- The Mexican War and California
- The Two Forts of Fort Hill
- The Siege of Los Angeles and Fort
- By Mark J. Denger
- California Center for Military
- It is a fact not generally known that
there were three fortifications and two forts planned, the first
only partially constructed, on what has been called Fort Hill.
- The Siege of
- Fort Hill was a prominent hill overlooking
the pueblo of Los Angeles. Its commanding view of the city made
it a strategic location.
One of the historical fictions that appears in most of the "write
ups" of Fort Hill is the statement that Fort Moore was built
by Capt. Archibald H. Gillespie, USMC. In all fairness, the first
fortification on Fort Hill was indeed established when Capt.
Gillespie moved to erect a temporary barricade of earth-filled
sacks and mounted his cannon during the siege upon the Americans
at Los Angeles.
On August 11, Stockton had begun his march on Los Angeles. He
took with him a battery of four guns. Col. Fremont, who had been
sent to San Diego with his battalion of 160 men, had begun his
march to join Stockton on August 8. He took with him 120 men,
leaving about 40 to garrison San Diego. Fremont's troops joined
Stockton just south of the city, and at 4:00 P.M. on August 13,
the combined force, numbering nearly 500 men, entered the pueblo
of Los Angeles without opposition. With the city of Los Angeles
in their possession, Commodore Stockton appointed Capt. Gillespie
military commandant of the southern department, with headquarters
at Los Angeles, and assigned him a garrison of fifty men. He
left Los Angeles on September 2d. Fremont, with the remainder
of his battalion, took leave of the place a few days later.
Nearly all historians who have written upon this subject lay
the blame for the subsequent uprising of the Californians and
their revolt against the rule of the military commandant, Gillespie,
to his petty tyrannies. Bancroft states:
"Gillespie had been left by Stockton as military commandant
of the south, with a garrison of fifty men at Los Angeles. His
instructions were to maintain military rule in accordance with
the commodore's proclamation; but he was authorized to grant
exemption from the more burdensome restrictions to quiet and
well-disposed citizens at his discretion; and a lenient policy
in this respect was recommended. From a purely political point
of view, Gillespie's task was not a difficult one; that is, there
was no disposition on the part of the Angelinos to revolt against
the new regime. . . . Gillespie had no special qualifications
for his new position; and his subordinates were still less fitted
for their duties. They were disposed to look down upon Californians
and Mexicans as an inferior race, as a cowardly foe that had
submitted without resistance. . . ."
Scarcely had Stockton and Fremont, with their men, left the city
before trouble began. Within two weeks from the time Stockton
sailed from San Pedro hostilities had begun and the city was
in a state of siege. Bancroft concludes: "The result was
an actual revolt; and there can be little doubt that Gillespie
and his men were largely responsible for this result.
Gillespie, writing in the Sacramento Statesman in 1858, thus
describes the first attack:
"On the 22d of September, at three o'clock in the morning,
a party of sixty-five Californians and Sonorenos made an attack
upon my small command quartered in the government house. We were
not wholly surprised, and with twenty-one rifles we beat them
back without loss to ourselves, killing and wounding three of
Gillespie left the government house and had taken position of
Fort Hill, where he erected a temporary barricade of sacks filled
with earth and mounted his cannons. Besieged by the Californians,
Gillespie's situation was growing more desperate each day. Eventually,
600 indignant local citizens completely surrounded his forces.
Finally, Gen. Flores issued his ultimatum to the Americans surrender
within twenty-four hours or take the consequence which might
have resulted in the massacre of the entire garrison.
Articles of capitulation were drawn up and signed by Gillespie
and the leaders of the Californians. On September 30, the Americans
marched out of the city with all the honors of war, the fortification
Most historians who have written upon this subject have incorrectly
associated this first fortification by Capt. Gillespie as one
of the two forts built on Fort Hill. The fortification on Fort
Hill was just that a fortified position. The first fort
would not be established until Los Angeles was recaptured by
Stockton and Fremont.
- The Unnamed
- The first of these two forts was actually
designed by Lieut. William H. Emory, topographical engineer of
General Kearney's staff, and its work was begun under his direction
by order of Commodore Stockton. At the time, reports led Stockton
to believe that Gen. Flores' army was encamped in the neighborhood
of the city and was making plans to retake it, so Stockton decided
to fortify the city.
We learn from Lieut. William H. Emory, from his "Notes of
a Military Reconnaissance," that on January 11, Stockton
had ordered Emory "to select a site and place a fort capable
of containing a hundred men. With this in view a rapid reconnaissance
of the town was made and the plan of a fort sketched, so placed
as to enable a small garrison to command the town and the principal
avenues to it. The plan was approved."
The fort referred to by Emory is that of the first. The second
fort, Fort Moore, appears to have been established on the same
location, but some three months after the first. A main purpose
of the fort was to prevent rebellion so its principal embrasure
commanded church and plaza, most probable rallying points. One
hundred men were planned to garrison it.
Emory's notes continue:
"January 12. I laid off the work and before night
broke the first ground. . . . It was therefore desirable to establish
a fort which, in case of trouble, should enable a small garrison
to hold out till aid might come from San Diego, San Francisco
or Monterey, places which are destined to become centers of American
Bancroft confirms this by simply stating "Emory broke ground
for his fortifications on the 12th. . . ." Emory goes on
"January 15. The details to work on the fort were
by companies. I (Emory) sent to Capt. Tilghman, who commanded
on the hill, to detach one of the companies under his command
to commence the work."
Capt. Tilghman furnished a company of artillery (from the ship
CONGRESS). As progress was being made on the fort, Col. John
C. Fremont, with his battalion of 450 men, arrived in the city
On January 18, Kearney, having quarreled with Stockton about
who should be governor of the conquered territory, prepared to
leave for San Diego, taking with him Lieut. Emory and the other
members of his staff, and the dragoons. Stockton appointed Col.
Fremont governor, and Col. Russell, of the battalion, secretary
of state, and then took his departure to San Diego, where his
ship, the CONGRESS, was lying. The sailors and marines departed
on the 20th for San Pedro to rejoin their ships, and work on
the fort was abandoned.
Lieut. Emory concludes:
"Subsequent to my leaving the Ciudad de Los Angeles,
the entire plan of the fort was changed, and I am not the projector
of the work finally adopted for defense of that town."
This first fort, never completed by Lieut. Emory, was thereby
disbanded and never named.
- A second plan for a fort, Fort Moore,
much like the first, was located on what was earlier called Fort
Hill. Planned by Lieut. J. W. Davidson, of the First U.S. Dragoons,
it was built primarily by the men of the Mormon Battalion and
named Fort Moore.
Benjamin D. Moore, after whom the fort was named, was captain
of Company A, First U.S. Dragoons. He was killed by a lance thrust
in the disastrous charge at San Pasqual.
On March 17, the famed Mormon Battalion under Col. Philip St.
George Cooke had arrived in Los Angeles. Three months after work
had ceased on Emory's fort, on April 23, the construction of
the second fort was begun. The work on the fort was predicated
upon rumors of an approaching of the enemy. On May 3, Col. Cooke
"A report was received through the most available sources
of information that Gen. Bustamente had cross the gulf near the
head in boats of the pearl fishers, and at last information was
at a rancho on the western road 70 leagues below San Diego."
Col. Stevenson's regiment of New York volunteers had arrived
in California, and two companies of the volunteers had been sent
to Los Angeles. The report that Col. Cooke had received large
reinforcements and that the place was being fortified, was supposed
to have frightened Bustamente into abandoning the recapture of
Los Angeles. The scare, however, had but one effect completion
of the fort.
The old fort was located along the easterly line of Fort Street
(what is now Broadway). It began near the northerly line of Dr.
Wills' lot and extended southerly to the fourth lot south of
Fort Moore Place, a length of 400 feet. It was a breastwork with
bastions and embrasures for cannon. The principal embrasure covered
the church and plaza. It was a strong position for two hundred
In the rear of the fort was a deep ravine which ran diagonally
from an old cemetery to Spring Street just south of Temple. A
road to the cemetery led up this ravine. The place was known
as the Canada de Los Muertos (meaning "the canon of the
The material for the fort was obtained from timber in the San
Gabriel mountains, with the volunteer Mormon battalion doing
most of the work.
On May 13, Col. J. B. Stevenson succeeded Col. Cooke in command
of the southern military district. As the fort approached completion,
Col. Stevenson's attention turned to finding a suitable flagstaff
as there was no tall timber in the vicinity of Los Angeles. The
colonel wanted a flagstaff that would be an honor to his field
works nothing less than a pole 150 feet high. A local Californian,
Juan Ramirez, claimed to have seen some trees in the San Bernardino
Mountains that were "mucho alto" very tall just
what was needed for a flagstaff. Ramirez, with a small army of
Indian laborers, under an escort of ten soldiers from the Mormon
battalion departed for the headwaters of Mill Creek in the San
Bernardino Mountains. Within the month Juan Ramirez's cavalcade
and its Mormon escort emerged with "two tree trunks, one
about 90 feet and the other 75 or 80 feet long." The carpenters
among the volunteers spliced the two pieces of timber together
and soon fashioned a beautiful flagstaff a hundred and fifty
feet in length. The flag pole was raised near what is now the
southeast corner of North Broadway (known then as Fort Street)
and Fort Moore Place (which runs parallel to Hill Street).
By the first of July work had so far progressed on the fort that
Col. Stevenson decided to dedicate and name it on the 4th. He
issued an official order for the celebration of the anniversary
of the birthday of American Independence at Los Angeles.
"At sunrise a Federal salute will be fired from the field
work on the hill, which commands this town, and for the first
time from this point the American standard will be displayed.
At 10 o'clock every soldier at this post will be under arms.
The detachment of the 7th Regiment, New York Volunteers, and
1st Regiment, U.S. Dragoons (dismounted), will be marched to
the field work on the hill, when, together with the Mormon battalion,
the whole will be formed at 11 o'clock A. M. into a hollow square,
when the Declaration of Independence will be read. At the close
of this ceremony the field work will be dedicated and appropriately
named; and at 12 o'clock a national salute will be fired. The
field work at this post having been planned and the work constructed
entirely by Lieut. Davidson of the First Dragoons, he is requested
to hoist upon it for the first time, on the morning of the 4th,
the American Standard. It is the custom of our country to confer
on its fortifications the name of some distinguished individual
who has rendered important services to his country either in
councils of the nation or on the battlefield. The commandant
has therefore determined, unless the department of war shall
otherwise direct, to confer upon the field work erected at the
port of Los Angeles the name of one who was regarded by all who
had the pleasure of his acquaintance as a perfect specimen of
an American officer, and whose character for every virtue and
accomplishment that adorns a gentleman was only equaled by the
reputation he had acquired in the field for his gallantry as
an officer and soldier, and his life was sacrificed in the conquest
of this territory at the battle of San Pasqual. The commander
directs that from and after the 4th instant it shall bear the
name of Moore."
On July 4, 1847 a great ceremony took place as planned. Capt.
Stuart Taylor was selected to read the Declaration of Independence
in English, and Stephen C. Foster read it in Spanish. The day's
festivities ended with a fandango (dance) where both Mormon and
Mexican, native and soldier, met in a mixing of cultures, as
the conquerors from the US Army garrison, and the Californios
who had just a few months before, fought bravely for their independence,
met in peace and reconciliation. At its close, even the locals
were known to shout "Viva Los Estados Unidos!" (Long
live the United States.)
Fort Moore was officially dedicated on July 4, 1847, and remained
in service only until 1853, when it was decommissioned. In later
years Fort Moore was leveled and became a public playground.
Today, on the site where Fort Moore once stood, a memorial honors
the troops who helped too win the Southwest. The memorial is
located on Hill Street, between Temple and Ord Streets, and overlooks
the Civic Center, and consists of an artificial waterfall and
a series of decorative friezes. It was here that the flag of
the United States was raised on July 4, 1847 by United States
troops at the first Independence Day celebration held in Los
In closing, another of the historical fictions that appears in
most of the "write ups" of old Fort Moore is the statement
that it was built by Fremont. There is absolutely no foundation
for such a statement. As has been shown, Gillespie's fortification
established no fort; Emory's fort was begun before Fremont's
battalion reached Los Angeles, and work ceased on it when Stockton's
sailors and marines left the city; and Davidson's fort, Fort
Moore, was begun while the battalion was at San Gabriel, a short
time before it was mustered out. Fremont left for Monterey shortly
after the Mormon battalion began work; and when it was completed,
or rather when work stopped on it, he had left California.