Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
(Post at Los Angeles,
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 The garrison was withdrawn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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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!
was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Far West,
published in 1965
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