Harrison Gray Otis

(All pictures and sidebars are at bottom this time, instead of interspersed.)

Harrison Gray Otis was born February 10, 1837 the youngest son of Stephen Otis and his second wife Sarah Dyer Otis, and the sixteenth child in the family. He attended the common schools in the area for several months each winter and went to work at the age of 14 learning the printer's trade. He spent the next eight years working in Illinois, Iowa and Ohio, except for the eight months he was enrolled at Wetherby's Academy in Lowell in 1856-57, where his future wife, Eliza Ann Wetherby, was one of his teachers. They were married on September 11, 1859 in the newly constructed Congregational Church of Lowell by her father, Charles Thomas Wetherby. A month after their marriage, Harrison left Lowell to look for printing work, first in Cincinnati, then in Kentucky, where he found a job on the Louisville Journal. Eliza joined him and on March 28, 1861 gave birth to their first child, Harrison Gray Otis, Jr., who would only live until February 17, 1862. The following month they moved to Wheeling, West Virginia.

On June 25, 1861, Harrison enlisted as a private in the Twelfth Ohio Volunteers. He was promoted to first sergeant on March 1, 1862; first lieutenant, May 20, 1863; and captain, July 1, 1864. On that date he was transferred to the consolidation of two regiments of the Twenty-third Ohio Veteran Volunteers.

He served in the Kanawha column under Brigadier General J. D. Cox, which saw action in the Western Virginia Campaign. He kept an interesting journal in a small leather notebook, that begins on August 24, 1862, when he first arrived in Washington City, and continues until February 12, 1863, which was the day the troops were paid for the first time in six months.
In the campaign from Bull Run Bridge to Antietam, he described the scene as follows:

Started very early this morning by Orange & Alexandria R. R. for Manassas. - At Bull's Run Bridge met Taylor's New Jersey Brigade falling back from the old Bull's Run Battleground - repulsed by large force of Rebel artillery, cavalry, & infantry - some disorder. Gen. Taylor wounded. - Enemy pursuing 11th and 12th under Col. Scammon, advance and engaged the enemy. Fierce fight over the Bridge - Came into battle in good style - the 12th alone - 11th in reserve on R. R. - Bullets fly like hail. Enemy try to flank - Get terrific volley from the 11th - saves the 12th and it falls back with loss. Rallies & comes up again - Hot work for while - Again retreats, the enemy pursuing. Got behind myself - Saw enemy advance and from line of battle in open field on right of railroad. Two flags in full view - one red, the other white with black crop - They send volley after our rear. I fire at flag & then "get up and dust" - Bullets fly like mad. Retreat through open fields and woods with but two or three of 12th along. Reach the R. R. again - just as the 11th is passing - overtake my Reg't & again fall back to look after Sal. Smith, wounded - Rebel Cavalry came dashing up, crying "Halt" "nary Halt for me -

Three weeks later on Wednesday, September 16, he was grazed by a stray ball on his left shoulder blade.

On July 24, 1864 he suffered a "gun shot flesh wound right thigh" in Winchester, West Virginia, and on July 31st, was given thirty days leave to return home from the government hospital in Frederick, Maryland to recuperate in Ohio. His furlough was extended another thirty days after the examination of a local doctor, B. F. Hart, M.D., declared him unfit for service. This affidavit was duly certified by the local notary public. Because of his injury he was able to be home for the birth of his second child, Lilian, who was born September 22, 1864.

On March 13, 1865, he was brevetted lieutenant colonel and major for "gallant and meritorious service during the war." He was mustered out of service as a captain July 25, 1865 at Cumberland, Maryland. He then returned to Marietta, Ohio where he became the owner of a small newspaper and printing plant. He would return to the Army when he was appointed brigadier general, United States Volunteers, War with Spain on May 27, 1898. He accepted the appointment June 11, 1898 and served in the Philippine Islands, assigned first to the Independent Division of the Expeditionary Forces; and then as commander of the First Brigade, Second Division, Army Corps. This brigade executed several successful engagements, in particular the battle of Calocan, P.I. for which he was brevetted major general of volunteers on March 25, 1899.

His third child, a daughter, Emma Marian was born on July 1, 1866 in Marietta, where the family had moved after the war.

After his discharge from the Army in September, 1865, Harrison had taken a job as editor of a Marietta, Ohio weekly, the Washington County News. Eliza contributed poetry to the paper, which she was to do for the rest of her life. However, the business never was profitable and Harrison was unhappy in it, remembering 1866 as the year he was "'stuck in the mud' on the job, with starvation even nearer that it was the year before."

The family then moved to Washington D.C. where he was the foreman of a government printing office from 1869-1870. From 1871 to 1876 he was chief of a division of the United States Patent Office. During this period he edited a newspaper, the Grand Army Times, and was a Washington correspondent for the Ohio State Journal. Eliza continued to write poetry throughout this period. Their daughter, Mabel, was born May 28, 1871, and another daughter, Esther, was born in 1875, only to die that same year. This sad event may have been one reason for the family to make the difficult move across the country to the city of Santa Barbara in California.

Harrison had travelled to Santa Barbara the year before, and had met William H. Hollister, a leading citizen, who offered to sell him his newspaper, the Press on credit. Thus on March 5, 1876, the Otis family landed in Santa Barbara, a city of only 3000 inhabitants with unpaved streets, and many economic problems. Harrison took over as the editor and publisher of the Santa Barbara Press in 1876, but once again he was to have a struggle on his hands making a success of his chosen profession. An adamant Republican in a Democrat town, Harrison alienated his readership with vitriolic attacks on the two other newspapers, and on anyone who didn't see things his way. By the end of 1877, he realized that he would need other work to support his family.

In March of 1879 he took a position as the principal United States Treasury agent in charge of the Seal Islands in Alaska, sailing from San Francisco to Alaska on May 9. For this job of overseeing the local government and the company holding the island's sealskin monopoly, he was paid $3,600 annually. During the time he was in Alaska, the paper was in the hands of Gibson P. Kelly, but in actuality, Eliza virtually ran the paper herself.

In the "Special Announcement" that appeared on April 14, 1879, Harrison described to the Press readership her previous "active connection with the paper." She had written poetry and essays and also done some local reporting, and for the past year, had written a column for women with advice and household hints. She had started a children's column early in 1879. In her letters to Harrison she would describe being "at the office nearly all day" and "I get along with my duties very comfortably and do not feel the burden of office work." In late June she recounted her day: "I've been down to the office, written an editorial, two pages of locals, been through the exchanges, and am now home to dinner and while I wait for it I will finish my letter and get it ready for the evening mail."

Harrison made three trips to St. Paul's, the last one in January of 1881, accompanied by Eliza and their youngest daughter, Mabel, who was then nine years old. Lilian, who was sixteen and Marian, who was fourteen, stayed behind in Santa Barbara. After this eight month journey to the extreme North, Harrison resigned his commission with the Treasury Department, and moved back to Southern California.

Harrison purchased a quarter interest in the Los Angeles Times and Weekly Mirror newspapers in July of 1882, and moved the rest of his family to Los Angeles in 1882.

Their new home was at 1948 Grand Avenue. They would live there until they built the "Bivouac" on Wilshire Boulevard. Eliza died on November 12, 1904, and Lilian McPherron died in March 1905. The McPherrons moved into the Bivouac and lived with the General, as did the Chandler family while their new house was being built.

Harrison welcomed President William McKinley, a fellow member of the Twenty-Third Ohio Volunteers, to the Bivouac in May of 1901. There is a book of pictures of the Bivouac at 503 Wilshire Boulevard featuring a photograph of President McKinley's "headquarters in the field" which was also his telegraph office, dressing room, reading room, smoking room and informal reception room!

The Bivouac was given to the County of Los Angeles as a public art gallery at Christmas, 1916, the year before Harrison's death. He had moved in with the Chandlers at 2330 Hillhurst Avenue, where he died on July 30, 1917.

The group of statues representing Harrison Gray Otis sculpted by Prince Paul Troubetskoy were erected across Wilshire Boulevard from The Bivouac. The inscription on its base reads: "General Harrison Gray Otis, 1837-1917. Soldier, journalist, friend of freedom. Stand fast, stand firm, stand sure, stand true."

(click to enlarge photos and see more of a description, and use your backspace arrow to come back to this page.)

Harrison Gray Otis Harrison Gray Otis civil war description Harrison Gray Otis baby picture
Harrison Gray Otis was a large man as shown by his Civil War description. Even in his baby picture you can tell he was going to be large.

1948 Grand Ave home of Harrison Gray Otis "The Bivouc"
1948 Grand Ave "The Bivouc"

"The Bivouc" central hall "The Bivouc" Turkish corner "The Bivouc" east bedroom
"The Bivouc" central hall "The Bivouc" Turkish corner "The Bivouc" east bedroom

1898 portrait signed to daughter 1910 letter to daughter
1898 portrait signed to daughter 1910 letter to daughter (click on letter for graphic of 1st pg, here for typescript of full letter)

President McKinley's "headquarters in the field" Statues on Wilshire Blvd
President McKinley's "headquarters in the field" Statue representing Harrison Gray Otis
Daughters: Lilian, Marian, and Mabel Otis - circa 1882
Daughters: Lilian, Marian, and Mabel Otis - 1876

The military campaigns that Harrison was involved with will be transcribed at a later time. For now, see the graphic versions pg 1 and pg 2