General Frederick William Lander

December 29, 2023

We would like to share a few words about a man who was relegated to the fine print of history. His actions in the West and during the Civil War were overwhelmed by the great events of Gettysburg, and Vicksburg just to name a couple. 

General Frederick William Lander

Born: December 17, 1821
Mother: Eliza West
Father: Edward Lander
Grandmother: Elizabeth Derby West

General Landers’ Family can be traced back to the founding of Salem.  In the early 1800’s Salem was the 6th largest city in America, a wealthy sea-faring town.  By tracing back to the Derby and West families, we find they were among the wealthiest citizens of Salem. Both families were active in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and shipping around the world.  

Lander as a youth grew up in Salem and attended the best schools of the day, Franklin and Phillips Academy in Andover, and Dummer Academy in Byfield. He excelled in his studies, and sports, and was a leader among his playmates as a youth due to his size and confidence.  Also, he showed kindness and fairness to all.  As exampled, returning home from school his mother asked where his shoes were.  Frederick replied, a young friend had no shoes, “I gave him mine”.  Later in life, he would show kindness and fairness to those who earned it.

 Among his teachers, a Major Barton of South Andover taught him engineering.  His other studies included trigonometry, surveying, and civil engineering which led to a job at 17 years of age. 

He surveyed for the Eastern Railroad, and then for the Maine Railroad for three years.  Lander late in 1841 without telling his family enrolled in Norwich University, Vermont.  In 1842 he left Norwich without graduating to return to the Salem area to work for his brother Charles who started an ice company at Wenham Lake in Wenham, Massachusetts.  He built a railroad spur from the Eastern Railroad to Wenham and he built a number of outbuildings, and he moved an old church building to the lake to provide1862 a storage facility for the ice. The ice from the lake was shipped around the world, most notably London England.

In 1850 Lander was drawn by the call to build a transcontinental railroad and for the next ten years Lander explored, surveyed, built bridges across rivers, and with important people that would be needed to build a transcontinental railroad.  His exploits were many and his reputation grew.  Lander built a section of road that cut 200 miles off the Oregon Trail.  The Lander Road added to his reputation and today you can find the namesakes, Lander Creek, Lander Peak, Lander County, Nevada, and Lander, Wyoming. 


General Lander wrote poetry, was published, and was known for his lectures about his experiences in the West.  Once on New England’s bloody heights, over a Southern plain, Our fathers fought for sovereign rights, That working men might reign, And by that only Lord we serve, The great Jehovah’s name, By those sweet lips that ever nerve, High hearts to deeds of fame.  F W LANDER


At the beginning of the Civil War, he was well known across the nation as Old Grizzly a reputation he earned when he killed a 1,200-pound bear as he sat on his horse and in close range with 12 shots from his pistol while he was exploring the mountains of Colorado. General Winfield Scott called Lander, “the Great Natural American Soldier”.


In 1860, Lander married Jean Davenport, a nationally known English actress, she was well known in Europe and the US. She retired from the stage to be with her husband.  When the General passed Jean and her mother took charge of the Hospital Department at Port Royal, S. C. for a couple of years and then she returned to the stage.  Jean Davenport Lander died in Lynn, Massachusetts August 3, 1903 and is buried in a family plot in Washington, D. C.


When the War began in 1861 Lander volunteered, and served as an Aide on the staff of General George McClellan.  In May of 1861, Lander was commissioned a brigadier general and distinguished himself in the Army of the Potomac campaign in Western Virginia.  It was during a series of small battles he was wounded.  While he held Edwards’ Ferry with a company of sharpshooters he was shot in the leg. He went back into service at Hancock before the wound was healed. In January of 1862, he repelled a greatly superior Confederate force that besieged the town. On February 14, 1862, he made a brilliant dash upon the enemy at Blooming Gap which prompted a letter from the Secretary of War at the request of the President.  On March 2, 1862 General drew his last breath and died of congestion of the brain.


General McClellan announced his death on March 3, 1862.  His funeral in Washington D.C. was attended by President Lincoln, members of his cabinet, high-ranking military men led by General McClellan, and an estimated 20,000 onlookers as the parade passed from the church to the train station.  His body was shipped to Salem and escorted by Andrews Sharpshooters.  When he was buried in Salem he was honored by State and local officials, both military and civilian.  

General Frederick William Lander died on March 2, 1862 at Camp Chase, Virginia. He was 39 years old. The Bravest of the Brave

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