History of the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry
For many of us, the American Civil War was an occurrence of the eastern United States. It was there that the problems leading to war developed, passions became inflamed, troops were raised and the war was fought to its bitter end.
Here in Oregon, the Willamette Valley had just been settled, and statehood was only recently achieved, and the heated issues of the East seemed remote. A number of regular Infantry, Dragoon and Artillery units manned several forts and were a significant stabilizing influence in the region.
With the coming of war in 1861, most of these regular troops were called east and volunteer troops were raised to replace them. During this time, there was increasing conflict between the miners and ranchers in the eastern part of the state, and certain bands of the Snake Indians. In addition, there was considerable secessionist sentiment within the state, centered around organizations such as the Knights of the Golden Circle. In 1864 a national call of volunteers was made, and a regiment of infantry was authorized by the newly elected governor Addison C. Gibbs. It was felt that if volunteer troops were not raised, a draft might become necessary, and that would increase the likelihood of insurrection.
In October 1864 a regiment of infantry was authorized, and the regimental staff was appointed with Colonel George Curry as commander. Each company was raised from a different region of the state, and eventually eleven companies were mustered into service. Training was carried out at Fort Vancouver, and the companies were stationed at various established posts in the western portion of the state.
In 1865, Col. Curry was promoted to command the entire Dept. of the Columbia, including all troops in the region. His strategy was to deploy the available infantry units in the field during the winter, hopefully to suppress the warring bands of Indians. To this end, ten temporary winter posts were established in 1865 and manned by individual companies of the regiment. Company A, commanded by Captain Charles LaFollett, was ordered to establish a Post near the present day town of Sisters, Oregon. Camp Polk, named after Capt. LaFollett’s home county, was manned for only one year before the company marched back to Fort Vancouver to be mustered out.
By 1867 all of the First Oregon Volunteers were mustered out and replaced by regular troops returning from the East.
This regiment never saw combat against Confederate forces, and was never in a major battle, yet it fulfilled its duties faithfully in remote outposts throughout the state. In an environment of underlying secessionist sentiment, Indian unrest, and operating unsupported in the remote far reaching portions of the state, the regiment carried out it’s duties with a remarkable low incidence of problems. In replacing the regular army units, the regiment added significantly to the stability of the region.