Maj. Granville Haller
G. O. Haller, courtesy of USAMHI.
Several York Countians played important roles in the Civil War, the majority supporting the Union side, but with a few serving as officers in the Confederate army. Most of these men and women have receded into obscurity in today’s consciousness, but in the mid-1860s were well known and prominent. In the months to come in the Cannonball blog, I will introduce you to a few of these 19th Century personalities and provide resources for further study should you desire to dive a little deeper into these folks’ lives.
One of these long ago celebrities was Granville Owen Haller, a York native who became a postbellum leading citizen in Seattle, Washington. A fashionable and intelligent man who loved the challenge of chess, Haller had a checkered military career that reached its apex during the first two years of the Civil War. The Gettysburg Campaign would be his final active service.
So, who was Granville Haller, and why was he important to York County during the Civil War?
Granville Owen Haller was born in York in 1819 to a leading physician. After being educated at the York County Academy (a forerunner to York College), he was considered for an appointment to West Point in 1838, but Sen. James Buchanan instead appointed William B. Franklin, the son of a political crony. Haller joined the army anyways, was summoned to Washington D.C., and appointed as a lieutenant. He fought Seminole Indians in Florida in 1840-41 and later served with distinction at Monterrey, Veracruz, and other battles during the Mexican-American War, officering in the same regiment as Ulysses S. Grant. He distinguished himself in the Battle of Churubusco, where he took a key part in the assault on Molino del Rey. He later was an Indian fighter in the Washington Territory, serving with future Confederate general George Pickett in one campaign.
By the start of the Civil War, Haller was a major in the 7th U.S. Infantry with service in Arizona and California. He commanded the Headquarters Guard for George McClellan during the Antietam campaign, and then for Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg. Sent home in May 1863 to recover from illness, he was assigned command of the defenses of Adams and York counties during the Gettysburg Campaign. His handling of the fluid situation drew praise in some quarters and strong criticism in others, but he accomplished his mission of not allowing the Rebels to cross the Susquehanna River. His badly outnumbered state troops abandoned York for Wrightsville at the request of the town’s authorities, who feared that active resistance might bring the town to ruin from Rebel guns and torches.
Following the Gettysburg Campaign, Major Haller was dismissed from the U.S. Army for allegedly making inappropriate remarks about the government and President Lincoln at a wine tasting party earlier in the year. He spent years seeking exoneration, finally accomplished when a special military board ruled in 1873 that he had been unjustly dismissed. He was promoted to colonel by President Hayes and his pay restored. By then, he had amassed significant wealth in the Seattle area and built an elaborate mansion, Castlemount. Haller died May 2, 1897, and is buried in Seattle.
Guy Breashers, a Washington writer, has penned a new biography of Granville O. Haller, heavily focused on his persistant efforts to clear his name. It is available on the web from Heritage.