By Jeffrey L. Boney, Special to The Seattle Medium from The Houston Forward Times
On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and issued General Order Number 3, effectively freeing slaves in the South. A lot of people celebrate “Juneteenth” as a holiday tradition, as well as share the stories of how former slaves received the news that they were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, but don’t know much about the person who declared their freedom on the shores of Galveston, Texas.
Who exactly was Union Major General Gordon Granger?
Union Major General Gordon Granger was born in Joy, New York, on November 6, 1822.
Granger graduated from West Point in 1845, and was promoted twice for his service in the Mexican War. Until the beginning of the Civil War, Granger was part of the Mounted Rifles on the frontier. When the war began, he fought under Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis at Dug Spring and Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. He became a brigadier general on March 26, 1862, and commanded troops at Campaigns of New Madrid, Island No. 10 and the Corinth.
After leading several brigades in the Army of the Ohio in 1862, he was promoted to major general on September 17, 1862. Granger was a short man, a strict disciplinarian and unpopular among troops. Nevertheless, he led his forces effectively, and contributed to the Union war effort. He took part in the Battle of Chickamauga, during which Major General George H. Thomas and his troops attempted to cover the Union retreat by standing firm at Horseshoe Ridge. Although he had not been ordered to do so, Granger sent two of his three brigades to support Thomas’ corps, helping the Union troops hold the Confederate forces back until dark. This action allowed Maj. Gen. Rosecrans’ troops to pass safely. He once wrote to Rosecrans: “the battle is neither to the swift nor to the strong but to him that holds on to the end.”
Granger later took part in the Siege of Knoxville and in the capture of Mobile, Alabama. After the Civil War, he was on sick leave a great deal of the time.
What is interesting is that while many people, including Blacks, often cite Granger as the significant figure who helped deliver the message of freedom to Blacks in Texas, he became extremely unpopular among many Whites in the state of Texas. He was blackballed and ostracized by many Whites, so much so, that after only six months in command of the Department of Texas, Granger was relieved of his command on August 6, 1865. On October 31, 1865, he was placed in command of the District of New Mexico.
Granger’s military career began to take a turn, along with his health.
On December 15, 1870, Granger was assigned to the 15th Infantry and ordered to the New Mexico Territory, but his health began to deteriorate. Granger served in that capacity until January 10, 1876, when he died after suffering a stroke in Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory.
Granger was married to Maria Letcher, who was twenty years his junior, on July14, 1869. Their marriage produced one son and one daughter, both of whom died in infancy.
Granger is buried at Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky.