General Carlin’s lasting mark

Gen. William Carlin
Courtesy photo
Coeur d’Alene Press

By Richard Sheldon
| May 22, 2020 1:00 AM

On the eastern side of Lake Coeur d’Alene is beautiful Carlin Bay. It is approximately 10 miles from Fort Sherman. Who was the man honored by having such a beautiful place named in his memory?

William Passmore Carlin was born on Nov. 23, 1829, in Rich Woods, Ill. He graduated from West Point in 1850. Out of a class of 44, 18 of his classmates fought for the Confederacy.

His early military career included the Plains Wars and the Utah War in 1858. By the time Carlin arrived in Utah, hostilities between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the United States government had cooled to a period of negotiations and not open warfare. While in Utah, Carlin was promoted to captain.

From 1859 to 1860 he was the commanding officer of Fort Bragg, in California. When the South fired on Fort Sumter, S.C., in April of 1861, provoking the start of the Civil War, he was called east to assume command of combat troops. For the next four years he would be involved with some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

His command abilities were noted and his upward promotions came from repeated victories. His final actions were as a battle-hardened general supporting General Sherman’s bloody march through Georgia, capturing Savannah and presenting the city to President Lincoln as a “Christmas gift.” Carlin’s close relationship with Sherman would portend a later more pleasant assignment.

After the war, General Carlin’s rank was reduced to major.

His career led him westward, eventually to Coeur d’Alene, where he became the commander of Fort Sherman in July 1886. He held that post for 10 years.

In 1892 the Silver Valley erupted into rioting due to the miners being unhappy with work conditions. Col. Carlin was called to establish martial law. A steamer transported the troops to Harrison and then on to Wardner by rail. They occupied the region from July to September. The troops assisted local authorities in making arrests and restoring order.

It is unclear how and when the bay was formally named after Col. Carlin. However, by the late 1880s Carlin Bay was known as a popular place for recreation by Fort Sherman soldiers. It is rumored that Carlin owned property around the lake.

From the early 1890s to the 1920s, Carlin Bay was a regular stop for steamboat traffic. A local road provided access to a bayside dock as late as 1930. Prior to construction of Highway 97 in the early 1930s, vehicles were able to reach Carlin Bay via the Carlin Creek Road. Vehicular travel from the north, along the shore of the lake, was not possible until construction of Highway 97 was completed.

The Museum of North Idaho is proud to sponsor tours of Fort Sherman led by Robert Singletary. Robert is a highly respected and widely published historian whose historical focus is on North Idaho history. When he leads these tours he takes on the persona of General Carlin by wearing a period uniform similar to the general’s.

These tours will resume when the museum reopens. Call 208-664-3448 for more information on how to make a tour reservation or join the museum.


Reviewed and edited by Robert Singletary and Deborah Mitchell.