The Civil War
When the Land Commission turned down Naglee and Pico’s application in 1852, Henry Naglee looked to another Mexican-American War veteran for help. Henry Wager Halleck (1815–1872) had graduated from West Point in 1839. During the conflict, the Army assigned Lieutenant Halleck to duty in California. Halleck spent several months building fortifications in Alta California before he saw action at Mazatlán. After the war, he returned to California to serve as aide-de-camp to General Bennett C. Riley (1787–1853), the last military governor-general of occupied California.
Riley, needing a military secretary of state, appointed Halleck. The station allowed Halleck to be the governor’s representative to the 1849 constitutional convention at Monterey. Halleck became the document’s principal author. Because of his political accomplishments, Halleck was soon practicing law in addition to fulfilling his military duties. His law firm at San Francisco, HALLECK, PEACHY & BILLINGS, would eventually successfully represent most of California’s land grant holders, including Pico and Naglee, in their cases before the Federal Court. Captain Halleck success as a lawyer prompted him to resign his Army commission in 1854.
Halleck had a profound interest in early California history. While still at Monterey, he began to gather Spanish-era documents, both originals and transcripts, which eventually numbered several thousand pages. His representation of the land grant holders brought many Mexican-era documents into his possession. While his “looting” of the provincial archives was possibly illegal, his collecting was fortunate for modern historians. In 1858, the Federal Archives Commission deposited the provincial archives’ remaining contents in the Surveyor-General’s office at San Francisco. Those materials, unfortunately, did not survive the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Instead, Halleck’s collection, preserved by Hubert Howe Bancroft, was secure at the University of California, Berkeley.
Like Naglee, Halleck remained associated with the militia, serving in the First California Guards. When the Civil War broke out, Halleck reënlisted. Based upon General Winfield Scott’s recommendation, the Army made him a major general, making him the Army’s fourth most senior general (after Scott, George B. McClellan, and John C. Frémont). His first assignment was to command the Department of the Missouri, replacing Frémont.
Halleck was a brilliant administrator but a cautious general. His talent for administration swiftly brought order to the chaos left by his predecessor. His penchant for caution resulted in an uncomfortable relationship with his popular and successful subordinate, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant.
After the Peninsula Campaign’s failure in 1862, President Lincoln named Halleck his General-in-Chief. Lincoln hoped Halleck could prod his subordinate generals into taking coördinated, aggressive actions. Halleck was not the right man for the...