California in the Civil War

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California in the American Civil War

California and the Civil War (1861-1865)
California (1861-1865), part 1

It has been sometimes stated that California, by reason of her
geographical location far away from the more active scenes of
the war, and possessed of only a sparse population, exerted lit-
tle or no influence in the War of the Rebellion. It is proposed
in the following pages to set forth the essential falsehood of
such assertions and to show that the rich, young state of the
West was second to none of the loyal states in her patriotic
offerings and her generous self-sacrifice to the cause of the
Union. If few California volunteers were represented on the
principal battlefields of the war, it was due to no fault of the
state, as men were freely offered for the eastern service, only
to be refused by the general government. That they were never
ordered east was a constant source of regret to California's
volunteers, who continually asked: "When are we to be ordered
to the seat of war?" A wise government policy deemed it ex-
pedient to keep them on the Pacific coast and in the territories,
and to them was entrusted the important tasks of occupying
most of the posts from Puget Sound to San Elizario, Tex.; of
keeping in subjection the large number of hostile Indian tribes
throughout this vast region; of warding off foreign interfer-
ence along the great Pacific coast line; and of overawing the
elements of disunion and secession at home. California's sol-
diers performed these duties faithfully, despite their disappoint-
ment at being unable to share in the more stirring events of
the great contest for freedom and the perpetuity of the nation.
They maintained peace in these western states and territories,
soon drove the flag of rebellion beyond the Rio Grande, and
prevented the establishment of an empire for the perpetuation
of slavery on the western coast of the continent. Nor should
it be forgotten that the entire population of the Pacific coast,
including Utah and Colorado, numbered less than one-fourth
of the population of the single state of Pennsylvania. Of the
state's more than generous contributions to the sanitary fund,
and of her readiness to meet the war taxes, later allusion will be
made. Her legislatures gave frequent expression to loyal senti-
ments and her three war governors could always be relied upon
to further the Union cause in every possible way. The early
hopes of the Southern states that California would espouse the
pro-slavery cause, or would at least remain neutral during the
struggle, found no encouragement with the state authorities;
nor did the dream of an independent Western republic. Cali-
fornia's gold and other mineral treasures poured a welcome
stream into the Federal treasury, aided to ward off government
bankruptcy and to prevent an almost unlimited depreciation of
the nation's paper promises to pay. Such are some of the state's
claims to a share in that glory which sustained the nation in the
hour of its peril.
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 be-
came 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 Califor-
nia cavalry, and one battalion of infantry, called mountaineers,
in addition to the above-mentioned companies of volunteers sup-
plied to Massachusetts and Washington Territory. Altogether
nearly 17,000 volunteers were enlisted in the state.
Democratic political ascendancy in the state received its first
serious setback in the presidential election of 1860, when four
sets of presidential electors were placed in nomination, Lin-
coln and Hamlin, Bell and Everett, Douglas and Johnson, and
Breckenridge and Lane. The two last named tickets represented
the radical split in the Democratic party brought about by the
aggressive pro-slavery wing of the party. The two U. S. sena-
tors from California, Gwin and Latham, both Democrats, as
well as her two representatives, Scott and Burch, had taken an
unpopular course in Congress by their subserviency to Lecomp-
tonism and the pro-slavery element, and had run counter to the
prevailing sentiment of the people of California, only the Le-
compton faction of the Democrats being pleased. The Congres-
sional delegation was accused during the campaign of 1860 of
dragging the state into the quarrel between the North and South,
in opposition to the desires of a majority of their constituents,
and of grossly neglecting the measures on which California
sought favorable action by Congress, while giving aid and com-
fort to the disunion agitators. The Republicans, during the
campaign, made effective use of this opposition, with the result
that the state gave Lincoln a plurality of 700 over Douglas, who
in turn received 3,000 more votes than the Breckenridge ticket.
Bell, the candidate of the so-called Union party, received a pal-
try 6,049 votes. The legislature chosen at the same time was
still strongly Democratic, though, as the event proved, it con-
tained a large loyal majority. Of the hold-over senators 18 were
Douglas Democrats, 6 Breckenridge Democrats, and only 1 Re-
publican. The senators elect were divided as follows: Douglas
Democrats 8, Breckenridge Democrats 5, Republicans 4. In
the assembly there were 38 Douglas Democrats, 22 Brecken-
ridge Democrats, 1 Union, and 19 Republicans. News of the
critical events of the winter of 1860-61 filtered through to Cali-
fornia all too slowly by means of the slow pony express, but as
the people became gradually aware of the disloyal acts of the
Southern states, and of the actions of their representatives in
Congress, the sentiment of loyalty to the Union grew apace and
disunion talk found little favor. Nor did the project of a Pa-
cific republic, so dear to the heart of Southern and other disloyal
orators, proclaimed by Senators Gwin and Latham in 1860, find
open support in California. In the far western state, as else-
where, the sole issue which divided people was fast becoming
one of loyalty or disloyalty, and on this issue chiefly the new
legislature chose James A. McDougall, a Douglas Democrat,
but professing loyal sentiments, to succeed the discredited Gwin
in the Federal senate. Still, the press of the state hesitated for
a time as to what course to pursue, and the legislature was re-
luctant to pass resolutions of loyalty and support to the Federal
government, lest it be beforehand with its duty. Timid people
declared that California could do little to influence the result
of the great national controversy and counseled neutrality as
the safest and easiest course. Others hinted at union meetings
and said the cotton states should be disillusioned of their be-
lief that their secession would be followed by the formation of
a Pacific republic. This class further pointed out that self-in-
terest warned against the secession idea, lest California's great
desire for a Pacific railroad should never be fulfilled.
Finally, a mass meeting was arranged for in San Francisco on
Feb. 22, 186 1, which was attended by over 14,000 people. Union
bunting was everywhere in evidence and the innate loyalty of
the people was enthusiastically expressed. Ringing Union
speeches were delivered by Edward Stanley, James Shields,
Thomas Starr King, the Unitarian preacher patriot, Delos Lake
and J. B. Crockett, and Union clubs and Union sentiment grew
rapidly from this time on. When the first overt act of rebel-
lion took place and Fort Sumter was fired upon, news of which
was received in San Francisco April 24, the indignation of Cal-
ifornia's loyal people was at once made manifest by the forma-
tion of administration Union clubs on the 27th. These were
the outgrowth of the Republican campaign clubs of 1860. Four
companies, properly officered, were formed from the clubs in
the several districts, and during the four years of the war con-
stituted a well organized military police whose vigilance rivalled
that of the famous committee of 1856. William T. Sherman
presided over the meeting of the 27th in San Francisco and ap-
pointed an executive committee of 12, one from each district,
with powers of general supervision and authority to appoint
such general officers as were deemed proper. On May 11 the
city of San Francisco suspended all business in order to carry
out a loyal demonstration. The Stars and Stripes were every-
where displayed, while a lone palmetto flag, raised by a disunion-
ist named Nash, was promptly lowered amid the denunciations
of an aroused populace. Prominent citizens and business men
of doubtful loyalty found it to their interest to come out square-
ly for the Federal government, and Union speeches were made
by Senators Latham and McDougall, Gen. Shields, Gen. E. V.
Sumner and others, in which the doctrine of coercion was boldly
proclaimed. Lieut.-Gov. John G. Downey had now succeeded
to the executive office, made vacant when Gov. Latham took
his seat in the Federal senate. Like the succeeding "War Gov-
ernors" of California, Leland Stanford and F. F. Low, Downey
gave cordial support to the government and the state was for-
tunate throughout the war in having men at the helm, who
gave a loyal, zealous and patriotic response to every call for as-
sistance from Washington. This was especially shown in the
promptness with which the state supplied the different regi-
ments and battalions asked for by the Federal authorities.
The legislature also gave emphatic utterance to the feeling
of patriotism which now swept over the state and on May 17
passed resolutions pledging its support to the government in no
uncertain terms. The following concurrent resolution was
adopted: "That the people of California are devoted to the con-
stitution and Union of the United States, and will not fail in
fidelity and fealty to that constitution and Union now in the
hour of trial and peril; that California is ready to maintain the
rights and honor of the national government at home and
abroad, and at all times to respond to any requisition that may
be made upon her to defend the republic against foreign or do-
mestic foes." Prior to this it had taken steps to thoroughly re-
vise the militia laws of the state and had organized the militia
into six divisions of twelve brigades, with proper officers; also
into regiments and battalions, with suitable provision for their
equipment and discipline, and for calling them into service. At
the beginning of hostilities 3,650 U. S. troops were stationed in
the department of the Pacific, of whom 1.725 were in California
and 1,925 in Oregon and Washington. In the immediate neigh-
borhood of San Francisco were about 500 troops, stationed at
Fort Point, Alcatraz island and the Presidio. At the beginning
of 1861, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston was assigned to the com-
mand of the Department of the Pacific. As he was a Ken-
tuckian and committed to the doctrine of state rights, many have
doubted his loyalty at this time, and his motives in accepting the
assignment have been often maligned. It was known at Wash-
ington that a conspiracy of wide ramifications existed to estab-
lish an independent Republic of the Pacific and thereby draw
California into the secession movement, and the state was ex-
pected later to join the Southern Confederacy. The secession
element in the state at this time was active and zealous, though
it formed only a minority of the population. For these and
other reasons, the authorities at Washington, with every effort
at secrecy, despatched Gen. Edwin V. Sumner to the Pacific
coast to relieve Johnston of the command. Says the historian
Bancroft: "But with all the caution observed in this transac-
tion, Johnston received information by pony express in time to
resign before Sumner arrived. Not an hour was lost when the
general landed before taking command, but Johnston was evi-
dently not surprised. He yielded gracefully, no doubt gladly,
and was soon on his way overland, via Texas, with other offi-
cers and volunteers for the Southern Confederacy. * * * He
gave his sword to the 'lost cause,' and laid down his life at
Shiloh as a proof of his loyalty to an idea." Sumner arrived at
San Francisco April 24, and relieved Johnston on the 25th. His
announcement of his assumption of the command was accom-
panied by the laconic, but pointed statement, "All concerned
will govern themselves accordingly," In reporting to headquar-
ters Sumner stated that the command was turned over to him in
good order, and that, while Gen. Johnston had already forward-
ed his resignation before his (Sumner's) arrival, he continued
to hold the command, and was carrying out the orders of the
government. "I think the course of events at the East will con-
trol events here," wrote Sumner. "So long as the general gov-
ernment is sustained and holds the capital the secessionists can-
not carry this state out of the Union." He then suggested that
he could be safely withdrawn after two weeks, in case his serv-
ices were required elsewhere, leaving Col. George Wright in
command of the department. For a warm defense of Gen. John-
ston's conduct at this time, the reader is referred to the sketch
of Johnston's life, written by Capt. George F. Price, late of the
2nd Cal. cavalry, afterwards captain in the 5th U. S. cavalry,
an extract from the same appearing in the Records of California
Men in the War of the Rebellion, by Brig.-Gen. Richard H. Or-
ion, 1890, p. 7.

Until the completion of the overland telegraph across the
continent in Oct., 1861, news from the east reached California
every 10 days by pony express. News arriving by way of the
southern, or Butterfield route, took twice as long. Steamship
mails were from three to four weeks old when they arrived. By
means of the flying pony express, by which for nearly two years
a light letter mail was carried across the continent by solitary
riders, letters from New York arrived in San Francisco in 13
days, of which period the actual ride took over 10 days. Tele-
graph stations shortened message time to less than 10 days, des-
patches being sent from New York to St. Louis, thence to Fort
Kearny, whence they were carried by pony to Sacramento, and
from there by wire to San Francisco. By the act of March 2,
1861, the southern route was discontinued and a daily service
was arranged for by the central route, which delivered mail at
least 18 days old at the shortest. Indian troubles interrupted
the service more or less and high charges prevented the line
from being well patronized. Nevertheless, the St. Joseph Co.,
from patriotic motives, continued the service in 1861, at a loss
until the telegraph line was put in operation in November.
The first call for troops from California was as follows: "War
Department, July 24, 1861. To the Governor of California:
The War Department accepts for three years one regiment of
infantry and five companies of cavalry to guard the overland mail
route from Carson Valley to Salt Lake and Fort Laramie. Col.
"Waite will be put in command of department at Salt Lake City.
Gen. Sumner will detail mustering officers to muster in the men."
Under this call the 1st Cal. infantry, and the 1st battalion of
the 1st Cal. cavalry were raised. In 1863 seven more companies
of cavalry were raised, completing the organization of the 1st
cavalry. A little later, a second call, under date of Aug. 14,
1861, was received by Gov. Downey, as follows: "Please or-
ganize, equip, and have mustered into service at the earliest date
possible, four regiments of infantry and one regiment of cav-
alry, to be placed at the disposal of Gen. Sumner." Under this
second call the 2nd cavalry and the 2nd, 3d, 4th and 5th infantry
were formed. Early in May, after receipt of the news that Pres-
ident Lincoln had called for 75,000 volunteers, though no quota
had been assigned to the state, volunteering began and numerous
volunteer organizations were formed. Military enthusiasm was
at a high point and Gen. Sumner detailed regular army officers
to drill the militia, Lieut. John Hamilton, 3d artillery, being made
military instructor of the 2nd division of state troops. Aug. 12
and 23, 1861, Gov. Downey issued proclamations calling for vol-
unteers to fill up the requisitions for troops in conformity to the
telegrams of July 24 and Aug. 14, and there was a cordial and
enthusiastic response. Later, in his message to the legislature,
he stated: "The whole contingent as organized is composed of
our best citizens — men of character and means from all pursuits
and ranks of life — and will achieve an honorable fame for our
state and render good service to the nation when called into ac-
tive duty. In organizing this force commissions were conferred
upon officers in the regular army of the United States as colonels,
in order to give efficiency and discipline to our raw recruits. By
an order from the war department I was notified that these of-
ficers could not be permitted to retain position in the volunteer
service, as they were ordered to the scene of hostilities to join
their respective regiments. Two of these officers, Cols. Kellogg
and Judah, rendered much aid in raising and organizing the 4th
and 5th regiments of volunteers, at great expense and trouble to
themselves, without being permitted to enjoy the honors and
emoluments arising therefrom. The cavalry regiment was raised
before Col. Smith arrived to take command of the volunteers; he
now has charge of the troops of the state along our southern
frontier. * * * The militia law of last year is found to work
well and meets the expectation of its advocates. It declares that
all necessary expenses arising from its operation shall be de-
frayed out of the general fund, but the legislature failed to make
any appropriation. It is hoped that a small appropriation will
be made to meet the inconsiderable amounts already audited, as
well as the future contingent expenses of the year. Too much
importance cannot be placed upon the organization of our mili-
tia, in order that efficiency may be attained and that a military
spirit may be infused into our citizens. It cannot be expected
that volunteers will drill and parade without arms. For these
reasons I recommended last year a military tax for the rent of
armories and the purchase of arms. We should, therefore, have
at least 100,000 stands of arms distributed among our militia;
instead of this there are not 3,000 and many of these are of an-
tique style and character, of but little use for modern warfare."
During the early period of the war the Confederate govern-
ment made a strong effort to secure New Mexico, and also sought
to obtain a foothold in California, where it expected to obtain
large supplies of men, horses, money, etc. A Confederate expe-
dition came through Texas, captured New Mexico, and advanced
almost to the Colorado river. Sympathy with the rebellion found
its chief support in the southern counties of the state, where the
native population was large, and where the agricultural element
predominated. It was deemed necessary to station some of the
volunteer companies in that region, which probably added fuel
to the fire. The chief organ of the secession element was the
Tulare Post, whose diatribes kept the Union men stirred up. The
disloyal element in Tulare county was strong enough to place
men in the county offices, as well as to elect a member of the
legislature. Frequent quarrels ensued between the citizens and
the volunteers, in which blood was shed and some lives were
lost. Eventually, the Post, then named the Equal Rights Exposi-
tor, was destroyed by the troops at Camp Babbitt. The advocates
of secession and anti-coercion continued to cause the state au-
thorities trouble throughout the war. Though Congress required
emigrants from the east bound for California to have passports,
it was no difficult matter for men to proceed overland from Cal-
ifornia into the secession states, and many southern sympathizers
took this course during the early months of the war. This was
true of Terry, Daniel Showalter, and other noted secessionists.
Showalter organized a large party in the state, which was cap-
tured near Warner's ranch on the road to Fort Yuma by detach-
ments of the 1st cavalry and 1st infantry. They were found to
be loaded down with arms and ammunition and were armed
with repeating rifles, while despatches on their persons dis-
closed the fact that several of them were commissioned of-
ficers in the Confederate service. Gen. Wright had made Fort
Yuma a strong post and military prison in order to check these
seditious movements, and Showalter and his associates were held
as prisoners of war there until exchanged. Showalter, at least,
later joined the Confederate army.
It was stated that the first troops called for by the government
would be used to guard the overland mail route via Salt Lake.
It was afterwards decided to use them for an invasion of the
state of Texas by way of the Mexican states of Sonora and
Chihuahua, landing at Mazatlan or Guaymas in Sonora. The
Mexican states and government had given their permission, and
Gen. Sumner was assigned to the command of the expedition.
Sumner stated that he believed the difficulties of such an expedi-
tion to be almost insuperable, but was nevertheless willing to
undertake it. Much to his relief he was ordered in Sept., 1861,
to suspend preparations for the expedition. This was brought
about in the following way. The proposition to send the Califor-
nia troops out of the state had caused a great deal of excitement
and feeling, and 65 business men and firms of San Francisco
united in an earnest appeal to the secretary of war to keep the
state troops at home, stating among other things: "A majority
of our present state officers are undisguised and avowed seces-
sionists, and the balance, being utterly hostile to the administra-
tion, are advocates of a peace policy at any sacrifice, upon terms
that would not be rejected even by South Carolina. Every ap-
pointment made by our governor within the past three months
unmistakably indicates his entire sympathy and cooperation with
those plotting to sever California from her allegiance to the
Union, and that, too, at the hazard of civil war. About three-
eighths of our citizens are natives of slaveholding states, and
almost a unit in this crisis. The hatred and bitterness towards
the Union and Union men, manifested so pointedly in the South
and so strongly evinced on the field of battle, is no more
intense there than here. These men are never without arms,
having wholly laid aside their business, and are devoting their
time to plotting, scheming and organizing. Our advices, ob-
tained with great prudence and care, show us that there are up-
wards of 16,000 'Knights of the Golden Circle' in this state, and
that they are still organizing, even in our most loyal districts.

See also 
Source: The Union Army, vol. 4


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