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William Hemsley Emory papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1187

Scope and Contents

Although William Emory had a long military career, the Emory Papers in the Yale Collection of Western Americana in the Beinecke Library deal fully only with his duties on the various boundary surveys between the years 1848 and 1858. Though there are some items from his early career, there is no correspondence between 1844 and 1847 covering his service in the Mexican War. Gaps exist in the papers during his service in Kansas and there is no correspondence between June, 1859, and July, 1861. Though documents for the Civil War period are interesting, they are far from complete, and any documents after 1866 present only fragments for documentation of Emory's later career. This is unfortunate since there are no descriptions of conditions and attitudes as seen by a member of the occupying forces in reconstruction Louisiana.

The papers in the collection are Emory's public papers, dealing primarily with his public life. Emory was well aware that his letters could be requested as evidence in congressional hearings and might even be reprinted in congressional reports. The papers do include drafts for letters and these may help reveal Emory's thoughts in his less guarded moments. Occasionally letters with other army officers or government officials will reveal some detail of Emory's personal life; Emory considered many of these people his personal friends and so could mix public business with private thoughts. Emory was absent from his home for long stretches so there must have been correspondence with his wife and children. It is unfortunate that none of these letters exist in the collection to give the researcher some additional insights into Emory's life.

The papers span the years 1823-86 and are arranged in two series. Series I, 1823-1858 April, includes all of Emory's work with the various survey commissions. Series II, 1856 August-1866, begins with Emory's service at Fort Arbuckle and includes all papers relating to the Civil War and the few scattered items relating to the rest of Emory's career. Each series contains correspondence as well as documents such as military orders, reports, financial records and the like created at the time or relating to the time period. Series I is the larger of the two, approximately five linear feet, while Series II is less than one linear foot.

Series I, 1823-1858 April , begins with eight letterbooks containing copies of Emory's correspondence. There are two letterbooks for 1848-49, one for incoming correspondence and one for outgoing correspondence. There follow six letterbooks for the period from the fall of 1851 to August, 1854. These volumes contain both incoming and outgoing correspondence copied into the books as the letters were written or received so they are not in strict chronological order. Originally there were seven of these volumes but volume five is missing from the papers. Some originals of letters copied in these books will be found in the correspondence filed further on in this series. From notations on original letters after August, 1854, it is apparent that additional letterbooks were kept but no others are present in the papers.

Folders of unbound correspondence follow the letterbooks, arranged in chronological order. A calendar listing each letter by date, writer and recipient has been prepared for this correspondence and is shelved in the office of the curator of the Western Americana Collection. There are a few folders of correspondence from Emory's early career but nothing in depth. The bulk of the correspondence begins in 1849 and continues straight through to April, 1858. The researcher will find correspondence with members of the boundary commission and survey party as well as with cabinet members such as Jefferson Davis, A. H. Stuart, and Robert McClelland. The correspondence from 1849-50 presents a fascinating picture of California at the beginning of the "Gold Rush." Especially interesting are letters which describe Emory's party's efforts to relieve the sufferings of the Forty-niners traveling the Gila route.

Voluminous correspondence in 1852 with the War Department, Interior Department, and with members of the boundary commission describes Emory's immense labors to keep the work of the boundary survey progressing in the face of supply shortages, Indian attacks, unhappy creditors, and congressional stalling. Beginning in the winter of 1852 Emory required members of the survey party to report their activities to him in monthly written reports. These too are in this correspondence. A special feature of the correspondence at this time are the letters from José Salazar y Larregui who was Emory's counterpart on the Mexican commission. His letters are illuminating not only for the light they shed on the survey work, but also on the internal problems of the Mexican government. The correspondence of 1854-55 during Emory's efficient command of the survey in contrast to the correspondence of the earlier survey is far less dramatic.

Throughout the time Emory was in the field he corresponded with eminent natural scientists who were intensely interested in the flora and fauna and geography of the newly opening Southwest. Researchers will find on the calendar of correspondents the names of Joseph Henry, John Torrey, C.C. Parry, John L. LeConte, Henry R. Schoolcraft, Louis Agassiz, Spencer Baird, Alexander Dallas Bache, Charles Wright, Charles Anthony Schott, George Engelmann, James Hall, and Asa Gray. Many of these scholars helped Emory with the scientific appendices to his report on the survey. For the report Emory also had to oversee the engravings for plates and maps and take care of printers bids. The correspondence from 1855 on is swelled by all the minutiae which attended the writing, editing, and publishing of this three-volume work on the survey.

Following the correspondence are several folders of material of other types. At the beginning are two important documents, the only ones relating to Emory's service in the Mexican War. One is the official report to Kearny dated at Santa Fe, August 24, 1846, concerning the Army of the West's march to that point, and the other, "A Sketch of the Operations of the 'Army of the West'," describes the whole journey to the Pacific. Following these are folders of military orders, receipts, lists of instruments, and other records relating to the administration of the Boundary Survey. There are similar records relating to the printing of the survey report. This section also contains observations, calculations, notes, and maps made during the survey as well as a small amount of Emory's memorabilia and personal financial records.

Series II, 1856 August-1866 , begins with correspondence during Emory's command at Fort Arbuckle in the Cherokee Nation. Emory found himself in the midst of a disagreement concerning operations being conducted against the Comanches by General Twiggs who was in command of the Department of Texas. Because of this Emory was led to demand a court of inquiry. All correspondence from 1858 August through 1859 June relates in some way to the dispute, but this correspondence also contains much information on the territory, the Indian tribes, and the campaign against the Comanches.

The next correspondence begins in June, 1861, while Emory was in Pittsburgh superintending the recruiting of his regiment. Correspondence is very spotty through 1861 and 1862 with only a few items relating to Emory's service in the defense of Washington and the Virginia Peninsular Campaign. Included are notes from General George Stonemen to Emory during this campaign. There is somewhat fuller correspondence during Emory's service in Louisiana, 1863-64. The January, 1864, correspondence includes a military autobiography by Emory addressed to the Adjutant-General of the Army. The 1865 correspondence contains letters relating to the Shenandoah Campaign including letters from Philip Sheridan praising Emory's conduct. After 1865 the correspondence is very thin and scattered.

The total amount of correspondence for Series II is one gray box (5"). This small amount is supplemented by another 2 1/2" of records such as military orders, memoranda on battles, reports on campaigns, and other documents arranged at the end of the series. There are also a few items of Emory's personal financial records and memorabilia.


  • 1823-1886


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The William Hemsley Emory Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Please consult the appropriate curator.


5.5 Linear Feet (15 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The bulk of the collection documents William Emory's service on the Mexican boundary survey in the years 1848 to 1858. Series I contains correspondence with members of the boundary commission, the American and Mexican Survey parties, and government officials. Correspondence for 1849-50 describes California during the Gold Rush and Forty-Niners on the Gila route. There are also other military records. Series II contains letters and other records from Emory's service in Kansas and in the Civil War.


William Hemsley Emory was born in Queen Anne County, Maryland, in 1811, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1831, receiving a commission as brevet second lieutenant, Fourth Artillery. After five years of garrison duty, he resigned from the Army to take a position as a civil engineer but he returned to the reorganized Army in 1838 as a first lieutenant in the new Corps of Topographical Engineers. In May, 1838, he married Mathilda Wilkins Bache, a great-granddaughter of Benjamin Franklin. They had ten children. The Emorys maintained a home in Washington, D.C., even in Emory's long absences in later years. Mathilda Emory was for many years a conspicuous figure in the social life of Washington and she counted Mrs. Jefferson Davis and Mrs. Joseph E. Johnston among her closest friends.

From 1844-46, Emory served as principal assistant on the Northeastern Boundary Survey determining the border between the United States and the British provinces. When war broke out between the United States and Mexico in 1846 Emory was ordered to service as Chief Topographical Engineer and Acting Assistant Adjutant-General with the Army of the West. Under General Kearny the army made an expedition to California by way of Santa Fe. During this historic march, Emory distinguished himself at the battles of San Pasquale, San Gabriel, and the Plains of the Mesa, earning two brevets.

Emory's experience in the Southwest led to his assignment in 1848 as chief astronomer on the U.S. commission to determine and survey the southern boundary of the new territory acquired from Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Traveling by way of Panama, Emory reached California in June, 1849, to begin the survey of a boundary line from San Diego to the mouth of the Gila River. By September, 1849, with the surveying well under way, Emory requested reassignment. He was upset that the U.S. Commissioner, John B. Weller, had been removed and replaced by John Charles Fremont. Bitter feelings prevailed between Fremont and Emory stemming from the earlier conflict between Fremont and Kearny. Fremont had also provoked Emory by using information from Emory's reconnaissance in the Southwest in his map of 1848 without giving Emory credit. Though Fremont resigned the job without ever entering actively upon his duties, Emory's request for reassignment had been approved and Emory returned to Washington where he commenced work on recomputing astronomical and geodetic observations.

Although Emory had received word in October, 1849, that the initial point at the mouth of the Gila had been determined, the work of the Boundary Survey Commission was far from complete and Emory would eventually be called back into service in the field. The Commission's field work was resumed on the Rio Grande above El Paso under a new commissioner, John R. Bartlett. Bartlett had accepted the parallel 32° 20' as the southern boundary west of the Rio Grande but the U.S. Surveyor, Andrew B. Gray, refused to accept this line as meeting the requirements of the the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Secretary of the Interior ordered Gray to sign the convention into which Bartlett had entered with the Mexican commissioner, but the argument was taken up by Congress and raged for months. Moreover, Bartlett was unable to work with Emory's successor, Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Graham. Bartlett for his part set out for the Pacific and did not return to the principal base of operation for a year and a half.

In September, 1851, Emory agreed to replace Graham and resume command of the Scientific Corps of the Boundary Survey. Emory faced great hardships. He had inherited an awkward administrative apparatus. Bartlett, the commissioner, was absent and he controlled the finances of the commission. The survey found itself lacking for supplies. The survey party was open to attacks from Indians and had no military escort. Nevertheless, Emory had almost brought the survey to completion only to have it halted in December, 1852, by lack of funds. Bartlett's travels in the West had swallowed the whole of a deficiency appropriation and Congress had attached a rider to the regular appropriation bill in order to prevent any operations on Bartlett's line of 32° 20' which effectively cut off all funds to the survey.

After the Democratic victory in the 1852 election, Bartlett was removed and a new commissioner, Robert B. Campbell, was named. In the summer of 1853, he and Emory returned to the field, completing the survey of the Rio Grande. A diplomatic impasse, however, still existed stemming from Bartlett's acceptance of the 32° 20' line. In order to solve the conflict and to secure itself the only good road yet opened from the Rio Grande to the Pacific, the United States opened negotiations with Mexico for the purchase of an additional strip of land south of the limit agreed upon in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The United States and Mexico agreed on the terms of the Gadsden Purchase in December, 1853, and following ratification a new boundary commission was ordered to take the field.

Emory arrived in Texas in September, 1854, as commissioner and astronomer, and the work of the survey was carried forth efficiently and with far fewer problems than previous commissions. Emory continued the survey of the boundary line west from the Rio Grande as far as the vicinity of Nogales in present Arizona where he met his secondary party working east from the Colorado. In the fall of 1855 the field work of the survey was completed and Emory returned to Washington to oversee the writing, editing,and publishing of his three-volume report to Congress on the Boundary Survey.

While still engaged with the boundary Survey, Emory received a commission as major in the First Cavalry. In 1857 with work on the report nearly completed, Emory asked to join his regiment at Fort Riley in strife-torn Kansas. Later he was part of the Utah Expedition sent to bring the Mormons under U.S. law. The following summer (1858) he was sent to command Fort Arbuckle in the Indian Nation. At the outbreak of the Civil War Emory was in command of troops at Forts Cobb, Washita, Smith, and Arbuckle in the Indian Nation. With the forces in his command he captured an advance guard of Rebel Texas forces and then safely retreated to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The troops thus saved out of the general debacle along the Confederate frontier played a vital role in preventing secessionists from forcing Missouri into rebellion.

In May, 1861, Emory was re-appointed in the Army to lieutenant-colonel, 6th Cavalry. After spending July and August recruiting his regiment in Pittsburgh, Emory was engaged in the defense of Washington (August, 1861-March, 1862) and in the Virginia Peninsular Campaign (March-August 1862), seeing action at Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Hanover Court House. In December, 1862, Emory was sent to the Department of the Gulf where he fought at Fort Hudson, commanded a division at Camp Bisland, and subsequently commanded the defenses of New Orleans. From the winter of 1863 through the spring of 1864 he was engaged in the Red River Campaign and then in July returned east to defend Washington, D.C. He moved to the Shenandoah and fought at Winchester, Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek. These last actions elicited the praise of General Philip Sheridan. At the end of the war Emory was in command of the 19th Army Corps.

Emory continued in military service until 1876 having commands in the Department of West Virginia, the Department of Washington, the District of the Republican, and the Department of the Gulf. He retired with the rank of brigadier-general, and died December 1, 1887.

For further biographical information, see: Dictionary of American Biography; George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy.

Guide to the William Hemsley Emory Papers
by Diane Kaplan
August 1975
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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