Appomattox Day, in case you’re wondering…was yesterday, April 9th, 2014. Not many really “celebrate” this day anymore – though it is often commemorated – especially owing to its clear reconciliationist overtones. But not too terribly long ago, this day was celebrated with great joy and truimphalism by Union veterans – particularly those who fought with the Army of the Potomac – as the day the forces of the United States suppressed a domestic rebellion.
Not for nothin’ my fellow citizens – happy (belated) Appomattox Day!
Yes, 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.