California in the Civil War

By Claudine Burnett

Memorial Day has been celebrated since 1868. Up until 1971, it was May 30th that marked the holiday, it was then changed to the last Monday in May. Whatever the day, it seems appropriate to talk about those who gave their lives for our country. Veterans from all wars beginning with the Civil War are interred at Long Beach cemeteries. Names of many of those veterans, the wars they fought in, and their stories can be found in my book Died in Long Beach: Cemetery Tales

Most of the Civil War veterans buried in Long Beach came to California following the war. They had fought in the deadliest war in United States history, witnessing the deaths of an estimated 620,000 – 750,000 fellow soldiers.

Mainly forgotten are those living in California during the war who volunteered to fight. So many came to California in 1849 that according to the Library of Congress, the non-native population reached 107,057, as compared with an estimated 20,000 before the discovery of gold. By the end of the decade, almost 380,000 were living in the state, according to the 1860 U.S. Census.

Nearly 17,000, mainly from the more populous northern portions of the state, volunteered to make up two full regiments of cavalry, eight full regiments of infantry and one battalion of Native California cavalry. They occupied strategic posts from Puget Sound to Texas and were instrumental in keeping the peace in the far western states and checking Confederate forces east of the Rio Grande. In 1861, the Confederates invaded New Mexico and Arizona and were moving west with a goal to reach the Pacific Ocean through Southern California. Californian troops pushed the Texans back into their own state and kept them there for the remainder of the war, but not without real fighting and desert hardships.

To prevent the advance of southerners, Union volunteers first made their way to Camp Wright on Warner’s Ranch in San Diego County. The ranch was notable as a way station for large numbers of emigrants on the Southern Emigrant Trail (1849-1861), and as a stop for the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach (1859-1861). In 1861, the camp became the final staging area for troops before leaving California. It also was where southern sympathizers known as “Monte Boys” were prevented from gathering more recruits and travelling to Arizona and Texas where they could join the Confederate Army.

The towns of El Monte and San Bernardino were both known as “hot beds” favoring secessionism. One poorly designed “call-to-arms” news story in the secessionist Los Angeles Star (11/2/1861), led to the discovery and apprehension of about 20 “Monte Boys” in the mountains southwest of Warner’s Ranch on November 29, 1861. Among those apprehended was their leader, Dan Showalter. Showalter and his men were eventually released after swearing allegiance to the Union.  Showalter then went on to Texas where he joined the Confederacy and made Lieutenant Colonel of the 4th Arizona Cavalry Regiment.

Locally, Camp Drum (aka Drum Barracks) was established in Wilmington in 1862 to serve as a deterrent to Confederate sympathizers such as the Monte Boys, and prevent Confederate use of the harbor. In 1864 it was feared Confederate sympathizers planned to outfit privateers to sink ships carrying gold and silver from the Mother Lode and Nevada to aid the Union. A small garrison of U.S. troops was established at Two Harbors on Catalina Island to deprive them an anchorage. 

A lesser-known history of the Civil War is that the state of Massachusetts invited the state of California to send men to join her regiments at Massachusetts’ expense. Californians were eager to volunteer, but the money to transport them was limited. Known as the “California Hundred” they sailed December 11, 1862, passing through the isthmus at Panama. They became Company A, Second Massachusetts Cavalry; by February 1863 they were at the front at Yorktown, Virginia, and in July 1863 at Gettysburg.

On March 3, 1863, the United States instituted a national draft. However, the vast majority of troops were volunteers; of the 2,200,000 Union soldiers, about 2% were draftees, and another 6% were substitutes paid by draftees. That same month, Unionists in California raised enough money to send four more volunteer California companies (400 men) east through Panama, to replenish the California Hundred. Known as the California Cavalry Battalion, they fought in over 50 battles and at the end of the war only 148 survived.  According to California State Parks, California contributed more men per capita (17,000) than any other state in the Union. Five hundred Californians died during the Civil War. ( 

Just one California Civil War soldier, Samuel J. Tant (1833-1913), is buried at Sunnyside Cemetery.  The North Carolina native, served as a private in Company E, 3rd Regiment of the California Volunteer Infantry, organized at Benicia on December 21, 1861. During the summer of 1862, Tate enlisted and the regiment was sent to Nevada and Utah. Company E was later consolidated into Company C. Its goal was protection of the Idaho Territory.

Though North Carolina joined the Confederacy, it was a divided state, with those in the western part favoring the Union, including Samuel.  Tant was most likely one of many seeking his fortune in the gold fields of California. In 1865, he married another North Carolina native Sarah Ayoke (1845-1929) in Nevada. Together the couple explored the west with their children Harriet, Alice Mary, Julia and Mark. The family settled in Long Beach in 1909.

This Memorial Day I hope that many remembered those who gave their lives for our country and how during the Civil War California contributed not only gold to keep the Union cause going, but also men to protect the nation.

Claudine Burnett is a retired Long Beach Public Library librarian who compiled the library’s Long Beach History Index. In her research, she found many forgotten, interesting stories about Long Beach, which she has published in 12 books as well as in monthly blogs. You can access information about her books and read her blogs at


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