Harney, William Selby

Harney, William Selby, 1800–1889, American general, b. Haysboro, near Nashville, Tenn. He entered the army in 1818 and gained a colonel's rank in the Florida campaigns against Native Americans. Ranking cavalry officer under Winfield Scott in the Mexican War, Harney was disliked by that general, who arbitrarily relieved him of his command and had him court-martialed for resuming it in defiance of orders. Harney apologized, but at the same time appealed to superiors in Washington, who supported him. Restored to his position, he performed brilliantly at Cerro Gordo (1847). In the Platte country after the war, Harney defeated the Sioux. As commander of the Dept. of Oregon, he ordered (1859) the occupation of San Juan Island, which the British claimed; the San Juan Boundary Dispute was thus brought to a crisis. For this action he was recalled. At the opening of the Civil War, Harney commanded the Dept. of the West, with headquarters in St. Louis. He agreed with Gen. Sterling Price of the pro-secessionist Missouri militia to make no hostile move if the militia kept the peace. The radical Unionists, irked at his conciliatory policy, had him deprived of his command in May, 1861. He was retired in 1863.

See biography by L. U. Reavis (1878).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. History: Biographies