Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Fort Moore
(Post at Los Angeles, Fort Hill)
by Colonel Herbert M. Hart, USMC (Retired)
In 1846, at the outset of the war with Mexico, Captain Archibald H. Gillespie and other marines built a rudimentary barricade on Fort Hill in what is now downtown Los Angeles, but the Mexicans soon ejected the small American force. The Army returned in force and on January 12, 1847, erected a 400 foot long breastwork on the same strategic site and named it the Post at Los Angeles. It was intended to control the city, then the principal center of population in California. The site was agreed to, and plans were drawn by First Lieutenant William H. H. Emory, Corps of Topographical Engineers, in compliance with orders of Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny. Actual construction, supervised by Lieutenant Emory, began on January 12. 1847, but the fort plans were revised, and on April 23 a new, twice as large defense was begun on the same site. The work on the second fort, an earthwork embrasured for six cannon, was superintended by 2nd Lieutenant John W. Davidsion, 1st Dragoons. The post (never completed), designated Fort Moore on July 4,1847, by Colonel John D. Stevenson, 1st New York Volunteers, commander of the southerin military district of California, was named for Captain Benjamin D. Moore, Ist Dragoons, killed in the Battle of San Pascual inSan Diego County, on December 6, 1846. Colonel Stevenson publicly read the Declaration of Independence at the dedication of Fort Moore. It was apparently a grand ceremony, with Companies E and G of the New York Volunteers, a detachment of the 1st Dragoons, and the Mormon Battalion drawn up in a hollow square around the specially erected tall flagpole. A band played and the garrison's cannon roared a salute. The garrison was withdrawn in 1848 on orders of Captain William T Sherman and the post abandoned the following year. The hill that accommodated the fort was removed in 1949, and its site, on Hill Street near Sunset Boulevard, is commemoratted by a huge stone mural.
Building Fort Moore was a proposition that progressed in direct proportion to the enemy threat. It started in a state of siege, had a short but eventful history, and then quietly disappeared from the Army rolls.
Marine Captain Archibald H. Gillespie was the founder of the first fort. The occasion was somewhat less than premeditated, however, Gillespie was with Fremont and Stockton when they moved into Los Angeles on August 13, 1846. Their 500-man force met no opposition and the enemy was described by Fremont as "having more the effect of a parade of home guards than of an enemy taking possession of a conquered town."
Four days later word was received that war bad been declared between the United States and Mexico. All was quiet in Los Angeles so Stockton and Fremont took most of the troops away early in September leaving Gillespie and 50 men.
Some authorities charge Gillespie with attempting to establish a military dictatorship which precipitated a revolt on September 22, 1846. Gillespie's untactful handling of affairs may have contributed to the unrest, but it is unlikely that in only two weeks be could have been wholly to blame for the revolt. The fact that he bad only 50 men to oppose a bidden revolutionary army was undoubtedly the major reason for the uprising.
The first attack on Gillespie was at 3 a.m. against my small command quartered in the government house," be wrote later. "We were not wholly surprised, and with 21 rifles we beat them back."
The attackers were driven out of the town after dawn, but within 24 hours a force of 600 men surrounded Los Angeles. In addition to a cannon, they were armed with shotguns and lances.
A surrender ultimatum was answered by Gillespie by taking three "old honeycombed iron guns" from the corral of government house, unspiking them, and mounting them on cart axles. Then as quickly as he could do so, he moved to a hill overlooking the town. A temporary barricade of earth-filled sacks was erected, the cannon were emplaced, and the siege started.
Despite his gunnery advantage, Gillespie could see that his situation was less than desirable. He dispatched a messenger, Juan Flaco, for Monterey with word for Commodore Stockton. Nothing was put in writing; instead, Gillespie gave Flaco a package of cigarettes, writing on each cigarette wrapper "Believe the bearer" and stamping them with his official seal.
Flaco's horse was shot from under him while he was trying to cross the Mexican picket line, but be was able to escape on foot and secure another mount. On September 29, 600 miles and five days from Los Angeles, Flaco found Stockton in San Francisco and reported the Gillespie predicament.
Meanwhile Gillespie's situation had worsened. A final ultimatum on September 29 guaranteed the safety of the Gillespie force if it would surrender. Upon the advice of several American civilians, on September 30 Gillespie led his men from "Fort Hill" and marched out of the city, drums beating, colors flying, and two pieces of cannon following.
Supposedly Gillespie was to turn over his cannon to the Californians before be went aboard ship. He did not quite follow the spirit of the agreement, what be left on Fort Hill were spiked, and what be took to the pier, he rolled into the bay.
On October 8 Gillespie joined a Navy-Marine landing force under Navy Captain William Mervine. When the initial advance back to Los Angeles went unopposed, Mervine sent 80 of his men back to the ship. He was to regret this. By mid-afternoon, the detachment was under almost continual rifle fire. During the night this was reinforced by a small cannon that the Californians moved from place to place every time the Americans tried to capture it.
In the face of the illusive cannon and a rumor of 600 opponents Mervine noted that be bad 10 sailor and Marine casualties-four of -them fatal-and decided to retire from what history called the Battle of Dominquez' Ranch. He did not know that the deadly cannon was out of ammunition.
The war shifted to other parts of Southern California until January 8, 1847, when 600 men under Commodore Stockton and General Kearny defeated the Californians at the Battles of San Gabriel and the Mesa.
"The streets were full of desperate and drunken fellows, who brandished their arms and saluted us with every item of reproach," was how Lieutenant William H. Emory described the condition of Los Angeles when the troops entered. With rumors that the Californians planned a counterattack, Emory added, I was ordered to select a site and place a fort capable of containing 100 men." The site was that of Gillespie's Fort Hill.
Seaman Joseph T. Downey wrote that as soon as the combined sailor-Marine-soldier force was assigned to barracks, foraging for food began all over town "and woe betide the house that had no occupants for it was sure to be ransacked from clue to earring ... for what they called Belly Timber."
Emory wrote that the sailors worked on his fort which was performed bravely and gave me great hopes of success." Downey's account differed: "Parties were detailed to go on the bill and commence the foundations of a Star Fort ... This arrangement the jacks kicked strongly against."
Kearny, Emory, the sailors and most of the original captors of Los Angeles left before the fort was completed. Emory did not take credit for the installation that finally was dedicated on July 4, 1847. "The entire plan of the fort was changed, and I am not the projector of the work finally adopted for the defense of the town," he said.
The Mormon Battalion did the final labor. Nathaniel V. Jones' diary is replete with entries in spring, 1847: "Hard at work on the fort." When the place was dedicated, a cannon salute was fired, the colors were raised, and the name Fort Moore made official, memorializing Captain Benjamin D. Moore, killed in the Battle of San Gabriel.
Indian chasing and rumors of plots kept the garrison busy, although daily it got smaller as men deserted for the gold fields. A dragoon squadron that had lost many men in this fashion was ordered to San Luis Rey, and immediately the remainder deserted. Another group of soldiers tried a different way to get rich quickly, but were soon arrested for counterfeiting gold pieces.
At Fort Moore the night of December 7, 1847, an overzealous sentry failed to extract the password from a passing cow or horse. He called the garrison to arms and in the rush, a lighted fuse was dropped into an ammunition chest. The explosion partly destroyed the guard house and killed several troopers.
By 1849 the few soldiers left in Los Angeles were garrisoned in the town and Fort Moore was abandoned. Ten years later, Captain Winfield Scott Hancock was the sole military force at Los Angeles. As the department quartermaster, be maintained an adobe house and corral on the edge of town.
With rumors that secessionists were plotting to capture his ammunition and supplies, Hancock "began his preparations for defense, by concealing the boxes of arms and ammunition under innumerable able bags of grain and, in addition, placing his wagons in such a position as to improvise a quite formidable barricade, behind which he intended to contest every foot, aided by a few loyal friends," his wife wrote later. Their last ditch stand was to be conducted from their house, where Hancock bad collected 20 derringers.
The Civil War saw many troops passing through Los Angeles for the East, and militia taking their place. Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston visited Hancock enroute to the Confederacy. With him was Major Lewis A. Armistead who presented Hancock with a new major's uniform which was never to be worn; Hancock jumped the grades to brigadier general. Armistead died at Gettysburg in a charge on Hancock's position.
A training post, Camp Fitzgerald, was established near Hancock's corral in May, 1861, but was moved in August after reporting the site too dusty and too far from water. The new site was still objectionable. The commander reported, "The men are being demoralized here, ;and I suspect are being tampered with. The vitality they expend on debauch would be spend on.. manly exercises" if the post were moved.
In September, 1861, Camp Latham was established on Ballona Creek near modem Culver City. Colonel James H. Carleton mounted his California Column, from here and it served as the troop center for a year. Frequent details had to be sent to arrest secessionists.
By late 1862 the military left Los Angeles in favor of Wilmington to the south. By this time its main enemy had become the whiskey dealers doing business in violation of a prohibition against being within three miles of Camp Latham. One ingenious food dealer was doing a big business in watermelons until the post commander learned the melons were filled with whiskey.

Fort Moore in 1847 overlooked Pueblo of Los Angeles. It was breastwork 400 feet long with bastions and embrasures for cannon. Main purpose was to prevent rebellion so its principal embrasure commanded church and plaza, most probable rallying points. Two hundred men were planned to garrison it. The Army incident of 1851 occurred when a dragoon company passed through town at the same time a hoodlum gang was threatening to storm jail and lynch some prisoners. Soldiers were secretly sworn in as posse and settled the matter.

By 1883, Fort Moore memory lived only in name "Fort Moore Hill" on which this house stood. Photographer William H. Jackson visited site on February 1, 1867, writing in diary: "Went upon the hill back of the city, the site of some old earthworks and had a fine view of the city and its suburbs." Commercial houses of downtown Los Angeles now cover entire area of this picture.
Fort Moore Memorial
Fort Moore memorial is elaborate stone marker on Board of Education hill I near downtown Los Angeles.. The 40- by 60-foot stone wall on which scenes depict first 4th of July celebration, when fort was dedicated, and other events important to Los Angeles. In 1903 a flagpole was installed.
TO GET THERE: fort Moore monument is on Hill street near Sunset Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles. Three-quarters of a mile to south, near 3d and Main, is probable site of Camp Fitzgerald. Camp Latham site is on Ballona creek. It is across from Willow Grove in Culver City where in 1862 5th California Infantry had Camp Kellogg, named for its first regimental commander.
For more information concerning the Siege of Los Angeles and Fort Moore, CLICK HERE!
This page was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Far West, published in 1965
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Updated 8 February 2016