William S. Harney

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William S. Harney

William Selby Harney (22 August 1800 - 9 May 1889) was a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War and the Indian Wars.

Early Military Career

Harney started his military career in 1818 as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Infantry. He forced the pirate Jean Lafitte to move his operations to the coast of Spain. He served with distinction during the Seminole Wars and the Blackhawk War.

During the Mexican-American War he was appointed colonel and commanded the 2nd Dragoons. The 2nd Dragoons were attached to John E. Wool's command during the Chihuahua Expedition and the battle of Buena Vista. Harney joined Winfield Scott's Army as senior cavalry officer Fighting with distinction at the battle of Cerro Gordo he received a promotion to brevet brigadier general. He was placed in commanded of Military Department Number 5 after the war. While on leave in Paris he was recalled to lead an expedition against the Sioux after the Grattan Massacre culminating in the Battle of Ash Hollow in 1855. For his merciless handling of the battle he was known among the Sioux as "the Butcher". He was then placed in command of the Dept of Oregon. During this time he sent troops under Capt. George E. Pickett to San Juan Island precipitating the Pig War. Due to these altercations with the British he was recalled. Briefly in command of troops during the Utah War he was again recalled and placed in command of troops sent to deal with the Bleeding Kansas affair. Promoted to full brigadier general on June 14, 1858 he was one of four general officers in the regular army at the opening of the Civil War.

Civil War

In Saint Louis, Missouri, where he commanded the Army's Department of the West, he warned that state against secession, but raised the suspicions of political enemies when he negotiated with Confederate General Sterling Price in order to keep the state from being torn in two by the war. Called to Washington, he was captured by Confederates en route and was offered a command by Confederate General Robert E. Lee. He refused and was released to continue on to Washington, where he was shocked to learn that he was being relieved of his command. He retired in 1863 and was breveted to Major General in 1865 in recognition of his long and distinguished career. President Lincoln said that the removal of General Harney was one of the greatest mistakes of his administration.

Peace Negotiator

Though a then-well-known cavalry officer of the Indian Wars, William Harney worked for peace with the Indians by advocating a good neighbor policy and strove throughout his career to improve the nation's treatment of the native population, vainly seeking to have them treated fairly. The Crows gave him the name "Man-who-runs-like-the-deer" after he challenged them to foot races outside the walls of the fort. After the Civil War he was a key figure in the Indian Peace Commission that negotiated treaties with all the Plains Indians in 1867-68, and urged Congress to honor past treaties. After his death in Orlando, Florida, the Sioux changed his name to "Man-who-always-kept-his-word".

Harney's home in Sullivan, Mo. is privately owned by an organization that is seeking its restoration.



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