Nevada Civil War History

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Nevada in the American Civil War

Nevada Civil War History


Nevada became the 36th state by entering the Union as a “free state” on October 31, 1864, after telegraphing the Constitution of Nevada to the Congress days before the November 8, 1864, presidential election (the largest and costliest transmission ever by telegraph). Statehood was rushed to help ensure three electoral votes for Abraham Lincoln's reelection and add to the Republican congressional majorities. Nevada is officially known as the "Silver State" due to the importance of silver to its history and economy. It is also known as the "Battle Born State" because it achieved statehood during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the "Sagebrush State" for the native eponymous plant.

Nevada Civil War History
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Nevada Territory Map

Nevada and the American Civil War
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Prospect Mountain Formation on top of Wheeler Peak, the highest peak entirely within Nevada

Prior to European contact, Native American tribes, including the Paiute, Bannock (Shoshone), and Washoe, had inhabited Nevada for millennia. The Spanish explorer Francisco Garcés arrived in the 18th century. Jedediah Smith entered the Las Vegas Valley in 1827, and Peter Skene Ogden traveled the Humboldt River in 1828. As part of the Mexican Cession (1848) and the subsequent California Gold Rush that used Emigrant Trails through the area, the state's area evolved first as part of the Utah Territory, then the Nevada Territory (March 2, 1861; named for the Sierra Nevada).

Previously owned by Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican Government, the United States attained this territory following its victory in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. Nevada became part of the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico in 1848. Mexico, however, had never established any control in Nevada, but American mountain men were in Washoe (the early name for Nevada) as early as 1827. A permanent American presence began in 1851 when the Mormons set up way stations en route to the California gold fields. In the absence of any governmental authority, some 50 Mormons and Gentile prospectors and cattle ranchers drew up the "Washoe code" to deal with land claims; its coverage eventually covered other governmental issues. There still was no Federal presence in the area so Mormon-Gentile relations worsened and petitions of complaint went to Washington. Gentiles sought annexation to California. Utah Territory countered this by incorporating the area as a county. When Federal troops were sent to Utah in 1857, the Mormons left Washoe. The Gentiles took over and launched a move for separate territorial status. The early 1860s saw the end of an Indian war, the great Comstock mining boom of 1859 in Virginia City and the coming of the American Civil War. The provisional territorial government led to the creation of Nevada Territory by Congress in 1861. The pragmatic attempts to establish workable frontier institutions had failed and the paternalistic territorial system was welcomed. The Territory of Nevada was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from March 2, 1861, until October 31, 1864, when it was admitted to the Union as the State of Nevada.

Military and other government exploration of the territory included efforts by John C. Frémont (1843), Lieutenant E. G. Beckwith (1854), and the Fortieth Parallel Survey (1867). During the Civil War, the territory mustered infantry and cavalry, and skirmishes during the American Indian Wars occurred in Nevada during the Snake War (1864–1868). American Old West forts in Nevada included Fort Churchill, Fort Halleck, Fort McDermit, and Fort Schellbourne.

Although Nevada sent approximately 1,200 men to fight for the Union during the Civil War, its main contribution to the cause was financing the war with $400 million in silver from the Comstock Lode. In addition, the state hosted a number of Union posts. Nevada suffered only two battle fatalities during the course of the Civil War, but both were killed while fighting Indians within the state.

Nevada Civil War History
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Mexican Cession: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Map


During the American Civil War, Nevada's entry into statehood in the United States was expedited by Union sympathizers in order to ensure Nevada's participation in the 1864 presidential election in support of President Abraham Lincoln.

Republicans were so eager to gain statehood for Nevada that they rushed to send the entire state constitution by telegraph to the United States Congress before the presidential election and they did not believe that transporting it by train would guarantee that it would arrive on time. The constitution was sent October 26–27, 1864, just two weeks before the election on November 8, 1864. The transmission took two days; it consisted of 16,543 words and cost $4303.27 ($59,294.92 in 2010 dollars) to send. Nevada had fewer than 40,000 inhabitants when it gained statehood, far fewer than the initial population of any other state (though this was not a legal barrier to statehood). President Abraham Lincoln wanted an additional Northern state that would presumably vote for his reelection, and promote pro-Northern amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In the 1864 election, Lincoln won nearly sixty percent of Nevada's vote against Democratic opponent George B. McClellan. (McClellan was formerly a Union general who had been relieved of his command by President Lincoln.)

There were numerous sympathizers to the Confederate States of America in Nevada during the Civil War. In fact, of the "Pacific Coast" states, none had more Southern supporters. In Virginia City, in particular, sentiment towards the warring sides was split evenly. However, in strict military fashion any strong pro-Confederate sentiment was struck down as Union army soldiers arrested the sympathizers and jailed them at Fort Churchill. The only time a Confederate flag was flown in the state was at a stone saloon, and defended by gunpoint by one of the saloon's owners until the owner's partner convinced him to change the flag to the United States flag before troops from Fort Churchill forced the matter. Regarding the “stone salon incident,” the commander of Fort Churchill had additional paranoia with Confederate sympathizers in mining camps, and throughout the war Nevada would remain under martial law.

One organization particularly pro-Union was the Virginia City Fire Department. Many of them were originally from New York, and had strong feelings for the New York Fire Zouaves, who many had known when they lived back east. When news arrived of the Union defeat at the First Battle of Manassas, with the New York Fire Zouaves in particular suffering heavy casualties, it was determined by the Virginia City firemen that they would book no celebrations by pro-Confederates, and they bullied any Southern sympathizer they met that day by fist and weapons.
Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, the Territory of Nevada had a population of 6,857. During the 1860s the region also experienced a gold rush, and in 1870 the State of Nevada had a population of 42,941. Accompanying West Virginia, Nevada was one of two U.S. states formed during the American Civil War (1861–1865).
While Nevada principally supported the Union war effort politically and financially, it also assisted the nation during its era of westward expansion. After a territorial existence of nearly 3 1/2 years, Nevada was admitted as a state on Oct. 31, 1864. In accordance with the enabling act passed by Congress, the constitution of Nevada provided that "there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said state, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."

Nevada Civil War History
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Secession of Southern States and Readmission to the Union Map

Nevada in the U.S. Civil War
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Territory of Nevada Map

Prior to statehood, the military units were known as Nevada Territory battalions, and some Nevadans enlisted into California units to support the Union. For the war effort in 1863-64, Nevada raised a cavalry battalion composed of six companies and an infantry battalion of three companies, and recruited approximately 1,200 men to fight for the Union. During the course of the Civil War, Nevada suffered a total of 33 in killed: 29 died as a result of disease; 2 mortally wounded (from Co. D, First Cavalry. Both killed while fighting Indians at Battle of Table Mountain, Humboldt, Nevada); 1 died from an accident, and; 1 died from "causes other than battle."
(Right) Nevada Territory Map. The 1861 Nevada Territory boundary (blue) changed three times:1864 statehood shifted eastern border from 39th to 38th meridian, May 5, 1866; east border (pink) moved eastward 53.3 mi (85.8 km), from 38th to 37th meridian, and January 18, 1867; south boundary (yellow) moved from the 37th parallel north southward to the current boundary (14 Stat. 43). Nevada received statehood on October 31, 1864. Source: Henry Gannett (1855). Boundaries of the United States.
In May 1863, Nevada raised the First Nevada (Volunteers) Cavalry Battalion. In summer of 1864, the First Nevada (Volunteers) Infantry Battalion was mustered into service. According to the adjutant-general of Nevada, the state mustered 34 officers and 1,158 enlisted men for Union service. These troops did not engage in pitched battles with the Confederate forces, but protected the central overland route and settlements on the frontier from the Indians and Confederate sympathizers alike. With the units of California Volunteers engaged in the same service, they made incursions into Indian country, exploring large sections of territory which had never been entered by U.S. forces, and had frequent skirmishes with the Indians. The Nevada Volunteer Cavalry was credited as having "been of the greatest importance in aiding to protect the great overland highway and also the settlements upon the frontier from Indian incursion and depredations.” Although civil unrest was rampant throughout the conflict, no serious threat of territorial seizure ever formulated. See also Nevada and the Civil War (1861-1865).
1st Battalion Nevada Volunteer Cavalry, aka 1st Nevada Volunteer Cavalry Battalion
Organized at Fort Churchill, California, June 22, 1863. Attached to District of Utah and District of California, Dept. of the Pacific. Companies "A" and "B" moved to Camp Douglass, near Salt Lake City, Utah, September 29, 1863, Duty there and at Camp Connor, Utah, until June, 1864. Company "B" moved to Unitah Valley, Utah, May 2, 1864; thence to Fort Bridger, Utah, August 1, 1864. Company "A" moved to Fort Bridger, Utah, June, 1864, and engaged in scouting and protecting emigrants and prospectors. Companies "C," "D," "E" and "F" at Fort Churchill, Cal., until July, 1864. Expedition from Fort Churchill to Humboldt River, Nevada, June 8-August 9, 1864. Duty scouting in the Smoke Creek District (Co. "D"). Companies "C" and "F" ordered to Camp Douglass, near Salt Lake City, Utah, July 28, 1864. Companies "D" and "E" remained at Fort Churchill, operating in Humboldt District until mustered out. Expedition to Pyramid Lake and Walker's Lake, March 12-19, 1865 (Cos. "D," "E"). Skirmish at Mud Lake March 14, 1865 (Cos. "D," "E"). Companies "D" and "E," along with a detachment from Company "F," would be mustered out on November 18, 1865. Companies "A," "B" and "C" mustered out of service on July 12, 1866, while the remainder of Company "F" mustered out on July 21, 1866.
1st Battalion Nevada Volunteer Infantry, aka 1st Nevada Volunteer Infantry Battalion
Organized at Fort Churchill, California, December 24, 1863. Attached to District of California, Dept. of the Pacific. Company "A" on duty at Fort Churchill until July 28, 1864. Moved to Smoky Creek Region July 28, returning to Fort Churchill October 23, 1864, and duty there until December, 1865. Expedition from Fort Churchill to Pyramid Lake and Walker's Lake March 12-19, 1865. Company "B" at Fort Churchill until July 28, 1864. Ordered to Fort Ruby, Nevada, July 28, 1864, and duty there until December, 1865. Expedition from Fort Ruby to Humboldt Valley, Nevada, May 25-June 15, 1865. Skirmish at Austin May 29. Company "C" at Fort Churchill until December 7, 1864. Ordered to Camp Independence, California, and duty there until muster out. Battalion mustered out December 23, 1865.

Nevada Civil War Map of Battles and Battlefields
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High Resolution Terrain Map of Nevada

Nevada acquired statehood, in part, to assist President Lincoln win reelection. Because the state prospered immensely from mining, Nevada claimed the highest per capita income in the nation in 1880. The Comstock silver was announced in 1859, and Gold was discovered in Nevada in the 1860s. After peak production from the Comstock in 1877, silver mining declined while gold mining increased annually and soon surpassed the wealth that silver had produced in the state. Although Nevada is currently the fourth largest producer of gold in the world, the state retains its nickname as the "Silver State" due to the importance of silver to its history and economy.

Mining and industry in Nevada and the American West continued at a fast pace after 1865. Scores of veterans from both Union and Confederate sides took part in the mass westward migration. Since land often proved insufficient for farming, many turned to prospecting. The state's southern border expanded in 1867 thanks to large gold deposits discovered there. Over the next several decades, the fluctuating gold and silver discoveries created a boom and bust industry. After tensions between indigenous people and settlers erupted once again, the U.S. military fought with the Bannock, Shoshone, and Paiute Indians in the Snake War, 1864-1868. The conflict claimed nearly 2,000 lives and it became representative of the following twenty years of war and unrest on the frontier.
See also

Sources: National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Library of Congress; National Archives; US Census Bureau; The Union Army (1908); Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical record of the armies of the United States (1883); Hardesty, Jesse. Killed and died of wounds in the Union army during the Civil War (1915): Wright-Eley Co.; Davis, Sam P. The History of Nevada, Vol. I, Chapter IX, Nevada and the Civil War (1912); Nevada State Legislature.  The Journal of the Senate.  The State of Nevada, 1866; Reid, John B.. and Ronald M. James, eds. Uncovering Nevada's Past: A Primary Source History of the Silver State (2004); Scrugham, James G.  Nevada: The Narrative of the Conquest of a Frontier Land, Vol. I (1935); Stein, Mark (2008). How the States Got Their Shapes. HarperCollins. pp. 176–177. ISBN 978-0-06-143138-8; Wren, Thomas. A History of the State of Nevada: Its Resources and People. The Lewis Publishing Company (1904).


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