William Selby Harney

William Selby Harney was born on August 27, 1800, in Haysboro, Tennessee, a community on the Cumberland River (a few miles above Nashville) of which no trace remains today. He attended the local academy and in 1818 was commissioned into the Regular Army as a second lieutenant of infantry, with his birthplace and residence for some reason misrepresented in military records as Louisiana. Harney distinguished himself in the Florida campaigns against the Creeks and Seminoles and rapidly attained promotion. By 1836 he was lieutenant colonel of the 2nd Dragoons (later the 2nd Cavalry) and in 1846, just prior to the war with Mexico, became its colonel. This promotion made him the senior cavalry officer under General Winfield Scott in the advance upon Mexico City. Scott distrusted Harney's judgment and relieved him of command. The ensuing imbroglio which resulted in Harney's restoration to command caused a great newspaper fanfare. In the end Scott was overruled by President James K. Polk, a neighbor of the Harney family in Tennessee, and Harney quickly vindicated his reputation by his gallant conduct at Cerro Gordo, for which he received the brevet of brigadier to rank from April 18, 1847. From then until the outbreak of the Civil War, Harney enhanced his reputation by his feats against the warring Indians, but diminished it, after his promotion to brigadier general in the regular service, to rank from June 14, 1858, by his anti-British activities in the San Juan Island affair, while in command of the Department of Oregon. Recalled from the latter post, he was in command of the Department of the West, with headquarters at St. Louis, one of the four general officers of the line of the Regular Army when the Civil War began. Harney had married into an old St. Louis family and by birthplace and other connections was allied with the pro-Southern element. Accordingly, his agreement with Confederate General Sterling Price not to molest the Missouri State Guard so long as it committed no overt act against the Federal authority, was viewed with suspicion in Washington; he was relieved of command and saw no further service. Retired in 1863, at the close of the war he was brevetted major general. He lived in retirement on his estate at Pass Christian, Mississippi, and in St. Louis. He died in Orlando, Florida, on May 9, 1889, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.