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Biography of Hon. Frederick W. Lander

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HON. FREDERICK W. LANDER. – This gentleman, who was a civil engineer, first chief justice of the supreme court of Washington Territory, and brigadier-general of United States volunteers, 1861-62, was born at Salem, Massachusetts, December 17, 1822, and received his education at Dummer Academy, Byfield, Vermont, and studied civil engineering at the military academy, Norwich, Vermont. Having practiced for several years his profession in his native state, in 1853 Governor Stevens appointed him estimating engineer on the Northern Pacific Railroad survey. After having crossed the continent, he formed the opinion that the first practical and economical solution of the problem of transcontinental railway communication would be found in a grand trunk line westward from the Mississippi river to and through the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, thence diverging by two lines in the form of the letter Y, one by the valley of the Columbia to Puget Sound, and the other to San Francisco. To determine the feasibility of such routes, he employed, at his private expense, the necessary parties and made the surveys. He afterwards surveyed the route for the great overland wagon road, and acted as superintendent in its construction. His party, consisting of seventy men, was attacked in 1858 by a large war party of Pah Ute Indians, who were repulsed with considerable slaughter.

Upon the breaking out of the Rebellion in 1861, he visited several Southern states on secret service. He joined the army in the capacity of volunteer aid on General McClellan’s staff, and was present at the capture of Phillippi, and at the battle of Rich Mountain. He was commissioned, May 17, 1861, brigadier-general of volunteers, and in July was assigned an important command on the Potomac river. Apprised of the disaster at Ball’s Bluff, he hastened to Edward’s Ferry, and held that point with a single company of sharpshooters, but in the action received a severe wound in the leg. Before the wound had healed he reported for duty, and on the 5th of January, 1862, at Hancock, repelled a greatly superior Confederate force. On February 14, 1862, he made a dash against the enemy at Blooming Gap, who retreated before the Union cavalry. In the pass the Confederates made a stand and checked their pursuers. Lander then called for volunteers and dislodged them. By this time his would greatly annoyed and debilitated him, and compelled him to ask for temporary relief from duty. Before that had been granted, and while preparing for an attack upon the enemy, this gallant officer died on the 2d of March, 1862, of congestion of the brain.

General Lander was a poet of considerable merit, as is attested by a number of poetic effusions during the war. He was an able writer, especially in the line of his profession. Dashing as was his brief but brilliant war records, distinguished though he was as a railroad engineer, perhaps he will be best remembered for his characteristic management of the Pryor-Potter duel, in 1860.

After a bitter personal debate in Congress, in which John F. Potter of Wisconsin and Roger A. Pryor of Virginia had participated, General Pryor challenged Mr. Potter. Colonel Fred Lander acted as Potter’s friend. Potter, being the challenged party, by Lander’s prompting selected bowie knives as the weapons. Pryor’s friends protested against the use of such a weapon, but Lander was inexorable; and the fight, as Lander had predicted proved a fiasco. At the time fixed for the duel to have occurred, it is said that both parties were absent from the House at roll call. Upon Potter’s name being called, one of his friends answered, “Gone to meet a pryor engagement.” Later on, Pryor’s name being called by the clerk, the answer was given from among Potter’s friends, “Gone to be made potter’s clay.”

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