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HOLDING THE FAR WEST FOR THE UNION: The Army in 1861 G. Thomas Edwards If someone had led an uprising, if someone had fired upon soldiers, or if someone in the army had violated civil liberties, then the military 's role in California in 1861 would attract much more attention, including comparisons with Maryland and Missouri. Because there were no such stirring events, historians have tended to ignore California . But the Federal government in 1861 worried about the course that California might pursue and took appropriate steps to keep the state in the Union: it secured posts and weapons; secretly rushed to the far coast a northerner to replace a southerner as commander; occupied portions of the state; and it did not recall the majority of the regulars until absolutely certain that California would remain within the sisterhood of loyal states. In the waning months of the Buchanan administration, the army took security measures in California; under the Republicans the army perfected and extended them. At about the same time that officers strengthened the guard at St. Louis Arsenal, western officers strove to protect weapons at Benecia Arsenal; while occupation troops noisily secured Baltimore, western troops quietly watched San Francisco; and shortly after units marched into central Missouri, western dragoons moved into southern California. Although there is some similarity in the military responses, the situation in Maryland and Missouri basically differed from that in California because in the two slave states citizens took up arms against the Federal government, which, in turn, used occupation troops to impose its will. In Missouri, there was a bitter struggle for mastery of the state; in California, however, only a few disaffected men would have resorted to violence even if they had seen any chance of success. These prosoutherners never rebelled and one reason for this is that the commanders of the Department of the Pacific acted with prudence and patience . By securing government and private property, by refusing to encroach upon civil liberties, by working closely with moderates, and by refusing to mobilize zealots, army leaders greatly lessened the possibility of civil strife. If they had been of the same temperament as Ben Butler or Nathaniel Lyon, there might have been bloodshed, but local 307 308CIVIL WAR HISTORY political, social, and geographical conditions were such that even a reckless commander in California could not have goaded residents into a revolt as serious as the one in Maryland. Despite the fact that the situation was much less volatile in California, there were dangers. The temperate, intelligent policy of Generals Albert S. Johnston and Edwin V. Sumner, like that of General William S. Hamey in Missouri, are rays of light in a gloomy period. Stretching from Camp Pickett, located on an island in fog-shrouded Rosario Strait, to Fort Yuma, situated on a bleak desert overlooking the Colorado River, the Department of the Pacific in mid-January, 1861, included California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. This command included more than 500,000 square miles and numbered about 2400 officers and men. It was the responsibility of the department to shield settlers and travelers from Indians, to keep red men within reservations and white intruders without, to man heavy artillery guarding San Francisco Harbor, and to partake in the joint occupation of the San Juan Islands. To meet the varied challenges of this command, General Winfield Scott chose Brevet Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston, a renowned and respected officer. Like many other military men, Scott had been impressed with Johnston's sensible administration in the Mormon conflict and the ensuing occupation. Johnston's new assignment on the West Coast was less critical than that in the Great Basin, yet the command of the Department of the Pacific also required common sense and independent action.1 Until workers strung a telegraph line to San Francisco, communications between Johnston and his superiors would remain slow, thus he would have to make decisions without recourse to Washington. Johnston presided over departmental affairs only from the middle of January to the end of April; yet his tenure generated controversy for decades. According to critics, Johnston and his fellow southern officers planned to wrest control of key positions, arm sympathetic Breckinridge Democrats...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 307-324
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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