GEARY, Joh.G.
Back Up Next

GEARY, Gov. John White, the son of Richard Geary and Margaret White, was born December 30, 1819, near Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland county, Pa. The father was of Scotch-Irish ancestry, a native of Franklin county, and a man of education, refined tastes and superior moral excellence. His mother was born in Washington county, Md. They removed to Westmoreland county soon after their marriage, where Richard Geary engaged at first in the manufacture of iron, which, proving unsuccessful, he resorted to teaching, a profession he pursued the remainder of his life.

For a time his thoughts turned to commercial pursuits, but convinced by a short experience in a wholesale house in Pittsburgh that this would not prove to him a satisfactory sphere of life, he yielded to his natural predilections for mathematics, and applied himself to the study of civil engineering. Having mastered the principles of that profession, he commenced the study of law, in the belief that it would increase the chances of a successful career, and was admitted to the bar, though intending to adopt engineering as his fixed vocation. With this end in view he went to Kentucky, where he was engaged, partly in the employ of the Commonwealth and partly in that of the Green River Railroad Company, to make a survey of several important lines of public works.

His success in the Southwest opened the way to advancement in his native State, and he soon after became assistant superintendent and engineer of the Allegheny Portage railroad. While occupied with the duties of this position, in the month of May, 1846, President Polk sent a message to Congress, informing that body that "war existed with this country by the act of Mexico," and asking for men and money to enable him to maintain the rights and vindicate the honor of the Government. The burst of enthusiasm was instantaneous and general, and Geary was among the first who responded to the call for volunteers, in a short time raising a company in Cambria county, to which he gave the name of American Highlanders. At Pittsburgh his command was incorporated with the Second Pennsylvania regiment, commanded by Colonel Roberts, of which he was immediately elected lieutenant colonel. The regiment joined the army of General Scott at Vera Cruz, and served with conspicuous gallantry in Quitman’s division during the memorable advance upon the Mexican capital. Lieutenant Colonel Geary’s first experience of actual war was in the partial though spirited action of the Pass of La Hoya. In the storming of Chapultepec he was wounded, and in the assault upon the immediate defenses of the city, at the Garita de Belen, he again led his regiment with so much judgment, coolness, and intrepidity that upon the capture he was assigned to the command of the great citadel, as a mark of Quitman’s appreciation of his services. From the time when the army entered the valley of Mexico Colonel Roberts was disqualified for duty by sickness and the command of the regiment devolved upon the lieutenant colonel. Shortly after the surrender of the capital Colonel Roberts died and Lieutenant Colonel Geary was elected to succeed him.

On January 22, 1849, President Polk, in grateful recognition of his services in the Mexican war, appointed Colonel Geary postmaster of San Francisco and mail agent for the Pacific Coast, with authority to create post-offices, appoint postmasters, establish mail routes, and make contracts for carrying the mails throughout California. Having received his commission on February 1, in company with his wife and child, sailed from New York for the Pacific Coast. On April 1 he landed safely at San Francisco, and entered at once upon the discharge of his duties. For a time he was obliged to content himself with the rudest accommodations, and to perform his work under many disadvantages. But here, as in all previous situations, his methodical turn and practical tact soon enabled him to improvise all needful facilities, and brought the labors of the office under an easy and expeditious management.

The intelligent and obliging dispatch with which Colonel Geary had discharged his duties as postmaster and mail agent so won the confidence and esteem of the people of San Francisco, that when the time arrived for the election of town officers he was unanimously chosen first alcalde, though there were ten different tickets submitted to the choice of the voters. Shortly afterwards this mark of appreciation on the part of the citizens was followed by another equally flattering on the part of the military governor of the Territory, Brigadier General Riley, who appointed him judge of first instance. These offices were of Mexican origin, and they imposed onerous and important duties. The alcalde was sheriff, probate judge, recorder, notary public and coroner. The court of first instance exercised both civil and criminal jurisdiction throughout the city, and besides this adjudicated all those cases arising under the port regulations which usually fall within the cognizance of courts of admiralty. At the close of his first term he was re-elected, receiving all but four votes of the whole number cast, and continued in office until the Mexican institutions were superseded by the American forms of municipal government.

In a vote upon the first city charter and for officers to serve thereunder, May 1, 1850, Judge Geary was elected first mayor of San Francisco by a large majority. As mayor he rendered valuable service in perfecting the municipal organization, in restraining the tendency to extravagant expenditure of the public funds, sustaining the city's credit by judicious management of its finances, and by an honest disposal of the public property saved to the corporation many millions of dollars.

Owing to the failing health of his wife, Colonel Geary, on February 1, 1852, sailed from San Francisco, intending to go back and remain permanently in California, but the death of the former and other circumstances unforeseen caused him to change his purpose, and gave a new direction to his whole course of life. After having spent about three years in retirement, and had in a measure brought the condition of his farm into conformity with his own ideal of what such an estate should be, President Pierce invited him to Washington for the purpose of tendering to him the governorship of Utah, which, after due acknowledgement of the compliment, he respectfully declined.

Not the government of Utah but of Kansas was the great problem of Mr. Pierce’s administration. A bloody civil strife was being waged in that Territory, and the political state of the whole country was convulsed on the subject of its affairs. One governor had been removed for refusing to conform strictly to the Federal policy in regard to slavery, and another was preparing to flee from the Territory through fear of assassination. In view of the pressing exigency, the thoughts of the President reverted to Colonel Geary, and after consultation in July he was appointed governor of Kansas, and proceeded immediately to his new field of labor, arriving at Fort Leavenworth on September 9, 1856. His administration extended only from that date to March, 1857.

Governor Geary was at his farm in Westmoreland when the sound of the Rebellion's first gun broke upon the ear of the Nation. Early on the morning following the eventful day he drove his farm wagon to the neighboring village, and there first heard the news of the assault upon Fort Sumter. In less than an hour after reading the telegram he had opened an office for the enlistment of volunteers. As soon as he could communicate with the President he tendered his services, and was immediately commissioned colonel, with authority to raise a regiment for the defense of the Union. In the course of a few weeks he received applications from sixty-six companies, soliciting permission to join his command. On account of the numerous and urgent appeals he was permitted to increase his regiment to sixteen companies, with one battery of six guns, making the full complement to consist of fifteen hundred and fifty-one officers and men. The artillery company was that which subsequently became so celebrated as Knapp's battery.

Colonel Geary, on the 8th of March, 1862, captured Leesburg, and led the van of the column which subsequently obliged the Confederate forces to evacuate all the towns north of the Rappahannock, and abandon their strongholds at Snicker's, Ashby's. Manassas and Chester Gaps, in the Blue mountains. These operations were effected while "Stonewall" Jackson was within striking distance near Winchester; and for his share in them Colonel Geary was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, his commission bearing date of April 25, 1862. On the 9th of August, Banks' troops had a severe engagement with Stonewall Jackson's at Cedar mountain. The day was oppressively hot, and the Union troops suffered much from exhaustion, but still more from the fierce and well-directed assaults of that great commander. General Geary was wounded slightly in the left foot, and severely in the right arm. The battle was gallantly contested, but the results were adverse to the Union arms. The wound in the arm proved so serious that, to save the limb from amputation, he was ordered home for treatment. Subsequently General Geary was promoted to the command of the Second division of the Twelfth corps. At Chancellorsville General Geary was wounded in the breast by a fragment of shell. At the battle of Gettysburg the troops of Geary's division were among the first of the corps to arrive at the scene of action. On the 1st, General Geary suggesting the importance of possessing Round Top, was directed to occupy it with a portion of his command. Early on the morning of the 2d he was ordered to Culp's Hill, the extreme right of the Union line, with instructions to hold his position at every hazard. During the afternoon of that day he was remanded in the direction of Round Top, with a part of his division, to strengthen the left center of Meade's line, which, being hard pressed, was in danger of giving way. As soon as the relief he brought could be spared, he hastened back to Culp's Hill, and on his arrival, at about nine o'clock at night, he found that in his absence the enemy had carried a part of his line, and flanked the position which he had received orders to hold. Suitable dispositions were made during the night to meet the emergency, and at three o'clock on the morning of the 3d, placing himself at the head of his division, he charged the enemy, recovered the ground that had been lost, hastily strengthened his line of breastworks, and waited the return of Ewell's veterans. The maintenance of the position was of the utmost moment, for it commanded the Baltimore turnpike, on which the supply and ammunition trains of the army were parked, and had it been lost, these would have been captured, the rear of Meade's center would have been gained, and general defeat must have inevitably followed. Hence the furious assaults that were made upon it with the hope of seizing the last chance of victory. During seven hours the enemy shelled Geary's lines almost incessantly, and under cover of his batteries made repeated attempts to carry the hill at the point of the bayonet.

After Gettysburg came Chickamauga. The defeat of Rosecranz in that battle made it necessary to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland, and for that purpose the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps, under General Hooker, were detached from the Army of the Potomac. Geary's division went with the Twelfth Corps. Besides these troops others were hurried forward to the scene of the late disaster, and Grant, having laid Vicksburg in the dust and reopened the Mississippi, now, by order of the President, hastened to the mountains of the Tennessee and assumed command. He immediately initiated a series of movements designed to dislodge Bragg from the formidable position which he had gained. In pursuance of his masterly plan a battle was fought at Wauhatchie on October 28, 1863; another at Lookout mountain on November 24; one at Mission Ridge on November 25, and a fourth on November 27 at Ringgold, in the State of Georgia. These battles, fought and won in rapid succession, were the principal achievements of Grant's Chattanooga campaign, in the course of which the disasters of Chickamauga were gloriously retrieved, and Bragg, hurled from heights which he had deemed inaccessible, was driven across the Tennessee line.

In the spring of 1864 the Army of the Southwest was reorganized, and Grant having been invested with the rank of lieutenant general and appointed commander-in-chief, Sherman assumed command of all the forces designed to operate in the Southwestern and Southern States. Among other changes which he ordered, the Eleventh Corps (Howard's) and the Twelfth (Slocum's) were consolidated, becoming in this form the Twentieth Corps, with General Hooker in command. General Geary was continued at the head of his old division, with the addition of a brigade from the Eleventh Corps. The two great campaigns of this memorable year were opened on the same day. On May 4 Grant moved from the Rapidan to encounter Lee, and Sherman from Chattanooga to encounter Johnston. Sherman’s army was complete in all its appointments, and about seventy thousand strong. The events that followed can but briefly be referred to here. At the head of the division to which he was endeared and which was endeared to him by so long a companionship in perils, hardships, sacrifices and sufferings, Geary participated in the battles of Mill Creek, May 8; Resaca, May 15; New Hope Church commencing May 26 and continuing with but little intermission eight consecutive days; Pine Hill, June 15; Muddy Creek, June 17; Noses Creek, June 19; Kolb's Farm, June 22; Kenesaw, June 27; Marietta, July 3; Peach-Tree Creek, July 20, and the siege of Atlanta, lasting twenty-eight days and ending in the capture of the city on September 2. To use General Geary's own language, "The campaign from the opening till the fall of Atlanta was really a hundred days' fight, and may be termed a continuous battle, crowned with constant victory."

When, in the spring of 1866, the Republican leaders began to consider the important question of selecting a candidate for the chief magistracy of the State, it soon became apparent that the name of General Geary was everywhere received with favor. His ripe experience in the conduct of civil affairs and his distinguished services in the field commended him alike to the gratitude of the popular heart and the sanction of the popular judgment. After a very spirited canvass he was elected over his competitor, Hiester Clymer, by a majority of over seventeen thousand votes, and was inaugurated on January 15, 1867.

Governor Geary was elected to a second term, which he filled with acknowledged ability. A few weeks after his successor in office was inaugurated he died suddenly while sitting at the breakfast table. The entire city and State were shocked by the unexpected event. The Legislature, then in session, at once adopted measures for the funeral obsequies at the State's expense. To no former executive had ever such a distinction been accorded, and every respect that could be shown was paid to his memory. He was buried at Harrisburg, and over his grave the State he loved so well and served so faithfully erected a monument of bronze creditable to the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Governor Geary married, on the 12th of February, 1843, Margaret Ann Logan, daughter of James R. Logan, of Westmoreland county. Three sons were the issue of this marriage, one of whom died in infancy, another, Edward R., killed in the battle of Wauhatchie, and the other, William, a graduate of West Point and lieutenant in the United States army. Mrs. Geary died on the 28th of February, 1853, and in November, 1858, Governor Geary was married to Mrs. Mary C. Henderson, daughter of Robert R. Church, of Cumberland county. After Governor Geary's death his widow married Dr. H. Earnest Goodman, of Philadelphia.

Historical Review of Dauphin County

Transcribed by Becky Tuszynski becky@voicenet.com for The Dauphin County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Transcription Project - http://maley.net/transcription.

Date of Transcription: 30 Dec 2000

Copyright (c) 2000 - All Rights Reserved: Use, duplication or reproduction for profit or presentation by any person or organization is strictly prohibited.