Story of Col. Edward Baker

Edward Dickinson Baker "The Old Grey Eagle"

Soldier, Senator, Orator, Patriot and Statesman

After variously serving from 1837 to 1846, in the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate and the 29th U.S. Congress, Baker resigned his seat in Congress and accepted a commission as Colonel of the Fourth Regiment of The Illinois Volunteers which he helped raise for the Mexican-American War. He distinguished himself in several campaigns, being wounded once. Taking charge of the brigade when his commanding officer, General Shields was wounded, he lead a successful charge and captured the enemy position at the battle of Cerro Gordo.

At the end of the war, Baker once again returned to Illinois, moving his family, and resuming his practice of law in the town of Galena, Jodaviess County. He was elected to the 31st Congress, serving from December 3, 1849, to March, 1851, but did not run for re-election.

A man of striking demeanor, Baker stood 5' 10" tall, weighing 190 pounds, with silver-grey hair, a prominent nose and keen blue eyes. His oratorical abilities flowed with the help of a commanding voice and a sharp intellect honed in the courts and the chambers of state and national government.

His first speech made in Congress in 1846, was in support of U.S. claims to the occupation of the Oregon Territory, going against his own Whig Party's opposition to the notion. Baker went so far as to advocate armed enforcement of the American claim to the northwest territory. Arbitration between the U.S. and Britain, however, settled the matter diplomatically.

Later, illness suffered while working on the Panama railway forced Baker to seek a cooler climate and in 1852, he moved the family to San Francisco. His facility with the law and oratory earned him his nickname "The Old Grey Eagle" during this time.

Together with Lincoln, Baker was one of the founders of, and, thereafter, politically ran under the banner of the Republican Party.

His strong beliefs against vigilante justice and pro-abolitionist view were responsible for his defeat in the Congressional race of 1859.

A duel involving a conflict over the slavery question between California's U.S. Senator, David C. Broderick and Broderick's former friend, California Supreme Court Chief Justice David S. Terry, prompted an oratorical tirade delivered by Baker over his friend Broderick's dead body, and resulted in the outlawing of the "code duello" for dispute settlement in the United States, as well as solidifying the people of California against slavery.

Baker's oratory prowess prompted representatives from the new government in Oregon to seek him out in California and petition him to return and run for the U.S. Senate from their new state. He accepted, and after a vigorous campaign on issues vital to Oregon and both northern and southern factions in the new state, Republican Baker was elected by the state legislature to serve commencing in March 1859. The second Senator elected was Douglas Democrat, James Nesmith, which balanced the slate.

Returning to a 100 gun salute in San Francisco, Baker tarried only long enough to make a few speeches in favor of the Union position concerning the fermenting problems brewing in the east and south, and prompting many to feel California's support of the Union was due, primarily to him.

Baker's credentials were presented to the Senate on December 5, 1860, and he presented the credentials of his fellow Oregonian James W. Nesmith to the Senate February 18, 1861.

Continued friction between north and south on the slavery question prompted Baker to journey to Pennsylvania, and organize a regiment referred to as the "California Regiment," later called the 71st Pennsylvania Regiment. Lincoln offered Baker a commission as Brigadier General, but he declined, choosing to serve at his former top rank of Colonel in order to retain his seat in the Senate.

Baker's refusal of a higher commission was not only to save his Senate seat, but to set at ease those Union Generals who were suspicious of his relationship with Lincoln. He delivered his last and most important speech to the U.S. Senate in his blue uniform and fatigue cap, in vigorous defense of the Union. Southern Senators were outraged as Baker verbally tore their arguments to shreds and all but accused them of outright treason.

Three months after his momentous speech in the Senate, then acting Brigadier General Baker, assigned to General Charles P. Stone, was given orders to cross the Potomac at Edward's Ferry with two thousand men and attack Confederate forces to drive them back. This would give Union troops access and allow a flanking attack to defeat the Confederates.

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