California State Military Department
California State Military Museum
A United States Army Museum Activity
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts:
The Posts at Benicia
(Benicia Arsenal, Benicia Barracks, Benicia Quartermaster Depot, Benicia Arsenal Prisoner of War Branch Camp)
 
 
 
 
The Benicia Arsenal was a large military reservation located next to Suisun Bay in Benicia, California. For over 100 years, the arsenal was the primary US Army Ordnance facility for the West Coast of the United States.
 
In 1847 a 252-acre parcel of land adjoining the Benicia city limits on the east was acquired for a military reserve. First occupation of the post was on April 9, 1849, when two companies of the 2nd Infantry Regiment set up camp to establish Benicia Barracks, which also housed the 3rd Artillery Regiment . In 1851, after the urging of General Percifer F. Smith, the first Ordnance Supply Depot in the West was established in Benicia. In 1852 it was designated Benicia Arsenal. Notable military personnel who were stationed there during this time include Ulysses Grant, Edward Ord, and Joseph Hooker, among others.
 
The grounds of the Benicia Arsenal are also famous for stabling the Army's one and only Camel Corps. The short-lived Camel Corps was disbanded in 1863, but the Camel Barns, built in 1855, remain and are now the Benicia Historical Museum.
 
The Benicia Arsenal was a staging area during the Civil War for Union troops from the West, and the installation remained a garrisoned post until 1898 when troops were assigned to duty in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. During World War I, Benicia Arsenal gave ordnance support to all large Army installations in the Western States as well as supplying Ordnance material to American expeditionary forces in Siberia.
 
In the 24 hours following the Pearl Harbor bombing, 125 separate truck convoys were loaded and dispatched from the Benicia Arsenal, leaving its stock of ammunition, small arms and high explosives completely exhausted. Throughout the war, the arsenal supplied ports with weapons, artillery, parts, supplies and tools. In addition, the arsenal overhauled 14,343 pairs of binoculars, manufactured 180,000 small items for tanks and weapons and repaired approximately 70,000 watches. However, the arsenal is most famous for supplying munitions to Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle for the first bombing raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942, launched from the USS Hornet.
 
Prior to 1940, the arsenal employed 85 civilian employees; by October 1942, the payroll had reached 4,545. The labor shortage in 1944 forced the arsenal commander to put 250 Italian and 400 German prisoners of war to work, alongside 150 juveniles from the California Youth Authority. Women comprised nearly half the civilian employee force. During the Korean War, the number of civilians reached an all-time high of 6,700 workers..
 
Benicia Arsenal was deactivated in 1963 and the facility was closed in 1964. Its functions were transferred to Tooele Army Depot in Utah. The arsenal has been redeveloped as work and sales space for artists and artisans.
 
 
History
Executive Director, Council on America's Military Past
 
Benicia Barracks, circa 1850
 
To the Army of the West, Benicia, California was truly "a many splendored thing." It was more a geographical entity than just a simple fort or cantonment; in fact, it was at least four different things and not one at a time, but simultaneously.

When the Army Inspector visited it in 1854, the place was five years old. He found that there was Benicia Barracks, which was headquarters for the 3rd Artillery, "in a good state of discipline . . . well quartered, a good hospital and bakery . . . and all public property in a good state of preservation."
Then he noted there was a Benicia Arsenal, sort of brother to the Barracks, commanded by an Ordnance Department officer. Things were not as rosy here, no fault of the commander, though. The Arsenal was in the process of construction, and had been for several months, but with one complication. The powers in Washington decided that the bills for the work were not quite legal. and refused payment. The Commanding Officer found himself $9,044.66 in debt to the government for work already underway.

The contractor continued the projects, including a 100- by 40-foot stone storehouse, in order to finish before the rainy season. He figured he would take his chances on being paid.

A third element of Benicia was the Benicia Subsistence Depot. headed by an Artillery officer and charged with providing food for the West. The problem: by the time it got by sea around the Horn or across Panama. there was more that needed condemning than could be kept. The recommendation was, buy foodstuffs locally where "they can be obtained to any desirable extent and where they can no doubt he had at less price."

The tour of Benicia was not over . . . Benicia Quartermaster's Depot was under the charge of a Quartermaster Captain and had on its rolls a diverse variety of items. The good captain was "commodore" over a fleet of one sailing brig and a schooner, both used in moving supplies between San Diego and Puget Sound, and a sloop, used in moving supplies between Stockton. He employed 26 civilians, including a ship captain at $5 a day, and spent just under $100,000 a year in supplying the Pacific Army.
 
Benicia apparently was the goat of all work on the Pacific coast. When the Civil War broke out, it rushed 30,000 muskets by ship to the East via Panama, then had to supply a company of troops to guard the ships when the Navy did not have enough Marines to go around. It had to send another Army company to guard the powder magazine at Mare Island Navy Yard for six months until a Marine detachment from the USS Lancaster could relieve them.

It had a role in the Camel Experiment, too, although a final one. Many of the humped creatures who were veterans of the Beale expedition were herded from Fort Tejon and Camp Drum, near Los Angeles, to Benicia in 1863. Here they were sold at auction on February 26, 1864. Today, these barns are the Camel Barn Museum

It was a major recruit camp for California Volunteers and was enlarged with new barracks just in time to beat the snows and heavy rains of California's 1861-62 winter. This same winter brought misery to the many less fortunate camps that shivered under tents elsewhere in the state.

Battles as such never were fought from here, but the Civil War was close. Sentries fired at a ship that violated the 200-yard boundary line. Sentries watched in expectation when two other ships collided near the wharf, not accidentally but apparently in good commercial rivalry.

And the troops gathered in July 1863, to witness a tragic ceremony, the firing squad execution of private found guilty of murder and desertion. Formed in three sides, the soldiers watched while the prisoner was blindfolded and seated on his coffin. He fell backward into it as 11 bullets found their mark; one of the 12 muskets had a blank cartridge so that each man could feel he did not fire a fatal shot.

When the war ended., Benicia still had a roll. Companies were sent out by sea to Southern California to cross the deserts and outpost the forts of Nevada and Arizona. To Benicia, the end of a war meant only a reduction in activity, not a cessation. So it had been in the 1890's. the World Wars (bombs dropped on Tokyo by Alameda native James Doolittle came from Benicia), and the Korean War. Unlike most other western forts, Benicia had a role play that remained long after the frontier had been settled
 
Circa 1941, Arsenal Headquarters. Today it is an office building
 
 


1. Hospital (formerly Barracks hospital) (1856)
2. Magazine (1855)
7. Storehouse (Camel Barn) (1853)
8. Ammunition Shop (1855)
9. Ammunition Shop (Camel Barn) (1854)

10. Magazine (1857)
11. Pass Office (1943)
14. Shop (1903)
24. Quarters (1868)
25. Quarters (Duplex Officers') (1874)
26. Quarters (Duplex Officers') (1874)
27. Quarters (Lieutenant's) (1861)
28. Quarters (Commanding Officer's) (1860)
29. Storehouse (Clocktower Building) (1859)
32. Toolhouse (1900)
33. Quarters (1870)
34. Quarters (1870)
35. Quarters (1870)
36. Quarters (1944)
39. Guardhouse (1872)
42. Garage (1943)
44. Utilities Building (1872)
45. Barracks (1872)
46. Office Building (1870)
47. Office Building (1911)
48. Shop (1908)
51. Stables (1920)
52. Storehouse (1942)
53. Dynamometer Shop (1942)
55. Blacksmith Shop (1876)
56. Shop (1884)
56a. Shop (1944)
57. Shop (1877)
63. Storehouse (1917)
65. Boiler House (1943)
67. Office (1932)
68. Storehouse (1919)
69. Storehouse (1919)
70. Powerhouse (1919)
71. Storehouse (1920)
73. Storehouse (1942)
74. PhotoLab (1921)
75. Magazine (1929)
76. Magazine (1929)
81. Magazine (1930)
82. Magazine (1930)
83. Magazine (1930)
89. Storehouse (1942)
91. Machine Shop (1942, 1951)
92. Office (1942)
93. Truck Storage (1941)
94. Field Office (1942)
98. Carpenter Shop (1942)
99. Storehouse (1942)
105. FireStation (1943)
106. Bachelor Officers' Quarters (1943)
115. Cafeteria (1943)116. Carpenter Shop (1943)
122. Public Quarters (1941)
124. Public Quarters (1941)
125. Public Quarters (1941)
126. Public Quarters (1941)
127. Public Quarters (1941)
134. Public Quarters (1941)
154. Motor Test Shed (1944)
159. Warehouse (1944)
163. Warehouse (1945)
165. Reclamation (1945)
166. Paint Shop (1945)
167. Bar Stock Building (1945)
168. Packaging Building (1945)
170. Auto Parts Building (1945)
172. Motor Repair Shop (1945)
184. TimeClockBuilding (1944)
T-199 Maintenance Building (1953)
T-221 Garage (1953)
 
 
Prisoner of War Branch Camp
 
Originally a separate camp with 250 Italian and 400 German prisoners of war. Later in the war, it became a branch camp of the Stockton Ordnance Depot Prisoner of War Camp.
 

To find out more about the the Benicia posts, call the Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns at 707/745-5435
 
Need directions to the Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns on the old Benica Arsenal? CLICK HERE
 
Recommended reading on the history of the Benica Arsenal and Barracks:

This page was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Southwest, published in 1964
 
UPDATED 30 Nov 2008
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