Most people when they think of the Civil War, thinks of things like Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Gettysburg and Shiloh. In other words, it’s something that happened back east, not in California.
While the bulk of the war was fought back east, California had been a state for about a decade when the war broke out. Many Californians had come from other parts of the country during the gold rush, so the state had people from all sorts of backgrounds and political beliefs.
When the war broke out, California formed several regiments of soldiers to support the North. While many had enlisted with the hopes of being shipped back east to participate in the major battles of the war, they were to be disappointed when the California troops were largely kept in California which permitted the regular army troops stationed in California to go back east. While a small patrol of the First California Infantry did fight a skirmish with small patrol of Confederate soldiers at Picacho Pass, Arizona, when the California troops fought they were much more likely to be fighting Native Americans or bandits than Confederates.
While California was a Northern state, and most of the men who enlisted did join northern units in the war, there was a lot of pro-Southern sentiment in the state. In 1861, a pro-Confederate militia formed in Los Angeles, called the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles, escorted the commander of the Department of the Pacific, Albert Syndey Johnston, who had resigned his commission to fight for the south, from Los Angeles to Texas. Once in Texas, the Mounted Rifles joined other units fighting for the south. In 1864, a pro-Confederate guerilla organization formed near San Jose and robbed a couple of stagecoaches near Placerville with the idea of shipping the bullion on the stage to the south to help finance the war.
Other less dramatic expressions of Southern support continued throughout the war and the California troops spent much of their time responding to reports of pro-Confederate activity throughout the state. This is what brought Company H, and part of Company C, of the 4th California Infantry to San Luis Obispo County.
The 4th California was formed in October of 1861 and its various companies were stationed throughout the west including California, Oregon, Washington Territory and Arizona Territory. Prior to coming to San Luis Obispo, Company H had been stationed at Auburn, Sacramento, Yuma (on the California side of the river) and Los Angeles.
In July of 1862, the military received two letters written by men from San Luis Obispo County complaining of secessionist activity in the county. There had even been a man shot in Hot Springs (also known then as Warm Springs, now known as Paso Robles) by a secessionist for voicing pro-Unions sympathies. Company H, along with a detachment from Company C, was ordered to San Luis Obispo.
On the morning of August 5, 84 men of the 4th California left Drum Barracks, near what is now Long Beach, and started the march for San Luis Obispo. They arrived on August 18 after having walked 258 miles, averaging about 18.5 miles per day. A week later, a patrol under the command of Lieutenant John Smith was sent to the northern portion of the County since most of the reports of pro-Confederate activity seemed to center on that area. One report submitted to the military at about this same time indicated that there were 242 armed members of the Knights of the Golden Circle (a pro-slavery secret society) in San Luis Obispo County although this number, as well as them being armed, is almost certainly an exaggeration.
So, what did the 4th California find in San Luis Obispo County? Apparently, not much. In one report back to Drum Barracks, the commander of the detachment in San Luis Obispo reported that he believed a chapter of the Knights of the Golden Circle did exist in the County but, at that time, he had been unable to ascertain as to whether there was an armed organization. He also reported that the presence of the military had a calming effect on those of southern sympathies.
A few months later, on November 10, 1864, convinced that there was no viable threat in the County, the men of the 4th California began their march back to Drum Barracks. It arrived on November 24, and remained stationed at Drum Barracks until after the end of the war. The regiment was mustered out of service on April 18, 1866.
Photographs courtesy of 2nd California Infantry at Fort Tejon.
Re-enactors portraying the Company G, 2nd California Infantry at Fort Tejon in 1864.
(Other images of Company D, I, 4th California Infantry)