General Henry S. Burton, deceased, once a distinguished military man on this coast, was born at West Point, May 9, 1819, when his father, Major Oliver Burton, was stationed at that post. He received his appointment as a cadet before he was quite six-teen years old; would have entered the military academy in January, 1835, but he lacked three months of being sixteen years of age, so that he was obliged to wait until the July term. He graduated high in a class of very able cadets, and had the opportunity offered him of going into the engineer corps, but he preferred to serve in “the line,” and chose the artillery. On his graduation he was immediately promoted to the Second Lieutenancy in the third regiment of artillery, and five months afterward, November 11, 1839, he was promoted to the First Lieutenancy of the same. He served in the Florida war, 1840-’42; was stationed at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, until 1843, and then appointed instructor of artillery at West Point. In that capacity he served until 1846, when the war with Mexico was declared, for service in which he was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel of the First Regiment of New York Volunteers; but his command of that regiment was equally divided with Colonel Stevens. Sailing from New York harbor they arrived at Monterey, in February, 1847. Colonel Burton was placed in command of Santa Barbara, while Colonel Stevens remained at Monterey. In a few months, more troops having arrived in Upper California, Burton was sent to take Lower California.
On his disembarking at La Paz, he was sneered at by the natives for undertaking so great a task with so few men. He laughingly replied that he would try; but if they would .not let him he could not blame them, as they had the right to resist him. He and his men, while holding the post at that point, were friendly to the citizens, and they were friendly in return. After waiting in vain for the arrival of arms from Sinaloa or Sonora, the Mexicans concluded to make an effort to drive out the Americans, without arms. Collecting together all sorts of antiquated and useless material in the shape of guns and other weapons and military accoutrements, they “fell upon” La Paz. A tremendous fusillade awoke the inhabitants from their peaceful slumbers at midnight; the querulous hectic bark of their lame little cannon was heard three times above the rattle of the musketry, but his own efforts threw him hors de combat, for he had shaken off his broken wheel and he lay there a disabled warrior with one leg off! In ignominious helplessness he was hitched to a mule and carried away in haste before Barton’s “gringos” might take a notion to come out and carry it off, just for the fun of it. But the “gringos” never moved, and as they kept well hidden behind their parapet, the Mexicans took courage to approach nearer, hiding behind the houses in the vicinity of the fortification. The night was so dark that neither the attacking party nor the besieged could see each other ten paces distant. After a time the Mexicans bethought themselves that they were wasting their precious ammunition upon empty air, as the Americans’ fort remained silent; and daylight revealed to them the folly of their making an attack with so few weapons as they had. Retiring to the opposite mesa, they continued to annoy the Americans, as much as they could, with their defective arms, from day to day, obtaining provisions and supplies from some obscure quarter.
Thus they continued their ineffectual hostilities until one bright morning the United States flag-ship Ohio, with Admiral Shubrick on board, and the war frigate Dale, sailed into the bay of La Paz, which enabled Colonel Burton to sally out and rout the Mexicans at Todos Santos. Had the Mexicans known how few Americans there were in the fort previous to this time, they could easily have made mincemeat of them.
Shubrick published a proclamation to the people of Lower California in the name of the United States Government, informing them that they should disperse and not bear arms against the Americans, else they would be severely punished at the conclusion of the war which was nearly over. He also promised protection to the lives and property of the people in that proclamation, and followed it with balls and receptions and other signs of a “good time coming.” The leading Mexicans were even glad of the change, as they really had been suffering a sort of slavery to the old government; but, poor Mexicans! Their happy dream was of short duration, for the news was directly received that a treaty of peace was proposed, ceding Upper California to the United States, but not Lower California! They were nervously anxious that Colonel Burton should, with the aid of his Government, see that Shubrick’s promises of taking Lower California under the protecting care of the United States, were made good, for they had been openly advocating annexation to our Government, and now their very lives were in peril; but Colonel Burton informed them, and truly, that it was too late, as the final treaty of peace would be signed before he could communicate with the powers at Washington.
The Colonel’s good nature was intensely affected, and he proposed, as the best alternative, to provide free transportation to all the Mexicans of Lower California to Upper California, and besides to pay them a certain compensation for the property which they might be obliged to abandon. This, of course, was accepted, although a poor substitute for the brilliant promises of Admiral Shubrick’s proclamation. The war transport Lexington came to take the self-exiled Californians who wished to flee from the wrath to come, and with heavy hearts they sailed from La Paz for Monterey, arriving October 4, 1848. Colonel Burton followed in the flagship Ohio, and the frigate Dale brought part of the troops. On arriving at Monterey, the Colonel with his regiment was mustered out of the volunteer service, and he took command of the post at Monterey as an officer in the regular army. He remained there until the winter of 1852, when he was transferred to the post at San Diego, with headquarters at the Mission; and while here he commanded the Mojave expedition of 1857. Soon afterward he was changed to Fort Yuma, and in 1859 ordered east, having been on the Pacific coast over twelve years.
While stationed at Monterey, Colonel Burton was married to Miss Ruiz, a young lady whose acquaintance he made at La Paz, and who is now the widow, residing at San Diego. She is a granddaughter of Don Jose Manuel Ruiz, who was the military governor of Lower California for more than fifty years. He was ordered by the Colonial Government of Spain to take command of the forces sent to the frontier to assist in founding missions in Lower California. He came from Loreto to the head of the gulf in 1780, with a large force, and landed on the Sonora side of the Colorado River, thus having to cross the river under a shower of arrows from the Indians. He founded several missions on the frontier of the peninsula and kept the wild Indians in wholesome awe of him and his well disciplined soldiers. Entering the army at the early age of fourteen years, and continuing in active service until he was past seventy-five years of age, his services to his country were more extended than those of any other military man in Mexican history. His government granted him several tracts of land, among which was the Ensenada de Todos Santos, on the north of the peninsula, and this is now the property of Mrs. Burton. It has been rendered famous by its having been occupied by the International Company for the purpose of colonizing the peninsula; but as the company took possession without authority from her, she was obliged to publish a warning that no one should buy her lands from the company. This has put an end to the operations of such company, and they have sold out their interest to an English syndicate. Now all the investors who bought land from that company are patiently waiting for the syndicate to settle with Mrs. Burton the question of title and go on with the colonization.
Colonel Burton was stationed at Fortress Monroe for a few months in 1859, after his return East. Soon afterward the civil war broke out, and General Scott selected him as one of the most trustworthy officers of the army, and he was placed in command of Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco harbor, for two years; and in 1862 he returned East again and took command of Fort Delaware, which was filled with prisoners. Thence he was ordered on detail service to erect fortifications around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from September 1863, to January 1864. Next he had command of an artillery reserve in the Richmond campaign of the Army of the Potomac; then of the artillery of the Eighteenth Corps until 1865, being engaged in the battles of Cold Harbor, Spottsylvania Courthouse, and at the bombardment of Petersburg, for which service he was brevetted Brigadier General in March, 1865. While erecting the works around Petersburg he contracted malarial fever, which resulted fatally, April 4, 1869, when he was but forty-nine years and ten months of age; he was buried at West Point.