Henry Wagner Halleck was born on a farm in Westernville, New York the third child of forteen children on January 16, 1815.  His schooling was paid for by a wealthy uncle who sent Halleck to Union College before the young man joined West Point.  While there he impressed one of his teachers and was allowed to teach some classes on military theory before he graduated.  He graduated third in his class of thirty-one students in 1839 before spending two more years there as an assistant-professor.  After his time at West Point he was sent to New York where he worked on improving harbor defenses.  After a few years at New York Harbor he wrote a report for the Senate on defending the coast which caught General Scott’s eye.  Because of that report Scott chose Halleck to visit Europe to study European military forces.  When he returned he was asked to give twelve lectures at Lowell Institute in Boston.  Those lectures were put into book form and published as The Elements of Military Art and Science in 1846.  That volume became the basis of officer knowledge for years and was widely read by many during the coming American Civil War or War Between the States.
In 1846 the Mexican War broke out and Halleck was sent by the USS Lexington to California.  The seven month voyage gave him the time to translate Henri Jomini’s book on the politics and military of Napoleon into English.  It became a four volume set that would be published in 1864.  In 1847 he got his first experience on the battlefield.  He received a brevet promotion to Captain and became the Lieutenant Governor of the occupied city of Mazatlan.  Although a captain by title, he didn’t receive the pay or official promotion until 1853 as the military advancement slowed greatly after a war.
In 1849 Captain Halleck was the Military Secretary of State in California.  (Since it officially had no government yet from the previous war of independence the military officers were the established government.)  There was to be a convention in Monterey to create a constitution and the governor appointed Halleck his representative and asked him to help form the new government of the short lived country.  As a result of that order Halleck thought hard on what to include and arrived at what would be known as “the Legislature of a thousand drinks” with a very good idea of what should be in the Constitution.  As he is thought to have the most solid ideas and to have taken the legislature so seriously, Halleck is considered one of the main writers of the Constitution that stayed in use for thirty years before being replaced.
In 1854 Halleck resigned from the national army staying involved in the California militia, most notably as an adviser to the governor in designing fortifications throughout the state.  By 1861 he was a Major General in the California militia.
While he gave some of his time to the militia, he focused on business.  After joining a law firm and looked to diversify his various business ventures.  He held high, probably organizational or advisory, positions in a number of businesses such as railroads and other businesses throughout the 1850s (even before his official resignation from the regular army).  In 1853 he started work on what would be known as the Montgomery Block, the first fireproof and hopefully earthquake proof building in California.  He was also known for being the owner of the largest collection of Californicana at the time.  His collecting of original and transcribed documents from early California, even before the independence, would be praised in 1906 when a huge fire would burn all the other official documents of the time.  His collection is now the only large collection of documents from California at that time.
In 1855 he married the granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton, Elizabeth Hamilton, and they had a son a year later.
His early training and love of knowledge or writing would earn him the nickname “Old Brains” as a General during the American Civil War.  Although he is considered barely more than an adviser to the Lincoln, he was titled General-In-Chief for nearly two years before he became the first Chief of Staff and helped Grant with his command that managed to end the war in barely over a year.

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