There are many famous Americans of the 19th century. I’ve been studying the time period for many years and therefore I know much about the lives of several of them. But, it takes time and a lot of effort to truly delve into the lives of particular individuals. Even then, I can never truly know everything about the person. There are many people whose names I know, and perhaps I have encountered them in various narratives, but I only know of them in a particular time and place. When I happen to learn something new about them it is sometimes quite surprising; especially when the information is found in a place I wasn’t expecting. That is what happened today.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I worked for several years giving tours of San Luis Obispo, California. I took people to the Mission and told some of the history of the city. After moving to Missouri, I eventually worked at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, and wrote my graduate paper on the battle. Today I found a connection between San Luis Obispo and the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in an unusual place.
I was at work at Grant NHS and the site curator had an auction catalogue. I was looking through it and a letter that is currently up for bid caught my eye. This is the catalogue description:
Union General Samuel Sturgis handwritten letter signed, dated 10 March 1886, on Ebbitt Hotel, Washington, D.C. stationery. He replies to Mary C. Day’s request for an autograph. After his graduation from West Point in 1846, Sturgis saw service in the Mexican-American War and at its conclusion, took part in Indian campaigns in the West. He writes to Day of his experiences in California. Letter reads in part, ”…I hasten to enclose my autograph in compliance with your request. You will be surprised perhaps to learn that I was what was called a ’49er, and it was at San Louis Obispo, that in the spring of 1849, I prepared and fitted out my small Company of Dragoons for an expedition against the Indians in the neighborhood of the Tulare lakes & the head of Kings River. In those days San Louis Obispo was simply an old Mission, but is probably now a thriving town. The world has changed so much since those days…” He signs, ”S.D. Sturgis”.
If you don’t recognize Sturgis’ name you can see here. He was a Major at the outbreak of the Civil War. It was Sturgis who took command of the Federal troops who were holding out on Bloody Hill at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek when Nathaniel Lyon was killed. I had no idea that Sturgis had ever been in San Luis Obispo.
Sometimes it is these surprising little tidbits of information that make history so interesting. And, don’t you just love that last line, “The world has changed so much since those days…” Makes me wonder what he would think if he could see the world today.