William S. Harney
William Selby Harney was a cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 officer in the U.S. Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 during the Mexican-American War and the Indian Wars
Indian Wars
American Indian Wars is the name used in the United States to describe a series of conflicts between American settlers or the federal government and the native peoples of North America before and after the American Revolutionary War. The wars resulted from the arrival of European colonizers who...

. He was born in what is today part of Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Davidson County. It is located on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, in the north-central part of the state. The city is a center for the health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and is home...

 but at the time was known as Haysborough.

Early military career

William S. Harney's military career was initiated by his brother, Dr. Benjamin F. Harney, then an Army surgeon in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge is the capital of the U.S. state of Louisiana. It is located in East Baton Rouge Parish and is the second-largest city in the state.Baton Rouge is a major industrial, petrochemical, medical, and research center of the American South...

. He asked Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

, hero of the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

 and current Commander of the Army of the South, to write a letter to the Secretary of the Navy asking for Harney's acceptance into the Navy. This occurred July 23, 1817. Harney visited his brother and met high-ranking military officers. He so impressed them that they arranged a commission for him as US Navy second lieutenant
Second Lieutenant
Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces.- United Kingdom and Commonwealth :The rank second lieutenant was introduced throughout the British Army in 1871 to replace the rank of ensign , although it had long been used in the Royal Artillery, Royal...

, signed by then President James Monroe
James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States . Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation...

. Harney instead chose to serve under Andrew Jackson in the Army. His first military assignment under General Andrew Jackson was in 1818, as a second lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Infantry. He forced the pirate Jean Lafitte
Jean Lafitte
Jean Lafitte was a pirate and privateer in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. He and his elder brother, Pierre, spelled their last name Laffite, but English-language documents of the time used "Lafitte", and this is the commonly seen spelling in the United States, including for places...

 to move his operations from the Louisiana territory to the Spanish Main
Spanish Main
In the days of the Spanish New World Empire, the mainland of the American continent enclosing the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico was referred to as the Spanish Main. It included present-day Florida, the east shore of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Mexico, Central America and the north coast of...

. Harney served with distinction during the Seminole Wars
Seminole Wars
The Seminole Wars, also known as the Florida Wars, were three conflicts in Florida between the Seminole — the collective name given to the amalgamation of various groups of native Americans and Black people who settled in Florida in the early 18th century — and the United States Army...

 and the Blackhawk War.

During the Mexican-American War, he was appointed colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

 and commanded the 2nd Dragoons. They were attached to John E. Wool
John E. Wool
John Ellis Wool was an officer in the United States Army during three consecutive U.S. wars: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War. By the time of the Mexican-American War, he was widely considered one of the most capable officers in the army and a superb organizer...

's command during the Chihuahua Expedition and the Battle of Buena Vista
Battle of Buena Vista
The Battle of Buena Vista , also known as the Battle of Angostura, saw the United States Army use artillery to repulse the much larger Mexican army in the Mexican-American War...

. Harney joined Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott was a United States Army general, and unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Whig Party in 1852....

's Army as senior cavalry officer, where he fought with distinction at the battle of Cerro Gordo
Battle of Cerro Gordo
The Battle of Cerro Gordo, or Battle of Sierra Gordo, in the Mexican-American War saw Winfield Scott's United States troops flank and drive Santa Anna's larger Mexican army from a strong defensive position.-Battle:...

, and received a promotion to brevet
Brevet (military)
In many of the world's military establishments, brevet referred to a warrant authorizing a commissioned officer to hold a higher rank temporarily, but usually without receiving the pay of that higher rank except when actually serving in that role. An officer so promoted may be referred to as being...

 brigadier general
Brigadier general (United States)
A brigadier general in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is a one-star general officer, with the pay grade of O-7. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. Brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed...

. On May 14, 1849, on the death of Bvt. Major General William J. Worth
William J. Worth
William Jenkins Worth was a United States general during the Mexican-American War.-Early life:Worth was born in 1794 in Hudson, New York, to Thomas Worth and Abigail Jenkins. Both of his parents were Quakers, but he rejected the pacifism of their faith...

, Harney assumed command of Military Department Number Five, which comprised almost all of the settled portion of Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...


While on leave in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 in 1854, Harney was recalled by the US government to lead a punitive expedition against the Sioux
The Sioux are Native American and First Nations people in North America. The term can refer to any ethnic group within the Great Sioux Nation or any of the nation's many language dialects...

, after they killed a small US Army detachment in Nebraska Territory
Nebraska Territory
The Territory of Nebraska was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from May 30, 1854, until March 1, 1867, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Nebraska. The Nebraska Territory was created by the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854...

, an event called the Grattan Massacre
Grattan massacre
The Grattan Massacre was the opening conflict of the First Sioux War, fought between United States Army and Lakota Sioux warriors on August 19, 1854. It occurred east of Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory, in present-day Goshen County, Wyoming...

. He led attacks against the Sioux culminating in the Battle of Ash Hollow
Battle of Ash Hollow
The Battle of Ash Hollow, also known as the Battle of Bluewater Creek, was an engagement of the First Sioux War, fought on September 2 and 3, 1855 between United States Army soldiers under Brigadier General William S. Harney and a band of the Brulé Sioux along the Platte River in present-day Garden...

 in 1855, in which the Sioux were defeated. After the battle, the Sioux called Harney "Woman Killer." This was one of the opening battles in the more than two decades of the Plains Indian Wars.

Harney was next assigned command of the Department of Oregon
Department of Oregon
The Department of Oregon was one of two Army Departments created September 13, 1858, replacing the original Department of the Pacific and was composed of the Territories of Washington and Oregon, except the Rogue River and Umpqua Districts, which were assigned to the Department of California. Its...

. During this time, he sent troops under Captain George E. Pickett to San Juan Island
San Juan Island
San Juan Island is the second-largest and most populous of the San Juan Islands in northwestern Washington, United States. It has a land area of 142.59 km² and a population of 6,822 as of the 2000 census....

, precipitating the Pig War
Pig War
The Pig War was a confrontation in 1859 between the United States and the British Empire over the boundary between the US and British North America. The territory in dispute was the San Juan Islands, which lie between Vancouver Island and the North American mainland...

 with British forces. Due to the altercations with the British
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

, he was recalled by the Army. Briefly commanding troops during the Utah War
Utah War
The Utah War, also known as the Utah Expedition, Buchanan's Blunder, the Mormon War, or the Mormon Rebellion was an armed confrontation between LDS settlers in the Utah Territory and the armed forces of the United States government. The confrontation lasted from May 1857 until July 1858...

, he was again recalled and placed in command of troops sent to deal with the guerrilla warfare of Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas
Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas or the Border War, was a series of violent events, involving anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery "Border Ruffian" elements, that took place in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of the U.S. state of Missouri roughly between 1854 and 1858...

. Promoted to brigadier general
Brigadier general (United States)
A brigadier general in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is a one-star general officer, with the pay grade of O-7. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. Brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed...

 on June 14, 1858, Harney was one of the four general officers in the regular army at the opening of the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...


Civil War

Harney commanded the Army's Department of the West
Department of the West
The Department of the West, later known as the Western Department, was a major command of the United States Army during the 19th century. It oversaw the military affairs in the country west of the Mississippi River to the borders of California and Oregon.-Organization:The Department was first...

 at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

 in 1861. Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson was pro-secession, but the majority of Missourians were Unionist. After the bombardment of Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter is a Third System masonry coastal fortification located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The fort is best known as the site upon which the shots initiating the American Civil War were fired, at the Battle of Fort Sumter.- Construction :...

, President President Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 called for troops to suppress rebellion. Jackson refused, and began plotting with Confederate authorities to bring about Missouri secession by a military coup.

On 10 May 1861, Captain Nathaniel Lyon
Nathaniel Lyon
Nathaniel Lyon was the first Union general to be killed in the American Civil War and is noted for his actions in the state of Missouri at the beginning of the conflict....

, commander of the St. Louis Arsenal
St. Louis Arsenal
The St. Louis Arsenal is a large complex of military weapons and ammunition storage buildings owned by the United States Army in St. Louis, Missouri. During the American Civil War, the St...

, led a force of unofficial Unionist "Home Guards" to capture a force of state militia that were poised to seize the Arsenal - acting without any authorization from Harney, his nominal superior. The Camp Jackson Affair resulted in a bloody riot in St. Louis, and Harney was horrified.

The state legislature responded by reorganizing the militia as the Missouri State Guard
Missouri State Guard
The Missouri State Guard was a state militia organized in the state of Missouri during the early days of the American Civil War. While not initially a formal part of the Confederate States Army, the State Guard fought alongside Confederate troops and, at times, under regular Confederate...

, and authorizing it to resist "invasion" by Federal troops.

Harney tried to calm the situation. He agreed to the Price-Harney Truce
Price-Harney Truce
The Price-Harney Truce was a document signed on May 21, 1861 between United States Army General William S. Harney and Missouri State Guard commander Sterling Price at the beginning of the American Civil War....

 with Guard commander Sterling Price
Sterling Price
Sterling Price was a lawyer, planter, and politician from the U.S. state of Missouri, who served as the 11th Governor of the state from 1853 to 1857. He also served as a United States Army brigadier general during the Mexican-American War, and a Confederate Army major general in the American Civil...

, under which he agreed that the State Guard would control most of Missouri, while Federal troops stayed near St. Louis.

Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson (who favored secession) swore allegiance to the Union in the deal.

This was not acceptable to Unionist leaders in Missouri, such as Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 leader Frank Blair
Francis Preston Blair, Jr.
Francis Preston Blair, Jr. was an American politician and Union Army general during the American Civil War. He represented Missouri in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and he was the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President in 1868.-Early life and career:Blair was born in...

, as Price did nothing to prevent the organization of pro-Confederate forces or protect Unionists in his territory. Blair reported all this to the Lincoln administration in Washington
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, and was authorized to replace Harney with Lyon. Blair acted on 30 May.

Harney was called to Washington to discuss the situation. He was captured by Confederates en route and was offered a command by Confederate General Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

. He refused and was released to continue on to Washington, where he was permanently relieved of his command.

Harney remained in Washington, serving in various administrative positions. He retired in 1863, and was breveted to Major General in 1865, in recognition of his long and distinguished career.

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
Orlando, Florida
Orlando is a city in the central region of the U.S. state of Florida. It is the county seat of Orange County, and the center of the Greater Orlando metropolitan area. According to the 2010 US Census, the city had a population of 238,300, making Orlando the 79th largest city in the United States...

, the Sioux
The Sioux are Native American and First Nations people in North America. The term can refer to any ethnic group within the Great Sioux Nation or any of the nation's many language dialects...

 (Lakota) changed his name to "Man-who-always-kept-his-word".


Harney was known for having a particularly brutal streak. Harney commanded the US troops at the Battle of Ash Hollow
Battle of Ash Hollow
The Battle of Ash Hollow, also known as the Battle of Bluewater Creek, was an engagement of the First Sioux War, fought on September 2 and 3, 1855 between United States Army soldiers under Brigadier General William S. Harney and a band of the Brulé Sioux along the Platte River in present-day Garden...

 in 1855, which Lakotas viewed as a massacre rather than a battle, and which resulted in the killing of roughly 85 men, women and children. He was also court-martialed by the army four times, as well as tried in a civilian court in St. Louis, Missouri for bludgeoning his slave Hanna to death for losing his keys — he fled the state when a mob pursued him, he was ultimately found not guilty. In the Mexican-American war, he oversaw the execution of thirty members of the San Patricio Battalion after the Battle of Chapultepec
Battle of Chapultepec
The Battle of Chapultepec, in September 1847, was a United States victory over Mexican forces holding Chapultepec Castle west of Mexico City during the Mexican-American War.-Background:On September 13, 1847, in the costly Battle of Molino del Rey, U.S...

; these were primarily Irish Catholic immigrants who had deserted the US army to fight for Mexico. While overseeing the hangings, Harney ordered Francis O’Conner hanged even though both his legs had been amputated the day before. When the army surgeon informed the colonel that the absent San Patricio had lost both his legs in battle, Harney, in a rage, replied:

This incident was in violation of the articles of war requiring swift executions. He was never punished for his actions and was promoted to brigadier general shortly after, accompanying the commander in chief in a triumphal march in Mexico City. Harney's actions in regards to the hanging of the amputee were not in fact a crime, in that the order to hang the members of the San Patricio brigade as an example did not originate in his command but in higher ups in the command. Harney's statement is very telling in this sense. Harney refers to his "orders" to hang 30 men. The "war crime" here involves the argument that these men should have been executed by firing squad and not by hanging, but this was not Harney's decision. In reference to this controversy read the executions section of Saint Patrick's Battalion
Saint Patrick's Battalion
The Saint Patrick's Battalion , formed and led by Jon Riley, was a unit of 175 to several hundred immigrants and expatriates of European descent who fought as part of the Mexican Army against the United States in the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. Most of the battalion's members had...



Harney's home in Sullivan, Missouri
Sullivan, Missouri
Sullivan is a city that straddles the border of Franklin County and Crawford County in the U.S. state of Missouri. The population was 6,351 at the 2000 census. Stephen Sullivan founded the city in the late 1850s and cleared brush, which facilitated the building of the railway depot there, and the...

 is privately owned by the Harney Mansion Foundation, a private organization which is seeking funds for the restoration of the structure. The Sullivan Chamber of Commerce cooperates with the foundation and can arrange visits to the home.


  • Harney, Nevada
    Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

  • Harney County, Oregon
    Harney County, Oregon
    -National protected areas:*Malheur National Forest *Malheur National Wildlife Refuge*Ochoco National Forest -Demographics:As of the census of 2000, there were 7,609 people, 3,036 households, and 2,094 families residing in the county. The population density was 1 people per square mile...

  • Harney Lake
    Harney Lake
    Harney Lake is a shallow alkali lake basin located in southeast Oregon, United States, approximately thirty miles south of the town of Burns. The lake lies within the boundary of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and is the lowest point in the Blitzen Valley drainage.- History :The lake has been...

     in Oregon
  • Harney Peak
    Harney Peak
    Harney Peak is the highest natural point in South Dakota. Harney Peak is located within the Black Elk Wilderness area, in southern Pennington County, within Black Hills National Forest...

     in South Dakota
    South Dakota
    South Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States. It is named after the Lakota and Dakota Sioux American Indian tribes. Once a part of Dakota Territory, South Dakota became a state on November 2, 1889. The state has an area of and an estimated population of just over...

  • Harney Point in Cape Coral, Florida
    Cape Coral, Florida
    Cape Coral is a municipality located in Lee County, Florida, United States, on the Gulf of Mexico. Founded in 1957 and developed as a master-planned, pre-platted community, the city grew to a population of 154,305 by the year 2010. With an area of , Cape Coral is the largest city between Tampa and...

  • Harney Gym located on Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
  • Lake Harney
    Lake Harney
    Lake Harney, named for General William Selby Harney, is a lake located in Volusia and Seminole and Counties, Florida, and is part of the course of the St. Johns River....

     in Central Florida
    Central Florida
    Central Florida is a regional designation for the area surrounding Orlando in east central Florida, United States. The area represents the third largest population concentration in Florida, after the South Florida and Tampa Bay regions, respectively....

     north of Orlando near Mims, Florida
    Mims, Florida
    Mims is a census-designated place in Brevard County, Florida, United States. The population was 9,147 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Titusville, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area.-Geography:Mims is located at ....

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