History of California
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California in the Civil War ©American Battlefield Trust
1861 Jan 1 - 1865

California in the American Civil War

California, USA

California's involvement in the American Civil War included sending gold east to support the war effort, recruiting volunteer combat units to replace regular U.S. Army units sent east, in the area west of the Rocky Mountains, maintaining and building numerous camps and fortifications, suppressing secessionist activity (many of these secessionists went east to fight for the Confederacy) and securing the New Mexico Territory against the Confederacy. The State of California did not send its units east, but many citizens traveled east and joined the Union Army there, some of whom became famous.

Democrats had dominated the state from its inception, and Southern Democrats were sympathetic to secession. Although they were a minority in the state, they had become a majority in Southern California and Tulare County, and large numbers resided in San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Monterey, and San Francisco counties. California was home for powerful businessmen who played a significant role in Californian politics through their control of mines, shipping, finance, and the Republican Party but Republicans had been a minority party until the secession crisis. The Civil War split in the Democratic Party allowed Abraham Lincoln to carry the state, albeit by only a slim margin. Unlike most free states, Lincoln won California with only a plurality as opposed to the outright majority in the popular vote.

In the beginning of 1861, as the secession crisis began, the secessionists in San Francisco made an attempt to separate the state and Oregon from the union, which failed. Southern California, with a majority of discontented Californios and Southern secessionists, had already voted for a separate Territorial government and formed militia units, but were kept from secession after the outbreak of war by Federal troops drawn from the frontier forts of the District of Oregon and District of California (primarily Fort Tejon and Fort Mojave).

Patriotic fervor swept California after the attack on Fort Sumter, providing the manpower for Volunteer Regiments recruited mainly from the pro-Union counties in the north of the State. Gold was also provided to support the Union. When the Democratic party split over the war, Republican supporters of Lincoln took control of the state in the September elections. Volunteer Regiments were sent to occupy pro-secessionist Southern California and Tulare County, leaving them generally powerless during the war itself. However some Southerners traveled east to join the Confederate Army, evading Union patrols and hostile Apache. Others remaining in the state attempted to outfit a privateer to prey on coastal shipping, and late in the war two groups of partisan rangers were formed but neither were successful.