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The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley

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John White Geary
1819 - 1873

December 30, 1819
1819 in a log house near
Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County, PA 

February 8 1873 Mount Kalma Cemetery
Harrisburg, PA 

Studied civil engineering and law at Jefferson College, Canonsburg, PA

Pre-War Profession:

John Geary was a student at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pa., when the death of his father forced him to begin adult life early. He triedseveral professions before settling on law: He was also an engineer and assistant superintendent on the Alleghany Portage Railroad.

Upon the break out of the Mexican War, John Geary volunteered his services as a soldier, and was named Lieutenant Colonel of the Second Pennsylvania Regiment. On September 2, 1846, he led the regiment against Chapultepac Castle, and his regiment was the first to arrive inside the walls of Mexico City. In recognition, General Quitman appointed him commander of the Citadel during the occupation of the city

Following the war, on January 22, 1849, President James Polk rewarded his heroism by appointing him to the office of Postmaster at San Francisco and Geary, with his wife, Margaret, and son, Edward, left for the west coast, arriving there in April 1849. As Postmaster, he had the power to create post offices, appoint postmasters, establish mail routes, and make contracts for carrying the mails throughout California. He later became a member of the State Constitutional Convention at Monterey.

Upon the election of Zachary Taylor as president, Geary was superseded as Postmaster; however, he was unanimously elected first alcalde of the city by its citizens in August 1849. The following year, under the first city charter, he was chosen mayor of San Francisco on May 1, 1850. General Geary served one year as mayor, then returned to Pennsylvania in 1852 on a six-months leave of absence to visit his family and friends. Soon after Geary's return home, his wife and several near relatives died, and he abandoned the idea of returning to California. As a parting gift, he gave the city the land that later became Union Square. Geary Street in San Francisco is named for him.

In July of 1856, General Geary was appointed Governor of Kansas. His strong antislavery views forced his resignation after numerous confrontations with pro-slavery forces.

Civil War Service  

In June 1861 Colonel Geary immediately issued a call in his home state for troops; so well respected was he that 68 companies responded to his proclamation. Geary selected 15 and organized the oversized 28th Pennsylvania Infantry, which included Knapís Independent Artillery Battery E.

Service with Brigadier General Nathaniel P. Banks along the upper Potomac River (Harper's Ferry, Bolivar Heights, Leesburg ) resulted in his commission as Brigadier General of Volunteers on 25 April 1862. In August of that year, he commanded the 1st Brigade/2nd Divison of the II Corps at the Battle of Cedar Mountain where he was wounded in the foot and shoulder. Yet this tall, full-bearded officer with sharp eyes and an equally sharp tongue soon returned to duty and assumed command of the 2nd Division in the XII Corps. Troops under his command participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville, were instrumental in repulsing the Confederates at Culp's Hill at Gettysburg, and displayed extraordinary valor at Lookout Mountain.   

During the fighting at Wauhatchie, Tenn., his son, Edward R. Geary, 1st Lt. Knapís Independent Battey E, was killed by a rebel bullet on October 29, 1863.

In William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, Geary commanded the 2nd Division of the XX Corps, and Shermanís subsequent March to the Sea. 

Following the surrender of CSA General Joseph Johnstonís Army of the West to General Sherman, General Geary served as military governor of Savannah.    While serving in this position, he received a brevet promotion to Major General


In 1866, General Geary, a Republican, was elected Governor of Pennsylvania; he served two consecutive terms, from 1867 to 1873. On February 8, 1873, less than 3 weeks after leaving the governors post, Geary, age 53, was fatally stricken while preparing breakfast for his infant son. He was buried with state honors in Mount Kalma Cemetery, Harrisburg, Pa.

A battlefield statue of Mayor Geary, as a general in the Union Army, was erected in 1915 at Gettysburg. The State of Pennsylvania erected the monument, but it was never dedicated. The reason is not known.


Geary Street in San Francisco is named for John White Geary.

Geary County was originally named "Davis County" in 1855. For several years after the Civil War the citizens of Davis County complained about living in an area named for the President of the Confederate States of America, even though he was Secretary of War when the county was named for him. In 1889, the county's name was changed to honor John W. Geary, Governor of Kansas Territory (1856). He was also Mayor of San Francisco (1850), General, U. S. Army (1861-1865), and Governor of Pennsylvania (1867-1873).

Further Reading::

Geary, John White A politician goes to war : the Civil War letters of John White Geary . University Park PA, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.


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