Person

Silas Casey

Black and white photograph of a man in a military uniform
Silas Casey in his uniform as Major General

Quick Facts

Silas Casey was born July 12, 1807 in East Greenwich, R.I. After graduating near the bottom of his class at West Point, he, like other Pig War figures such as General Harney and General Winfield Scott, served in the Seminole War and in the Mexican-American War. Casey was severely wounded and was cited for bravery in the assault on Chapultepec Castle, a mission which Captain George Pickett also played a key role in.
He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and named deputy commander of the Ninth Infantry Regiment when the unit was reformed in 1855. When the unit arrived in Washington Territory, eight companies went east of the Cascades, while Casey took two companies with him to Fort Steilacoom, near present-day Olympia.

On August 10, 1859, Lieutenant Colonel Silas Casey and three companies were deployed from Fort Steilacoom, to San Juan Island. The Royal Navy had stationed top of the line warships filled with Royal Marines in Griffin Bay off San Juan Island, and Casey’s forces represented a proportionate escalation from the American military.

Casey’s first order was to intimidate the British by bringing long-range artillery guns ashore and positioning them to protect the American’s harbor. Shortly after arriving, Casey also tried to smooth things over by meeting and negotiating with English Admiral Robert Baynes. Unfortunately this didn’t work out, and intimidation tactics continued.

After a couple days of camping in the exposed position chosen by his predecessor, Captain George Pickett, Casey moved his men to a more protected spot near the Hudson Bay Company’s Belle Vue Sheep Farm. American Camp remains in this spot today. As the standoff continued, Casey declared that if a single shot was fired, it wouldn’t end well for the British. “It is almost certain that in the case your ships would blow our handful of men to atoms, but 300,000 men would instantly pour in from the states to take our place,” he said. He didn’t really want war, most people involved In the Pig War didn’t, but he had to be prepared to defend the U.S.’s claim to the island anyway.

Lieutenant Colonel Casey is remembered at San Juan Island for his level-headedness in a time of chaos. His efforts on the island exemplify the moral of this dispute: peace over war. Following the Pig War, Casey headed East and was a Union general in the Civil War. His book, “System of Infantry Tactics”, informed training on both sides of the conflict. He retired in 1868 after more than 40 years of active service, and died in 1882. His children would also become important military leaders in their own right, including General Thomas Casey, which Fort Casey in Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is named after.

Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, San Juan Island National Historical Park

Last updated: July 16, 2022