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In early April, 1854, future CPRR Chief Engineer Theodore D. Judah suddenly left his native New York for California by way of steamer and Nicaragua. Then the 27-year old Chief Engineer of the Buffalo, New York and Erie Railroad, just days before sailing Judah had been hired upon the recommendation of New York Gov. Horatio Seymour to oversee the location and construction of the first railroad on the Pacific coast, the 22-mile Sacramento Valley Railroad, as its Chief Engineer.  The line was to connect Sacramento and the crossing of the American River at Negro Bar (now Folsom) to provide much needed passenger and freight transportation for the gold mining district east of California’s newly named capital city.

Jefferson Davis, CDV, courtesy Mike MedhurstThe railroad that Judah really wanted to build, however, was one to connect the Pacific coast with the fast growing rail network east of the Mississippi River.  It would be another eight years,of course, before the single minded Judah’s own visionary work in surveying the Sierras and promoting a transcontinental line would finally help lead to the passage by Congress of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862.  In the meantime Judah kept close tabs on the Government’s actions in far away Washington.

In 1853 Secretary of War Jefferson Davis had dispatched parties of Topographical Engineers to survey potential routes for a Pacific Railroad (see JEFFERSON DAVIS, GEORGE McCLELLAN AND THE WAR DEPARTMENT'S PACIFIC RAILROAD EXPLORATIONS AND SURVEYS OF 1853-54.”) the results of which were published in 1854 and 1855 in twelve massive volumes.  However Judah also followed with interest in the Department’s annual reports to the President the other activities of the War Department with regard to the surveys, the Army’s growing need for faster transportation for troops and supplies, and its other operations in the West.

Excerpted below are several sections relating to these topics during Judah’s first year in California from the Annual Report of the Secretary of War for 1854 as they appear in Part II of the “Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress” (33rd Congress, 2nd Session).  Interestingly the volume from which these excerpts have been scanned was Judah’s own copy marked with his tiny (1cm by 2cm) bookplate along with his signature in pencil on the title page. (This volume was a part of Judah’s library which was left to his widow, Anna Pierce Judah, after his death in November, 1863.  It was kept in the Pierce family home in Greenfield, MA, until what remained of his library was broken up about 1980.) -BCC

Theodore Judah's copy of the 1854  Presidential Message

Composite image of the title page (signed by T.D. Judah) and first page of the 1854 Report of the Secretary of War, Judah’s signature, his bookplate, and a colorized portrait of Judah taken from an original C.E. Watkins photograph.
Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper Collection.




WAR DEPARTMENT, December 4, 1854.
[Pages 3-7.]

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the army for the past year; and to lay before you the reports of the Commanding General, and of the heads of the several bureaus of the War Department.

The authorized strength of the army (as now posted) is 14,216 officers and men, but the accompanying tables, prepared in the Adjutant General's office, show that at the date of the last returns, the actual strength was only 10,745.  This difference, however, between the authorized and actual strength of the army is fast disappearing under the operation of the law of the 4th of August last, "to increase the pay of the rank and file of the army, and to encourage enlistments."

The general distribution of the army is nearly the same as shown in my last report.  The most important changes will be briefly noticed. The 3d artillery has been reorganized since the wreck of the steamer San Francisco, and six companies sent to the Pacific, via the Isthmus of Panama.  Two of the companies of that regiment and a detachment of recruits for companies of dragoons serving in the department of the Pacific, have been sent by the overland route, for the purpose of exercising a salutary influence over the Indians inhabiting the country through which they will pass, and holding to account the tribe implicated in the massacre of Captain Gunnison's party. They will winter in the Great Salt Lake Valley, and proceed to their destination in the spring.

Six companies of the 2d infantry have been reorganized, and are now posted in the Department of the West. The remaining companies of that regiment will be sent to the same department as soon as their organization is completed.  The 6th infantry has been ordered to the Department of the Pacific. Six companies of the regiment are concentrated at Jefferson barracks, preparatory to sailing for the Pacific, by way of the Isthmus, and two others, which were also under orders for Jefferson barracks, have been sent to Fort Laramie in consequence of the difficulties that recently occurred in that vicinity.  The remaining companies now at Forts Kearney and Laramie will be sent to their destination next spring, by the overland route, if a continuation of the Indian difficulties in that quarter should not interfere with this intention.

The headquarters and two companies of the 1st dragoons have been transferred to the Department of New Mexico, and replaced in the Department of the West by four companies of the 2d dragoons from New Mexico.  The troops on the Indian frontier of Florida have recently been reinforced by two companies of artillery, drawn from the Atlantic coast.  Some other changes of minor importance have also been made with a view of effecting a greater concentration of the troops.

The removal from Florida of the remnant of the Seminole tribe, who, in violation of treaty, have continued to occupy the southern part of that State, has received the constant attention of the department;  but, from peculiar circumstances, the efforts directed to this object have been attended with but little success.  It is, however, believed that better results may be anticipated in the ensuing year. The troops have taken a line of observation which greatly contracts the limits of the territory occupied by the Indians;  and it is proposed to make expeditions through the region where they have hitherto remained securely concealed.

By opening roads, and by the use of boats adapted to the navigation of the lakes, swamps, and bayous, which have heretofore enabled them to elude pursuit, (including a small steamer, as recommended by the Quartermaster General,) the department expects to acquire an accurate knowledge of the country, and to impress them with the conviction of their inability to escape from or resist the power of the United States.  Measures have been taken to cut off their trade, and to make them feel the great inconvenience which will attend an attitude of defiance on their part towards this government.  By these means it is hoped the Indians may be peaceably removed to the home provided for them west of the Mississippi, and the claim of Florida to be relieved from their presence be speedily answered.  Should this hope not be fulfilled, the measures above referred to are the proper and most efficient steps preliminary to active operations for their removal by force.

In the other military departments the Indians have repeatedly come into collision with our troops.  Depredations upon our frontier inhabitants and upon emigrants passing through the Indian country have been, and are still, of frequent occurrence.  In the Department of the West, besides the depredations committed by smaller tribes, hostilities have occurred with the Sioux Indians, the most powerful and warlike tribe of the Northwest.  In Texas they have been so frequent and of so threatening a character that it was considered necessary to authorize the commander of that department to call upon the governor of the State, from time to time, as exigencies might arise, for such volunteer force as might be required to repel Indian incursions.

In New Mexico serious hostilities were repressed by the prompt and energetic action of the troops employed there, but depredations upon the inhabitants are still of occasional occurrence;  and in the Department of the Pacific outrages of the most revolting character have recently been perpetrated on parties of emigrants on their way to California and Oregon.  To repress such disorders, the troops have been actively and constantly employed;  and in the arduous and harassing duties that have devolved on them, have exhibited a gallantry, zeal, and devotion that merit the favorable notice of the government.  The details of these operations will be found in the reports transmitted herewith.

During the past year the Sioux Indians have committed many depredations upon the property of the emigrants passing Fort Laramie, on their route to Oregon and Utah.  On the 19th of August Lieutenant Grattan, of the 6th infantry, was sent, by the commander of that post with thirty men to arrest an offender. This entire detachment was massacred by the Indians, with the exception of one man, who escaped severely wounded, and subsequently died.  The circumstances of this affair were at first involved in much obscurity, but authentic details have since proved that the massacre was the result of a deliberately formed plan, prompted by a knowledge of the weakness of the garrison at Fort Laramie, and by the temptation to plunder the large quantity of public and private stores accumulated at and near that post.  The number of the Indians engaged in this affair was between 1,500 and 2,000.

I regret that it has not been in the power of the department to concentrate the troops in sufficient force to prevent and, in all cases, to punish these disorders.  The circumstances of the service have been such, and the want of troops in all sections of the country so great, that the concentration would have exposed portions of the frontier to Indian hostilities without any protection whatever.  Every favorable opportunity will be taken to post the troops in commanding positions, from which they can exercise a supervision of the Indian country, and operate to the best advantage.  The events of the past year have furnished many examples of the inefficiency of small posts. Our entire loss in the several actions with the Indians during the year has been four officers and sixty-three men killed, and four officers and forty-two men wounded.

While the occurrences on our frontier and in the Indian territory present gratifying evidences of the zeal and devotion of the troops, they also furnish deplorable proofs of the insufficiency of our military force, and the absolute necessity of the increase which it was my duty to urge in my last annual report.  I again solicit attention to this subject, and in doing so must repeat, to some extent, what was then urged.

For military purposes, the territory of the United States is divided into five geographical commands.

1. The Department of the East, embracing all the country east of the Mississippi river. This department has 2,800 miles of sea-board, 1,800 miles of foreign, and about 200 miles of Indian frontier.  Of the fifty permanent fortifications and barracks on the lake, Atlantic, and gulf coasts, now completed, or nearly so, and requiring garrisons to protect the ports, cities, and national establishments which they cover, only eleven are now garrisoned, leaving the remainder exposed to a sudden or unexpected attack from any naval power.  The total force in this department at the date of the last returns was only 1,574 officers and men; and of this number 500 are employed on the Indian frontier of Florida.

2. The Department of the West includes the country between the Mississippi river and the Rocky mountains, except the departments of Texas and New Mexico.  It has a sea-board, foreign, and Indian frontier of 2,400 miles; 2,000 miles of routes through the Indian country constantly traversed by emigrants on their way to Utah, New Mexico, and our possessions on the Pacific, and an Indian population of 180,000, a large proportion of whom are, in feeling, hostile to us, and many of them at this time actively so.  The total force in the department at the date of the last returns was 1,855 officers and men.

3. The Department of Texas, nearly the whole of that State, has a seaboard frontier not yet protected by fortifications of 400 miles, a foreign and Indian frontier of nearly 2,000 miles, and communications through the Indian country of more than 1,200 miles.  The Indian population is estimated at 30,000, nearly all of whom are nomadic and predatory; and the western and northern frontiers of the State are exposed to constant inroads from the Indians of Mexico and the plains.  The force in that department at the date of the last returns was 2,886 officers and men.

4. The Department of New Mexico. — This department has an Indian and foreign frontier of 1,500 miles, communications through the Indian country of more than a thousand miles, and an Indian population of 50,000, a great proportion of whom are bands who do not acknowledge the authority of the United States.  The force in this department, at the date of the last returns, was 1,654 officers and men.

5. The Department of the Pacific, embracing the State of California and the Territories of Oregon, Washington, and Utah, and a part of the Territory of New Mexico.  This department has a sea-board frontier of 1,500 miles, entirely unprotected by fortifications, except the works in progress at San Francisco, an Indian and foreign frontier of 1,600 miles, and more than 2,000 miles of communications through the Indian country; an Indian population of 134,000, who are becoming formidable from concentration, from the acquisition of fire-arms and a knowledge of their use.  The force in this department is only 1,365 officers and men, but as heretofore mentioned, they will be increased by an additional regiment ordered there.

To recapitulate.  We have a sea-board and foreign frontier of more than 10,000 miles, an Indian frontier, and routes through the Indian country, requiring constant protection, of more than 8000 miles, and an Indian population of more than 400,000, of whom, probably, one-half, or 40,000 warriors, are inimical, and only await the opportunity to become active enemies.  If our army should be expanded to its greatest limit, it would have a force of 14,731 officers and men; but as a large allowance must always be made for absentees, invalids, &c., the effective force would probably never exceed 11,000.

That this force is entirely inadequate to the purposes for which we maintain any standing army needs no demonstration, and I take occasion again to urge the necessity of such immediate increase as will at least give some degree of security to our Indian frontier.  That, for this purpose, a regular force is not only the efficient and cheap, but the proper and constitutional means, seems to me demonstrable, if not obvious.  The President is authorized to call out the militia to repel invasion and suppress insurrection. These are the emergencies for which it was deemed proper to confer upon the Executive the power to call citizens from their homes and ordinary avocations, and these are the great occasions on which they may be justly expected to make all the personal sacrifices which the safety of the country may require.  It is in this view that we habitually and securely look to the militia as our reliance for national defence.

It was not the design of the constitution and laws to enable the President to raise and maintain a standing army, yet this would be the practical effect of a power, at his discretion, to call the militia into service, and employ them for the ordinary duty of preserving order in the Indian territory.  The abuse to which such a power, if it were possessed would be subject, sufficiently attests the wisdom of our forefathers in not conferring it, and must remove far from us any desire to possess it.  If this view of the subject be correct, it follows that the Executive must look to the army regularly authorized by law to preserve police among the Indian tribes, and to give that protection to pioneer settlements which interest, humanity, and duty alike demand the organization of the two new territories, and the impulse given thereby to emigration towards the western frontier, and the increase in the overland trains to our Pacific possessions, have multiplied the opportunities as well as the causes of Indian depredations and hostilities. It is reasonable to expect that the ensuing year will be marked by more numerous and serious Indian outrages than the last or any preceding year.

Our border settlements, extending from the Missouri westward, and from the Pacific ocean eastward, are steadily pressing the savage tribes into narrower limits and an unproductive region, from which result combinations of bands heretofore separated from each other, producing at the same time, by their concentration, an increase of power and a diminution of their ability to live by the precarious products of the chase.  Hence, a two-fold necessity for an increase of our military force.

The question of economy in the employment of the means for this purpose has been frequently and fully discussed. It may not, however, be without benefit to advert to some instructive facts in our past experience of Indian wars.


[Page 8.]

The means of transportation have, in some instances, been improved, and it is hoped further developments and improvements will still diminish this large item of our army expenditure.  In this connexion, waiving other considerations, I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels and dromedaries for military and other purposes, and, for the reasons set forth in my last annual report, recommend that an appropriation be made to introduce a small number of the several varieties of this animal, to test their adaptation to our country.


[Pages 23-24.]

Since the date of my report of February 8, 1854, communicating to Congress copies of all reports then received from the engineers and other persons employed in explorations and surveys to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi river to the Pacific ocean, the six parties engaged in those surveys have completed their field duties; reports from four of them have been received and printed, under a resolution of the House of Representatives, passed at the last session.  The two remaining reports, it is expected, will be ready for the printer in the course of next month.  No provision was made, by the resolution above cited, for engraving the maps; without them the reports are comparatively useless.

In making surveys of this character, the maps and reports being hastily prepared in the field, and generally at night, after a day of fatiguing duty, require careful revision in the office, and are considered as merely preliminary to the more elaborate results which finally take their place.  Hence it has been found necessary to return some of the reports for revision, and in some cases to replot the work and make new maps.

When all the reports and maps are received, they will be laid before Congress, with a general report, and a map exhibiting all the routes, and such profiles and other drawings as will be necessary to illustrate the subject.

An appropriation having been made, at the last session, for continuing these surveys, a party has been organized to make further explorations between the plains of Los Angeles and the waters of the bay of San Francisco, to determine whether there be a practicable route for a railroad through the mountain passes of the Sierra Nevada and coast range, which extend to the sea coast at Point Conception.  A second party is making preparations for testing the practicability of procuring water, by means of artesian wells, upon the arid plains which occur on the several routes. The results of the surveys already made will, when assembled and compared, probably indicate the direction in which further explorations shall be made by parties organized to take the field next spring, as early as the season will permit.

Secretary of War

To the President of the United States.

Jefferson Davis CDV courtesy Mike Medhurst.

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