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John White Geary

[gEr' E] Territorial Governor of Kansas, Union General, Governor of Pennsylvania

John White Geary

John White Geary was born near Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, on December 30, 1819. He entered Jefferson College, but was forced to leave after his father's loss of property and sudden death. After a stint as a teacher, he became a clerk in a commercial house in Pittsburg before studying mathematics, civil engineering, and law. He was admitted to the bar, but never practiced. After working as a civil engineer in Kentucky, Geary was appointed assistant superintendent and engineer of the Allegheny Portage Railroad.

Soon after the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846, Geary became Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He was wounded during the Battle of Chapultepec, but resumed his command the same day during the attack on the Belen Gate. For this service he was made First Commander of the City of Mexico, and Colonel of his regiment.

In 1849, Geary was appointed to be first Postmaster of San Francisco. He also became the first American alcalde (sheriff/probate judge/mayor) and Judge of the First Instance of San Francisco. He held these positions until a new state constitution abolished the offices. In 1850, he became the first Mayor of San Francisco.

In 1854, Geary retired to his farm in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, where he remained until 1856, when he was appointed Territorial Governor of Kansas. His energy and firmness brought peace to "Bleeding Kansas" for the first time in many months, but a meeting of the pro-slavery legislature in January 1857, and the lack of support expected from incoming President James Buchanan, led to his resignation in March 1857. After leaving Kansas, he again returned to Pennsylvania.

Upon outbreak of the Civil War, Geary raised the 28th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He won distinction at Bolivar Heights, where he was wounded, occupied Leesburg, Virginia (March 1862), and routed General Hill. Commissioned Brigadier-General of U.S. Volunteers on April 25, 1862, he was severely wounded in the arm at Cedar Mountain on August 9. He led the 2nd Division of the 12th Corps at the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and took part in the battles of Wauhatchie and Lookout Mountain. In command of the 2nd Division of the 20th Corps during Sherman's March to the Sea, he was the first to enter Savannah after its evacuation. In 1865, he was promoted to Major General by brevet.

After the war, Geary was elected Governor of Pennsylvania, an office he held from 1866 to just before his death. During his administration the state's debt was reduced, a disturbance at Williamsport was quelled, and a Bureau of Labor Statistics was established.

Geary died in Harrisburg on February 8, 1873.

Mexican-American War
Civil War
President James Buchanan
William Tecumseh Sherman

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Civil War Period, 1861-1865 >> Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on September 24, 2017.