A Conversation for Spoils of War: The Pig War of 1859

Pig War

Post 1

Florida Sailor All is well with the world

About 10 years ago my wife and I spent a couple days at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

At that time there was a museum dedicated to the 'Pig War'. I was, sort of, offered the position of manager as I showed up wearing one of my Civil War coats.

They had dozens of dioramas showing the various stages of the conflict.

The real conflict was over the US - Canada border. The treaty put the border along the 49th parallel to Puget Sound and then followed the main ship channel until it reached the Pacific between Vancouver Island and the Olympia Peninsula. The British thought this was the channel east of the San Juan Islands, while the US picked the channel to the west.

The conflict was finally decided by a third party, Kaiser Willem of Germany, who declared the Western channel was correct. The San Juans are still a part of Washington State.

I used to have a book about this, but I think it has found a new home. I had a chart place-mat of the islands that I used as a mouse pad for several years before it disintegrated.

F smiley - dolphin S


Pig War

Post 2

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

Somehow, I KNEW you'd have more information on that Pig War. smiley - rofl

You did - and thanks for sharing it!

54-40 or fight, I believe somebody said back then...




Pig War

Post 3

Florida Sailor All is well with the world

Yes 54-40 or fight was a political slogan of the time, I could do a quick google search and give you the details, but you can do that as easily as I. This policy would have placed most of the occupied areas of Canada under US control.

When the border was established at 49 degrees the Hudson Bay Company had a post at the mouth of the Columbia River. As this was now firmly in US territory, they moved their operations to San Juan Island.

Most of the US settlers on San Juan were gold rush speculators who had tried to join the Yukon Gold Rush. The Canadian Mounties were posted along most of the trails that led to the hills and required everyone to have a minimum quantity of supplies. Many Americans were turned back, and several of them decided to form homesteads on San Juan Island.

This was the background of the war.

F smiley - dolphin S


Pig War

Post 4

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

It makes sense, along with what I read in the primary document there. smiley - laugh Think about it: settling down with a good farmstead was better in the long run than that ridiculous panning for gold.


Pig War

Post 5

Florida Sailor All is well with the world

Let me thank you for your many interesting Articles, I have learned many interesting and unusual chapters of history from your efforts.

I probably would not have known anything about this, had I not visited the island myself.

Kind of like visiting Gettysburg, Someone is bound to mention that a battle was fought theresmiley - shrug

F smiley - dolphin S


Pig War

Post 6

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

smiley - rofl I suspect that's true.

My favourite Gettysburg moment: my youngest sister was five. We were standing on Little Round Top with other tourists.

My sister, 'Daddy, where are the Yankees at?'

My mom to my dad afterward, 'See what happens when you talk about the War in front of little kids.' smiley - whistle


Pig War

Post 7

Florida Sailor All is well with the world

Several years ago I was at a re-enactment, wearing a blue coat and an obviously Union uniform.
A pair of elderly women approached me and I started explaining some of the finer points of the battle.

One of them asked which side I was fighting on. I told her I was fighting on the Union side, as it was important to have both sides represented, and in the deep south, most people wanted to support the South. Somebody had to portray the 'bad guys'. I think she had tears in her eyes as she looked up at me and said 'But are Yankees are too'.

I think I felt at least a little bit sorry afterwards.

smiley - popcorn

The Yankees were all over the top of 'Little Round Top'

The best part of that battle was the bayonet charge at the end, as they had no bullets left.

F smiley - dolphin S


Pig War

Post 8

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

I'm guessing you meant the 'best part' from a reenactment point of view. smiley - winkeye I'm sure the original actors were less thrilled to run out of bullets.

But that's an excellent point. I appreciate reenactors, because they stop people from forgetting that all that history happened to somebody - just like them. Bless them for doing that.




Pig War

Post 9

Florida Sailor All is well with the world

I was speaking from an historian's point of view, perhaps interesting might have been a better word.
The final Union advance was a downhill bayonet charge because of the lack of ammunition. Had that hill fallen it would have changed the outcome of the battle, possibly the war.
It was a very near thing.

Running out of ammunition is also smiley - bleep at a re-enactment. Had that happen to me once and we were scheduled to continue for another ten minutes. Everything got very quiet.
Since then I have spent a good deal of time counting the remaining cartridges when I have been in charge of a group on the battlefield.

F smiley - dolphin S


Pig War

Post 10

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

smiley - snork You did see my account of the French and Indian War in this week's issue, right?

I happened to be standing next to the guys who were deciding where to fall down. I felt sorry for them, because I was already ankle-deep in mud myself.


Pig War

Post 11

Florida Sailor All is well with the world

Yes I read it and enjoyed it thoroughly. I loved your 18th Century stylesmiley - biggrin

There is an event I try to do every year called 'Dade's Battle' We used to call it Dade's Massacre' but the Indians got upset as they thought it put them in a bad light.

There was a survivor of the actual battle who documented the whole action and gave lectures for the rest of his life about it, about ten years. There has been a modern autopsy that concluded he actually died from infections caused by his wounds.

The whole thing is fought to a script, with certain events and even the actual words of some of the officers.

Half of the unit are supposed to go down on the opening volley. Most, except for Major Dade himself (who was killed by the first shot) can get up and continue fighting as walking wounded.

There are several entries on You Tube showing parts of the battle.

We usually try to avoid dying in cacti, sand spurs, fire ant mounds and the road apples left by the cavalry.

F smiley - dolphin S


Pig War

Post 12

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

smiley - snork I would say those are good calls.

That reminds me of my dad. He was from Tennessee, but did his army basic training in Florida in 1944. I believe this was the main reason he refused to set foot in the state for the rest of his life.

However, he distinguished himself during basic by winning a war game. According to him, they were supposed to compete to find out the most about the other units in the exercise. Winners got a 48-hour pass, or something. And my dad's bunch won.

He said he suggested they just sneak over to the other guys' foxholes, kick sand in, and count cursing voices. It worked...


Pig War

Post 13

Florida Sailor All is well with the world

Actually there was a major housing boom around here between 1946 and '56. Most of them built by former service men who had been down here for training and decided to move here after the war.

My wife's father was career military in the Air Force, and her mother was a Navy Wave. When he retired they decided to come here, One set of her grandparents had already moved into the area.

My old house was built in 1949.

F smiley - dolphin S


Pig War

Post 14

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

You know, I'm not surprised - there's a lot to be said for the subtropics, as Willem and I are always agreeing. smiley - winkeye

Thing is, if you're from Tennessee, you already have some of those advantages. And you think, 'Any place that has even MORE bugs than where I come from is a place to be avoided.' smiley - rofl


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