The Californians used their enlistment bounty
to pay for their passage and set off by sea from San Francisco,
December 11, 1862. Their journey took them via the Isthmus of
Panama and thence up the eastern seaboard to New York and on to
Boston, arriving at Camp Meigs, Readville, Massachusetts (just
outside Boston) on January 4, 1863. Alter spending
several weeks of basic training at Camp Meigs, the Company was transported to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, and placed on active duty at Gloucester Point on February 22, 1863.
This first contingent of Californians was so successful that it was soon followed by 400 more volunteers under similar terms. They arrived at Camp Meigs during March and April of 1863, and soon alter receiving their basic training were assigned to the defenses of Washington, D.C. They became Companies E, F, L and M of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry.
On July 27, 1863, Company A, the California
Hundred, left Gloucester Point and on August 19, 1863, joined
up with its fellow Californians at Centreville. There, they maintained
a role in the defenses of the Capitol as well as countering the
guerrilla raids of Mosby. They participated in the defenses of
the Capitol during the siege by Jubal Early in July of 1864. In
August they were assigned to Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah, and participated in the sweep of the Confederates from the Shenandoah Valley during the fall and winter of 1864. They fought with distinction in the battles of Winchester, Luray, Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek. They were part of the long march from the Shenandoah to Petersburg in February and March of 1865 and later participated in the battles of Dinwiddie Court House, Five Forks and Sailors Creek. At wars end they were present at the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court House. They took part in the Grand Review at Washington, D.C. on May 23, 1865.
They were mustered out of the U.S. service
at Fairfax Court House, VA., July 20, 1865, and on August 3, 1865,
having returned to Camp Meigs, the men were paid off and the regiment
Having been a state since September of 1850,
the people of California were very much involved in the turmoil
of America's Civil War. Since the days of the initial gold discoveries,
California had grown enormously in size and importance to the
support of the national government. Gold helped to lubricate the
great industrial machinery of the East and now was needed to help
finance the conflagration then raging.
Since California was remote by comparison to the balance of the then existing United States, travel to and from California was very hazardous and difficult. One had two choices; the perilous wagon journey overland across parching desert and past hostile Indians or an equally uncomfortable journey by sea to Panama, followed by a twenty-seven mile trek through steaming mosquito infested jungle to the Pacific [or Atlantic] side there boarding another oceangoing vessel to points north. The gold was shipped "round the horn" of South America by Pacific Mail Steamers.
The United States Government, in order to
protect these important migratory and commerce routes, had stationed
about thirty-five hundred Regular troops about the west;
from remote blockhouses in Washington Territory to lonely, arid, sand-blown posts in the deserts of the Arizona Territory; and at many points around California, from the Docks at Benicia to the waters of the Colorado River.
When the fighting erupted in April of 1861, the California Legislature declared the State for the Union (even though some of the "Placer" and southern counties had decidedly southern leaning populations) and pitched in with raising volunteers for the cause. By December of 1861, California had raised two regiments of cavalry and five regiments of infantry for the Union. Later, three more infantry regiments would be enlisted along with a battalion each of "Mounted Infantry" and "Native Cavalry" for a grand total of sixteen thousand plus Californians enlisting as volunteers during the war. This was a sizable amount for a fledgling state far from the core. As the Volunteers were mustered into service they replaced the Regular United States troops as they were drawn off to the center of the war to fight.
All of the troops raised in California as volunteers served in the west at the places previously manned by the small force of Regulars with a few new additions [Drum Barracks being one of the most important additions]. The government deemed this necessary in order to keep California safe for the Union because of a fear of a possible Confederate takeover. In fact, only a small detachment of cavalry with the California Column ever had fighting contact with actual Rebels. The main hazards to the California Volunteers were Indians, hostile locals, and hostile environmental conditions. These volunteers suffered as many a privation as their eastern counterpart but without the chance for the battle glories dreamed of by the soldiers of the day. This was a source of great consternation and regret by many of the California Volunteers. Some claimed they were misled when they enlisted, and a great deal of grumbling ensued. There were some desertions, but the great many of the volunteers did their promised, and no less important, duty till their terms expired.
News from the front was not encouraging
for Union men during the summer and fall of 1862. The realization
that this would be no flash in the pan fight was setting in. In
San Francisco during this time a local militia officer, J. Sewall
Reed, along with others were hatching a plan to get themselves
and other Californians to where the fighting was.
The group had friends in high places in the Bay State and managed to get the ear of Governor John A. Andrew. They proposed to raise a company of a hundred handpicked men in California to serve as a company in a regiment of cavalry then being raised for the Massachusetts quota. An arrangement was reached in favor of the venture as long as they provided their own transportation to the East. In the fall an advertisement appeared in a San Francisco newspaper:
Many were said to have applied but only the hundred most skilled were accepted to enlist. By early December the ranks were filled and on the eleventh, after pooling their bounty money to pay for transportation offered at half price by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, the "California Hundred", amid cheering crowds, steamed out of the Golden Gate on the Steamer Golden Age bound for Panama. Upon reaching Panama a cog railway was taken across the isthmus to Aspinwall where they boarded the Ocean Queen for New York.
The California Hundred arrived in New York at 2a.m. January 3rd, 1863, after a less than pleasant trip in crowded conditions with very poor fare. They were met at the dock by the "Sons of Massachusetts" welcoming committee and escorted to the New England Rooms for a well-appreciated breakfast and dinner. That evening they were again aboard ship bound for their sponsor city, Boston. After more cheers and welcoming The Hundred were sent to Camp Meigs at Readville, Massachusetts for training, here they officially became Company A of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry.
Training at Camp Meigs was not as mundane for The Hundred as for most other troops. They had many visitors, as the Easterners had a curiosity to know what the Californians were like. Their unique hat brass, a set of downward crossed dragoon style brass sabers along with brass letters "CAL 100" in a semi circle over the top, was mentioned by George Towle in his Recollections as having "served as a regulation pass when we visited Boston." The evening of January 13th, a surprise party was given at The Hundred's barracks by the Bunker Hill Association of Charlestown, Massachusetts. This banquet was held to honor the Californians for their patriotism and, the presentation of an American Flag by a Miss Abbie Lord. After Miss Lord's speech, Captain Reed accepted the standard on behalf of his Company. Too large for cavalry service, the flag was only used once during the war. Sadly, it served only to shroud the body of the Captain whose eloquent acceptance speech brought the Barracks to cheers and song long into the evening that night. The very next morning it was off to Boston where more feting awaited. The Mayor of Boston received them at the City Rooms, Governor John Andrew at the State house, and ending the day with a "bountiful collation" at Faneuil Hall.
Upon returning to camp January 27th, after a company wide ten-day furlough, The Hundred were issued their horses and equipment. From this point until their departure for Virginia, on February 12th, they were involved in constant training and drill. Company A arrived at their first camp, Gloucester Point, Virginia, across the river from Yorktown on February 22, 1863, along with Companies B, C, D and K under the command of Major Caspar Crowinshield. The boys from California had received their wishes; they were now in position to see the "Elephant" and do something about it!
During The Hundred's stay in the Peninsular Arena they were mostly involved in scouting and picket duty. Their assessment of the manner in which they were being used was cause for much complaint and criticism of their officer's competence. As westerners they knew you didn't catch bushwackers by riding up and down the beaten path. Their familiarity with Indian style warfare made them good judges in this concern and, unknown to them at this time, well suited for their future duties. However, their ignorance of military protocol was cause for some rough times in the beginning of their service.
The Hundred's first big test came during a June expedition to burn the bridges across the South Anna River. In a dismounted charge, across the water and into the fortifications of a detachment of the 44th North Carolina, "seventy Californians and twenty Massachusetts men captured one hundred and twenty-three" Carolinians, officers and all. Now baptized by Mars they watched the bridge burn and fall into the water, their elation checked by the lifeless body of Joe Burdick and the cries of two seriously wounded comrades.
The enthusiasm started by the raising of The Hundred was still going strong in San Francisco after their departure. There were many men who didn't make the first cut that still wanted to go to war. De Witt Clinton Thompson, a charter member of the First California Guard and member of General Halleck's staff, felt he could raise a battalion of four companies for service in the east in the same manner as Captain Reed. Massachusetts Governor Andrew, having some troubles filling his quotas, readily agreed. On January 15th, 1863, Thompson received permission from the Secretary of War. The next day a notice appeared in the Alta California requesting enlistees for:
" three years or the war, under the Massachusetts Quota, and will leave for New York on the 11th of February next. Transportation has now been provided for and sufficient funds are now under the control of hon. Ira P. Rankin to pay all necessary expenses of the organization. Uniforms, quarters, substinence and necessary outfit will be furnished to the men as soon as accepted."
Appointed Major by Governor Andrew, Thompson had fifty applicants by the 19th. However, February 10th, the day before Thompson first proposed to sail, only one hundred eighty-five enlistees were on hand. The departure date was postponed and additional recruiting offices were opened. The enlistees bunked at Platt's Music Hall and drilled daily in addition to making an impressive showing at a few parade and reviews.
On March 20th and 21st, the volunteers were mustered into service. There were only three complete companies ready to sail on the steamer S.S.Constitution March 23rd. Captain David A. De Merritt stayed behind to complete recruiting his company and did not reach Boston until mid May. Those that sailed that beautiful clear March day were treated to the "traditional" parade, speeches, and salutes. Throngs cheering from the shore and boats must have offset, temporarily at least, the trepidations one should feel when going to war. It was another wonderful send-off for the patriots from California even though it belied what waited ahead.
The voyage aboard the S. S. Constitution was miserable and a stop had to be made in Mexico to take on fresh provisions to quell insurrection. Guard duty caused the Battalion's first casualty. Hiram Townsend of Walnut Grove fell overboard while on guard duty one evening leaning on a rail while seasick. Feelings during the voyage were not improved as the Californians thought the steamer's crew made but a "trifling search." For the Atlantic side of the trip The Battalion boarded the same ship that conveyed The Hundred, the Ocean Queen. The Alta California newspaper reported the Battalion debarking the Ocean Queen at New York cursing the vessel, her captain and all connected with Vanderbilt's steamship line. The New York welcoming committee consisted of a few hack drivers, two newspaper boys, some old women selling apples and a Sheriff with a writ of habeas corpus freeing 18-year-old Isaac Golinsky, who had wanted to "back out" at the last moment before sailing, from service. Although this was not the welcome they had expected, a nice meal and show that evening improved The Battalion's mood. The next day, after a parade and speech by Governor Nye of Nevada, they were off to Camp Meigs at Readville, Massachusetts for training and designations as Company E, under Captain Charles Eigenbrodt; L, under Captain Zabdiel Adams; F, under Captain David De Merritt; and M, under Captain George Manning.
Hard fighting had cooled the Easterners taste for war and the fanfare enjoyed by The Hundred a few months earlier didn't materialize for The Battalion. There was some resentment of this as they had come so far to fight, and possibly even die, for their country. Even worse feelings were instilled when Governor Andrew paid more attention to his first "Negro Regiment" the 54th Massachusetts, also training at Camp Meigs, than to the Californians.
The Battalion received marching orders May 12th, and feeling they had been poorly treated, were glad to leave Massachusetts. Arriving in Washington City May 16th, they were attached to the 22nd Army Corps. For their first weeks of service they did scouting duty around the city. During June they were moved from East Capitol Hill to Camp Brightwood for picket and patrol duties in the region between Washington and the Blue Ridge.
On August 6, 1863 The Hundred and The Battalion
were finally united along with the rest of the regiment at Centerville,
Virginia. For the next year the 2nd Massachusetts
Cavalry would operate in the area of Virginia fast becoming known as "Mosby's Confederacy"; Fauquier, Loudoun, and Fairfax Counties, Virginia. John Singelton Mosby, a protégée of J.E.B. Stuart, with a group of "Partisan Rangers" began harassing the Union installments in the area in a series of lightning like strikes. After a raid, Mosby's Rangers would scatter to the wind making retribution almost impossible. Mosby's men knew the country and the sympathetic inhabitants giving them a great advantage over their cumbersome foes.
The Californians were well matched for this duty as their skills as horsemen and gunmen were on a par with their new antagonists. However, they were again immensely frustrated as they felt the Command just didn't understand how to properly counter "guerrillas". Their officer's predictable folly of following the highways while on scouting expeditions led to at least two major disasters during 1864; Dranesville in February, and, Mount Zion Church in July. In each of these fights with Mosby the Californians suffered heavily during surprise attacks resulting in several killed, many wounded and scores hauled off to the horrors of the Confederate prison camps. Yet, despite the impossible task and handicaps handed to them, The Californians performed their duties with honor and éclat, even winning the admiration of their foes. Ranger Munson, in his Reminiscence's, stated:
" his [Capt. Reed, Dranesville] men began breaking through the fences and into the fields, but fighting all the while His Californians, especially notoriously good fighters, were standing up to the rack like men, dealing out to us the best they had. They rallied at every call on them and went down with banners flying."
In spite of these setbacks, the situation was not a comfortable one for Mosby's men either. In several clashes with the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, Mosby ended up on the short side losing many of his best and brightest subordinates. Mosby himself was almost killed in the Coyle's Tavern raid carrying home two Californian bullets in his thigh and groin that deceptively pleasant August 24th, 1863.
During July of 1864, General Jubal Early
crossed the Potomac with his Rebel Army and made an advance on
Washington City. The Californians and the Bay State Boys were
placed in position to reconnoiter and contest his advance. Along
one thoroughfare a hand full of Californians from Company M, and
Massachusetts's men from Company D, were the only troops between
Early and the heart of the Capitol. Details of the Regiment gallantly
stood at the Monocacy River fords, Fort Reno, and Fort Stevens
to slow the advance and buy time for reinforcements. When Early's
advance was checked, he withdrew, but not before the entire 2nd
Massachusetts Cavalry ripped into his Army's coat-tails with their
new Spencer repeating carbines in a fierce seesaw fight at Rockville,
Maryland. They had seen him in, and it was only polite to see
The late summer of 1864 brought a welcome change for the men of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. General Grant had enough of Early and the cozy avenue he used to stroll up to the Capitol, the Shenandoah Valley. This area had provided food and cover for the enemy since the beginning of the war. General Philip Sheridan was given the helm of a new force, the Army of the Shenandoah, and charged with destroying Early, his Army and his breadbasket. August found the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry on the move for twenty-one days straight while constantly fighting and performing bravely. The Regiment was riding high in the saddle fighting with "Little Phil". They were happily on the offensive now and the bushwhacking business was behind them. At August's end several more of California's bravest troopers had joined the ethereal ranks of Captain Reed and the others. The dashing Captain Charles S. Eigenbrodt was shot dead from his horse in a charge at Halltown on August 25th, and gallant Lieutenant Charles E. Meader was killed the next day in a "hand to hand fight" at Charlestown, while in command of The Hundred.
September brought the 2nd Massachusetts a welcome honor. They were made a part of Sheridan's Reserve Brigade of Cavalry along with two Regiments of U. S. Regulars. As icing on the cake their Colonel Lowell was appointed Brigade Commander.
Fighting took place all that month and into the next with battles at Opequan creek, Locke's Ford, Winchester, Waynesboro, Round Top and Tom's Brook.
Early October the Regiment was ordered to burn all forage and confiscate all supplies in the Valley. The order was carried out so well that, within four days of the order, fodder had to be shipped in for the Regiment's horses. An angered Early struck back on October 19th, at Cedar Creek and nearly had his way if not for a stubborn stand by the Cavalry Corps and part of the 6th Corps. With his Army recovered in the afternoon Sheridan attacked and Colonel Lowell and his boys shined. Charge after charge finally broke the back of Early's Army, and again, the Spencers of the 2nd Massachusetts helped usher him off. The toll this time was heavy, Brave Colonel Lowell was dead, as was Captain Rufus Smith while leading the surviving members of The Hundred. Ten of the Regiments own died that day along with twenty-two wounded.
After Early's expulsion from the Valley, the Regiment stayed in the area doing picket and patrol duty until February. The high point during this time was an ordered raid into Loudoun County to burn and forage that must have satisfied many as this area had given Mosby so much aid during past clashes. The low point was a freezing march toward Gordonsville and back during mid December.
Battle scarred and worn the Californians joined one of the hardest marches of the war when Sheridan left Winchester for Petersburg February 27th, 1865, to join the Army of the Potomac in its campaign against Lee. After destroying the remnants of Early's Army, the Cavalry Corps literally worked their way east. For the next month the Regiment marched, fought, skirmished and destroyed all that could be of use to the enemy for almost three hundred miles. The entire journey made worse by unrelenting rain and torturous mud.
Arriving in camp at Petersburg they were but three days at rest before they were back in the saddle again. This time, unbeknown to them, they were to play a pivotal part in the last chapter of the Rebellion.
March 31st, the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry participated in the attack on Dinwiddie Court House and, on April 1st, they were in the thick of the fight at Five Forks breaking the Confederate right and insuring the fall of Petersburg. The Regiment participated in the fight at Sailors Creek on the 6th, capturing Ewell's Corps, and on the 8th, of April they helped capture Lee's desperately needed supply train at Appomattox Station. The next day they stood in Lee's Army's path with the rest of the Cavalry Corps. Six grueling weeks of pushing human endurance to the limit would now pay-off in spades. A white flag was brought forth from the Rebel lines and presented to the Cavalry Corps. The war in Virginia was over and the Bear State Soldiers would now witness what they all had wished for two and a half years.
After returning to Petersburg, the Regiment was ordered south to North Carolina to assist in rounding up Johnson's troops. Johnson surrendered prior to their arrival and the detail turned back for Washington City in time to participate in The Grand Review on May 23rd. The Californians proudly bore the Bear Guidon of The Hundred and the wreath encircled Star Guidons of The Battalion aloft to the cheers of the multitude.
The cheering over, the Regiment returned to camp and were mustered out of United States service at Fairfax Court House, Virginia July 20th. Two days later they were on the way back to Camp Meigs at Readville, Massachusetts where the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry was paid off and disbanded August 3rd, 1865.
Of the nearly five hundred Californians who began the adventure only one hundred eighty-two were left to muster out. Those that wished to return to California were left to find and finance their own way home!
Samuel Corbett's Diary entry for August 8th, 1865, tells us best what it must have been like after such the adventure:
"I find that I am a very badly used up man now that the excitement of war is over, I find that I am completely let down from nervous prostration. I cannot sleep in the house, the air seems so close, and the beds are too soft. I find myself lying on the floor every morning with no knowledge of how I got there. My broken ribs hurt - in fact I am one mass of hurt. During the last campaign in six weeks I lost 40 pounds of flesh, and had it lasted 2 weeks longer I should have left it all on the sacred soil of Va."
George Towle, entrusted by his comrades to transport the Californian's flags back to the California State Adjutant General, put it another way:
"The wearing character of the service has been but lightly touched upon but my honest belief has always been that the hardships attending my term of service would result in lopping off from the end of my life not less than ten years."
The above being the testimony of some of the luckier troopers, one can only begin to imagine what it must have been like for those returning from hell on earth; Andersonville, Florence, Millen and other southern prison camps. Several of the most affected troopers, although surviving the war, perished in the parole camps, hospitals and homes of loved ones in the months soon after the close of hostilities.
In the years after the war the veterans
of The Hundred and Battalion would meet, on occasion, at reunions
of the Grand Army of the Republic veteran's organization. Regimental
Comrades spread across the full width of the country; from Maine,
to Florida, to California. Those that returned to California settled
anywhere from Northern California to Los Angeles, with the greatest
concentration being in the San Francisco area. The Lincoln Post
#1, of San Francisco, boasted thirteen surviving members as Comrades
in 1886 out of the forty 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry veterans listed
in California Posts.
The largest post war gathering of veterans of The Hundred and Battalion occurred in conjunction with the 1886 National Grand Army of the Republic Reunion in San Francisco. The surviving veterans of The Hundred and Battalion gathered in Sacramento, at a [side] reunion, to tell stories and catch up on the years gone by. There, on the Capitol grounds, twenty-one years since they last stood together, possibly for the last time as a group, the attending surviving members of The California Hundred and Battalion stood proudly under their battle flag and had their image captured for eternity.
The Following was printed in the Daily Alta California Thursday Morning, November 2, 1865 :
Mr. Geo. W. Towle, Jr., of Santa Clara, one of the survivors of the gallant "California Hundred," who left here in December, 1862, to serve in the Army of the Potomac as a portion of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry, was in town to-day on his way to Sacramento, with the original company flag, or guidon, carried by the company through their whole campaign,
And now donated by the survivors to the State of California. On the staff is a silver plate bearing the following inscription: "Presented to the California Hundred by Daniel Norcross, of San Francisco. December 1st, 1862. Presented to the State of California by the remaining members of the California Hundred, July 24th, 1865."
The colors of the guidon are faded and the silk worn and torn to shreds and patches by long service on the field, and it was found necessary to attach a large blue satin pennant to the staff on which to inscribe the list of battles in which the company participated.
This list, which is printed in gold, is as follows:
" South Anna, Drainsville, Aldie, Fort Reno, Rockville, Poolsville, Summit Point, Berryville, Berryville Pike, Charlestown, Hall Town ( four days,) Opequan, (six days,) Winchester, Luray, Waynesboro, Tom's Brook, Cedar Creek, South Anna, White Oak Road, Dinwiddie Court House, Five Forks, Sailor's Creek, Appomattox Court House."
Accompanying the flag is a letter, neatly engrossed on parchment, addressed to the Adjutant general of the Sate of California, and signed by each individual of the company now remaining alive. This letter reads as follows:
"Camp of Cavalry Forces, Fairfax Court House, Va., July 20th, 1865.}
"To the Adjutant General of the State of California: Sir-The California Hundred, the first Company organized on the Pacific Coast for the war in the East, and the suppression of armed rebellion, prior to their departure from San Francisco, California December 11th, 1862, were presented by Daniel Norcross, Esq., of San Francisco with the Bear Flag which this letter accompanies. This flag has been carried by the Company through nearly three years of active service, including twenty-three general engagements, (as denoted upon the pennant,) and under which three of our Company Commanders and many of our comrades have fallen. And now, at the final muster out and discharge of the Company, the remaining members, whose names appear in this letter, respectfully present it, through you, to our adopted State, California.
"The accompanying American Flag was presented to the Hundred upon their arrival in Massachusetts by Miss Abbie A. Lord, a patriotic young lady of Charlestown, Massachusetts, but has never been carried upon the field of battle, as it was too large for cavalry service. (It has never been unfurled by the Company except in one instance- to enshroud the remains of our original Company Commander, Captain J.S. Reed.) It is the wish of the Company that the same disposition be made of this as was the Bear Flag.
Wesley R. Crumpton,
Chas E. Benjamin,
Chas. H. Powers,
Thos. D. Barnstead.
John L. Hunter,
J. Carey Ross,
Wells W. West,
Geo. M. Johnson,
Ed. B. Campbell
Wm. G. Anthony,
Geo. W. Goulding,
Samuel Smith, Jr,
Richard C. Samuel,
H. H. Fillebrown,
Henry S. E. Tubbs,
Geo. T. Holt,
Henry S. Sherwin,
Issac R. McIntosh,
Charles H. Ackerman,
Wm. E. Starr,
Cyrus F. Demsey,
Geo. W. Towle, Jr.,
Peter E. White,
Byron D. Gibbs,
C. P. Briggs,
Jeremiah J. Carey,
John D McCarthy,
Wm. H. McNeil,
Darnley O. Balcom.
Only a portion of the Company have yet arrived from the East, the remainder being unable to pay the rates of fare demanded, and the State of Massachusetts having declined to forward them, on the ground that as they were mustered into the service of the United States in San Francisco, it was the business of the General Government to return them to the place from whence they were received into the service. The War Department has now consented to furnish transportation for those still at the East, and all who desire will, therefore, be returned here within a short time. They have deserved well of their country and our state, and their services will, we trust, not soon be forgotten by their fellow citizens.
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