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We are currently producing a video version of our California and the Civil War show. Stay tuned for further developments!
California and the Civil War show
The following images and text are a sample of our multimedia show, California and the Civil War, which we perform for historical societies, museums, and other groups interested in this fascinating period in the Golden State's early years. (See the Events page for coming appearances.)
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We are currently producing a multimedia narrative entitled AmericanCalifornia and the Fate of the Nisenan, which describes the experience of the Nisenan people of Nevada County during the Gold Rush. We will post excerpts as they become available.
Here are the first 12 slides (of 132 in the full presentation, with voice-over).
In the 1850's California led the United States in mayhem on the "field of honor." No encounter in the nation gained more notoriety than the Broderick-Terry duel of 1859, which pitted the Golden State's Pro-Southern Chief Justice against its "Free Soil" US Senator. At issue was control of the Democratic Party in California.
And here is an excerpt describing the critical election of 1860, when 4 candidates ran for president. The winner, Abraham Lincoln, polled only 40% of the vote.
Below are twenty-six slides (of 132 in the full presentation). The show's text runs below the slide image. Commentary on the right fills in the story.
We begin the presentation in 1845, the year of Ida Hatfield's birth – when California can still lay claim to being "the remotest place on earth."
"This is a crowded, public place in California in 1845. In fact, it's a traffic jam..."
San Francisco Bay fifteen years later, transformed into an international port.
"...and this is a crowded, public place in California in 1860. Thanks to the Gold Rush and the steam ship, California was turned almost overnight into a bustling US state, with people pouring in from all over the globe. It was an instant cultural kaleidoscope, unprecedented in human history."
Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina nearly kills Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the floor of the Senate.
Tempers were running high on the Pacific Coast, too!
"Many Americans who traveled west in search of gold were deeply engaged in the great quarrel between North and South. In the crisis of 1861, there was a grave danger that California would fall into a Kansas- or Missouri-style nightmare of partisan warfare. This is the story of California's transformation – from sleepy colonial outpost to pivotal player in the convulsive upheaval that almost destroyed the United States."
Before the American conquest, Mexican influence was limited to the Southern and Central coast, and the inland Central Valley.
"A visitor stepping ashore at Monterey in 1845 would have seen a pastoral environment, sprinkled with small Mexican settlements. If she had ventured to the northern forests or the Sierra, our visitor would have found those remote regions still under the control of folks like these."
By 1846, Frémont was back in California – at the head of 60 heavily-armed "surveyors." His orders were never made public, but on June 14 of that year, Yankee settlers in Sonoma raised the Bear Flag of revolt under his protection.
"Expansionism was a popular policy back in Washington. In 1843, John C. Frémont was sent to explore the Far West. Frémont's declared mission was to find the best route to speed emigration to Oregon – in order to forestall the British, who also
claimed the area."
"Since he just happened to be in the neighborhood, Frémont decided to drop by and visit California. What he found there sent him back to Washington full of enthusiasm."
Ostensibly, the Mexican War started over the western border of Texas. In fact, it was part of a policy of expansion aimed at seizing California for the United States.
"This is the battle of Buena Vista as it never happened. Note the spotless dress uniforms. This is a symbol of 'battle' – of who fought and who won. Before the advent of photography, this was the usual way of depicting war. It took Matthew Brady's pictures of the Civil War dead to give the folks back home an idea of what actually goes on in armed conflict."
The event that changed California's destiny overnight.
In our presentation, the gold actually glistens!
"The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848 – nine days after James Marshall found gold in the tailrace of Captain Sutter's mill at Coloma. Proving to President Polk once again – as if proof were needed – that God was on his side."
By 1852, more than a quarter of a million emigrants had poured into California from every corner of the globe.
Disappearing into the darkness in the left foreground are the indigenous peoples.
"The biggest source of emigrants was the United States, here being led westward by Columbia, who is stringing telegraph wire as she floats along in her wispy attire. Just below her are the Argonauts, the seekers of the Golden Fleece, who lead our Westward Expansion."
The spirit of the entrepreneur was hard at work in early American California – on both sides of the law!
"Statehood quickly became an issue as California's population exploded. Lawlessness was widespread and land disputes kept lawmen and judges busy. Californians wanted effective government and grew angry as Congress dawdled back East."
Southern secession conventions broke out in response to California's request to enter the Union as a free state. Only the tortuous Compromise of 1850 saved the country from flying apart.
"California's request to enter the Union as a free state enraged the Southern congressional leadership. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, a giant of the Senate, stated flatly that the South would secede if California came in as a free state – and that war would surely follow. Here is Calhoun's hair standing on end at the very idea."
Lincoln was a purely sectional candidate, whose name didn't even appear on the ballot in the South. He would have been buried by a united Democratic Party.
"During the 1850's, the traditional national political parties – the Whigs and the Democrats – broke up over regionalism and slavery. The Whigs disappeared completely, and the new Republican Party emerged in the North. In the critical election of 1860, the Democratic Party split into Southern and Northern factions, as shown in this cartoon. When the dust settled, the voters were left with 4 candidates for president."
In the end, Lincoln won California by about 700 votes (≈ one-half percent). He received less than a third of the votes cast.
"This map shows how scattered the political landscape of California really was. Lincoln won the Bay Area (except for the Peninsula) and Nevada County. Douglas captured the top quarter of the state. Breckinridge, the Southern candidate, won vast rural counties and swept the Southern Mines."
California's demographics resembled Missouri's, where vicious partisan fighting raged throughout the war.
"Our state would have been fertile ground for a Confederate partisan campaign based in the Southern Mines."
In the end, Governor Downey acceded to the Lincoln Administration's requests to raise troops. California militiamen were trained to take over the duties of the regular army in the West.
"John Downey was governor at the start of the war. He opposed using force to bring the Southern states back into the Union. His conduct in office was so alarming that Unionists petitioned the Secretary of War to leave regular US troops in California. Their request was granted."
General Johnston faced the same terrible choices that Robert E. Lee did. Johnston opposed secession, but finally placed his allegiance to his state above his allegiance to the Union. Johnston's story is covered in more detail on our history page.
"As if things weren't bad enough for the Unionists, the man in charge of the US Army Department of the Pacific was a charismatic Southerner named Albert Sidney Johnston. Johnston was a highly distinguished officer, whose appointment to the Western command was widely seen as part of a plot to place Southern officers in key positions in the event of war."
The KGC in California did not limit their hostility to Unionists. They also attacked the Nome Lackee Indian Reservation on February 27, 1861. Indian slavery in California was supported by the Knights.
"The hidden core of rebellion was the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society formed to support Southern ideals and expansionism."
Harpending's memoirs make splendid – if not necessarily truthful – reading. His story-telling ability earned him a place in Queen of the Northern Mines. For more on Harpending, visit our history page.
"One young Knight named Asbury Harpending was determined to act for the South in California. Harpending was a Kentucky aristocrat who was born into one fortune and went on to win several more in the gold mines of Northern California and Mexico. In 1863, he organized the boldest scheme ever on behalf of the Confederacy in California."
Harpending was setting his sights on the richest prize on the sea – treasure consignments of a million and a half in gold weren't uncommon.
"Harpending planned a campaign of privateering along the Pacific Coast. His quarry were the Pacific Mail Steamships that carried California's gold back East, where it backed the credit system that kept the Northern economy afloat."
Ingram's Partisan Rangers were based in the rugged Santa Cruz Mountains. He and his gang prepared plans for a full-scale assault on San José.
"If Harpending represents the romantic wing of Southern partisans in California, Captain Rufus Henry Ingram represents its opposite. We don't have a picture of Ingram, but we do know where he learned his fighting. Ingram took part in Quantrill's infamous raid on Lawrence, Kansas."
The account of this incident in William Secrest's Perilous Trails, Dangerous Men was the inspiration for Queen of the Northern Mines. The event is known as the Bullion Bend Robbery.
"Stage coach robbery was a favorite form of outdoor fund-raising in California at the time, and Ingram and his men gave it a try. They rode east to Placerville and held up a Wells Fargo shipment. Ingram then wrote out a receipt to the driver on behalf of the Confederate States of America – and rode off with $52,000 in silver and gold."
Telegraphic service between California and the East Coast was initiated in October, 1861 – finally ending the Golden State's isolation.
Starr King deserves a page of his own. To view it, click here.
"Loyal Californians were eager to show their support for the national government. Here is an ardently Unionist Angel of the Lord bearing a telegraphic message from California to the East in late 1861. One of the first to have composed a message was the Reverend Thomas Starr King of San Francisco, the Union's most devastating Weapon of Mass Instruction."
King could disarm his opponents with humor while demolishing their positions with rhetoric. There are stories of Southerners applauding King, in spite of themselves.
"Starr King was a Universalist preacher, freshly arrived from Boston. He was a slight, frail-looking man. He enjoyed a considerable reputation, but his appearance always disappointed people who came to see him – until he began to speak.
"King was undaunted by his small stature. As he put it, "Though I weigh only 120 pounds, when I'm mad, I weigh a ton."
At the beginning of the war, the situation in California was much too volatile to allow regular army troops to leave for the East. Union volunteer regiments were swiftly raised and trained to take their place.
"California volunteers saw action all over the Western States. They helped repel the 1862 Confederate invasion of New Mexico. Most of their fighting, however, was against native tribesmen."
Clockwise from left, our characters: Ida Hatfield, Will Stafford, Molly Hatfield, Ah Tie, and Nutim.
Civil War-era California was an unprecedented amalgalm of peoples and races.
"So this is the California of our story – a complex, chaotic society, teetering on the brink of war, and populated by immigrants from wildly differing cultures…"
"These are the main characters of the novel, whose fates we follow in our story. Ultimately, however, it is California herself who is the real protagonist of the novel..."
Each of our characters must decide whether to be a Californian – or remain committed to the past.
"...a land populated almost overnight by many races and nationalities, all hoping to be reborn. The new American California fairly hums with the energy generated by so many dreams."
Nisenan headmen and treaty commissioners, 1851.
The treaty they signed allotted a small portion of land in Western Nevada County to the Nisenan people, but pressure from white Californians blocked ratification in the US Senate. The Nisenan were relocated to Nome Lackee Reservation, instead.
"In the midst of this bustling society of immigrants, the indigenous peoples struggle to keep their land and culture, but it is a desperate, uphill battle. By the time Will Stafford arrives in Nevada City in 1860, the Nisenan people have all but disappeared from from their ancient homeland."