California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
The Military and the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906
Guard on Duty in San Francisco Twenty-One Years Ago
 
The following article originally appeared in the April 1927 issue of The California Guardsman


Twenty-one years ago (as of this writing) San Francisco, Santa Rosa and others of the Bay cities, suffered from the terrible catastrophe of earthquake, fire and consequent depredations of crooks, thieves and looters. Within relatively a few hours, a vast metropolis had been reduced to an area of indescribable devastation and destruction. Earthquake, and then fire, destroyed a city. Three hundred thousand people were rendered homeless before the setting of another day (April 18, 1906). Immediately after the disaster of earthquake occurred, National Guardsmen of the 1st Infantry Regiment and one battalion of Coast Artillery (now 250th Coast Artillery Regiment, C. N. G.) reported, of their own free will, to their armories, realizing that they would be needed to assist in preserving order and rendering aid to the homeless.

At eight o'clock in the morning of the day of the disaster, four hundred officers and enlisted men of the San Francisco National Guard command had reported to the various armories in the city for duty, realizing that the city was in danger and that they, as National Guardsmen, would be needed. By evening, the mobilization of the National Guard of San Francisco was complete and more than a thousand citizen soldiers performed duty in fighting fire or preventing disorders incident to the disaster.

As the day progressed it was seen that the fire could not be stopped, and California and, the world realized that San Francisco needed help. The entire California National Guard was ordered to duty. The 7th Infantry Regiment (now 160th Infantry) was sent from Los Angeles to Oakland, the 5th Infantry Regiment (159th Infantry) was mobilized at Oakland, and several companies of the 5th Infantry Regiment were sent to San Francisco.

The service of the guardsmen during the month they were on duty was not fun. Guarding, dynamiting, fighting fire with buildings toppling and mains bursting was the hardest kind of work, and the old-timers of the National Guard of California tell of deeds performed by the troops which clearly indicate the heroism of the men who served.

The work of the California National Guard during the Earthquake and Fire of 1906 is something that the National Guard has always been justly proud of.

An editorial in praise of the National Guard which appeared in the San Francisco "Call" of April 27, 1906, is quite an eloquent statement of the organization, purposes and functions of the National Guard of 1906 and 1927:

The work done and still being done by the National Guard of California will be long and gratefully remem bered by the people of San Francisco and the State. The Minute Men and the Old Continentals were the National Guard of their day.

They were the National Guard (militia) that fought through the Revolution. Our present National Guard is descended in direct official line from those citizen soldiers that stood, yielding not, at Saratoga, Ticonderoga, Stony Point and Yorktown, and have proved themselves worthy of their ancestors.

In the War for the Union the Army that defended it, the million men that rallied to the standard, were citizen soldiers. The backbone of the Union Army was the militia. They went to war, trained in military formation and tactics and discipline in the National Guard organizations of the different States, and those who survived and marched before their commanders in the last review were the best seasoned veterans that ever bore arms.

In the National Guard is an esprit de corps as high as that in any army. The Guards enlist from patriotic motives only. They give the time and strength necessary to the maintenance of organization, and when ordered to duty they obey at any personal sacrifice. In the emergency that fell upon San Francisco the National Guard was immediately indispensable.

It was a situation quite beyond the police. The Regulars within instant reach were few. The warships were at a distance with their bluejackets. But Governor Pardee at once threw the National Guard into the streets of the city, and there, facing all the risk of a battle, and more, doing all duty and more, for they manned engines and fought fire, the National Guard preserved order, restrained the prowling and dishonest, succored and protected the fire refugees and held the situation in hand until the augmentation of the regular forces.

The National Guards were at once soldiers, firemen, doctors, nurses and purveyors of food to the hungry.

The Constitution of the United States provided for the militia and calls it "the safeguard of a free State." So it is. We have in the Union ten millions of men of military age and potential members of the National Guard. They are the same kind of men that composed it in the Revolution and Civil Wars.

These members of the California National Guard, who have blistered, and breathed ashes, standing guard over San Francisco, who have kept watch and ward in the night, lit only by the burning city, and have chased marauding wretches in the furtive shadows of toppling walls, are our fellow citizens, with the same stake in the State that we have, and they sacrifice themselves to protect others.

Calamities like that in San Francisco call for instant and organized authority. The ordinary machinery of government is not adjusted to such an emergency. That to which it was fitted has disappeared. Its mechanism will not fit the new conditions. The National Guard, however, is trained not to administer civil government when matters are placid and normal.

Its discipline is to fit it for dealing with the abnormal, with emergency and sudden change, to walk into chaos and make it order. The National Guard is the dependence of the whole country in time of disjointed government and affairs. The country must have such a dependence. If it be not the National Guard, the country must maintain an immense standing army at an enormous cost, for the necessity exists for organization in emergency, and if it be not supplied by the National Guard it must be by an increase in the Regular Army far beyond any that has ever been contemplated.

Indeed, to have at hand, ready equipped and disciplined, the force that must be kept available for emergencies that may end in anarchy, if it be a standing army, would exceed in cost the resources of the country, great as they are. People should stop and think soberly of what the National Guard means to the country.

Suppose there had been nothing in San Francisco to represent order, no force capable of compelling obedience, it is easy to see that anarchy would have been added to conflagration. The National Guard supplied in share of the order-compelling force.



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