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.