Article 52

The Civil War in California

California was, in many ways, a border state. Politically both the California State Senate and the State Assembly were decidedly Democrat. Moreover, the governor, John Downey, was a Democrat, but a strong pro-Union supporter. Southerners in Southern California attempted three times in the 1850s to achieve statehood or territorial status separate from Northern California. The last attempt, the Pico Act of 1859, was passed by the California State Legislature, signed by the State governor John B. Weller, approved overwhelmingly by voters in the proposed Territory of Colorado and sent to Washington, D.C. with a strong advocate in Senator Milton Latham. However the secession crisis following the election of Lincoln in 1860 led to the proposal never coming to a vote.

During the secession crisis Federal troops were under the command of Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Albert Sidney Johnston, in Benicia, headquarters of the Department of the Pacific. General Johnston strongly believed that the South represented the cause of freedom, and traditional American democracy of popular sovereignty. A group of Southern sympathizers in the state made plans to secede with Oregon to form a "Pacific Republic". Their plans rested on the cooperation of General Johnston. Johnston understood this, and met with the men, but he declined saying he had sworn an oath to defend the Union, and although he believed that Lincoln had violated and destroyed the Constitution holding the Union together, he would not go against his word.

Hearing of Johnston's Confederate leanings, Brig. Gen. Edwin Vose Sumner was sent west to replace Johnston in March 1861. Johnston soon resigned his commission April 9th, and after Sumner arrived April 25th, he moved to Los Angeles.

Bear Flags, the banner of the Bear Flag Revolt, were prominently flown for several months  by  Southern  sympa-
thizers in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. After word of the Battle of Fort Sumter reached California, there were public demonstrations for secession. However secession quickly became impossible when three companies of Federal cavalry were moved from Fort Mojave and Fort Tejon into Los Angeles in May and June 1861. General Johnston joined the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles as a private and left Warner's Ranch May 27th. They journeyed across the southwestern deserts to Texas and crossed the Colorado River into the Confederate Territory of Arizona, on July 4, 1861. There the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles disbanded and members joined the Confederate Army when they reached the Arizona Territorial capital of Mesilla (now in New Mexico). Like other pro-Confederates leaving California for the Confederacy, the volunteers joined up principally with Texas regiments. General Johnston joined the fight in the east as a general with the Confederacy and was tragically killed leading the army at the Battle of Shiloh.

Union troops were sent to occupy pro-secessionist Southern California and Tulare County leaving them generally powerless during the war. However some Southerners traveled east to join the Confederate Army evading Union patrols. Others remaining in the state, attempted to outfit a privateer to prey on coastal shipping and late in the war two groups of partisan rangers were formed.

On July 24, 1861, the Secretary of War called on the Governor John G. Downey, to furnish one regiment of infantry and five companies of cavalry to guard the overland mail route from Carson City to Salt Lake City. Three weeks later four more regiments of infantry and a regiment of cavalry were requested. All of these were volunteer units recruited and organized in the northern part of the state, around the San Francisco Bay region and the mining camps, few recruits came from Southern California. These volunteers replaced the regular U.S. troops transferred east before the end of 1861.

California is credited with providing 15,725 volunteers for the Union, plus five companies for the Massachusetts Cavalry and eight for the Washington Territory Infantry. Nevada provided 159 men for the California total and 1,158 for her own volunteer units. New Mexico sent an estimated 3,500 men to the war. Arizona Guards were formed under the Confederate occupation and were replaced by Arizona Rangers when the Union reestablished itself in the territory.

Suspecting the motives of the Mormons in Utah, the Federal government sent a regiment of California Volunteers to guard the Overland Mail line route and to keep an eye on Brigham Young.


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