California State Military Department
The California State Military Museum
A United States Army Museum Activity
Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts:
Fort McDowell
(Camp Reynolds, Post of Angel Island)

History
by John Soennichsen
Historian, Angel Island Association

A great many things have occurred on Angel Island since Lieutenant Juan Manuel Ayala anchored the Spanish packet-boat San Carlos at the island in 1775, while compiling the first chart of San Francisco Bay. Over the years the island has been a Mexican land grant, a military base, home to a quarantine station and an immigration station, and, finally, a state park. However, it is the military that has had the longest-playing role in the island’s history. The Army first set up camp on Angel Island during the Civil War, and remained on the island for almost 100 years. The island, the largest in San Francisco Bay, has been part of the defenses of the bay on three separate occasions.

The military history of Angel Island began in 1850, shortly after the Mexican War, when President Fillmore declared the island a military preserve. When California entered the Union, in 1848 San Francisco bay was virtually defenseless. El Castillo de San Joaquin, the little Spanish fort at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, was a ruin, the result of poor construction, rain, earthquakes, and neglect. It was the only defensive works, with the exception of a crude single-gun battery on Black Point (Fort Mason), erected by either the Spanish or the Mexican authorities during their tenures. San Francisco’s lack of defense was of concern to the American authorities, and an 1850 commission prepared a comprehensive plan for the defense of the bay. As a result of that plan, artillery batteries were installed on Alcatraz, and construction began on what would become Fort Point, on the site of the old Castillo de San Joaquin.

Angel Island was to be part of the “second line” of defense in the original planning, but for years the island continued to lead a pastoral existence, home only to a number of squatters who eked out a living by fishing and farming. In 1858 the Army Engineers sent two officers to the island to conduct surveys, but when they finished their work disappeared into the files, and no other action was taken. In 1861 the Civil War gave impetus to the work on the defenses for the bay; Alcatraz had become a major fortress that eventually would mount more than 100 guns, and Fort Point was strengthened with additional guns and men, but Angel Island and the “second line” of defense existed only on paper.
Public concern over the inadequacy of San Francisco Bay defenses continued to mount, however. Finally, in 1863, orders to place guns on the island came from Washington. On August 24th Captain R. S. Williamson of the Army Engineers was sent to the island, where he made another survey, and recommended that artillery batteries be placed on the island at Points Stuart, Knox and Blunt. These were to be temporary batteries, with wooden gun mounts and earthen emplacements. The initial military purpose served by Angel Island was as an artillery post, part of the defenses of San Francisco Bay.

Captain Williamson’s report was endorsed by the Department of the Pacific. Construction of the new batteries began in September, 1863, under the supervision of Colonel Rene De Russey, United States Army Engineers. That same month the Department of the Pacific ordered Company B, Third Artillery, to go into camp on Angel Island. On September 21, fifty-six men of Company B, under the command of Second Lieutenant John L. Tiernon, left Fort Point, and arrived on Angel Island the same day.

One of the first acts of the acting company commander was to name the new post “Camp Reynolds,” in honor of Major-General John Reynolds, commander of First Corps, Army of the Potomac, who had been killed by a sniper at the Battle of Gettysburg the previous July. General Reynolds had been a popular and much admired officer, considered by some to be the best officer in the Army of the Potomac. Lieutenant Tiernon then looked for a site on which to build quarters. He selected a long sloping hill that ran down towards a cove on the west side of the island; it had the advantage of being between the new batteries at Point Knox and Point Stuart.

While Colonel De Russey and the engineers worked to construct the artillery batteries, with some assistance from the men of the Third Artillery, a civilian contractor, began work on the Camp Reynolds garrison buildings. Progress was slow; the evidence suggests that most of the command did not get into quarters before winter—they spent the winter in tents. Two officers’ quarters were completed in 1863, together with some service buildings, but the balance of the original Camp Reynolds buildings, including two sets of barracks for enlisted men, were not completed until 1864. In that same year, the post’s first hospital (there would be three over the years) was built some distance to the north, in a cove that had been known as Racoon Bay or Glenn Cove. After the erection of the hospital and the surgeon’s and steward’s quarters, the cove became known as Hospital Cove, and is known today as Ayala Cove.

While the post was being constructed the Army Engineers were at work on the artillery batteries. Roads to the batteries on Point Knox and Point Stuart were completed by June of 1864. Construction on the Point Stuart battery began in November, 1863, and the battery’s armament, a ten-inch Columbiad (howitzer) and three thirty-two pounders, was mounted by August of 1864. One month later Point Knox was ready for service, armed with seven thirty-two pounders, an eight-inch Rodman, and two ten-inch Rodmans. The emplacements were earthen, and the guns were mounted on wooden carriages coated with coal tar for protection against the elements.

The construction on the batteries on Point Stuart and Point Knox went forward on schedule, but the work on the battery at Point Blunt did not. The great difficulty in traversing the distance between Point Blunt and Camp Reynolds made it necessary to place the battery under the command of Alcatraz, and man the battery with men from that post, who could more easily reach the point by water. A barracks and officers quarters had to be erected for their use. Excavations for the emplacement were completed by April of 1864, but there was a delay, and heavy rains damaged the parapet. The work was delayed until March of 1865, when the barge carrying the guns to the battery swamped on the beach. The final disaster occurred in May of 1865; the parapet dropped five feet and slid forward; the battery was abandoned, and the guns were removed in 1866. The barracks and officers’ quarters on the point became a sub-post of Camp Reynolds.

In July of 1864 General Irvin McDowell, Commanding Officer of the Department of the Pacific, made an inspection tour of Angel Island. Accompanying the Army officers and dignitaries on the tour was a young reporter who later would become famous as “Mark Twain,” but at the time, proud of being a reporter, called himself “Clemens, of the Call.” Clemens said the fortifications on Angel Island “were fast growing into formidable proportions.” That same month the Commanding Officer of Camp Reynolds reported that thirteen guns were mounted and there were 7,400 pounds of powder, and 2,600 rounds of shot and shell on hand.

When the Civil War ended, and the defense of San Francisco Bay no longer a paramount need, Camp Reynolds became a Recruit Depot, responsible for handling recruits on their way to posts in the west. A second change occurred in 1871, when Peninsula Island was placed under the control of the commanding officer of Camp Reynolds. (It was pointed out that the name was ludicrous—it was either an island or a peninsula, it couldn’t be both.) This property was what we know today as Belvedere, and it was made a military reserve by presidential order in 1867, as it was considered important for the defense of the approaches to the Benicia Arsenal and the Mare Island Naval Yard. No military structures were erected on the new reserve; patrols from Angel Island serving to protect the property from trespassers. In 1885 a legal opinion voided the government’s rights to the military reserve, and the commander of Camp Reynolds once more controlled just one island, not two,

During the last part of the Nineteenth Century the men stationed at Camp Reynolds were involved in what has become loosely known as the “Indian Wars.” The Army of the time was not large, and small units were scattered across the western United States. Troops were sent up and down the coast by steamer, and at one time or another regiments with headquarters on the island had men posted from Sitka, Alaska, to the Mexican Border. The 12th Infantry, at one time officially “stationed” on Angel Island, actually had troops at eleven different posts in three states or territories. The Ninth Infantry, with Headquarters at Camp Reynolds in 1869, had Company D, regimental headquarters, and the regimental band on Angel Island. The balance of the regiment was stationed at nine other locations, seven of them in California and two in Nevada. Units came and went, and the population on the island varied from 100 to 700, as soldiers from Camp Reynolds fought and scouted, provided guards and escorts, and patrolled the western United States. In 1873 Companies E and G of the 12th Infantry were sent north to fight in the Modoc War, both companies suffering numerous casualties in the conflict. In addition to providing troops for western outposts, Camp Reynolds continued its functions as a Recruit Depot, receiving soldiers new to the Army.

During this period Camp Reynolds had a number of commanding officers who had distinguished themselves in the Civil War. Two of them, William R Shafter and Orlando Bolivar Willcox had been awarded Medals of Honor during the war, and others, including John C. Tidball, August Kautz, William Henry French and John Haskell King, had outstanding war records. All of these officers had been awarded the brevet rank of brigadier-general or higher.

One of the enduring myths about Angel Island is that the island served as an “Indian prison” during the Indian Wars. At the time the Army did consider using a “garrisoned island” as a place to house such prisoners, who had become “quite numerous” at interior posts, but the idea does not appear to have ever become policy. In 1869 there were two Indian prisoners on the island, who were furnished with tents, clothing and rations, and had the freedom of the island. The 1870 census lists sixteen Indians on the island, aged from 15 to 46. This appears to have been the largest number of Indians ever held on Angel Island, hardly enough to make it a prison camp. It appears that these Indians were not captured in battle. They were listed as “Indian convicts,” and seem to have been troublemakers and petty criminals from the reservations.

New buildings were added to the post over the years; a new hospital was built in 1869, closer to the post proper, a chapel in 1876, three more barracks, and additional officers’ quarters. The population was obviously overwhelmingly made up of soldiers and officers, but there were always a number of women, quite a few children, and a number of civilians. In 1880, for instance, there were 19 Chinese shrimp fishermen on the island, eight of them married. Twenty-four Army wives were on the island, in addition to six female servants and a hospital matron. There were seven male servants, two of them employed by the Commanding Officer, Colonel Kautz, a veteran of the Civil War, who also employed two of the female servants; in effect the colonel had one servant for each member of his family. The civilians included the manager of the Angel Island quarry, the post sutler (storekeeper), and a dairyman, whose herd of cows kept the post supplied with milk, butter and cream. The island always had one or more herds of cows, and flocks of chickens; being somewhat removed from the mainland, a certain amount of self-sufficiency was required.

Army life in the last half of the Nineteenth Century was harsh, with rigid class distinctions. Pay was low, as was morale. Following the Civil War desertions were a “constant problem.” The 8th Cavalry, which had some of its men on Angel Island, had a desertion rate of almost 42% in 1871. The situation was so acute that at one point a reward was offered to anyone in San Francisco who assisted in the apprehension of a deserter. The 9th Infantry paid $1800 in such rewards in 1868, and recovered 105 of the 212 men who had deserted. As a corollary to desertions, there was a pervasive and serious drinking problem. Because of it the post sutler was forbidden to keep “any description of wine, bitters, cordials, fruits preserved in liquor, or liquor in any form.” The post hospital kept all compounds containing alcohol under lock and key. There was widespread smuggling of “vile compounds, mostly low-grade whiskey,” from the mainland to the island. It is revealing that the construction of the first road to circle the island was cited as being “especially necessary to patrol the island, to prevent the landing . . . of small boats for whisky and deserters.” At least one of the reasons for low morale and excessive drinking at Camp Reynolds was the monotony, which one observer called “deadly.” Isolated from the mainland, operating on an unvarying military schedule, life on the island had a stultifying regularity. A resident of Camp Reynolds said, “The most exciting event of the day is the arrival of the steamer.”

In 1891 a Quarantine Station was built in Hospital Cove, the site of the original Camp Reynolds hospital, and the Army was forced to share the island for the first time. The new station was operated by the Marine Hospital Service. It was not welcomed by the Army; Camp Reynolds had had the island to itself for twenty-eight years, and felt no need of a neighbor. The station was built over Army protests.

In what seemed to be a repetition of the 1860s, the defenses of San Francisco Bay again became a matter of public concern in the 1880s. The Civil War batteries were either deteriorated, or obsolete—there had been no appropriation for harbor defenses in some years—and public outcries eventually brought action from the government. New batteries (known as “Endicott Batteries,” after the board that proposed them) were proposed for San Francisco Bay. The first such battery for the bay was built at Fort Point.

The first activity on Angel Island, in this new effort to arm San Francisco Bay, was the construction of a “torpedo,” or mine casemate at Mortar Hill, on the south side of the island in 1891. This casemate served as a control point for mines placed beneath the surface of the bay. At the time it was one of four such mine control points in the defense system for the bay.

In April of 1898 work began on Angel Island’s first permanent Endicott Battery, Battery Drew, located just south of Camp Reynolds and armed with a single eight-inch rifle on a non-disappearing carriage. Construction on this new battery began just three weeks before the start of the Spanish-American War—the war gave impetus to the construction, just as the Civil War had for the original batteries. The second new battery was Battery Ledyard, which was erected on the site of the old Point Knox Civil War battery, and armed with two five-inch rapid-fire guns. The third, and last, battery in the series was Battery Wallace, built above and behind Ledyard, and armed with a single eight-inch rifle on a disappearing carriage.

The war with Spain did not at first affect Camp Reynolds, but as the war went on the activities at the post steadily increased. Following Admiral Dewey’s success in Manila Bay troops were needed in the Philippines to follow up the naval success, and thousands of men left San Francisco for Manila, many of them passing through Camp Reynolds. The activity increased when the war ended, for it was promptly followed by what became known as the Philippine Insurrection. This little-known conflict would involve some 100,000 American troops before it was over, and Camp Reynolds became an integral part of the troop movements to the Philippines. Not only was the post shipping men overseas, it was receiving men returning from the fighting. Among them were men with tropical diseases, and in 1899 a Detention Camp was erected on the east side of the island for their care. As hostilities wound down thousands of men began returning for discharges, and a Discharge Camp was erected in 1901, also on the east side of Angel Island, adjoining the Detention Camp. By 1907 some 126,000 men had been discharged at the camp.

In 1900 the Army changed the name of the post on Angel Island to Fort McDowell, after General Irvin McDowell, who had died in San Francisco in 1885. General McDowell had been commander of the Union armies at the First Battle of Bull Run, and later became commander of the Department of the Pacific. The reason for the name change is not known, but General McDowell, while not recognized as an able leader in the field, was a good administrator, and had been an immensely popular figure in San Francisco. Reynolds, after all, was from Pennsylvania. With the change, Camp Reynolds no longer officially existed, and the name was no longer used.

In 1910 Fort McDowell began a major building program on the east side of Angel Island, using military prisoners from the Army Prison on Alcatraz as labor. Among the permanent buildings constructed were officers quarters, a Main Mess Hall, a Post Hospital, guard house, post exchange, barracks for enlisted men and service buildings. The post headquarters moved to the new garrison, which became the East Garrison of Fort McDowell; the former Camp Reynolds became West Garrison. Just prior to the construction of East Garrison, the Immigration Service built an Immigration Station, “the Ellis Island of the west,” at China Cove on the east side of Angel Island, just north of East Garrison.

Fort McDowell was very active during World War I, serving as a Recruit Depot for men entering the Army. Men drafted in the western states were sent to Fort McDowell, and held for about two weeks, during which time they would be given physical examinations, issued uniforms, and given some rudimentary military training. At the same time enlisted men returning from Hawaii and the Philippines for discharge, furlough, retirement or reassignment were being processed at the post. About 4,000 men a month passed through Fort McDowell during this period. Overcrowding became the rule—temporary tent encampments were erected at Point Blunt and on the old Camp Reynolds parade ground in an effort to ease the crush. The war-driven overcrowding was such that the newly completed Post hospital at East Garrison did not serve as a hospital when completed, but became a temporary barracks instead.

Following World War I military activity declined, and Fort McDowell went through a series of changes in official designations, finally becoming the Overseas Discharge and Replacement Depot in 1922. In this capacity it handled men leaving for, and returning from overseas posts. In 1926 it was reported that Fort McDowell was handling more men than any other Army Post in the country. An average of 22,000 men were processed at Fort McDowell each year between 1926 and 1938. During that same period 106,000 men were discharged at the post. After World War II began in Europe in 1939 activity on the island began to slowly increase again.

Pearl Harbor and American entry into World War II in 1941 gave Fort McDowell the impetus for its period of greatest activity. During the war it served as part of the huge San Francisco Port of Embarkation. The fort became a staging center for “casuals’—unassigned enlisted men—being sent as replacements to the Pacific Theater of War. Fort McDowell processed and shipped some 300,000 men overseas during the war. The number of men being processed reached such a point that the Main Mess Hall, which could seat 1,410 men at a time, was forced to have three seatings for each meal. The mess hall served more than 12,000 meals a day. Despite the increase in volume, veterans remember the food as being excellent.

The Immigration Service left Angel Island in 1940, following a fire which destroyed the Immigration Station Administration Building, and the site reverted to the Army. Following the start of World War II a 1,600-man mess hall, barracks, a guard house, a post exchange, an infirmary and a recreational building were added to what had been the Angel Island Immigration Station, and the site became the North Garrison of Fort McDowell. Part of North Garrison functioned as a Prisoner of War Processing Center for Japanese and German prisoners of war. The POWs were processed there before being shipped to permanent prison camps in the interior of the country. The first prisoner of war captured by American forces in World War II, the commander of a Japanese midget submarine at Pearl Harbor, was processed at North Garrison.

When the war with Japan ended, in August of 1945, Fort McDowell was almost swamped by the number of servicemen returning from overseas duty in the Pacific Theater. As the troop transports brought soldiers home from the Pacific, they were processed at Fort McDowell, ferried across the bay to Oakland or San Francisco, loaded on trains and sent off to be discharged at their original induction centers. During this hectic activity twenty-two troop trains were loaded in one day; twenty in Oakland and two in San Francisco. It was thought to be a record of its kind. Activity began to wind down in 1946, and the Army decided to close Fort McDowell. The Army left Angel Island in August of 1946, and the island was classified as surplus property

Following the departure of the Army, a debate began as to what the future of Angel Island would be. Finally, in 1954, after a good deal of controversy, debate and travail, 36 acres of Ayala Cove, on the north end of the island became a California State Park. However, that same year the Army returned to Angel Island to build a Nike Anti-aircraft missile site at Point Blunt, on the south end of the island. This site—manned by Battery D of the 9th Army Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment—was one of eleven such sites built in the San Francisco Bay area during the Cold War. The Angel Island battery had three launching sections, each with four missile launchers, and was armed with liquid-fueled Nike-Ajax missiles. An Integrated Fire Site, with three radars, two control vans, and a ready room was constructed on Mount Ida, the highest point on the island. About one hundred men manned the missile battery; they were quartered in what had been the Fort McDowell Post Hospital. The missiles were obsolete by 1962, and the anti-aircraft battery left the island that year.

Additional acreage had been added to Angel Island State Park in 1958, and the entire island was declared a California State Park in 1963. Today the entire island is open to the public, with regular ferry service from San Francisco and Marin. Many of the historic buildings at Camp Reynolds and Fort McDowell are still standing, and at Camp Reynolds a restored officer’s quarters is open to the public. The Spanish-American War battery sites still exist, although the guns have been removed.

Most facilities on the island are available April-October. If you plan a visit, contact the Tiburon ferry at angelislandferry.com or at 415-435-2131. The San Francisco ferry can be reached at 415-773-1188. There are picnic facilities, and visitor centers at Ayala Cove, the Immigration Station, and East Garrison. There is a deli, and bicycle and kayak rentals. There are nine environmental camp sites available on the island—for information on camping call the park ranger office at 415-435-5390.

The Angel Island Association provides docents during the season at Camp Reynolds (West Garrison), Fort McDowell (East Garrison) and the Immigration Station. Motorized tram tours of the island are available for visitors, and docent-led tours can be arranged through the Angel island Association. For complete information on Angel Island go to www.angelisland.org, or call the Angel Island Association at 415-435-3522.

After a century of public service, Angel Island is now open for public enjoyment.



View of Camp Reynolds about 1890. Enlisted mens barracks at left center, with Officers Row at a further distance. Steeple of Post Chapel can be seen on far hillside. A number of these buildings are still standing Barracks, built in 1864, were considered by surgeon, "Well ventilated, and well warmed by large stoves, but imperfectly lighted. They are not lathed or plastered nor ceiled, a very great mistake in this windy climate, and detrimental to the health of the men." Barracks row is along foreground of picture, officers row parallel to walk in center; chapel, later schoolhouse, is on hill to right center. cemetery is in fenced enclosure behind officers' row and to right of flagpole; in 1879 it contained 32 graves. When 1866 inspection took place, post had three officers, 60 men, and 28 guns. Inspector said he found post in "Remarkably good order. There was nothing in the management of it to which exception could be taken."


 
"The camp is situated on the western extremity of the island, in a triangular depression between three hills, which leaves it exposed to the westward fronting the entrance to the harbor, the 'base being a pretty sand beach of about 1,000 feet in length," reported Reynolds surgeon in 1869. The site was 800 by 1,000 feet, with officers' quarters on one side, enlisted on other. Most construction dated from 1864. Wooden barracks were designed for 100 men each. There were six sets of frame officers' quarters, each including two rooms plus kitchen. (Redrawn from McDowell Report, 1876.)
 BAK  Bakery  LAUN  Laundry
 BAND Q  Band Quarters  MH  Mess Hall
 BLK Blacksmith .ORD Orderly Room
CH Chapel  OQ Officer Quarters
COMM SGT Q  Commisary Sergeant's Quarters POST TR  Post Trader
 GH  Guard House  QM ST Quartermaster's Stores
 H Hospital  SCH  School

Harbor Defense Fortifications on Angel Island
 
Civil War Period
 

 Battery name

 Number of Guns

 Type of Gun

 Constructed

 Completed

 Decommissioned

Point Stuart

4

 Smoothbores

1863

 1864

 187(?) (1)

Point Knox

10

 Smoothbores

1863

 1863

? (1)

Point Blunt

7

 Smoothbores

1863

 Not Completed

? (1)

Water Battery

-

 Smoothbores

1864

 Not Completed

? (1)
 
(1) The Angel Island batteries were temporary earthworks. No trace remains today.
Endicott Period

 Battery name

 Number of Guns

 Type of Gun

 Type of Carriage

 Constructed

 Completed

 Decommissioned

Drew

 1

 8 Inch M1888

 M1892 Barbette

 1898

-

1915

 Wallace

 1

 8 Inch M1888

 M1896 Disappearing

 1901

-

1920

 Ledyard

2

 5 Inch M1900

 M1903 Pedastal

 1901

-

1920 (1)
 
 
(1) Battery Call located at Fort Miley was built for the 5" guns guns removed from Battery Ledyard, Fort McDowell, during the Japanese scare of 1914-1915.
1940 Program and World War II Temporary
 

 Battery name

 Number of Guns

 Type of Gun

 Type of Carriage

 Constructed

 Completed

 Decommisioned

 Blunt

4

90mm M1

 Fixed M3 and Mobile M1

 -

 -

 -

 Knox

2

40mm

Mobile

-

-

 -
 
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