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The Naval Conquest of California

Even before the Mexican-American war started, the US Pacific Squadron, commanded by Commodore John Drake Sloat, consisting of 6 ships with 116 guns, had been given standing orders by Secretary George Bancroft to proceed immediately to California upon a declaration of war and secure the major harbors against British interference. After months of patrolling about the Pacific, Sloat sailed into Monterey Bay on July 2, 1846. He had heard news of the skirmishes along the Texas border, and even of the large-scale engagement at Palo Alto. However, a cautious man, he felt that the exectution of his orders first demanded confirmation of the declaration of war, which had not yet reached him. He thus hesitated to carry out Bancroft's instructions. However, in Monterey he heard news of Frémont and the Bear Flag Revolt. Believing, erroneously, that Frémont was acting under orders, and fearing that British ships might at any moment arrive to capitalize on the deteriorating situation, Sloat finally felt justified in raising the American flag over the city and proclaiming that "from henceforward, California will be a portion of the United States."11 The Mexicans in Monterey offered no resistance, and many were pleased by the mild occupation policies Sloat offered, as well as his promise of American liberties and good government. Two days later, on July 9th, Commander Montgomery, having received news of Sloat's occupation, hoisted the American flag over the pueblo of Yerba Buena (modern day San Francisco). A party from the Portsmouth, led by the grandson of Paul Revere, marched to the Sonoma barracks, replacing the Bear Flag with the Stars and Stripes.

The British did indeed show up upon the scene, causing a brief panic amongst Americans, who cleared their decks for action as the 80 gun ship-of-the-line HMS Collingwood sailed into Monterey Bay. However, the British came in peace, and it soon became clear that the British fleet had no intentions against California, to occupy it or otherwise; they had simply sailed in as curious observers. After various courtesies were paid, the British departed, proving American suspicions and fears utterly unfounded.

On July 15th, the USS Congress (60 guns) arrived to reinforce the squadron, commanded by Captain Robert Stockton 12. Sloat, suffering from ill health, turned command of the squadron to Stockton on the 23rd. Stockton, now responsible for coordinating mop up operations against Californio militia, enlisted Frémont's men as the Naval Battalion of Mounted Riflemen (usually referred to at the California Battalion) to be commanded by Frémont, commissioned a major, with Gillespie, promoted captain, serving as the second in command. The battalion was ferried aboard the sloop-of-war USS Cyane to capture San Diego, and then up the coast to eliminate any pockets of resistance. The initial military occupation of California was quickly completed. As Stockton marched a makeshift force of sailors and marines on Los Angeles, the Mexican governor, Pío Pico, and the military commandante, Jose Castro, both fled to Mexico, signaling what appeared to be an end to organized resistance against the Americans. Frémont's battalion rounded up any remnants of California militia, and then promptly paroled them on the promise not to bear arms again against their American conquerors.

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