Tuesday, August 29, 2017

California Joins “A More Perfect Union” in the Civil War

Regimental Band, 3rd Regiment California Volunteers
California Historical Society

As recent events in the wake of the Charlottesville protests attest, the Civil War and its aftermath have a powerful and often traumatic impact on Americans today. Monuments and symbols of the Confederate secession and pro-slavery positions—and questions about their public displays—reflect the broken and divided nation we experience today.
In California, beliefs about slavery generally divided the northern and southern regions of the state. These viewpoints existed not only before, during, and after the war but even prior to California’s admittance to the union as a free (non-slavery) state 167 years ago, on September 9, 1850.

Advertisement, Sacramento Transcript, prior to California’s admission to the Union as a free state,
April 1, 1850
Courtesy of Stacey Smith
In this time of yearning for an end to racism and the divisiveness permeating our cities, states, and country, we remember California’s Unionist sentiments during the Civil War. We remember the soul-wrenching war that was fought to preserve the unity and independence a century earlier. We remember that war’s hope to create a “more perfect union,” as the Preamble to the United States Constitution proclaims—a sentiment echoed in the nation’s first black president’s speech “A More Perfect Union” during his candidacy in 2008 and one most certainly addressed in the battlefields of the 1860s.

California Fights!
The California 100

Civil War guidon with the state symbol the Bear Flag, carried by Company A (California 100)
Back in 1850, California had a great deal to offer the country, not only as a western outpost with its astounding beauty, but for its coffers of gold mined in the Sierra Madre. During the Civil War, California provided the Union $173 million in gold.
Gold Badge of the Society of California Pioneers, presented to Civil War General William T. Sherman, by the citizens of California, c. 1869
Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History 
In addition to financial support, more than 17,000 volunteer troops supported the war effort. Although the majority of them defended the West Coast, in 1862 a group of Californians eager to fight alongside the Eastern states seized an opportunity to help Massachusetts reach its required military quota.
Advertisement, Cavalry Company for the East
Under the leadership of Captain J. Sewell Reed, 100 volunteers assembled to join the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. Designated Company A of the Massachusetts regiment, they were mustered into service in San Francisco on December 10, 1862, and sailed east the following day aboard the Golden Age.

California 100 Cavalry Hat at the California State Military Museum

The California Battalion in the Union Counter Charge at Cedar Creek
Library of Congress
More popularly known as the California Hundred, the company inspired other Californians to join the 2nd Massachusetts. As the California Cavalry Battalion, they fought in fifty-one battles, campaigns, and skirmishes.
Battalion Standard California Battalion
On April 9, 1865, the California companies witnessed General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and participated in the May 23 Grand Review in Washington, D.C. In August 1865, they were mustered out of service. Following the war, tens of thousands of veterans relocated to California, establishing large posts and camps of veteran organizations throughout the state.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager

Adapted from Shelly Kale, “California Fights!” California History 85, no. 4 (2008); copyright © 2008 University of California Press

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