California Civil War History

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California in the American Civil War

California Civil War History


California became the 31st U.S. state by entering the Union as a “free state” on September 8, 1850.

Settled by successive waves of arrivals during the last 10,000 years, California was one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in pre-Columbian North America; The Indigenous peoples of California included more than 70 distinct groups of Native Americans, ranging from large, settled populations living on the coast to groups in the interior. California groups also were diverse in their political organization with bands, tribes, villages, and on the resource-rich coasts, large chiefdoms, such as the Chumash, Pomo and Salinan. Trade, intermarriage and military alliances fostered many social and economic relationships among the diverse groups.

The first European to explore the coast as far north as the Russian River was the Portuguese Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542. Some 37 years later English explorer Francis Drake also explored and claimed an undefined portion of the California coast in 1579. Spanish traders made unintended visits with the Manila Galleons on their return trips from the Philippines beginning in 1565. Sebastián Vizcaíno explored and mapped the coast of California in 1602 for New Spain.

Spanish missionaries began establishing 21 California Missions along the coast of what became known as Alta California (Upper California), together with small towns and presidios.

The name California once referred to a large area of North America claimed by Spain that included much of modern-day Southwestern United States and the Baja California peninsula. Beginning in the late 18th century, the area known as Alta California, comprising the California territory north of the Baja Peninsula, was colonized by the Spanish Empire as part of New Spain. In 1821, Alta California became a part of Mexico following its successful war for independence. Shortly after the beginning of the Mexican-American War in 1846, a group of American settlers in Sonoma declared an independent California Republic in Alta California. Though its existence was short-lived, its flag became the precursor for California's current state flag. American victory in the war led to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico ceded Alta California to the United States. Western areas of Alta California became the state of California, which was admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. (See also Texas Homepage.)

California Civil War Map
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California Timeline Map

Following the Gold Rush (1848–1855), California was settled primarily by Midwestern and Southern farmers, miners and businessmen. Democrats dominated the state from its foundation. Southern Democrats sympathetic to secession, although a minority in the state, were a majority in Southern California and Tulare County, and were in large numbers in San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Monterey, and San Francisco counties. California was home for powerful businessmen who played a significant role in Californian politics through their control of mines, shipping, finance, and the Republican Party but were a minority party until the secession crisis.

California's involvement in the American Civil War (1861-1865) included sending gold east, recruiting volunteer combat units to replace regular forces in territories of the Western United States, maintaining and building numerous camps and fortifications, suppressing secessionist activity and securing the New Mexico Territory against the Confederacy. The State of California did not send its units east, but many citizens traveled east and joined the Union Army, some of whom became famous. California's Volunteers also conducted many operations against the native peoples within the state and in the other Western territories of the Departments of the Pacific and New Mexico.

In the beginning of 1861, as the secession crisis began, the secessionists in San Francisco made an attempt to separate the state and Oregon from the union, which failed. Southern California, with a majority of discontented Californios and Southern secessionists, had already voted for a separate Territorial government and formed militia units, but were kept from secession after Fort Sumter and by Federal troops drawn from the frontier forts of the District of Oregon, and District of California, (primarily Fort Tejon and Fort Mojave).

Patriotic fervor swept California after the attack on Fort Sumter, providing the manpower for Volunteer Regiments recruited mainly from the pro-Union counties in the north of the State. When the Democratic party split over the war, Republican supporters of Lincoln took control of the state in the September elections. Volunteer Regiments were sent to occupy pro-secessionist Southern California and Tulare County, leaving them generally powerless during the war itself. Some Southerners, however, traveled east to join the Confederate Army, evading Union patrols and hostile Apache. Others remaining in the state attempted to outfit a privateer to prey on coastal shipping, and late in the war two groups of partisan rangers were formed but none were successful.

California Civil War Map
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Mexican Cession and Acquisition of California Map


When California was admitted as a state under the Compromise of 1850, Californians had already decided it was to be a free state—the constitutional convention of 1849 unanimously abolished slavery. As a result, Southerners in Congress voted against admission in 1850 while Northerners pushed it through, pointing to its population of 93,000 and its vast wealth in gold. Northern California, which was dominated by mining, shipping, and commercial elites of San Francisco, favored becoming a state. In the 1856 presidential election, California gave its electoral votes to the winner, James Buchanan.

Following California's admission to the Union, Californios (dissatisfied with inequitable taxes and land laws) and pro-slavery Southerners in lightly populated, rural Southern California attempted three times in the 1850s to achieve a separate statehood or territorial status from Northern California. The last attempt, the Pico Act of 1859, was passed by the California State Legislature, signed by the State governor John B. Weller, approved overwhelmingly by voters in the proposed Territory of Colorado and sent to Washington, D.C. with a strong advocate in Senator Milton Latham. However the secession crisis following the election of Lincoln in 1860 led to the proposal never coming to a vote.

In 1860 California gave a small plurality of 38,733 votes to Abraham Lincoln, whose 32% of the total vote was enough to win all its electoral votes; 68% voted for the other three candidates: Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell.

During the secession crisis following Lincoln's election, Federal troops were under the command of Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Albert Sidney Johnston, in Benicia, headquarters of the Department of the Pacific. General Johnston strongly believed in the Southern right to secede but regretted that it was occurring. A group of Southern sympathizers in the state made plans to secede with Oregon to form a "Pacific Republic". The success of their plans rested on the cooperation of General Johnston. Johnston met with some of these Southern men, but before they could propose anything to him he told them that he had heard rumors of an attempt to seize the San Francisco forts and arsenal at Benicia, that he had prepared for that and would defend the facilities under his command with all his resources and to the last drop of his blood. He told them to tell this to their Southern friends. Deprived of his aid the plans for California and Oregon to secede from the United States never came to fruition.

Meanwhile Union men feared Johnston would aid such a plot and communicated their fears to Washington asking for his replacement. Brig. Gen. Edwin Vose Sumner was soon sent west via Panama to replace Johnston in March 1861. Johnston resigned his commission on April 9, and after Sumner arrived on April 25 turned over his command and moved to Los Angeles until becoming commander of the Confederacy's western armies. He died at the Battle of Shiloh.

As the secession crisis developed in early 1861, several Volunteer Companies of the California Militia had disbanded because of divided loyalties and new pro-Union ones were sworn in across the state under the supervision of County sheriffs and judges. Many of these units saw no action but some were to form the companies of the earliest California Volunteer regiments. Others like the Petaluma Guard and Emmet Rifles in Sonoma County suppressed a secessionist disturbance in Healdsburg, in 1862. Union commanders relied on the San Bernardino Mounted Rifles and their Captain Clarence E. Bennett for intelligence and help to hold the pro-Southern San Bernardino County for the Union in late 1861 as Federal troops were being withdrawn and replaced by California Volunteers.

Notable as the only pro-Southern militia unit, the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles was organized on March 7, 1861, in Los Angeles County. It included more than a few Californios in its leadership and its ranks, including the County Sheriff Tomas Avila Sanchez. Its leader was one of his Undersheriffs Alonzo Ridley and included several of his deputies. A. J. King, another Undersheriff of Los Angeles County (and former member of the earlier "Monte Rangers"), and other influential men in El Monte, formed another secessionist militia, the Monte Mounted Rifles on March 23, 1861. However, A. J. King soon ran afoul of Federal authorities. According to the Sacramento Union of April 30, 1861, King was brought before Colonel Carleton and was made to take an oath of allegiance to the Union and was then released. On April 26, 1861, the Monte Mounted Rifles had asked Governor Downey for arms. The governor sent the arms, but army officers at San Pedro held them up, preventing the activation of the Monte Mounted Rifles.

On March 28, 1861, the newly formed Arizona Territory voted to separate from New Mexico Territory and join the Confederacy. This had increased Union officials' fears of a secessionist design to separate Southern California from the state and join the Confederacy. This fear was based on the demonstrated desire for separation in the vote for the Pico Act, the strength of secessionists in the area and their declared intentions and activities, especially in forming militia companies. See also California in the American Civil War (1861-1865): A History.

California Map
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California, Civil War, and Secession Map

Forts and Camps

At the time, the U.S. had a number of military forts to defend against the Indian threat, and to solidify the U.S. claim to the state. As the conflict began, new forts and camps were founded to protect ports and communications, carry out operations against the Indians, to hold off Confederate soldiers and suppress their sympathizers.

Of the ports, San Francisco Bay was the most important; coastal fortifications at Fort Point and Camp Sumner were built at the edge of the Presidio, as well as at Fort Baker on the Marin Headlands. One Civil War-era fort, Post of Alcatraz Island or Fort Alcatraz, on a rocky island just inside the Golden Gate, later became an infamous Federal penitentiary, Alcatraz. The San Francisco Bay was also protected by the Navy at Mare Island, the Benicia Arsenal, Fort Mason with the posts at San Francisco's Point San Jose, and Camp Reynolds on Angel Island. San Pedro was protected from January 1862 by Camp Drum, later the Drum Barracks, and later a post was established at Two Harbors on Catalina Island. San Diego was only defended by a small garrison at the New San Diego Depot occupied in 1860.

In the northwest of the state were several forts, Fort Bragg on the Mendocino County coast supporting Fort Wright. Further north on the coast of Humboldt County was Fort Humboldt, established to maintain peace between the Native Americans and new settlers and Headquarters of the Humboldt Military District supporting other forts in the area. Ulysses S. Grant was briefly stationed here prior to the war. Fort Humboldt supported Camp Curtis, Fort Gaston, Camp Lyon, Fort Baker, Fort Iaqua, Fort Anderson, Camp Lincoln and Fort Seward which were the base of operations for the soldiers in the Bald Hills War.

At the beginning of the war Union authorities were worried that the large number of secessionist sympathizers in Southern California might rise in an attempt to join the Confederacy. In June 1861 troops withdrawn from Fort Tejon and Fort Mojave established Camp Fitzgerald outside Los Angeles in various locations as each proved unsuitable.

In late September 1861, troops from Northern California landed in San Pedro and marched to establish a new camp at a more suitable location at Camp Latham in modern Culver City. From this post Ketchum's regular soldiers were relieved on October 20 by three companies of 1st California Cavalry sent out to San Bernardino County. and establish Camp Carleton and later Camp Morris. Volunteer troops were also sent to Camp Wright in San Diego County to watch the southern overland approach to California across the Colorado Desert from Fort Yuma, located on the west bank of the Colorado River.

In March 1862, all the troops that were drilling at Camp Latham were transferred to Camp Drum, leaving a company of soldiers to observe the Los Angeles area. Following flooding at Camp Carleton, the garrison moved to New Camp Carleton, built near the secessionist hotbed of El Monte in 1862.

To the south there was Fort Miller in the foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada in Fresno County, and Camp Babbitt outside the town of Visalia, in Tulare County. Fort Tejon in the Grapevine Canyon (La Cañada de las Uvas) had protected the southern San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. It had been the headquarters of the First U.S. Dragoons until those regular army troops were transferred in July 1861 upon the outbreak of war. Fort Tejon was reoccupied by California volunteer troops in 1863 to guard Paiute Indians from the Owens Valley at the nearby Sebastian Indian Reservation and then it was abandoned for good on September 11, 1864. Camp Independence was established on Oak Creek nearby modern Independence, California on July 4, 1862, during the Owens Valley Indian War.

In the Northeast were Fort Crook in Shasta County and in Modoc County, Fort Bidwell was established in 1863.

Civil War

California fought in the nation's deadliest war.
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Civil War killed far exceeded the deaths in any other U.S. war.

According to the 1860 U.S. Census, California, a free state, had a population of 379,994.

A total of 15,725 California men served in the Union Army during the course of the four year Civil War (1861-1865), according to statisticians Phisterer (1883), Fox (1889) and Dyer (1908), resulting in a total of 573 deaths from all causes.

California and the Civil War
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California Civil War regiments and units

The Union Army (1908) recorded, "No quotas were assigned to the state under the several calls for troops during the war, though she was asked to furnish several regiments and battalions, aggregating more than 16,000 men, besides 500 who were enlisted within her borders and became part of the quota of the state of Massachusetts, and eight companies raised for Washington Territory. She furnished to the Union armies during the war two full regiments of cavalry, eight full regiments of infantry, one battalion of native California cavalry, and one battalion of infantry, called mountaineers, in addition to the above-mentioned companies of volunteers supplied to Massachusetts and Washington Territory. Altogether nearly 17,000 volunteers were enlisted in the state. "

Due to its location, the state's local militia companies remained under state status because of the great number of Southern sympathizers, the Indian threat, and possible foreign attack. The state followed the usual military practice of mustering militia companies into regiments. These Volunteers maintained military posts vacated by the regular army units that were ordered east. However a number of state militias disbanded and went east. Several of these companies offered their services and were accepted by the Union Army.

Many of these men were stationed in California with the task to secure the borders from hostile American Indian tribes. Although a number of companies saw service on Eastern battlefields, they did not maintain their California designation. For example, the 1st California Regiment led by Abraham Lincoln's personal friend, Edward Baker, was later re-designated the 71st Pennsylvania. Beyond the battlefield, Californians contributed more than $15 million in gold, which the Lincoln administration used to shore up the economy during the war.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Southern California secession seemed possible; the populace was largely in favor of it, militias with secessionist sympathies had been formed, and Bear Flags, the banner of the Bear Flag Revolt, had been flown for several months by secessionists in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. After word of the Battle of Fort Sumter reached California, there were public demonstrations by secessionists. However secession quickly became impossible when three companies of Federal cavalry were moved from Fort Mojave and Fort Tejon into Los Angeles in May and June 1861. Suspected by local Union authorities, General Johnston evaded arrest and joined the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles as a private, leaving Warner's Ranch May 27 in their journey across the southwestern deserts to Texas, crossing the Colorado River into the Confederate Territory of Arizona, on July 4, 1861. The Los Angeles Mounted Rifles disbanded and members joined the Confederate Army when they reached the Arizona Territorial capital of Mesilla (now in New Mexico). Like other pro-Confederates leaving California for the Confederacy, the volunteers joined up principally with Texas regiments. General Johnston joined the fight in the east as a general with the Confederacy and was later killed leading their army at the Battle of Shiloh.

The only Confederate flag captured in California during the Civil War took place on July 4, 1861, in Sacramento. During Independence Day celebrations, secessionist Major J. P. Gillis celebrated the independence of the United States from Britain as well as the Southern states from the Union. He unfurled a Confederate flag of his own design and proceeded to march down the street to both the applause and jeers of onlookers. Jack Biderman and Curtis Clark, enraged by Gillis' actions, accosted him and "captured" the flag. The flag itself is based on the first Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars. However, the canton contains seventeen stars rather than the Confederate's seven. Because the flag was captured by Jack Biderman, it is often also referred to as the "Biderman Flag".

California in the Civil War
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(Map) Confederate States, Border States, and Union States

Oregon U.S. Senator Edward D. Baker raised a regiment of men on the East Coast. These units and others were generally known as the "California Regiment", but later designated the 71st Pennsylvania Infantry. Col. Roderick N. Matheson was the leader of the 32nd New York Infantry, also known as the 1st California Regiment.

The Civil War began April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery fired on Fort Sumter, and three days later, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers. Baker left the Senate to go to New York City, where he spoke for two hours to a crowd of 100,000 in Union Square on April 19. He was blunt: “The hour for conciliation is past; the gathering for battle is at hand, and the country requires that every man shall do his duty.” He affirmed his own willingness to take up arms: “If Providence shall will it, this feeble hand shall draw a sword, never yet dishonored, not to fight for honor on a foreign field, but for country, for home, for law, for government, for Constitution, for right, for freedom, for humanity.” The following day, he met with 200 men from California who wanted to form a regiment that would symbolize the commitment of the West Coast to the Union cause. On May 8, Baker was authorized by Secretary of War Simon Cameron to form the California Regiment with him as its commanding officer with the rank of colonel.

Baker telegraphed Isaac J. Wistar, his San Francisco law partner, who was back in Philadelphia, and asked him to help recruit and organize the regiment. When Wistar asked about rank, Baker replied, “I cannot at this moment accept military rank without jeopardizing my seat in the Senate. But you know my relations with Lincoln, and if you do that for me, I can assure you that within six months I shall be a Major-General and you shall have a Brigadier-General’s commission and a satisfactory command under me.” Baker wrote to Lincoln on June 11, asking that he be given a command that would “not make him second to everybody.” His efforts paid off; on July 31, Lincoln sent the Senate names of men he was recommending for appointments as brigadier generals. On the list, besides Charles Stone, Ulysses Grant and others, was Edward Baker.

He told the Senate he would refuse the commission because of its doubtful legality. He said he was pleased that the government would allow him a command with his rank of colonel, “quite sufficient for all my military aspirations,” which indicates he believed he could be a colonel and remain in the Senate. He wrote to Lincoln on August 31 to decline the appointment as brigadier general, citing the problem of incompatibility and implying that he had the government’s permission to hold a colonel’s commission. To add to the mystery, the War Department notified Baker on September 21 that Lincoln had appointed him to be a major general. A list of Civil War generals based on official records indicates Baker held the rank of major general.

He was assigned command of a brigade in Stone's division, guarding fords along the Potomac River north of Washington. At a dinner with Journalist George Wilkes in August, Baker predicted he would die in an early battle of the war: “I am certain I shall not live through this war, and if my troops should show any want of resolution, I shall fall in the first battle. I cannot afford, after my career in Mexico, and as a Senator of the United States, to turn my face from the enemy.”

Baker stopped at the White House on October 20 to visit his old friend. Lincoln sat against a tree on the northeast White House lawn, while Baker lay on the ground with his hands behind his head. Willie Lincoln played in the leaves while the two men talked. Baker picked Willie up and kissed him before shaking the President’s hand as he left. Mary Lincoln gave Baker a bouquet of flowers, which he accepted graciously and sadly: “Very beautiful. These flowers and my memory will wither together.” On October 21 at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, Baker was struck at around four o’clock by a volley of bullets through his heart and brain that killed him instantly. He was the only sitting senator to be killed in the Civil War.

In early October 1861, Baker had been authorized to increase his command to a brigade. The additional regiments were commanded by Colonels Joshua T. Owen, Dewitt Clinton Baxter, and Turner G. Morehead, all from Philadelphia, respectively designated the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th California Regiments. The 4th California Regiment, as planned, was composed of artillery and cavalry. These troops were soon detached. After Baker was killed in the Battle of Ball's Bluff, Pennsylvania claimed these four infantry regiments as a part of its quota, and they became known as the "Philadelphia Brigade" of Pennsylvania Volunteers. They were initially commanded by Brig. Gen. William W. Burns and first served in John Sedgwick's Division of the II Corps, Army of the Potomac. They had a distinguished service career, highlighted by their actions at the Battle of Antietam and their prominent position in the defense against Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.

San Francisco Harbor Map
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California History Map

(About) San Francisco harbor c. 1850. Between 1847 and 1870, as a result of the 1849 Gold Rush, the population of San Francisco increased from 500 to 150,000.

As the Secretary of War was recalling Federal troops to the east, on July 24, 1861, he called on Governor John G. Downey to furnish one regiment of infantry and five companies of cavalry to guard the overland mail route from Carson City to Salt Lake City. Three weeks later four more regiments of infantry and a regiment of cavalry were requested. All of these were volunteer units recruited and organized in the northern part of the state, around the San Francisco Bay region and the mining camps; few recruits came from Southern California. These volunteers replaced the regular troops transferred to the east before the end of 1861.

Charged with all the supervision of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Santa Barbara counties, on August 14, 1861, Major William Scott Ketchum steamed from San Francisco to San Pedro and made a rapid march to encamp near San Bernardino on August 26 and with Companies D and G of the 4th Infantry Regiment later reinforced at the beginning of September by a detachment of ninety First U.S. Dragoons and a howitzer. Except for frequent sniping at his camp, Ketchum's garrison stifled any secessionist uprising from Belleville and a show of force by the Dragoons in the streets of San Bernardino at the end of election day quelled a secessionist political demonstration during the September gubernatorial elections in San Bernardino County.

Thereafter, with the Democrats split over the war, the first Republican governor of California, Leland Stanford, was elected on September 4, 1861.

Following the elections on September 7, there was a gunfight resulting from a robbery of travelers to Bear Valley and Holcomb Valley on the pack trail in the Upper Santa Ana Canyon where the Santa Ana River runs out of the San Bernardino Mountains. It was suspected that secessionists had been the culprits, doing the robbery as part of a larger plan of robberies in the valleys of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. However, no such plan materialized.

As the California Volunteer regiments formed, some were sent south with Colonel George Wright, commanding officer of the District of Southern California. He was to replace the Federal troops in Los Angeles, gathered there to prevent a rising by the numerous secessionist sympathizers in Southern California. In October 1861, Wright was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers and placed in command of the Department of the Pacific, replacing Sumner who had recommended Wright as his replacement. Colonel James Henry Carleton of the 1st California Volunteer Infantry Regiment replaced Wright as commander in the south. Detachments were soon sent out by Carleton to San Bernardino and San Diego counties to secure them for the Union and prevent the movement of men and weapons eastward to the Confederacy.

The California Volunteers most directly in action against the Confederacy were known as the California Column. They were under the command of General James Carleton. At various times the following units served with the Column: 1st Regiment California Volunteer Cavalry, 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry, and the 1st, 5th and 7th Regiment California Volunteer Infantry. This force served in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, driving out the Confederate force in the Arizona Territory and defending New Mexico Territory and the southern overland route to California and operating against the Apache, Navajo, Comanche and other tribes.

The command composed of 2nd Regiment California Volunteer Cavalry and the 3rd Regiment California Volunteer Infantry under P. Edward Connor kept the Central Overland Route to California open. As a matter of Connor's proactive style, he led these troops to attack Shoshoni Indians at the Bear River Massacre near what is now the present-day city of Preston, Idaho, on January 29, 1863. Detachments from the 2nd Regiment California Volunteer Cavalry from Camp Latham under Lieutenant Colonel George S. Evans, fought in the Owens Valley Indian War, and established Camp Independence in 1862.

In 1862, five companies of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry (also known as The California 100 and the California Cavalry Battalion) were enrolled and mustered into service, and sent to Massachusetts. They left San Francisco by sea for service in the east. The California Battalion consisted of Companies A, C, F, L, and M. They participated in 51 battles, campaigns, and skirmishes.

The 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th Regiment California Volunteer Infantry and the 1st Battalion California Volunteer Mountaineers provided internal security in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington Territory. 2nd and 6th Volunteer Infantry Regiments and the 1st Battalion California Volunteer Mountaineers served in the Bald Hills War and some other companies in the Snake War. Also the 1st Regiment Washington Territory Volunteer Infantry had eight companies that were recruited in California during 1862 for service in Washington Territory. They were mustered out at Fort Vancouver in 1865.

Slavery Timeline Map
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California Statehood Map

One of the earliest conflicts related to the Civil War in California occurred on November 29, 1861, at Minter Ranch, in the hills just south and west of the San Jose Valley, where Warner's Ranch and the military post of Camp Wright was located. Dan Showalter's party of secessionists like some others were attempting to avoid the post and make their way across the desert to join the Confederate Army in Texas. They were pursued from Temecula by a Volunteer Cavalry patrol from the camp, intercepted and captured without shots being fired. Later after being imprisoned at Fort Yuma, Showalter and the others were released after swearing loyalty to the Union, but they made their way to the Confederacy later.

New Camp Carleton was established on March 22, 1862, near El Monte; its garrison was to keep an eye on that hotbed of secessionist sympathies. On April 10, 1862, as the United States Marshal for Southern California, Henry D. Barrows, wrote to the commander of Union Army Department of the Pacific in San Francisco, complaining of anti-Union sentiment in Southern California. The letter says such sentiment "permeates society here among both the high and the low," and reports:

"A. J. King, under-sheriff of this county, who has been a bitter secessionist, who said to me that he owed no allegiance to the United States Government; that Jeff Davis’was the only constitutional government we had, and that he remained here because he could do more harm to the enemies of that Government by staying here than going there; brought down on the Senator (a steam ship) Tuesday last a large lithograph gilt-framed portrait of Beauregard, the rebel general, which he flaunted before a large crowd at the hotel when he arrived. I induced Colonel Carleton to have him arrested as one of the many dangerous secessionists living in our midst, and to-day he was taken to Camp Drum. He was accompanied by General Volney E. Howard as counsel, and I have but little hope that he will be retained in custody."

During and after the 1862 Confederate New Mexico Campaign, no rebellion against Union control occurred in the state. However, in the following years, some attempts were made by the Confederate navy to seize gold and silver for the Confederacy.

Late in the war, Confederate partisans in California made attempts to seize gold and silver for the Confederacy. In early 1864, Rufus Henry Ingram, formerly with Quantrill's Raiders, arrived in Santa Clara County and with Tom Poole (formerly a member of the crew of the J. M. Chapman), organized local Knights of the Golden Circle and commanded them in what became known as Captain Ingram's Partisan Rangers. In the Bullion Bend Robbery they robbed two stagecoaches near Placerville of their silver and gold, leaving a letter explaining they were not bandits but carrying out a military operation to raise funds for the Confederacy.

Also in early 1864, secessionist Judge George Gordon Belt, a rancher and former alcalde in Stockton, organized a group of partisan rangers including John Mason and "Jim Henry" and sent them out to recruit more men and pillage the property of Union men in the countryside. For the next two years the Mason Henry Gang, as they became known, posed as Confederate partisan rangers but acted as outlaws, committing robberies, thefts and murders in the southern San Joaquin Valley, Santa Cruz County, Monterey County, Santa Clara County, and in counties of Southern California. However, despite all these efforts no captured gold was sent to the Confederacy. See also California in the American Civil War (1861-1865): A History.

Map of California Civil War Battles & Battlefields
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High Resolution Map of California


Since California remained loyal to the Union, Reconstruction and military rule did not apply.

Geography ultimately proved inconsequential to California's importance to the Union war effort. As the nation benefited from the state's contributions during the war, California was justly rewarded after the war. Sacramento was selected as the western terminus for the Transcontinental Railroad, which assured that California would become one of the most financially prosperous and populous states in the United States. 

In 1860, the secessionist movement revealed divided loyalties amongst the citizens of the new state. Despite being largely isolated by geography, California played a vital role in the American Civil War. The citizens in the southern portion of the state supported the Confederacy and those in the north supported the Union. In San Francisco, newspapers such as the Bulletin and Alta California ran stories in support of the Union while The San Francisco Herald preached the merits of secession and the Confederacy. Although the state remained divided, Abraham Lincoln won the state with 3 of every 8 votes. State legislators officially announced their intent to remain loyal to the Union with a resolution passed in May of 1861.

This resolution did not put an end to Confederate supporters pushing the state towards secession. There was speculation regarding secret organizations with allegiance to the Confederate cause, such as the Knights of the Golden Circle and the Committee of Thirty. Such suspicion was encouraged by the resignation of Albert Sidney Johnston, from his command of the Presidio in San Francisco in 1861. Although he garrisoned both Fort Point and Alcatraz appropriately until he relinquished command, he was suspected of seditious activity because of his subsequent decision to join the Confederacy. Alcatraz later became a prison for housing Confederate sympathizers.

The possibility of splitting Southern California as a territory or a state was rejected by the national government, and the idea was dead by 1861 when patriotic fervor swept California after the attack on Fort Sumter.

California's involvement in the American Civil War included sending gold east, recruiting or funding a limited number of combat units, maintaining numerous fortifications and sending troops east, some of whom became famous. Following the split in the Democratic Party in 1860, Republican supporters of Lincoln took control of the state in 1861, minimizing the influence of the large southern population. Their great success was in obtaining a Pacific railroad land grant and authorization to build the Central Pacific as the western half of the transcontinental railroad.

California was settled primarily by Midwestern and Southern farmers, miners, and businessmen. Though the southerners and some Californios tended to favor the Confederacy, the state did not have slavery, and they were generally powerless during the war itself. They were prevented from organizing and their newspapers were closed down by denying them the use of the mail. Former Sen. William M. Gwin, a Confederate sympathizer, was arrested and fled to Europe.

Nearly all of the men who volunteered as Union soldiers stayed in the West, within the Department of the Pacific, to guard forts and other facilities, occupy secessionist regions, and fight Indians in the state and the western territories. Some 2,350 men in the California Column marched east across Arizona in 1862 to expel the Confederates from Arizona and New Mexico. The California Column then spent most of the remainder of the war fighting hostile Indians in the area.

Initially, travel between California and the rest of the continental U.S. was time consuming and dangerous. A more direct connection arrived in 1869 with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad (known originally as the "Pacific Railroad" and later as the "Overland Route") through Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

By linking with the existing railway network of the Eastern United States, the road thus connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States by rail for the first time. The line was popularly known as the Overland Route after the principal passenger rail service that operated over the length of the line through the end of 1962. See also California in the American Civil War (1861-1865): A History.

Sources: National Park Service; National Archives; Library of Congress; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; The Union Army (1908); US Census Bureau; Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Hardesty, Jesse. Killed and died of wounds in the Union army during the Civil War (1915) Wright-Eley Co.; Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical record of the armies of the United States (1883); Colton, Ray Charles (1984). The Civil War in the western territories: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-1902-1; Fischer, LeRoy H. (Editor) (1977). The Western Territories in the Civil War. Sunflower University Press; Fischer, LeRoy H.(Editor) (1981). Civil War Battles in the West. Sunflower University Press; Hunt, Aurora (2004). Army of the Pacific: its operations in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Plains Region, Mexico, etc., 1860-1866. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania. ISBN 978-0-8117-2978-9; Hunt, Aurora (1958). Major General James Henry Carleton, 1814-1873: Western Frontier Dragoon. Arthur H. Clark Company; Lash, Gary (2001). Duty Well Done: Edward D. Baker's California Regiment (71st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry). Butternut and Blue; McLean, James R. (2000). California Sabers. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33786-0; Masich, Andrew E. (2006). The Civil War in Arizona; the Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865 [1] University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. ISBN 0-8061-3747-9;  Orton, Brigadier General Richard H. (1890). The Records of California Men in the War of the Rebellion. Adjutant-General of California; Strobridge, William F. (1994). Regulars in the Redwoods, The U.S. Army in Northern California, 1852-1861. Arthur Clark Company; Quinn, Arthur (1994). The Rivals, William Gwin, David Broderick, and the Birth of California. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.; Talbott, Laurence F. (1998). California in the War for Southern Independence. Hale & Co., Los Angeles, California; Official Army Register of Volunteer Force of U.S. Army for Years 1861-1865. (8 parts). Part 7 - Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, California, Kansas, Oregon, Nevada Listing of military units, with officers by rank or position; and individual deaths, promotions, transfers, desertions, missing personnel, discharges; battles; enlisted men who received medals of honor. Alphabetical index in back.. United States, War Department. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. 1865; Personal Name Index to the Records of California Men in the War of the rebellion, 1861 to 1867. Gale Research Co., Detroit, Michigan. 1978; "The J.P. Gillis Flag, or the 'Biderman' Flag of California" article from the August 27, 2002 issue of The Vidette, the newsletter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, California Division; The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies, Volume 27, Part 1, CHAPTER LXII. Operations on the Pacific Coast, January 1,1861 — June 30, 1862, United States. War Dept.; The War of the Rebellion: Volume 35, Part 1, CORRESPONDENCE, ORDERS, AND RETURNS RELATING TO OPERATIONS ON THE PACIFIC COAST FROM JULY 1, 1862, TO JUNE 30, 1865. By United States. War Dept, Robert Nicholson Scott, Henry Martyn WASHINGTON: GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE. 1897; Records of California men in the war of the rebellion 1861 to 1867 By California. Adjutant General's Office, SACRAMENTO: State Office, J. D. Young, Supt. State Printing. 1890.


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