The California State Military Museum and the State’s Volunteer Union Company

The California State Military Museum is a gem of a military museum. This venue is the official state of California museum for everything military. California has a very extensive military history. From the early Spaniard colonization, to the Mexican rule during the early 1800’s, to the occupation of United States troops in 1848. Because of this centuries old era of European occupation, California has in it’s possession countless artifacts of each era. One of these collections involves Civil War firearms, uniforms and flags. If you are traveling to the Sacramento California area, this is a military museum not to miss.

california state military museumCalifornia became a state in 1850 during the frenzy of the great California Gold Rush. When the American Civil War broke out, California was in a very remote region in regards to the fighting. In fact, there were no official battles fought on California soil. The Blue and the Gray did not meet in California. All the same, California was quite involved if only on a undercover basis. Regular army troops were largely called back to the eastern battlefields. This was the case throughout the west. The first California Volunteers were formed to guard against a potential Confederate takeover. Battles were fought in both Arizona and New Mexico. One of the most reported on was the Confederate defeat at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico not far east of Santa Fe. The outcome of the Battle of Glorieta stopped the Confederate advance into Colorado and the southern plains. During the Civil War the southern section of New Mexico Territory actually seceded from the Union when the Confederates set up in Tucson.A significant battle there was the Battle of Picacho Pass. The defeat for the Confederacy at Picacho stopped their western advance. This battle is often referred to as the westernmost battle of the Civil War involving regular Confederate forces.

california volunteer sergeants uniform

California Volunteer Sergeants Uniform

California, aside from being geographically remote from the rest of the U.S., was inhabited by a large variety of people, mostly due to all of the different people the Gold Rush attracted. People from the midwest had settled in California as well as people from the south. Democrats were a majority in the state, but southern Democrats a minority. Regardless, in 1861, a group of southern Democrats made an attempt to get California and Oregon to secede from the Union. That attempt met with failure. The largest threat was in the southern part of California. Many southern Democrats, sympathizers, and discontented Californios posed the real problem and it was in that part of the state that southern sympathetic volunteers organized militia units. The term Californio is a Spanish term for a Californian. This distinguished a Californian from the Native Indian population. That southern threat was eventually put down by Union forces still in the region. The southern question had reared it’s head back at the time of original statehood in 1850. From the outset California had declared itself as a non slavery territory. When the issue of granting statehood reached Congress there was opposition from southern lawmakers. The northerners in Congress obviously were able to overcome this largely because of the vast gold wealth in California and because of it’s enormously increasing population. There were several attempts by many southern Californians to push for secession from the Union during the 1850’s, and one measure actually reached Congress. After Lincoln’s presidential win in 1860 that measure was quickly set aside and died. The war of secession in California went nowhere.

civil war california cavalry hat

California 100 Cavalry hat

While President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to join the Union side and imposed a draft, he didn’t apply this executive order to California. A state like California was asked to form a volunteer force to take over the responsibilities of the regular army. These duties were essentially to protect wagon trains, stagecoaches and to try to keep the Indians in check. Many volunteers in the case of California much preferred to fight the war in the east as imposed to local service. While patriotism influenced the volunteers who wished to fight the Confederacy on the eastern battlefields, the volunteers who stayed in the west to replace the withdrawn regular troops no doubt were also making a large contribution. It’s a well known fact that after the regular troops were sent east, Indian depredations increased. While many may have thought that service in the far west was not quite as glamorous, if war could be considered glamorous, as serving in the east, there is no question that the California volunteers who stayed in the west were providing a very necessary service to the Union. They also were on hand if thoughts again rose for a war of secession in that state.

A group contacted the governor and offered to raise a company of 100 volunteers to go east. Californians had been well aware of the war going on thousands of miles away and many wanted to enter the conflict. The governor accepted the offer and the California unit was formed as a separate company of a cavalry regiment from Massachusetts. Officially they became Company “A” of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, but they were more popularly known as the “California Hundred’. This Civil War regiment would ultimately travel to Boston by ship through the Panama Isthmus. Their passage was paid by the bounty they received for joining the Union Army. Everything worked out so well with this first company from California that another 400 men went east in 1863 again via ship through Panama. The second contingent of volunteers were referred to as the California Battalion. There was also a group known as the California Battalion that served during the Mexican American War of 1848.

civil war rifles

Civil Wat era vintage rifles

The three vintage Civil War rifles on display at the California State Military Museum pictured right are a 1863 Springfield Percussion Musket .58 Caliber. Below it is a 1860 Springfield .52 caliber short barrel and on the bottom is a 1855 Springfield Percussion .58 caliber rifle. The Springfield rifles were heavily used during the Civil War.

The Californians formed Company A in the Massachusetts regiment that was headquartered in Boston. The entire Massachusetts regiment was then sent south to the Baltimore area and then into Virginia. For about a year between 1863 and 1864, the Califonia 100 saw a lot of action against John S. Mosby’s Confederate Rangers. Sending troops back east from California was only one of the state’s contribution to the Union war effort. Much needed gold was shipped back east. Troops from southern California entered what is today the state of Arizona via Yuma to confront Confederate forces who had taken over much of the southern part of the New Mexico Territory. The most significant action was at Picacho Pass in April 1862.

During the Civil War, the California company’s casualty total were eight officers and eighty-two enlisted men killed. Another one-hundred and forty-one were lost to disease. Many more were lost to sickness as opposed to deaths during battle.

spanish spurs

Spanish or Californio style spurs

Many artifacts of this era are on display at the California State Military Museum. In 1993, Civil War artifacts, on display at in the State Capitol were moved to the California Citizen-Soldier Museum to exhibit, maintain, and preserve. In 1994 the California Citizen-Soldier Museum was made the official military museum for the state. In 1995 the museum was renamed the California State Military Museum. The museum today boasts over 33,000 military artifacts. These include weapons, uniforms, unit records, battle flags, photographs, personal letters, newspaper articles and medals.

In addition to California Civil War artifacts are large displays of Spanish and Mexican era artifacts as well as exhibits pertaining to World War Two. The California State Military Museum is located in Old Town Sacramento California. As military museums go, this is one you’ll want to visit during your next California vacation or western road trip.


What it Was Like to Travel on the Butterfield Overland Stage Route

It’s not easy to find the site of an old Butterfield Stage station these days. The Butterfield stagecoach stations simply disappeared over the years but there is one remaining site located in southern California on the historic Butterfield trail.

butterfield oak grove stationThis is the Oak Grove Butterfield Stage Station located in Warner Springs California, about 50 miles east of Oceanside and 125 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and has the distinction of being the only surviving station on the old Butterfield Overland Mail route. During the Civil War the station was used as a Union outpost to help protect the route eastward towards Fort Yuma. Visiting this restored Butterfield station brings back thoughts about what it would have been like riding a stagecoach over the remote southwest. It certainly would have been an adventure and one with a lot of risks. The following descriptions may give you a sense of what a journey of this kind in the late 1850’s might have entailed.

A few years bbutterfield stage route mapefore the start of the Civil War in the year 1858 a key U.S. Mail contract was given out. It was the year that saw the emergence of the Butterfield Overland Stage route from St’ Louis Missouri to San Francisco California. This was a key historic event in the history of the United States as well as the history of overland transportation in general. At the time it was also considered the shortest route to California and it’s booming and growing towns, especially to the north around San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada gold fields. California had gained statehood in 1850 and with the booming port of San Francisco growing and the gold seekers still pouring into the state, it was apparent that communication and transportation had to be improved.

overland mail stampSimilar to other new means of transportation, the start was typically with a government mail contract. With the California Gold Rush in progress and with the state itself joining the Union in 1850, communication with the west coast was more important than ever. Remember, this was an era before the transcontinental railroad and before the telegraph lines to California. As an example, in the 1850’s it generally took about 45 days for a letter to make it’s way from San Francisco to New York. The route for that letter would have been a steamer from San Francisco to Panama and then through the jungles of Panama to another steamer on the eastern side of the Isthmus. Quite a journey.

The Butterfield Stage route from St Louis would shorten the time somewhat. What is generally described as a twenty-five day trek from St’ Louis to San Francisco was along what was called the southern route. The route went through Arkansas, Texas, present day New Mexico and Arizona into the San Diego area and the northward to San Francisco. To say the journey was adventuresome would be an understatement. All research on the subject I have done pretty much points to the mail itself as being the top priority. After all, the government mail contract was the financial seed to begin the stage line in the first place. Carrying passengers along the route was important but somehow secondary. The Butterfield Overland Stage Line began operation in 1858. The first westbound stage made it to Springfield September 17, 1858, some three hours ahead of schedule. The first eastbound stage arrived in Springfield on October 22, 1858 That stage was carrying five passengers, along with mail, freight, and express parcels. Below is a picture of the Fort Stockton Texas barracks from the 1800’s. Fort Stockton was directly on the Butterfield Stage route in southwest Texas.

fort stockton texasThere are interesting stories about the people who rode the Butterfield Stage route and their observations are enlightening. Many of these journey’s were anything but boring. In fact, the Butterfield Stage Line ran through Arizona during the long Apache Wars. Many of it’s stages were attacked near the Dragoon Mountains not far north of Tombstone Arizona where Cochise had his stronghold. Riding through Arizona in the 1860’s and 1870’s would be anything but boring. The first question you might ask is: What should I bring along? A reporter for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin who rode the route in 1858 was quoted in his article “All the traveler needed to render himself comfortable is a pair of blankets, a revolver or knife (just as he fancies), an overcoat, some wine to mix with the water (which is not of the sweeetest quality) and three or four dollars worth of provisions”. he went on to say that “Arms are not furnished the passengers by the Company”.

Another journalist by the name Waterman L. Ormsby rode with the first Butterfield Stage heading west on September 16, 1858. Ormsby, a 23-year-old reporter for the New York Herald on this historic first run. Ormsby reported that mules were used to pull the stage coaches over the frontier portions of the route because, to Indians, the mules were considered less valuable than horses as property. Ormsby goes on to say that one team of mules had been trained to come to feed at the sound of a large gong. The stage driver, or sometimes referred to as a “whip”, planned to use the gong to call the mules back in case the Indians managed to steal them. Ormsby described that it took about 30 minutes to harness each mule and he was quoted as saying… “By the time a mule was caught and harnessed, often nearly choked to death, he was almost always nearly tired out before his work had commenced.”

If you thought the seating arrangement inside the Concord coach was a benefit, here is what it looked like. Passengers rode three abreast. There were two back rows facing forward and a front row facing backwards. Your luggage would sometimes be on your lap and U.S. Mail would likely be under your seat. This arrangement might make your seat on today’s jetliner seem pretty roomy. The stagecoach ran day and night with only short stops at stations for what most described as fairly poor food.

Also, realize that a passenger essentially had about three times to bathe while on the Butterfield route. While there were plenty of Butterfield stations not many of them had the necessary facilities. Sleeping was another challenge. passengers slept in the Concord coach while it was on it’s bumpy ride. It’s been reported that it took most passengers about a week to become accustomed to sleeping while traveling. Sleep during the first week was near impossible but after getting a bit acclimated to the ride things got a lot better. Here is a description of the sleeping situation as described by an English passenger on the eastbound Butterfield route in 1860. The passenger was quoted describing the posture necessary to sleep in a moving stagecoach … “sometimes slinging our feet by loops from the top of the wagon, or letting them hang over the sides between the wheels . . . and not seldom nodding for hours together in attitudes grotesque and diverse.”

If you find your self on a southern California vacation and you’re staying at Los Angeles hotels or hotels in San Diego and have a rental car, a stop at the famous Oak Grove Butterfield Stage station makes for a fun and historic addition to your travel itinerary.