This morning I received an inquiry from a reader who was wondering if I had any information on Harrison Gray Otis’s involvement in the November 1863 burning of the Blue Sulphur Springs Resort in West Virginia. As both Union and Confederate armies had used the resort during the war as a camp and a hospital, Federals wanted to ensure that the Rebs could no longer utilize the structure and surrounding area for their war effort and the resort was fired. Only the Pavilion, a Greek Revival structure, remained.
You may recall that Harrison Gray Otis enlisted in the Union Army as a private and climbed through the ranks to Captain in short order. He eventually moved to Los Angeles and enjoyed a prosperous career as a journalist and editor. My reader has found information suggesting that Otis gave the order to fire the resort – but cannot verify these reports.
I turn to you – my knowledgeable amigos…did Otis give the command? (we’ll need proof, of course)
You didn’t have to search for long in late-nineteenth century Los Angeles to find a Union Civil War veteran. Sometimes, you would find one who had made quite a name for himself since the war. I give you Harrison Gray Otis – an Ohio native who left journalism to join the army in 1861 as a private, received two wounds in the conflict, and mustered out in 1865 as Captain Otis. Huzzah!
Otis went on in his journalistic career on the West Coast, first in Santa Barbara and finally in Los Angeles, where he took over the editorial position of the fledgling Los Angeles Times. During the war with Spain in 1898, he again left his career to serve in Union blue as General Otis, commander of volunteers in the Philippines.
Otis was a conservative nationalist his entire life. And his service in the Civil War and Spanish-American War reflected his attitudes toward subversives and those he deemed “un-American.” Thus his political stance against Socialism – a movement that was taking hold in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Los Angeles – was vehement. You were either “with me or against me,” he was known to say…leaving no room for fence-sitters.
I’ll be looking more into his career as this project unfolds. For starters we should know that he was instrumental in the promotion of Los Angeles, took part in the San Fernando Valley “land grab’ to benefit from the Owens Valley aqueduct, and was around to see his LA Times building dynamited as part of the battle between conservative “open shop” forces and those who wished to organize labor. Fun times.