef of sand. The shore makes a beautiful curve, near one end of which the town is built. The old camp of General Taylor was on the beach where the town stands, and extended some mile and a half or two miles above it. The positions of the tents are still marked by the banks of sand thrown up to protect them against the Northers. It is a classical spot with the army, there are so many old associations, traditions, and souvenirs of many who are now no more. The country round Corpus is very beautiful. Below, towards the bay (gulf, rather), it is a rather flat country, alternately prairie and chapparal, the prairies interspersed with ‘motts’1 of live-oak and mesquite2 covered withal by a luxuriant growth of grass. The chapparal is the prettiest growth of that nature I remember to have seen. It is, of course, tropical,--that is, composed of the cactus and the stiff thorn-covered bushes peculiar to the Southern latitudes; but the ground even now is covered with a great variety of beautiful flowers, and the whole makes up a very pretty country.”

From Corpus Christi they proceeded to Fort Merrill, thence to San Antonio, and from there to Camp Johnston, on the Concho River, where they arrived October 24. [43]

Here Captain McClellan found orders relieving him from duty on General Smith's staff, and assigning him the charge of the surveys for the improvement of the harbors on the coast of Texas from Indianola to Rio Grande, embracing Brazos Santiago, Corpus. Christi, Lavacca, and the San Antonio River. This change of employment, trans. herring him from the land to the sea, was not exactly to his wish; but he set about his new duties with his usual promptness and energy. We find him at Corpus Christi in January, 1853, diligently at work upon estimates and reports; and on the 13th of that month he addressed to the Chief Engineer, General Totten, a letter giving a general description of the bars on the coast. For the rest of the winter and far into the spring he was hard at work. Here is a taste of his experiences, taken from a letter dated Corpus Christi, March 9, 1853:--“I left here on the 22d of February, one of the most beautiful mornings I ever saw, bright, clear, and mild, with a nice breeze just in the right direction. I congratulated myself on the fine start I made, and felt in fine spirits. Things went on finely for an hour or so. Then the breeze became so strong that I had to double-reef all my sails, and on we went, still handsomely. But presently the breeze changed into the most violent gale of the winter. The sea ran in young mountains. Down we brought the mainsail; and if ever a boat did run under a foresail, I rather think mine did that day. How it did blow! The spray dashed in your face like hail. The boat is a magnificent [44] sailer, and a splendid sea-boat: so we still kept on beautifully, though it was slightly humid. Just as we were about to anchor, before reaching the mud-flats, we lost the way; for the spray flew so that we could not see, and the first thing we knew we were driven about four hundred yards up on one of the aforesaid flats, and rather halted. Nothing could be done: so we turned in as best we could, and waited for morning. When morning came, there was not an inch of water within three hundred yards,--could not even float the skiff. A sand island some six hundred yards off was the nearest dry place, and in walking to it you would sink over the knee in mud. In that delightful place my boat remained about ten days. After the first three, I went on board the Government steamer at Aranzas, some four miles off, and went to work at the bar in her whale-boat. When I got through, I found there was no use in waiting for the water to rise: so I took the steamer's crew and dug a canal, through which, after two days hard work, we floated the Alice into deep water. I then at once ran down, by the outside passage, the Gulf, to Corpus Christi Pass, satisfied myself very quickly of its utter worthlessness, and came here, with flying colors, yesterday. I have finished this harbor and its two passes: by the end of the month I shall have completed the Brazos survey, and will then run up towards Indianola, finishing the inland channel and the San Antonio and Guadalupe Rivers by the end of April, if I have any thing like ordinary good luck. In May I shall finish Paso Cavallo Harbor, [45] and hope to finish the field-work by the end of that month at furthest. Then I shall sell out my boats, and go to Galveston and make out my reports and maps.”

On the 18th of April, Captain McClellan addressed to General Totten a report of the result of the surveys on the coast of Texas, as far as they had then been completed. It embraces the bars along the coast from Paso Cavallo to the mouth of the Rio Grande, the harbors of Brazos Santiago, Corpus Christi, Aranzas, and Paso Cavallo, and the inland channel from Matagorda Bay to Aranzas Bay. It is printed in the Executive Documents of the first session of the Thirty-Third Congress,--a brief and business-like document, containing plans and suggestions for improving the harbors designated, with estimates of the probable expenses.

But before the date of his Report he had received information of his having been assigned to a more congenial field of duty; for in a letter to his brother, dated Indianola, April 7, 1853, he tells him that he has been offered the charge of a portion of one of the Pacific Railroad surveys recently authorized by Congress, to start from Puget Sound and to go through the Cascade Mountains to St. Paul on the Mississippi, and adds, “As the results of the surveys are to be presented to Congress during the ensuing February, the time will be limited; and I can never have a better opportunity of seeing California and Oregon: so I did not hesitate a moment in determining to accept [46] the position. I am told that ‘the exploration is arduous, and will bring reputation.’ Hard work and reputation will carry me a long way.”

The expedition to which he was attached was under the general supervision of Governor Isaac I. Stevens, of Washington Territory, formerly of the army, who, to the great loss of his country, met a glorious death in the battle near Chantilly, Fairfax county, Virginia, September 1, 1862. It was charged with the duty of examining the lines of the forty-seventh and forty-ninth parallels of north latitude; and the special object of the exploration was the determination of a railroad-route from the head-waters of the Mississippi to Puget Sound. One party, under the immediate direction of Governor Stevens, was to proceed from the Mississippi westward, survey the intermediate country, and examine the passes of the Rocky Mountains. Captain McClellan, at the head of a separate party, was to explore the Cascade Range of mountains.

Immediately on receiving official news of his ap. pointment, he set out for the Pacific coast, via the Isthmus, arrived at Fort Vancouver on the 27th of June, began to make preparations for the expedition, and started on the 24th of July. His party consisted of Lieutenant Duncan, Third Artillery, astronomer, topographer, and draughtsman; Lieutenant Hodges, Fourth Infantry, quartermaster and commissary; Lieutenant Mowry, Third Artillery, meteorologist; Mr. George Gibbs, ethnologist and geologist; Mr. J. F. Minter, assistant engineer, in charge of courses and distances; five assistants in [47] observations, carrying instruments, &c.; two sergeants, two corporals, and twenty-four privates of the Fourth Infantry. Two chief packers, three hunters and herders, and twenty packers, completed the party. There were one hundred and seventy-three animals with the command,--seventy-three for the saddle, one hundred for packing.

The field of Captain McClellan's exploration lies in the western part of Washington Territory. The river Columbia from Fort Okinakane, at about the forty-eighth degree of north latitude, flows in a southerly direction, a little inclining to the cast, till it reaches Fort Walla-Walla. Then it makes a sudden turn to the west, and runs to the Pacific in a course nearly at right angles to its former current. The space enclosed between these two arms of the river on the south and cast respectively, and the ocean on the west, is partly filled up by the Cascade Mountains, a continuation of the Sierra Nevada Range in California, and deriving their name from the fact that the Columbia breaks through them in a series of falls in its passage to the ocean. Captain McClellan's course from Fort Vancouver was in a northeasterly direction, along the dividing line between the stream flowing westwardly into the Pacific and eastwardly to form the Yakima, which is an affluent of the Columbia.

The party, starting from Fort Vancouver July 24, as has been said, reached the river Wenass on the 20th of August, having travelled one hundred and sixty-two miles. Here a pause of some [48] days was made. Lieutenant Hodges was despatched to Fort Steilacoom, to procure provisions, exchange their pack-horses for mules, if possible, and examine the intermediate route. Lieutenant Duncan was directed to cross to the main Yakima, examine the upper part of that valley, and obtain all possible information in relation to the surrounding country, especially towards the north. Mr. Gibbs was instructed to examine the valley of the Yakima to its junction with the Columbia. Captain McClellan himself, with Mr. Minter and six men, made an examination of the Nahchess Pass. Lieutenant Mowry was left in charge of the camp at Wenass.

By the 31st of August all these separate parties, except that under Lieutenant Hodges, had accomplished their tasks and returned to the camp. Here Captain McClellan determined to reduce the number of his party; and, accordingly, on the 2d of September Lieutenant Mowry was sent back to the Dalles, on Columbia River, with seventeen men, of whom but two were to return with him. He took with him the collections made up to this time, and every thing that could be dispensed with.

On the 3d of September the depot camp was moved from the Wenass to Ketetas, on the main Yakima. On the 4th, Captain McClellan left the camp, with Mr. Gibbs, Mr. Minter, and six men, to examine the pass at the head of the main Yakima, and returned to the camp on the 12th. While on this separate examination, he wrote a letter to his mother, dated September 11, from which an extract [49] is here made, giving an account of his movements for the previous fortnight:--

On about the 23d of August I started from the main camp on the Wenass River, to examine what is called the Nahchess Pass, having on the previous day sent in some fifty pack-animals by the same pass to Steilacoom, for provisions, so that I might start from this vicinity (after examining the passes) with three months provisions. I took with me my assistant, Minter, three hunters, one packer, one of my Texas men to carry the barometer, and my Mexican boy Jim. The first day's work was of no particular interest: we travelled some six miles up the valley in which we were camped, and struck over the divide to the southwest into the valley of the Nahchess, where we camped, after a hot march of some eighteen miles over a rough, mountainous country,--the last fifteen without water. Next day we travelled about seventeen miles up the valley of the Nahchess,--that is, wherever there was any valley; for the stream, frequently running through canons, often threw us back into the mountains, where the trail was very rough, stony, and steep. These canons are generally through masses of basaltic rock, varying in height from fifty to five hundred feet, and generally perfectly vertical,--the whole width occupied by the bed of the stream. The scenery here is singularly wild and bold. Most of the hills and mountains, being of volcanic rocks, have the sharp, bold outlines peculiar to the formation. Our next march, of about equal length, and over a rather worse country, brought us to the divide,--that is, the point where the waters run in one direction towards the Sound, in the other towards the Columbia above Walla-Walla. By ascending a high, bare mountain, called by the Indians Aiqz, we had a fine view of the mountains. The range had now become exceedingly rough, and the mountains large. We were but a short distance from Mount [50] Ranier,--a magnificent snow peak,--and could count around us some thirty mountains, with more or less snow upon them. We remained one day at the divide, examining the country on foot, and then returned by about the same route we had before taken. The day after I reached the main camp I received an express from the officer I had sent into Steilacoom, informing me that most of his animals (horses) had broken down, and that there were no mules at Steilacoom to replace them. Therefore I at once determined to reduce the size of the party. I sent in the whole escort, and others the next day, so as to reduce the number from sixty-nine to thirty. I have mules enough to carry ninety days provisions for this number, and can now travel much more rapidly. The day after the escort left, I moved camp from the Wenass River to the main Yakima,--about fourteen miles northward,--and started the next day, with the same party as before (with the addition of Mr. Gibbs), to examine the Sinahomis Pass. Our first two marches were of no peculiar interest,--passing through a rather wide valley covered with an open growth of pines. In the third march we struck the mountains. (the valley giving out), and had a terrible road, much obstructed by fallen timber and brush, and with some very respectable mountains to pass over. We passed by the foot of a beautiful lake (Kitchelas) in which this river heads: it is some four or five miles long, and about one mile wide, surrounded by very lofty mountains. About two-thirds of the way up the last mountain we ascended, we passed between two small lakes, and, looking down from the top, saw at our feet, some one thousand feet below us, still another,--Willailootzas. We passed over the mountain and encamped some distance down on the farther side, in the bed of an old lake. You may imagine what kind of weather there is among the mountains, when I tell you that nearly every morning at sunrise the thermometer stands at 32°. We remained at [51] this mountain one day, trudging around on foot. Next day I sent the animals back by the trail, and started on foot to examine the divide and Willailootzas. I had a very rough climb for some six hours, discovered another small and very pretty lake, from which the water runs both ways, and found my mule waiting for me on the trail at about two o'clock.

A ride of about sixteen miles, over a horrible trail, brought me into camp just before dark and fully prepared for a respectable cup of coffee. Next day we went back about three--miles on the trail, and then struck off to visit the largest lake of all,--Kahchess,--about eight miles long. It is very beautiful, situated, like the others, in the midst of the mountains. Yesterday we travelled about sixteen miles, to visit another large and beautiful lake,--Kleallum. These are all in the mountains, and on the heads of different branches of the main Sahawa,--most of them fully as beautiful and picturesque as many celebrated in the fashionable world. I doubt whether any whites ever saw any of them before: certainly they were unknown to the settlers. Whether steamboats will ever run on them, or Saratogas be established in their vicinity, is with me a matter of exceeding doubt. The only things we have seen of much interest are the mountains and the lakes,--both fine in their way, but rather hard to get at. To-morrow I shall go into the main camp, and hope to find things about ready for me to start into the town incognito to the northward. I shall send an express in a day or two with reports to the Secretary of War, and this at the same time. I hope to reach M. t. Baker in about twenty days from here. Where I will go to then, circumstances must determine,--I think to Colville,--perhaps thence to the Rocky Mountains.

Lieutenant Mowry had returned from the Dalles on the 2d of September, and on the 16th Lieutenant [52] Hodges arrived from Steilacoom, bringing twenty-nine pack-horses loaded with provisions. Preparations were now made to move northward: thirty-two broken-down horses were sent back, under charge of three men, to the Dalles, and the command was reduced to thirty-six persons, with forty-two riding-animals and fifty-two pack-animals. They started on the 20th, and moved in a northeasterly direction. On the 9th of October they reached their most northerly camp, about thirteen miles south of the “Great Lake,” in latitude 49° 26‘. They then moved west to the Columbia River, which they crossed at Fort Colville. Thence they proceeded southerly across the Great Plain of the Columbia River, and arrived at Walla-Walla on the 7th of November, at Fort Dalles on the 15th. From Fort Dalles they went down by water to Fort Vancouver, which they reached on the 18th. An extract from a letter to his brother, dated November 28, may be here appropriately introduced:--

From that place [the Yakima valley] we crossed a rather high mountain-ridge (running nearly east and west), and struck the Columbia not far above Buckland's Rapids, and a little distance below the mouth of the Pischas. My journal written that night says, “Soon, descending a little, you arrive at the edge of the sudden, precipitous descent that borders the valley of the Columbia. Words can hardly convey, an idea of the view from this mountain. Somewhat to the north of west is a handsome snow peak, part of a long snow ridge. This has no name, and is probably seen by whites for the first time. To the north of that the Cascade Range is in full view, the main range coming directly to the Columbia, and crossing [53] at, until it sinks towards the east into a, vast, elevated table<*>and. In the distance, to the north, is seen a long blue range, at the foot of which the Columbia runs from Colville to Okonogan. To the northeast and east, as far as the eye can reach, extends the beau-idcal of the sublimity of desolation, a vast plain (as it appears from the height and distance), without one indication of water, one spot of green to please the eye. It is generally of a dead yellowish hue, with large “clouds” of black blending into the general tinge. It must be a sage-desert, with dry burnt grass and outcroppings of basalt. Not a tree or bush is to be seen upon it. The valley of the Columbia is very deep and exceedingly narrow: it is connected with the great plain by steps of basaltic rock,--most of them narrow ledges, and varying in height from fifty to three hundred or four hundred feet. The great river looks like a narrow blue thread or ribbon. It seems as if our only means of travelling farther to the north would be to follow the valley of the river until it leaves the mountains. Forward we must go: the means will perhaps present themselves when we reach the valley.” Sure enough, we were obliged to follow the valley six days, at the end of which we reached Okonogan. During this time we had some very bad and dangerous places to pass over. On one occasion we made but one and three-quarter miles from morning till night,--had two mules instantly killed by falling off a precipice, and two others badly hurt.

Mt. Okonogan (Okinakane) is delightfully situated on a gravel flat, without a blade of grass or any thing else for some distance from it. A little Frenchman is the only apology for a white man there. He was very kind to us; and he and I misunderstood each other most beautifully in all our conversations. From there I went westward into the mountains, in vain hopes of finding another pass, and finally returned to Okonogan, whence I went as far north as the Great Lake Okonogan. There is little or no [54] timber in the valley: small parts of it are tolerably good, but the greater part worthless. From the forks up to the Great Lake it is, in fact, nothing but a series of lakes of different sizes. The Great Lake is some two miles wide and about seventy in length. The scenery around it is more remarkable for its desolation than its beauty. In fact, the whole of this region has something very lonely and dispiriting about it: you see a very few miserably squalid Indians, and no other signs of animal life: an occasional wolf, with now and then a lonely badger, are all you see. From the forks we struck over to the Colville River, and followed it down to the Columbia opposite Fort Colville. The valley of this little river was about the prettiest we saw,--fine larch timber, and a good deal of yellow pine, the valley very narrow, the stream a bold and pretty one; no Indians; and not even any salmon in it. At Colville we crossed the Columbia, swimming the animals, and ferrying ourselves and ‘traps’ in canoes.

At Fort Vancouver the party was broken up, and the portion required for office-work was sent to Olympia, where Captain McClellan arrived on the 16th of December. On the 23d he started with a small party to endeavor to complete the barometrical profile of the main Yakima Pass and examine the approaches on the western side; but he was obliged to return without having accomplished his purpose, mainly on account of the great depth of snow and the impossibility of procuring Indian guides.

Some weeks were spent in office-work at Olympia. From that place, on the 8th of February, 1854, Captain McClellan addressed to Governor Stevens a brief report on the railroad-practicability [55] of the passes examined by him; and his general report, sent to the Secretary of War, bears the date of February 25. Both of these reports appear in the first volume of the official publications on the Pacific Railroad route, made by order of Congress. His general conclusions were that between the parallels of 45° 30′ and 49° north latitude there are but two passes through the range practicable for a railroad,--that of the Columbia River and that of the Yakima River; that the latter was barely practicable, and that only at a high cost of time, labor, and money, while the former was not only undoubtedly practicable, but remarkably favorable.

The Secretary of War, in his report to Congress, dated February 27, 1855, says, “The examination of the approaches and passes of the Cascade Mountains, made by Captain McClellan, of the Corps of Engineers, presents a reconnoissance of great value, and, though performed under adverse circumstances, exhibits all the information necessary to determine the practicability of this portion of the route, and reflects the highest credit on the capacity and resources of that officer.”

In addition to his duties upon the railroad-survey, Captain McClellan had been directed by the Secretary of War to superintend the construction of the military road from Walla-Walla to Steilacoom. This road was built after he had left the Pacific region; but the contracts and arrangements were made by him before his departure.

He returned( home in the spring of 1854. In the [56] summer of that year he was sent on a secret expedition to the West Indies, the object of which was to select a harbor and procure a site suitable for a coaling-station. It was a service of some danger, as it exposed him to the influences of a tropical climate in the hottest season of the year. lie went out in a United States vessel under the command of Lieutenant Renshaw, a gallant and excellent officer, who was killed at Galveston, January 1, 1863, by the blowing up of the Westfield. Captain McClellan selected the bay and promontory of Samana, on the northeast coast of the island of Hayti, as the most desirable site for the object proposed. It is a spot of much historical interest. Columbus, returning to Spain after his first discovery of the New World, anchored in this bay, having first sailed round the promontory and given names to two of its headlands. Here some of his crew had an affray with the natives, in the course of which, much to the grief of the great navigator, two of the latter were wounded,--the first time that native blood was shed by white men in the New World. At a later period, the peninsula,--which in the old maps is laid down as an island,--as well as the rocky islets in the harbor, of which there were several, became haunts of the buccaneers. On one of these islets, or cays, Jack Banister, a celebrated English pirate, at the close of the seventeenth century, defended himself successfully against two English frigates sent to capture him,--in consequence of which the name of Banister Cays was given to the group. Upon the promontory are [57] some negro villages, occupied by the descendants and survivors of a colony of free colored persons who went from New Jersey under Boyer's administration.3 [58]

Captain McClellan drew up two reports, one on the harbor and its defences, and one forming a general memoir on the island. They have never been printed, and are probably still on file in the archives of the War Department. Our Government entered into negotiations with the Dominican Republic for the cession of the bay and peninsula; but they were not crowned with success. It may be surmised that the influence of France and England, exerted through their representatives, may have prevented it.

After returning home from the West Indies, Captain McClellan was stationed at Washington, employed on duties connected with the Pacific Railroad surveys. In the autumn of 1854, he drew up a very elaborate memoir on various practical points relating to the construction and management of railways, which was published in the same volume with the reports of his explorations. The Secretary of War remarks upon it as follows:--“Captain McClellan, of the Corps of Engineers, after the completion of his field-operations, was directed to visit various railroads, and to collect information of facts established in the construction and working of existing roads, to serve as data in determining the practicability of constructing and working roads over the several routes explored. The results of his inquiries will be found in a very valuable memoir, herewith submitted.” [59]

In the spring of 1855, Captain McClellan received the appointment of captain in the First Cavalry Regiment, then under the command of Colonel Sumner.

1Mott,” a local word, meaning a grove, or clump, of trees.

2 “Mesquite,” an indigenous tree of the acacia kind.

3 Part of the information in the text is taken from a memoir on the peninsula and bay of Samana in the “Journal of the London geographical society” for 1853, by Sir R. H. Schomburgk, H. B. M. Consul at the Dominican Republic. The concluding paragraphs are as follows:--

I have purposely dwelt long and in detail upon this narrow strip of land, called the Peninsula of Samana, and upon its adjacent magnificent bay. In its geographical position its greatest importance is centred. The fertile soil is fit for the cultivation of all tropical productions; its spacious bays and anchoring-places offer a shelter to the navies of the world; and its creeks afford facilities for the erection of arsenals and docks, while the adjacent forests yield the requisite woods for naval architecture: still, its chief importance does not consist in these advantages alone, but in its geographical position, forming, as it does, one of the principal keys to the isthmus of Central America and to the adjacent Gulf of Mexico. Mr. Lepelletier de Saint-Remy says, “Samana is one of those maritime positions not often met with in a survey of the map of the world. Samana is to the Gulf of Mexico what Mayotta is to the Indian Ocean. It is not only the military, but also the commercial, key of the Gulf; but the latter is of infinitely greater importance, under the pacific tendencies of European politics.”

The Bay of Samana being placed to the windward of Jamaica, Cuba, and the Gulf of Mexico, and lying, moreover, almost due northeast of the great isthmus which now so powerfully attracts the attention of the world, the French author just quoted may well call it “la tete-du-pont” to the highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Captain McClellan had never seen or heard of this memoir at the date of his visit to the West Indies; and it is creditable to his sagacity to have selected, as the result of his own unaided observation, a site which so competent an authority as Sir Robert II. Schomburgk speaks of in such terms as the above.

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