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The Golden State and the Civil War
 

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When the Civil War broke out, most Californians strongly supported the Union.  Over 16,000 California residents volunteered to serve in the military from 1861 to 1865.  Several hundred of these men fought in the great Civil War battles along the East Coast. 

Most of these soldiers, though, served in California and throughout the western United States, filling the void left when President Lincoln recalled the regular army to fight the Southern secessionists.  California's militia volunteers established forts and guarded mail routes across a vast stretch of territory as far north as Canada, as far south as Mexico, and as far east as Texas. 

In addition to securing the western United States, California's citizens provided Lincoln and the Union with substantial financial support.  The state's great mineral wealth allowed for money in the form of taxes and private contributions to flow steadily to the war efforts in the east, including relief organizations such as the U.S. Sanitary Commission.


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Several individuals who lived in California  before the Civil War became famous Union or Confederate generals, including  Ulysses S. Grant, Albert Sidney Johnson, and William Tecumseh Sherman.  Sherman, for example, was appointed a Major General of the California State Militia in 1856.  Letter from William Tecumseh Sherman to California Governor J. Neely Johnson dated November 3, 1856, Governor's Office  Records, California State Archives.

Several individuals who lived in California before the Civil War became famous Union or Confederate generals, including Ulysses S. Grant, Albert Sidney Johnson, and William Tecumseh Sherman.  Sherman, for example, was appointed a Major General of the California State Militia in 1856.

Letter from William Tecumseh Sherman to California Governor J. Neely Johnson dated November 3, 1856, Governor's Office Records, California State Archives


Letter from U.S. Secretary of State William Seward to California Governor John Downey dated October 14, 1861, urging the strengthening of coastal fortifications. Governors Office Records, California State Archives.

Letter from U.S. Secretary of State William Seward to California Governor John Downey dated October 14, 1861, urging the strengthening of coastal fortifications. 

Governors Office Records, California State Archives


Recruiting Poster, Mountain Volunteers, 1861. Military Department, Militia Companies Records, California State Archives.

Recruiting Poster, Mountain Volunteers, 1861.   

Military Department, Militia Companies Records, California State Archives.


Oath of Office, Mountain Volunteers, 1861. Military Department, Militia Companies Records, California State Archives.

Oath of Office, Mountain Volunteers, 1861.

Military Department, Militia Companies Records, California State Archives.


Recruiting Poster, Russian River Rifles Militia, 1862. Military Department, Militia Companies Records, California State Archives.

Recruiting Poster, Russian River Rifles Militia, 1862.

Military Department, Militia Companies Records, California State Archives.


Ordnance Invoices, Russian River Rifles Militia, 1863. Military Department, Militia Companies Records, California State Archives.

Ordnance Invoices, Russian River Rifles Militia, 1863. Military Department, Militia Companies Records, California State Archives.

Ordnance Invoices, Russian River Rifles Militia, 1863

Military Department, Militia Companies Records, California State Archives.


This letter is the only known example within the California  State Archives of an original document penned by Abraham Lincoln himself. In February of 1864, President Lincoln wrote to California  Governor Frederick Low stating that he would be "personally obliged" if Low  would promote William Barnes, a soldier in a California regiment.  Like all presidents, Lincoln dealt with  innumerable requests for promotions and appointments.  Private Barnes was the stepson of Washington, D.C. judge James  Hughes, who presumably approached Lincoln on behalf of Barnes.    Three months later Barnes was commissioned a second  lieutenant in the Sixth California Infantry.   Lieutenant Barnes’ military career proved less than stellar – within  eighteen months he deserted twice, faced two courts martial, and suffered demotion.  A variety of factors led to about ten  percent of California’s soldiers deserting at some point during the Civil War,  a figure fairly typical of the Union Army as a whole. Military Department, Civil War Volunteers Records, California  State Archives.

This letter is the only known example within the California State Archives of an original document penned by Abraham Lincoln himself.

In February of 1864, President Lincoln wrote to California Governor Frederick Low stating that he would be "personally obliged" if Low would promote William Barnes, a soldier in a California regiment.  Like all presidents, Lincoln dealt with innumerable requests for promotions and appointments.  Private Barnes was the stepson of Washington, D.C. judge James Hughes, who presumably approached Lincoln on behalf of Barnes. 

Three months later Barnes was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Sixth California Infantry.  Lieutenant Barnes’ military career proved less than stellar – within eighteen months he deserted twice, faced two courts martial, and suffered demotion.  A variety of factors led to about ten percent of California’s soldiers deserting at some point during the Civil War, a figure fairly typical of the Union Army as a whole.

Military Department, Civil War Volunteers Records, California State Archives.



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