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California State Militia and National Guard Unit Histories
Marion Rifles
Enlistment Certificate dated 1856
Image courtesy of the Bancroft Library
 
 

Assigned to: Second Brigade

Location: San Francisco, San Francisco County

Mustered in: May 14, 1852
Mustered out: 1861

Commanding Officers

F. B. Schaeffer, Captain May 14, 1852
Joseph A- Ruddock, First Lieutenant May 19, 1852
(Resigned September 1852)
George R. Davidson, First Lieutenant September 5,1852

William Neely Johnson, Captain November 9, 1855 (1)
Edwin A. Rigg, First Lieutenant November 7, 1855

Edwin A. Rigg, Captain April 19, 1856
John C. Griswold, First Lieutenant April 19, 1656
(Resigned June 11, 1856)
William W. Hawks, First Lieutenant June 11, 1856

Edwin A. Rigg, Captain April 19, 1856
(Re-elected December. 17, 1856)
E. B. Labriskie, First Lieutenant. December 17, 1856

Edwin A. Rigg, Captain
(Re-elected 1861)
James W. Stillman, First Lieutenant -1861


History

The Marion Rifles was organized on May 14, 1852, making it one of the oldest volunteer companies in the State. The company was said to consist almost entirely of the men from the "Monumental Engine Company" at the time of its organization. The firemen made very good soldiers and under the leadership of Captain Schaeffer, started to drill every evening in order to be able to make a showing in the parade to be held on July 4, 1852. The Adjutant General in his report of 1859, stated that Captain Schaeffer was one of the most brilliant military men in California. The company soon became an outstanding military unit because of the unusual amount of time spent on the target range, their consistent attendance at drills, and their appearance in their uniforms of green with black velvet trimming contrasted by yellow buttons.

Soon after their organization, the Sheriff requested that the Marion Rifles act as guards during the execution of Jose Forni who had been convicted of murder.

During the reign of the Vigilance Committee in May and June of 1856, the Marion Rifles drew up a resolution that any member who was disloyal to his oath to uphold the laws of the State would be expelled. On May 12, 1856 the Marion Rifles were called into the service of the State and remained until the Vigilance Committee disbanded.

On July 6, 1853, the Marion Rifles took part in a-colorful celebration and reception in honor of Major General John A. Sutter and Staff. The beloved old pioneer was received with acclamations by the crowd which blocked the avenue around the Plaza. His benevolent face beamed with martial enthusiasm as he rode through the ranks, reminded doubtless of the early days of his veteran soldier's career. After passing in review before General Sutter the procession marched down Kearney Street to the Camp Ground. On reaching the grounds the-companies were drawn up in Battalion formation and the colors were presented by Mrs. Catherine Sinclair after having made the following address (2):

" Seventy-seven years ago this day your Patriot' Fathers -of the thirteen colonies unfurled from Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, the flag of this Union, and borrowed its emblems from the stars of heaven. Today, on the far off shores of the Pacific, here, within a period of less than the span of a human life, the granddaughter of a soldier who died in battle on the plains of Egypt, tenders to you that emblem which tells of the birth of a nation, of institutions based upon the will of a free people, of a Union of Sovereign States embracing this vast continent, of a power which has become the greatest on earth. Not a power of terror, of tyranny, of despotism, but a power of protection, of hope, and of promise. May such a power endure forever, and may its emblem wave until the sun, forgetting his cunning, shall cease to write upon the rain-cloud, the Promise of God. I tender you this flag. It tells of the energy and sublime courage of the men who established your Independence, it tells of the suffering and trials of the heroes of 1812; it tells of those brilliant achievements of American Arms which have added California as one of the brightest stars in your constellation."

The Marion Rifles was one of the ten militia companies that attended the first militia encampment held at Sacramento during the week of September 22, 1859. The encampment, was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hooker, former Lieutenant Colonel of the Sixth Infantry, United States Army. The review of the troops was held under trying circumstances as a - high wind was blowing great clouds of dust which made drilling difficult. In spite of the windy weather, the encampment was successful and resulted in improved efficiency of each company. (3)

The Marion Rifles ranked high in social activities as well as in military affairs. Their annual Military Ball held each year was one of prominence and resplendent in color and gaiety. On October 29, 1852, the company were guests of the Sutter Rifles in Sacramento. On the arrival of the steamer from San Francisco with the Marion Rifles on board, the Sutter Rifles drew up in order and received them, and then escorted them to the Orleans Hotel. After breakfast the Marion Rifles went through the rifle manual drill. Their executions were faultless, and they received many compliments from military generals. After the Marion Rifles had completed their exhibition, the Sutter Rifles paraded also, admirable in dress, discipline and military bearing. At two o'clock the immortal John A. Sutter arrived and was received by the Sutter Rifles in front of the Orleans Hotel with every demonstration and of profound respect. He then presented the Sutter Rifles with a flag bearing the simple but expressive inscription "Sutter Rifles, organized June 26, 1852," accompanied by appropriate remarks. On behalf of the company the flag was received by Captain P. B. Fry. The Marion Rifles performed a dress drill in the presence of Captain Sutter, amid shouts of admiration. In the evening the Marion Rifles were guests at a magnificent Military Ball at the Orleans House, the Sutter Rifles being the hosts. This Military Ball, held in the capital city, participated in by two of the State's most colorful military units, was said to have been the most brilliant affair ever held in the State, there being more than five hundred persons present. The Marion Rifles returned to San Francisco the next day, highly elated about the hospitality and courtesy of the Sutter Rifles and the people of Sacramento.(4)

The last official document on record in the Adjutant General's Office regarding the company dated March 18, 1860, was a report by a special committee of the State Senate in answer to a request made by Captain Rigg regarding the military standing of the Marion Rifles. -Under date of August 5, 1861, Captain Rigg with four other Captains offered the services of their companies to the United States Government to protect the Overland Mail Route. Whether the company that Captain Rigg represented was the Marion Rifles' complete membership, or just part of it, was-not stated, but it is probable the company disbanded in 1861 with many members entering the Federal service



Footnotes

(1) William Neely Johnson's brother, John later went on to become Governor of California

(2) Daily Alta California, July 6, 1853, page 2, column 1.

(3) Sacramento Union, September 22, 1859, page 2, column 3.

(4) San Francisco Daily Herald, October 30, 1652, page 3, column 7.


This history was written in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in conjunction with the office of the Adjutant General and the California State Library

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