Category Archives: Civil War

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.

Confederate Sympathies Run Hot in San Bernardino

mission1152 years ago this week the first troops of the First Regiment of California Volunteers encamped on the north bank of the Santa Ana River southeast of San Bernardino. Why you ask? The war was thousands of miles away. But the 1500 or so residents of San Bernardino and and the nearby Holcomb Country mines were kicking up a bit of a fuss over the war – and leaning in a southern direction. This, you might say, caught the attention of the US army. Troops were dispatched, not to put down an insurrection…things had not yet escalated to that point, but to keep an eye on the citizens…just in case. They had to. If California fell to the Rebels then so would the famous California gold.

There had been some trouble – a few southern “cutthroats” firing shots in the air, one politician had been killed over an argument in defense of the Union, and “drunken desperadoes” had been reported doing what “drunken desperadoes” do.

So on August 26, 1861, about 250 Union troops under the command of Captain William A. McCleave set up camp after completing a march through the Jurupa Valley (to avoid ambush). By election day in September (for state senate), the troops were met with taunts from men armed with sticks…”Hurrah for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy!” McCleave had this to say: “I told them free discussion was one thing, the utterance of treasonable language another; that these men had expressed their opinions at the ballot box that day, but that openly hurrahing for the Southern Confederacy was seditious, and I, as a Federal officer, was bound to put it down.”

Well – he didn’t help the Union candidate much. He lost by a landslide. I would like to thank Keith M. of Brooklyn, NY for directing me to this article. Check it out if you want the longer version of the story.

With compliments,

Keith

Los Angeles and the Election of 1864

election-of-1864-lesson-plan-2I will return once more to the notion of wartime voting and the shifting nature of allegiances in Los Angeles City and County. You will recall from a previous post that voters, while predominantly Democratic in 1860 and 1861, were likely to shift between northern and southern wings of their party depending on circumstances.

Well, they shifted once again in 1864 – in a few surprising ways. The contest between George McClellan, former commander of the Army of the Potomac turned Peace Democrat and Abraham Lincoln, now under the banner of the Union Party – a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats – heated to a fever pitch during the summer and early fall of 1864 in Los Angeles county. Except this time, the region’s voters returned against the Democratic Party. In the end Lincoln took the county with 872 votes to McClellan’s 593.

Federal soldiers, many of whom had been stationed just outside the Los Angeles city limits to quell any secessionist spirit, can account for a number of these votes….and they probably pushed Lincoln into the winner’s column.

But the more interesting figures come from Los Angeles city. Here the numbers are nearly dead even – McClellan besting Lincoln by a mere 42 votes. This, I believe, suggests a perceptible shift in loyalty over the course of two years. After a hard summer of Union losses, by election day enough had gone in the Union’s favor to secure Lincoln’s re-election. And perhaps enough had happened from an Angeleno’s perspective to shift the tide toward Lincoln and Union victory. A thus we can begin to see the seeds of Los Angeles city favoring a Union nationalist sentiment…what I believe would only grow to greater strengths later in the nineteenth century.

With compliments,

Keith

So Much Can Change in a Year

mcconnellMy last post promised to look a tad more closely at the shifting allegiances of the Democratic Party in Los Angeles. If you recall, in the presidential contest of 1860, John Breckinridge edged out his opponents for a victory in Los Angeles County. His 686 votes easily took care of Lincoln’s 352 and poor Bell’s 201. But his margin over the Northern Democrat, Stephen Douglass, was more on the narrow side. Douglas added 494 votes to his column – not enough to take the prize, but roughly even with his Democratic opposition.

Fast forward to the California gubernatorial election on September 4, 1861. Leland Stanford – Republican – took the state handily. But in the Democratic southern part of the state, The Southern Democrat, John McConnell (pictured), absolutely wiped the floor with his Union Democratic opponent, John Conness. In Los Angeles County, for example, McConnell tallied 1187 votes to Conness’s meager 216. How can we account for such a dramatic shift in the Democratic Party?

Perhaps Conness was simply unfit for the job, and everyone knew it. But there may have been more at work that could reveal shifting allegiances typical in a wartime democratic republic. Two things had happened between the elections that may have had a fragile party in Southern California – at least temporarily – look to the southern wing of their organization. First, the Confederacy had bested the United States at Manassas that July. Second, and perhaps more important in a western context, reports that Confederate armies had invaded New Mexico (also in July) with “thousands” of soldiers who were poised to annex New Mexico and Arizona any time (they did so in December without much fanfare or bite…then things really fell apart in 1862) stirred up secessionist feeling in the Southland. Rumors bolstered by the local anti-Lincoln press implied that Rebel troops disguised as miners were also gathering at the Colorado River in preparation to “liberate” Southern California. Nothing, of course, ever came of these highly exaggerated threats (or promises…depending on how you look at it). But such news, however fraudulent, might have been enough to sway the gubernatorial vote.

At any rate, the idea is worth looking into further. Thoughts?

With compliments,

Keith

John W. Robinson Sees Gray

Picture 2Recently, I wrote a brief post reflecting on the presence of Confederate sympathies in Southern California. I concluded that Southern California – while clearly Democratic – was not necessarily Confederate. Perhaps they other things on their minds…perhaps. At any rate, I was not convinced that legions of Southern Californians were ready to rally around the Stars and Bars.

A commenter very nicely suggested that a look at John W. Robinson’s Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865 might help me along in my thinking. So I have had a chance to read Robinson over the weekend and I am still not convinced, as Robinson’s cover would have you believe, that Los Angeles (or any other Southern California city) counted among its residents a “clear majority” of secessionists.

I will be the first to admit that the Confederacy had its proponents in the City of Angels. The “Chivalry,” as they were known – a group of southerners who resided in the Los Angeles area and stood firmly behind secession – were an influential lot and boasted some prominent members among its ranks.

But Robinson analyses this group and a few of its confreres in some troubling ways. To begin. Robinson notes little of the ebb and flow of wartime allegiances until the very last few pages of the book, when Union victory and Lincoln’s assassination pulled Angelenos together. Robinson’s Los Angeles is a mostly unbending city where residents shift little with news from the East – an unlikely tale as voting records alone would indicate between 1860 and 61 (more on that later).

Second, Robinson conflates Democratic griping and groaning with secession and loyalty to the Confederacy. The Democratic Party in Southern California in the 1850s and 60s was a fragile lot. Many were certainly opposed to the war and the Lincoln administration and many could be convinced that the southern states should be left to do what they wanted – indeed…to go in peace. But this does not make them secessionists.

Finally, the most problematic aspect of Robinosn’s argument is that he relies almost exclusively on one source: the vitriolic anti-abolition and pro-Confederate newspaper Los Angeles Star. Headed by Henry Hamilton, an Irishman not known for his love of Lincoln, black people, or anything northern, his paper was filled with vehemence against a war waged mercilessly against the white people of the South. Hamilton himself was something of a mystery. He seems at once to favor joining the Confederacy, restoring the Union as it was, or claiming neutrality and forming a Pacific Republic.

It is indeed true that Confederate sympathizers made their voices heard in Los Angeles, but I am still not convinced that they constituted an overwhelming majority – as Robinson suggests. And it doesn’t seem that the United States government was overly concerned either. They certainly stationed federal troops in the area to maintain the peace should anyone decide to get out of hand and seize government property in the name of Jeff Davis…there was at least some precaution there. But there was no martial law, no suspension of habeas corpus, and the few who were arrested were quickly released after signing loyalty oaths.

If someone can direct me to some really strong evidence that the Secesh held sway in LA, I will be happy to revise my thinking. In fact, I welcome it – such evidence would make a terrific story! But until then, I will stick to my premise that many in Los Angeles were opposed to the Lincoln administration and even the war, but were not necessarily donning the Rebel gray.

With compliments,

Keith