California Democrats React to the Emancipation Proclamation

EmancipationProclamationDecThis may not be much of a shocker – we are all aware of how many Democrats in the North reacted to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. War Democrats didn’t like the idea of turning a war for Union into a war to free slaves, and Copperheads, well they were opposed to the war (and Lincoln…and black people) altogether.

Things were not that much different in the Golden State – despite the distance from the main event. In July 1863, California Democrats officially condemned the proclamation by resolution:

Resolved, That we denounce and unqualifiedly condemn the emancipation proclamation of the President of the United States as tending to protract indefinitely civil war, incite servile insurrection, and inevitably close the door forever to a restoration of these states.

To California Democrats, even those who favored a war to restore the Union, the proclamation was nothing short of revolution. Further, it indicated an attempt by Black Republican rule to centralize power.

I’ve been reading a good book by historian Glenna Matthews on California during the war called, strangely enough, The Golden State in the Civil War. Have a look – I would say her arguments are worthy of  an extended discussion.

More Californians in the Civil War

300px-2dMass3I was recently discussing the “California” Regiment at Gettysburg (aka the 71st Pa.) and my friends at Andersonville National Historic Site alerted me to a number of California calvarymen buried in the soldiers’ cemetery there. The California troopers in question were part of several companies of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry.

Naturally this has got me to thinking: how did several companies of Californians wind up fighting with the Massachusetts cavalry? Did those who survived return home to the Golden State? Where did they wind up and what did they do? What were their reflections on the war and nationalism? I guess I have some digging to do. If anyone has any leads…well, I am all ears.

Thanks much to Chris Barr and Eric Leonard – they clued me in here. And if you want to learn more about Civil War era prisons, be sure to follow Andersonville NHS on Twitter.

With compliments,


Santa Barbara in the 1830s

Picture 5I’ve been reading through Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast (published in 1840), in an effort to understand what an easterner might have envisioned when thinking about the West Coast. Dana, as you remember from previous posts, sought adventure and a cure for an eye ailment as a young man, so he left his life as an 1830s budding Boston elite and headed to sea as a common sailor. He was well seasoned by the time he rounded the Cape and headed north up the Pacific Coast. The book – written using his journal accounts – was not an immediate success. But by the 1870s, it was one of a few books that helped form the definitive image of California before American conquest. It’s a fascinating tale, really. I recommend it for all.

His descriptions of going ashore are rich and detailed. I found his look at Santa Barbara of personal interest – I went to high School there (SMHS ROYALS ’85 WOOHOO!) and still have a number of friends living in the vicinity. So here you go – you SB folks might recognize a few things…



The bay, or, as it was commonly called, the canal of Santa Barbara, is very large, being formed by the main land on one side, (between Point Conception on the north and Point St. Buena Ventura on the south,) which here bends in like a crescent, and three large islands opposite to it and at the distance of twenty miles. This is just sufficient to give it the name of a bay, while at the same time it is so large and so much exposed to the south-east and north-west winds, that it is little better than an open roadstead; and the whole swell of the Pacific ocean rolls in here before a southeaster, and breaks with so heavy a surf in the shallow waters, that it is highly dangerous to lie near to the shore during south-easter season; that is, between the months of November and April.

The beach [where we put ashore] is nearly a mile in length…and of smooth sand. We had taken the only good landing place, which is in the middle; it being stony toward the ends. It is about twenty yards in width from high-water mark to a slight bank at which the soil begins, and so hard that it is a favorite place for running horses. It was growing dark, so that we could just distinguish the dim outlines of the two vessels in the offing; and the great seas were rolling in, in regular lines, growing larger and larger as they approached the shore, and hanging over the beach upon which they break, when their tops would curl over and turn white with foam, and , beginning at one extreme of the line, break rapidly to the other, as a long cardhouse falls when the children knock down the cards at one end.



I sort of fell like a road trip now.

With compliments,


The California Regiment at Gettysburg

Picture 3Yes, that’s right…there was (sort of) a California regiment fighting for the Union cause at Gettysburg. Strangely enough, the regiment was raised by a senator from Oregon named Edward D. Baker who happened to be a former California (San Francisco) attorney and politician. The unit was raised in Pennsylvania and manned by the good citizens of Philadelphia – but in accordance with Baker’s wishes, the regiment was designated the California Regiment (aka the 71st Pennsylvania) – the only “California” regiment on the field during the battle.

Sadly for Baker, and presumably…Mrs. Baker and other assorted friends and relatives, the senator was killed in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff in November 1861 (this Union loss led to all sorts of problems…as you probably know). After the incident, the regiment was  folded into the Philadelphia Brigade along with the 69th, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania regiments. The brigade fought with the II Corps and saw heavy fighting throughout the early campaigns of the war.

At Gettysburg, the 71st Penn – the good old California Regiment – was positioned at the now famous “angle” on Cemetery Ridge where it took part in the repulse of the Pickett-Pettigrew Assault on July 3, 1863. When I was last there I hung around the California Regiment monument for a while. As luck would have it, some reenactors were there hammering away at me with trivia questions. They seemed impressed that I had any idea at all about this unusual unit. I didn’t tell them that I was indeed from the Golden Coast.

Of course the real California regiments were serving in – you guessed it – California…keeping would be secessionists and other riff-raff at bay.

So my friends – next time you are walking the Union line at Gettysburg, give a huzzah! or two for the the California Regiment. You know I did.