Antebellum Infantry in California

Will Gorenfeld and George Stammerjohan
copyright April 5, 2008

Artill’ry at a distance play,
And troopers often clear the way—”
A skirmish sharp, a pistol shot
The quick retreat in rapid trot;
The foe advances, light and free;
Who meets them now? The Infantry!
Though other corps are dear to me
Yet most I prize the Infantry.
The Infantry by Captain Barnard Bee (United States Infantry)

All too frequently, military historians are quick to dismiss the role played by the Infantry stationed in the antebellum West. They would give one the impression that the Infantry was simply relegated to garrison duty. This is not true. The “Dough Foots” were active participants in many battles: Live Oak Springs, Four Lakes, Ash Hollow, Fort Mohave, and Truckee River. In California, the mounted arm fought but few actions; the foot soldier, meanwhile, participated in nearly every battle and skirmish.
Antebellum California
With the conclusion of the United States-Mexican War in 1848, the U.S. had expanded its borders to the Pacific Ocean. This increase in territory would soon create major problems for the federal government. At the end of the war, the volunteers mustered out, and the regular Army reverted to its authorized pre-war strength of 10,310 soldiers. Once again the US Infantry consisted of eight regiments, numbering 4,464 men.
In 1848, there was stationed but a single company of 3d Artillery and five companies of Dragoons to protect the newly conquered territory of California. Their numbers were reduced further when quick riches to be made in the gold fields lured many of the $11.00 per month troopers to desert their camps.
The two senior officers in California, Brevet Major General Bennet Riley (of the 2d Infantry and Military Governor), and Brevet Major General Persifor F. Smith (Regiment of Mounted Rifles), found a way to decrease the number of desertions by moving their men to the western edge of the diggings. As long as camp duties were completed in the mornings, soldiers were allowed to prospect for gold work in the afternoon. Soldiers stationed at San Diego and Fort Yuma on the Colorado River were given 60-day furloughs to try their hands at mining. Most soldiers, after several weeks of mining the cold rivers of the Sierra Nevada and backbreaking work for a few dollars, quickly returned to their companies and desertion to the mines was dramatically reduced.
This was not an especially good time for the cutback of a strong military presence in California. How would a population of some 7,000 Californios, former citizens of Mexico, react to the change of governments? There were also unfounded rumors of civil unrest, riots, and Hispanic forces organizing on both sides of the international border, ready to drive the Yankees out of California.
And then there was California’s Native American population. For years prior to the Mexican-American War, the Californios had been steadily losing parts of their domain to the native tribesmen who inhabited the interior regions of California. In some areas, it was dangerous for even an armed man to travel alone. Tribes such as the Yokuts and Miwoks had become highly accomplished raiders of livestock, routinely stealing stock from the sprawling ranches near the villages of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Jose and San Luis Obispo.
With the discovery of gold, swarms of contentious settlers poured into the interior valleys and foothills where most Native Americans lived. Viewed as a hindrance to mining and ranching operations, the Golden State—™s original inhabitants were often ruthlessly hunted, slaughtered, and enslaved; their economies disrupted, villagers driven from their homes, food sources destroyed.
Some scholars estimate that, prior to the Gold Rush, there were 100,000 Native Americans in California. By 1860, California’s Native American population had declined to 32,000. This was the most monstrous destruction of any group of Native Americans in the history of the United States.
When the natives stole cattle in order to feed themselves or retaliated for the murder of tribesmen, settlers were quick to call for army protection. The military was repeatedly sent in to punish the Native Americans and keep them away from the settlers. Of these engagements, special agent J. Ross Browne would write, “The federal government, as is usual in cases where lives of valuable voters are at stake, was forced to interfere. Troops were sent out to aid the settlers in slaughtering the Indians.”
But on other occasions, troops were detailed to protect the natives from vigilantes or militia groups. It was very confusing for everyone. An officer wrote: “Our Indian war is over for the present, and I do not think will be revived unless the whites commit more murders. The Indians look to us as their protectors. The stories that I have heard of the outrages perpetrated by the whites would be incredible were they not well vouched for. The Indians are naturally quiet and would continue so if left alone.”
Most of the battles in California, from a military point of view, were minor skirmishes. For the starving and impoverished native peoples of California, however, these battles were devastating.
A typical skirmish involved Company G, of the 2d Infantry at Fort Miller. Two members of a Yokuts triblet were accused of stealing an ox from a settler in the vicinity of the town of Visalia. On December 8th of 1853, Lt. John Nugent departed the fort with a detachment of 14 men and marched south to the Yokuts village. The troops marched at night march through the foothills of the western Sierras, reaching the village at daybreak. Nugent reported that when they surprised the encampment at dawn’s first light, “[t]he Indians were much frightened; nonetheless a few commenced shooting their arrows at the men. Their fire was promptly returned, killing two and wounding several others . . .”
The 2d Infantry: the first to serve in post-war California
The 2d U.S. Infantry was one of the last regiments of regulars to leave Mexico. The regiment had barely settled into its station at Fort Hamilton near New York City, when orders arrived directing that it be recruited up to strength. In the winter of 1848-1849, the 2d Infantry set sail for California, via Rio Janeiro, Cape Horn and Valparaiso.
By early summer of 1849, companies of the 2d Infantry were scattered about central California, along trails leading to the gold diggings or the entry into California. One company of the 2d was escorting Brevet Major Emory’s survey of the California/Mexican border. The entire force in the department was estimated to be about 650 men.
In 1850, a company of the 2d Infantry, under the command of Captain Lovell, were garrisoned the Rancho Chino. This outpost, located a few miles east of Pueblo Los Angeles, was to prevent raids coming through Cajon Pass from the Mojave Desert. Some citizens may have been impressed enough with the uniform, but not with the 2d Infantry’s alacrity. Years later, Los Angeles lawman Horace Bell recalled that the troops at Jurupa were “well-fed, clean shaved, white cotton-gloved, nicely dressed, lazy, fat fellows, who were seemingly happy and content on their $8.00 per month . . . They all, from Captain to Corporal, seemed resigned to a life of well-fed indolence. . . Every military collar at Jurupa must stand with the most mathematical uprightness; every button, every brogan, and every military tin cup, be burnished daily.”
Ranger Bell, of course, loved to criticize the regulars and frequently spun exaggerated tale after tale of how his posse boldly chased down outlaws. In truth, Bell and his rangers spent much of their time holed up at the saloons of the Pueblo of Los Angeles in pursuit of liquid courage.
In May of 1850, Lieutenant and Brevet Captain Nathaniel Lyon marched a battalion of 2d Infantry along with a company of 1st Dragoons from Benicia Barracks to the northern shore of Clear La
ke. Pomo tribesmen had killed a couple of disreputable white men who had been enslaving some of their people. Lyon was under orders to punish the tribes responsible for these murders. He did not bother to determine which was the guilty band and attacked the first Pomo village that he discovered.
The Pomos took refuge on an island surrounded by tules. Lyons sent his men wading across the marshy bog, cartridge boxes and muskets held over their heads as they reached the island. Firing at close range targets, the troops ruthlessly slew over a hundred men, women and children. Witnesses later claimed that the water of Clear Lake turned red. Thereafter, the land mass became known as “Bloody Island.”
Marching to the headwaters of the Russian River, Captain Lyon’s command cornered another band of Pomos in what he called a “perfect slaughter pen.” Lyon confidently wrote that his men killed “not less than seventy-five, and have little doubt to nearly double that number.”
In I851, witnessed the Antonio Garra uprising of desert tribes in Southern California. Joshua Bean of the California Militia sought to suppress this rebellion and complained to the Governor that Captain Lovell’s troops at Rancho Jurupa “are unable to render any assistance, as they are not mounted nor have they suitable arms and are short of ammunition.”
Indeed, these troops of the 2d were quite capable. While the erstwhile general contemplated his options within the safe confines of Los Angeles, part of the 2d Infantry led by Captain and Brevet Major Samuel Heintzleman marched swiftly across the lower Mojave Desert and, on December 20, 1851, killed two leaders of a band of Cahuillas in Los Coyotes Canyon and ended the uprising.
During the ensuing months, Heintzleman’s hard-marching troops cris-crossed the parched sands of the Mohave, re-established Fort Yuma on the Colorado River, and engaged the Yuman tribe in a series of skirmishes.
In late 1853, the companies of the 2d in California were broken up. Officers and non-commissioned officers sailed east to reorganize the regiment. The enlisted men—”most of whom had less than a year left in their enlistments–remained in California and were sent to serve with the other regiments stationed in the Department of the Pacific.
1851 Uniform Regulations: The French look.
Our army is a motley crew
In dress and armour, duties too,
And each and all I love to see–
But most I love the Infantry.

Those first infantry troops to arrive in California wore a uniform mostly unchanged from that worn during the Seminole and Mexican Wars: a powder blue shell jacket, with a high collar, trimmed in white, light blue kersey wool trousers, white buff belts, and a Model 1839 fatigue cap. Given that Army storehouses were filled to the brim with these uniforms and that the 1851 regulations allowed “articles of the old uniform already manufactured for enlisted men [to be] used until exhausted . . . altered, so far as practicable, to correspond with the new pattern,” the quartermaster would continue to distribute them for years to come.
The 1850’s would prove to be a period of experimentation in weaponry and uniform. In 1851, regulations for a uniform were prescribed for the entire army. The new attire would be based upon the French Army design of 1844: a dark blue frock coat that came down halfway to the knees with a single row of nine buttons. The coat’s cuffs and collars were to match the color of the branch of service. On the front of the collar, in yellow metal and 1″ in height, was the number of the regiment. On each shoulder of the infantryman, light blue worsted epaulettes were to be worn.
The branch color for the infantry was Saxony or light blue, replacing the white worn by infantry since the days of the Revolution. Under the 1851 Regulations, the cuffs, collar, pom pom, and epaulettes for the Infantry would be light blue. The light blue trousers had a 1/8″ dark blue stripe.
The infantryman carried a black bridle leather cartridge box that was slung over his left shoulder by means of a black buff strap. Inside of the cartridge box were 40 paper wrapped cartridges. Attached to a black buff leather waist belt, measuring 1.5 inches wide and 38.5 inches long were a percussion cap pouch and a bayonet scabbard.
As for headgear, the army introduced a 6 1/2″ tall, stiff shako of dark blue cloth, with a crown that slightly sloped forward, and topped off with a round pom pom. For infantry, the hat sported a light blue band. The ungainly hat was authorized for all purposes: full dress, fatigue, and campaign. Each soldier was to be issued seven hats during the course of his five-year enlistment.
The shako was not especially popular with the troops. A colonel wrote to the Adjutant General complaining that the new shako was entirely unsuitable for service, being heavy, hot, and painful to the head when used in the sun, wind, or at a rapid gait; incommodes the soldier in the use of his arms, as well as in all fatigue duties.
Some Infantry officers complained: “In the light infantry drill, even with the assistance of the chin strap, it has been found impossible to keep the cap properly on the head, and from the nature of material of which it is made, it soon becomes shapeless and unfitted for parade purposes.” Resourceful soldiers would often remove the cardboard lining and thereby convert the ungainly shako into an early version of the kepi.
The regulations of 1851 Regulations notwithstanding, the troops stationed out West often were dressed in whatever clothes they were issued or purchased on their own. When Colonel Joseph Mansfield, Inspector General, toured the Department of the Pacific in 1854, he often failed to write in his reports how the troops were dressed. This would suggest that Mansfield ignoring the shabby and obsolete uniforms. Only at Ft. Redding, at the upper end of the Sacramento Valley, did he report that both the company from the 3d Artillery and the men from the 4th Infantry were properly dressed in the 1851 uniform.
Uniform regulations went completely by the board when the troops were in the field. One might find the troops wearing anything from blue checkered shirts to red bib-front miner’s blouses. Sergeant Eugene Bandel of the Sixth Infantry described the typical uniform worn on campaign in 1857 as consisting of a broad brim hat, with white canvas trousers, and a woolen shirt worn on the outside like a coat.
A mule-mounted column of 2d Infantry under Brevet Major Henry W. Wessels, heading into the Sierras to the east of modern day Red Bluff appeared as “being one-well armed party of miners.” When the observer got a closer look, he noticed that “those soldiers ain’t got a bit of uniform except polished muskets.” In 1857, a Southern California rancher spotted a detachment of 3d Artillerymen, walking across the beach on their way to Mission San Luis Rey “walking barefoot in the sand, their red flannel shirts unbuttoned and each wearing a Mexican straw hat.”
Officers in antebellum California sometimes even incorporated Hispanic garb into their dress. While stationed in Southern California, Second Lieutenant Lieut. Caleb Smith of the 2d Infantry was described as wearing non-regulation Mexican style buckskin leggings (botas de cuerro), sombrero, sash, jangling spurs and calzoneros along with his regulation frock coat.
Mansfield noted that the troops at Ft. Humboldt had complained to him that the issue white flannel undershirt had shrinkage problems. He recommended that the troops be issued “coloured flannel [which] does not shrink.”
Regulations of 1854: Brass shoulder scales for the Infantry
The regulations of 1854 called for the replacement of the light blue band on the hat and the light blue cuffs with thin welts. The new regulations also discarded the worsted epaulettes for dress substituting brass shoulder scales in their stead. Of course, it took nearly three years before most Infantry companies on the Pacific Coast received the 1854 uniform.
Often, the br
ass scales were never issued. Instead, the brass scales were left in a box under the Captain’s bed, or were accidentally lost while an army supply wagon was crossing a river. Broken as well as complete sets of scales are often found by archaeologists in old fort trash pits.
The Model 1842 Musket: the Last of the Smoothbores?
The infantry was generally armed with the 1842 musket. This lengthy (57 13/16 inches) and heavy (9 pounds, 3 ounces) smoothbore arm, with its brightly burnished iron barrel, was the first U.S. musket to employ the use of percussion caps. It used a paper cartridge containing powder and a .63 caliber ball. The musket had an effective aimed range of just about eighty to a hundred yards.
The muskets lacked a rear sight: due to the windage between ball and barrel, aiming at a specific target was a useless act. Grant observed in his memoirs that in using such an arm, “you might fire at a man all day from a distance of 125 yards without him ever finding it out.” It was, indeed, an unfortunate soldier who was stuck by a musket ball fired at him from a range of 125 yards.
In order to compensate for the musket’s lack of accuracy, the men would load buck and ball: a .63 caliber ball and three .31 caliber buckshot. At close range, the musket became a deadly shotgun.
The Model 1842 is occasionally referred to as the last smoothbore arm issued to United States regulars. It wasn—™t. Commencing in 1847, the Springfield Armory turned out the .69 calibre musketoon. This smoothbore weapon, a shortened and lighter form of musket, came in three versions: cavalry, sapper, and artillery. At least one company of the 2d Infantry in California was issued musketoons.
Some of the soldiers who served on the Pacific frontier carried the Model 1841 .54 calibre rifle. This weapon, about a foot shorter in length than the musket, was considered by many to be the finest rifle in any military. Because of the tight fit of the patched ball, it was slow to load—”but deadly accurate when placed into the hands of a trained infantryman.
The Hazardous Journey of the 4th Infantry
Realizing that the 2d Infantry was not strong enough to garrison all of the critical points in California, the War Department sent the 4th Infantry to the Pacific Coast. On July 5, 1852, the 4th Infantry Regiment boarded the old steam ship Ohio and departed New York Harbor, bound for California by way of the Isthmus of Panama. During their trek across the Isthmus, a great many of the party contracted cholera. On August 18th, the Pacific Mail steamship Golden Gate, loaded with the sickly 4th Infantry, arrived in San Francisco Harbor. The regiment lost one hundred and seven men to cholera. Among the survivors was a 4th Infantry brevet captain by the name of Ulysses Grant.
The 9th Infantry: a new regiment for service on the West Coast.
In 1855, Congress authorized two new foot regiments, the 9th and 10th Infantry. The 9th was organized at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, and sailed for California in late 1855 and early 1856. Upon arrival on the West Coast, these men were detailed to the Pacific Northwest. Several companies were immediately in combat in the rain-flooded meadows east of modern Tacoma.
The uniform worn by the 9th Infantry had two distinct attributes. Its frock coat, with a short pleated skirt, was of a French design known as chasseur a pied. The men of the 9th also wore leather suspenders and a rifleman’s belt with a plain double plate.
One interesting myth that has long be been held by many gun collectors is that the 9th Infantry arrived in California armed with the Model 1855 Harper’s Ferry rifle. This is not so. (The only positively identified ’55 rifle sent to the West Coast was received for testing at Fort Tejon, California, where the post butcher promptly appropriated it when he deserted.)
In fact, the 9th regiment sailed from Virginia unarmed. Moreover, the regiment departed for California two and a years before the M1855 rifle existed in sufficient numbers to be issued to any of the troops.
Upon arrival at Benicia Barracks, the 9th was issued Model 1841 Yaeger rifles. Colonel George Wright of the 9th declared the Yeager rifle “the best arm I have ever seen in the hands of a foot soldier.” In 1858, these 1841 rifles were re-bored to fire the new government M-1855 cartridges. The barrels were turned down at the muzzle to take either a long-bladed sword bayonet or the M-1855 musket bayonet. (Since bayonets were rarely used or mentioned in Army reports, and the authors have not had the opportunity to examine “stoppages” against 9th Infantrymen, we cannot say which of the two bayonet types was issued.) In 1860, the 9th Infantry was rearmed with the .58 caliber M-1855 rifle musket.
The Terrifying Voyages of the Third Artillery

In late 1853, the 3d Artillery was alerted for transfer to California and to serve as infantry replacing the departing 2d Infantry. Recruiting was stepped up and the ranks were soon filled. A significant number of new recruits were teenagers fresh from the shores of Ireland, England, and Germany.
The troops were crammed aboard the steamer San Francisco that —œdeparted New York on December 21, 1853, —˜… with light breeze from the southwest and clear weather.—™ On December 24 the weather changed to a —˜… moderate breeze from the west … and heavy rain towards evening.—™ By midnight the weather was very heavy and the San Francisco had lost many sails.— Off of Cape Hatteras, the San Francisco steamed into a monstrous storm, in which “waves rolled mountain high.” The steamer’s engines failed, the ship wallowing helplessly in boiling seas. On the midmorning of December 29, 1853, a giant wave crashed over the upper deck, stripping everything from the deck—”including a cabin in which some 200 artillerymen were sheltered.
When the first rescue boats reached the San Francisco, Colonel Gates quickly jumped aboard and abandoned his men. Following a court martial, he was shelved until 1861. The survivors, scattered around to ports in England, France, and the United States, were slowly gathered to re-organize the regiment.
This maritime disaster, coupled with the transfer of the 2d Infantry out of California, left General John Wool, commanding the Department of the Pacific, with a severe manpower shortage in his department. The 3d regiment was hurriedly recruited to strength, and in early 1854, four companies departed for California, only to run into another storm off of North Carolina. Their battered steamer eventually managed to limp into quiet waters of Hampton Roads on the Virginia peninsula.
Another ship, the Illinois, was sent. It would take the artillerymen to Panama. After crossing the Isthmus, they boarded the Oregon, which arrived in San Francisco on May 4, 1854. Meanwhile, two companies of the 3d Artillery, along with footsore recruits of the 1st Dragoons, marched overland, leaving Ft. Leavenworth in May of 1854. This column spent the winter in Salt Lake, and reached the West Coast in July of 1855.
Upon arrival, the various companies of the 3d were scattered about the west coast. Most of the troops of the “Marching 3d” were put to use as red-legged infantry.
In the spring of 1856, twenty-five men of Company K of the Third Artillery at Ft. Miller, under the command of 2d Lieutenant LaRhett Livingston, took to the field to suppress a war started by settlers. Angry over the theft of a cow, they had killed some Yokuts. The tribesmen retreated to a defensive position near the base of Battle Mountain and proceeded to defeat a band of volunteers who were bent upon the tribe—™s destruction.
In the pre-dawn of May 13, 1856, Lt. Livingston climbed a nearby hillside and peered into the Yokuts encampment. Seeing that the position was not heavily defended and could be attacked on its flank, Livingston swiftly put his company into motion. Suddenly, a group of Yokuts rose from the
underbrush and peppered the detachment with arrows. The arrows were deflected by the bushes and caused no serious injury to the troops. Without hesitation they leveled their muskets and fired. At point-blank range, the muskets, loaded with buckshot and ball, took a deadly toll upon the defenders. Livingston shouted, —œCharge! Bayonets, forward!— The Yokuts hastily melted into the safety of the dense pine forests of the Sierra Range. Livingston reported twenty dead tribesmen. An unknown number of Yokuts would later die of wounds received in this battle. The emboldened volunteers looted and burned the Yokuts village.
The 1858 Uniform: Some New Headgear
General Order No. 3 for March 24, 1858, did away with the tall shako and replaced it with a tall, broad-brimmed felt hat in black. With its brim folded up on the left, a light blue braid ending in tassels circled around the crown, brass insignia attached to the front, and a debonair black ostrich feather placed on the right, the hat was not very practical for use in the field or on fatigue. A few months later, General Order number 13 authorized a fatigue cap in dark blue. This cap was essentially a floppy version of the 1851 shako with the stiff cardboard lining removed. It would soon evolve into the all-too familiar kepi of the Civil War. In 1858, the Quartermaster General began to issue a four-button fatigue jacket for all troops.
The Hard-Marching 6th Infantry
The last regiment of infantry to come to California before the Civil War was the 6th Infantry. Originally scheduled for Washington Territory, Colonel and Brevet Brigadier General Newman S. Clarke, the commanding officer of the 6th, convinced the War Department to divert the regiment to newly created Department of California—”a department under the command of Colonel Clarke.
On the 21st of August 1858, the Sixth Infantry left camp near Fort Bridger, Utah Territory, and began its overland march to California. The regiment, and its two-mile column of 180 supply wagons and ambulances, crossed the Sierra Nevada range in October, often wading through knee-deep snow. On November 11th, with its flags flying and the band playing “Yankee Doodle” and “The Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel,” the regiment paraded westward on J Street past the state Capitol.
The Infantry gets a New Weapon: the 1855 Rifle-Musket
While large numbers of the Model 1855 rifle musket had been issued in the summer of 1858 for the Spokane Plains expedition, few of these weapons had been seen by the public in California towns. A Sacramento Union reporter wrote that 6th regiment was “armed with the new [Model 1855] percussion cap rifled musket, with Maynard’s patent primer attached.” This .58 calibre weapon was the first regulation weapon to fire the minie bullet and had an effective range of over 1,000 yards.
There is little question that the 1855 rifled musket was a marked improvement over the 1842 musket. The touted Maynard primer system, however, was hardly a blessing. The Maynard taped primer worked like a child’s toy cap pistol. A paper roll, containing bits of fulminate of mercury as primer, was placed in a chamber just below the hammer. The tape was mechanically fed under the hammer each time that the hammer was cocked. When the hammer dropped, the fulminate would be detonated and the paper cut away. This system had been first been tested in 1849 on muskets supplied to the Infantry by the firm of Daniel Nippes.
The concept was sound enough for those in Ordnance who tested it at the Washington D.C. armory. The primer compartment was not sealed. When the primer tape was exposed to wet weather, however, the entire tape could be ruined by dampness. In the hotter climes, the tape became brittle and would easily tear. Inspector General Joseph Johnston, in 1859, observed troops firing the rifle musket and reported “at least half misfired, sometimes from defective machinery, others by the fault of the [taped] primer itself.”
The Final Battles
As the 6th Infantry tried to settle in after their long journey from Utah, a campaign was brewing in the desert. The Mojave tribe regarded travelers on Edward Beale’s new road to be trespassers and driven off mail trains and killed immigrants. Elements of the 6th Infantry were ordered by General Clarke to protect to the travelers.
On the morning of February 11, 1859, four companies of the 6th boarded the creaky wooden side-wheeled steamer Uncle Sam. The ship sailed through the Golden Gate and turned south. Off of Point Ano Nuevo, it plowed into a severe Pacific storm. The bilge pumps stopped working and the Uncle Sam began to take on water.
In order to save the ship, overboard went the coal, soon followed by all of the baggage of the four companies along with 320 new M-1855 rifle muskets. As the ship continued to founder, the men turned their attention to the mules. These durable creatures, which had walked to California from Ft. Leavenworth, showed no interest in being dumped into the foamy sea and fought efforts to cast them overboard. As the battle of the mules was beginning, the storm broke, and the Uncle Sam was able to sail back to the repair yards.
The 6th Infantry requested replacement 1855 muskets. The arsenal at Benicia was slow to issue the new weaponry. There was an ample supply, however, of altered Springfield 1816 Type III smoothbore muskets and these aged weapons were issued to many of the troops.
Colonel Joseph Mansfield was again inspecting California as the Mojave campaign was being organized at Fort Yuma. He was astonished at the bewildering array of clothing, equipment, and weaponry. Due to the heat most of the men were in lightweight civilian shirts. But the troops looked hardy, ready for a long march and a tough campaign.
On August 5, 1859, Companies F and I, under the command of Major Lewis Armistead, took part in a fight with the Mohaves twelve miles south of the post. In this battle, the long-ranged 1855 Muskets proved their value in this long-range firefight. Major Armisted reported that, because of the dry desert weather, the Maynard primers worked well.
The twenty-three reported Mohave dead were among the first Americans to suffer from the powerful firepower of modern infantry weaponry. In less than two years’ time, tens of thousands back east would, likewise, experience the deadly effects of rifled weapons.
There would be several more infantry actions out in the far west: in the northern Redwoods; along the Pit River in north central California; on the shores of the Pyramid Lake in Nevada Territory; and patrols against horse thieves southeast of San Diego.
Soon after the firing upon Ft. Sumter, orders from the War Department began to arrive in the Department of California directing the scattered infantry companies, stationed in the interior, to concentrate on the coast for embarkation. By the end of 1861, the 4th and 6th Infantry as well as the 1st Dragoons and most of the Third Artillery, would be on their way to fight a greater war in the East. Only the 9th Infantry remained behind in San Francisco where it, along with a company of the 3d Artillery, took up positions guarding that important harbor for the duration of the Civil War.
Lt. Crook’s Sunken Rifle-Muskets
In 1858, Lt. George Crook’s Company D of 4th Infantry was stationed six miles up the Klamath River at Fort Terwaw. Crook’s troops were armed with .69 caliber 1816 muskets. Ordnance artisans at Benicia Arsenal to use percussion primers, have rear sights added, and given shallow rifling had converted these weapons, leftovers from the Mexican War. During the campaign against the Spokane Indians, the men of Company D effectively used these muskets.
When the company returned to Fort Terwaw, Lt. Crook was ordered to requisition Model 1855 Rifle Muskets for his troops. A few months’ later, four sealed crates of the M-1855 Rifle Muskets reached the dock at Crescent City, California.
These crates were transferred to a large whaleboat whi
ch set sail south to the Klamath River. As it broached the river’s tidal bar, the boat capsized, dumping eighty muskets and other equipment into the ocean. None of it was ever recovered. Several months later, the army hired local Native American fishermen to navigate the tidal bar and Company D got its new muskets.
Every two months, the troops would be called for muster. The muster consisted of roll calls, inspections, and possibly a pass in review. If the paymaster arrived, not always a sure thing, the troops were then paid.
Regardless of whether or not they were paid, the muster roll had to be prepared. In these documents, the company clerk would record, among other things, stoppages—”i.e., the amount that would be offset against the soldier’s pay for stolen, lost or damaged equipment. The notations for stoppages are useful for the researcher to determine what equipment a particular company was issued. Listed below are the amounts that would be charged, per General Order No. 14 (December 9, 1859), for lost or damaged articles of clothing:
Coat $1.88
Forage cap .85
Dress hat .75
Feather .19
Cord and tassel .16
Bugle insignia .05
Company letter .05
Regimental number .05



Dolph, E. A., Sound Off (NY: Cosmopolitan Books 1929), p. 325; Bee—™s untitled poem with matching illustrations may be found at the Special Collections—™ Mexican War Collection of the University of Texas at Arlington (
Message of the President, Report of the Adjutant General, November 28, 1849, Ex. Doc. No. 5, p. 188a.
During the first eight months of 1849, over 40% of the 1,200 regular troops stationed in California deserted. (Message of the President (31st Congress 1st Session 1849, Ex. Doc. 5) Report of the Secretary of War, November 30, 1849 Ex Doc. No. 5); Message of the President (31st Congress 1st Session 1850 Ex Doc. No. 17), Sec. War George W. Crawford to Gen. Persifor Smith, April 3, 1849, p. 273; Col. R, B. Mason to Adj. Gen. Roger Jones, August 17, 1848, p. 533.
Message of the President (31st Congress 1st Session 1849, Ex. Doc. 5) Report of the Secretary of War, November 30, 1849, p. 90.
Message of the President (31st Congress 1st Session 1850 Ex Doc. No. 17), Gen. B. Riley to A.A.A. Gen. W. T. Sherman, April 16, 1849, pp. 899-900.
Message of the President (31st Congress 1st Session 1850 Ex Doc. No. 17), Gen. B. Riley to Gen. R. Jones, April 25, 1849, pp. 874-876.
Sherburne Cook, The Conflict Between the California Indian and White Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press 1976), p. 4.
Albert Hurtado, Indian Survival on the California Frontier (New Haven, Yale University Press 1988), p. 194.
J. Ross Browne to James Guthrie, May 20, 1856 (reports rec—™d, Secy. Of Treasury, 1854-1856) National Archives microfilm 177, roll 1, p. 347.
Captain John Gardiner to Frederick Gardner, July 13, 1856. John Gardiner letters at Fort Tejon State Park.
Sacramento Daily Democratic State Journal, January 5, 1854.
Rodenbough, Theo The Army of the United States (Reprinted New York: Argonaut Press 1966) 422.
Special Order #67, July 12, 1848; Persifor F. Smith to Roger Jones, May 21, 1849, California and New Mexico, 31 Cong., 1 Sess., Exec. Doc. 17, 740; Niles National Register, Vol. LXXIV, no. 1913, September 27, 1848.
Ibid, Gen. Bennet Riley to Gen. Roger Jones, June 11, 1849; Asst. Adj. Gen. E. R. S. Canby to Capt. William H. Emory, June 30, 1849, 916, 924.
Ibid, Gen. B. Riley to Gen. R. Jones, April 25, 1849, 873.
Ibid, Gen. B. Riley to Col. W.G. Freeman, A.A. Gen., August 30, 1849, p. 938.
Census of the City and County of Los Angeles, California for the Year 1850 (LA: The Times-Mirror Press 1929) p. 97.
Bell, Reminiscences of a Ranger (reprinted by Univ. Of Oklahoma, 1999), p. 164.
Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress, Part II (31st Congress, 2nd Session, Ex, Doc. No. 1) Nathaniel Lyons to E.R.S. Canby, May 22, 1850, p. 81.
Ibid, at p. 82.
Hurtado, supra, at p. 105-106
Message from the President, supra, Lyons to Canby, p. 82.
George Harwood Phillips, Chiefs and Challengers (Berkeley, University of California Press 1975) pp. 92-94.)
Special Order No. 7, November 7, 1853, National Archives RG 94; Rodenbough, supra, p. 422..
Bee, supra; see footnote 1.
Todd, supra, p. 380.
General Orders No. 31, June 12, 1851.
Todd, supra, p. 380.
Ordnance Manual (Wash. D.C., Gideon & Co. Press 1850), p. 201.
Col. T.T. Fauntleroy to Col. Cooper, 30 October 1854, quoted in Edgar M. Howell and Donald E. Kloster, United States Army Headgear to 1854 (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Unstitution Press 1969), p. 67, fn. 204.
H. Dean Guie, Bugles in the Valley (Oregon Historical Society 1977) p. 26.
Mansfield, On the Condition of Western Forts 1853-54 (Norman: Univ. Okla. Press 1963), 160.
Bandel, Eugene, Frontier Life in the Army 1854-61 (Glendale, Arthur H. Clark, 1932), p. 128.
Bell, supra, at p. 164.
Mansfield, supra, 162.
Todd, supra, at pp. 115-117.
Reilly, Robert, United States Military Small Arms 1816-1865 (Highland Park, N.J., Eagle Press, 1970), p. 14.
Ulysses Grant, Personal Memories (New York: Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885—“86), p. 60 .
U.S. Army, Ordnance Manual, supra, at pp. 244-247.
Woodward, Arthur, Journal of Lt. Thomas W. Sweeney (Westernlore Press, Los Angeles 1956), p. 147.
Reily, supra, p. 33.
Grant, supra, p. 117.
Grant, supra, p. 119; Ellington, Charles, The Trial of U.S. Grant (Glendale, Cal., Arthur H. Clarke Co. 1987) 60-66; Rodenbough, supra, 461.
Rodenbough, supra, p. 526.
Todd, Frederick, American Military Equipage Vol. II (New York: Charles Scribner—™s Sons 1980), pp. 382-83.
New York Daily Times, January 14, 1854.
New York Daily Times, February 10, 1854
Special Order, No. 17, Jan. 27, 1854. —œBy direction of the President of the United States, a Court of Inquiry will convene in the City of New York, on Monday, the 6th of February, 1854, or as soon thereafter as practicable, to examine into all the circumstances attending the embarkation, in December last, of the troops under the command of Col. William Gates, Third Artillery, on board the steamer San Francisco destined for California; the cause of the failure of the expedition, and the disorganization of the command at sea; and all facts and circumstances which may concern the conduct of the commander, and of the officers and men of the command.—
As of December of 1854, there were 1,365 officers and men stationed in the Department of the Pacific. (Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress, Part II (33rd Congress, 2nd Session, Ex, Doc. No. 1) Report of the Secretary of War, December 4, 1854, p. 6.)
Ibid, p. 3.
San Francisco Daily Alta California, May 5, 1854.
Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress (33rd Congress, 2nd Session 1854), supra, p. 3.
San Francisco Bulletin, May 16, 1856.
Los Angeles Star, May 10, 1856.
San Francisco Bulletin, May 23, 1856.

San Francisco Bulletin, May 16, 1856.
Todd, supra, at pp. 62-64.
Ibid, at pp. 65-66.
In April of 1859, Quartermaster General Thomas Jessup ordered that all remaining stocks of shakos be issued as forage caps. (Howell and Kloster, supra, at p. 67.)
Todd, supra, at pp. 57 and 383.
Swanson, Clifford, The Sixth United States Infantry Regiment, 1855 to Reconstruction (Jefferson, N.C., McFarland & Co. 2001), p.22.
Ibid; Sacramento Daily Bee, November 11, 1858.
Sacramento Union, November 12, 1858.
Riley, supra, p. 22.
Jerry Thompson, Texas and New Mexico
on the Eve of the Civil War (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press 2001), p. 54.
Swanson, supra, p. 32.
Message of the President (36th Congress, 1st Session 1860) Volume II, p. 415.
Swanson, supra, p. 43.
Ibid, p. 419.

The Banshee's Lonely Croon: Irish Dragoons

Irish troopers, who formed the backbone of the 1st Dragoons, were generally recent arrivals from Erin’s green shores. In the old country, these men, mostly of peasant stock, had been steeped in the lore of the realm of the supernatural. There was the “Evil Eye”, a silent, fixed stare that was believed to be fatal if cast upon one sitting before a fire while the moon was full. A person who wished to avoid being falsely accused of casting an “Evil Eye” would say “God Bless You” when looking at another. A grudger had the ability to fix an evil curse upon one’s horse. The only known cure was to burn the grudger’s coat under the nose of the afflicted animal. The banshee’s lonely croon warned of an imminent death in one’s family. A horse with one foreleg and one hind leg stockinged was considered to bring bad luck to the rider. Riding a dead man’s horse was considered by the Irish to be a bad idea and, indeed proved to be for Trooper John Garven, late of County Tipperary, Ireland.

During the autumn of 1855, Capt. E.A. Townsend visited Fort Tejon, California, in the company of Bishop Kip. In his journal, Capt. Townsend made the following entry: “Before breakfast this morning, the Bishop buried an Irish soldier of [John] Gardiner’s company [A]. He was the victim of superstition. He happened, by chance, to be the first man to ride Lieut. [Thomas] Castor’s horse after his death, and being soon taken sick with fever, his wife persuaded him that he could never recover because he was the first to ride a dead man’s horse. The surgeon says there was no reason why the man should have died if his mind had not been so depressed.”

In Irish folklore, the last corpse planted in a grave yard is required to stand guard over the site until the next corpse was buried. On October 15, 1855, in the post cemetery at Fort Tejon, Trooper Garven duly duly reported to relieve the recently departed Lieut. Castor from guard duty.

The Civil War witnessed some amazing innovations in modern warfare such as the railroad, submarines, observation balloons and the telegraph. While not as successful as some of these inventions, James “Paddy” Graydon’s plan to deploy exploding mules on the battlefield receives high marks for its originality.

Graydon sailed into Baltimore Harbor in 1853. As was the case for many a lad fleeing from Erin—™s green shores, Paddy quickly discovered —œno Irish need reply.— Out of work, he enlisted in the 1st U.S. Dragoons. Sent to the harsh reaches of New Mexico Territory, Paddy soon became the bugler in Captain Richard S. Ewell’s troop. When the Civil War came, Ewell resigned his federal commission and became a Confederate General. Paddy, who had been honorably discharged from the Army in 1858 and had opened a saloon near Fort Buchanan, headed for Santa Fe where he gained a captain’s commission in the New Mexico Volunteers.

Graydon, who spoke fluent Spanish, recruited a company composed of Nuevo Mexicanos, who functioned as an independent command. Its primary function was to watch for invading Texian troops riding out of El Paso. They did not have to look for long. On July 25, 1861, a Confederate expedition under General Henry Hopkins Sibley, a former Dragoon officer, entered New Mexico and proceeded to capture Fort Fillmore without having to fire a shot. The Rebel juggernaut steamrolled all Union resistance in its path and advanced up the Rio Grande Valley bound for Santa Fe and points west.

During the ensuing months, Graydon’s scouts remained in the saddle, spying on the Rebel column and harassing it when the opportunity presented itself. On February 19, 1862, Sibley’s troops approached Ft. Craig. While the invaders slept in their camp across the Rio Grande, the inventive Graydon embarked upon a scheme to stop the Rebel advance in its tracks. He selected two mules that had been ridden too hard and put away wet. Paddy affixed several boxes of exploding cannon shells to the mules and led them across the river. Easing silently past the sentries, he reached the outskirts of the camp. Graydon lit the fuses of the cannon shells and set the mules into motion toward the camp of the sleeping Texians. So far, so good.

As Paddy was heading back across the river he heard a rustling sound in the sage that was fast approaching from the rear—”it was the two mules. Graydon spurred his horse down the banks and into the river with the mules trotting fast behind with their fuses fast burning. Suddenly there came the great roar of an artillery battery. Not exactly a battery, but in a sense this is pretty much what it sounded like. The Rebels jolted out of their blankets sprang to arms and ran in every which direction. So did their horses and mules. Many of these critters ended up in Yankee hands.

Alas, these late night antics did not hamper the fighting abilities of Sibley’s forces. As General Sibley lay in a drunken stupor, his forces flanked the Yankees at Val Verde and forced them back into their fort. The Rebels continued their march up the valley, capturing Albuquerque and Santa Fe in the process. Once again Grayon’s company, minus two mules, rendered valuable service as it scouted and raiding the Rebel column.

Sibley eventually met his Waterloo at Glorieta Pass on March 26-28, 1862. As his defeated and worn troops retreated back to Texas they were repeatedly raided by Graydon’s pesky troop. Paddy Graydon exited the stage in few months later when he was killed in a frontier duel with an army surgeon.