Downieville, Sierra County is located in one of California's oldest settled districts where great mineral wealth has already been produced and where there still remains rich deposits to be discovered. Being situated in a territory where there was always the danger of Indian depredations and also troublous persons within the community itself, residents who were civic minded took the necessary steps to form and perfect a voluntary military company. These activities resulted in the formation of the National Guard, August 10, 1857, at which time officers were elected to command the new corps of the fifty-six members, which was to become Company D of the Sierra Battalion under command of Major Hungerford. This guard unit was designated as Company E by Captain Ager when he communicated with the Adjutant-General, March 20, 1861, but was again changed in 1864 to Company A. The last change of the volunteer company was June 16, 1866, when the National Guard was reorganized under the Act of 1866 by Captain S. Burton and formally mustered into the service of the State. It was designated on the Muster Roll as "unattached "Regiment' National Guard Company of the Fourth Brigade".
The newly organized volunteer company started out on their military life with difficulties. Immediately following the completion of organization, an attempt was made to disrupt the company by defaming the character of the commanding officer. In later years there was trouble within the ranks which made it difficult for the officers to maintain their command.
At the election held upon the organization of the National Guard of Downieville, August 10, 1857, John E. Ager was elected Captain. Adjutant-General Kibbe was informed that this new company was arranged so as to become a unit of the Vigilance Committee; in fact, that Captain Ager was in sympathy with the Vigilantes and the drill officer of the corps had been Captain of Company "20" of the Vigilance Committee. That in event of the revival of the old Committee in San Francisco, Captain Ager would resign his commission and join the mob. General O. C. Hall made a statement to the effect.that Captain Ager had stated to him (General Hall) "In case the National Guard of Downieville was ordered to San Francisco to aid in the execution of the laws, or rather, to put down the Vigilance Committee that, when armed, he would join with the Vigilantes and fight against the State." Upon receipt of this information General Kibbe refused to issue the officers commissions or supply the company with arms as such an act required the fullest confidence in the fidelity, integrity, and patriotism of the rank and file of a military company. Also, that he would not consider any claim without a full and satisfactory explanation of the matter at issue. Captain Ager's reply to General Kibbe was quite explicit in detail regarding the controversy. To quote a part of his letter, "My Brigadier-General approached me upon one occasion and said, 'Captain, I.should like to drill with your company were it not for your Orderly Sergeant, he is a Vigilante.' As it was a matter of indifference to me whether the General drilled in the company or not, and as I, moreover, did not like the tone and manner he used I replied, 'Well, General, I don't know but I might resign my commission in case of necessity and espouse the cause of the Vigilance Committee.' On my part I spoke in a spirit of bandiage entirely." Captain Ager went on to say that both he and the entire command under him were prepared to take the oath and to comply therewith, also that the objectionable Orderly Sergeant against whom the shafts of the Brigadier General were leveled, had gone away to reside in San Francisco.
This explanation was evidently satisfactory to General Kibbe as Captain Ager was formally commissioned April 23, 1858, to command the National Guard of Downieville. The Captain was re-elected at the second election held January 6, 1860, and of the commissioned officers, he was the only one to be given a formal commission by Adjutant-General Kibbe until the third election which was held, September 28, 1861. Captain Ager had proved to his superiors that the first impression that had been given to them in regard to his not being a responsible person to head the organization was false. When the former Captain (Ager) requested on October 15, 1861, of Governor Downey the appointment of the Brigadier-General to the Second Brigade of the Fourth Division for himself, Adjutant-General Kibbe answered the letter at the request of Governor Downey expressing the Governor's regret that the application had been received after the position had been filled and that the highest confidence in Mr. Ager's patriotism, military knowledge, and zeal was held by the Governor and the Adjutant-General himself. On December 3, 1861, Adjutant-General Kibbe wrote to the Captain informing him that he (General Kibbe) had recommended as a representative of Sierra County, name for the appointment of Assistant Adjutant General on the staff of the Major General of the Fourth Division. Following this, the former Captain (Ager) was commissioned, December 2, 1861; on the staff of the Fourth Division as Lieutenant Colonel.
R. H. Taylor was elected Captain at the
third election held, September 28, 1861, and he communicated with
Adjutant-General Kibbe to inform the General that his election
was conducted in pursuance to the By-Laws of the County, but without
an order by the Brigadier as General Phil Moore had "emigrated",
that is, he had left the State.
The election of the following year (1862) was reported to Governor Stanford, but it did not meet with the laws of the Militia and a new one was ordered to be held. This was complied with and on January 28, 1863, Charles Cochran was elected Captain. Both Captain Cochran and First Lieutenant Knox resigned their commissions to go into the United States service during the War of the Rebellion, necessitating another election which was held in April of that year and John W. Hainer was elected as Captain. On May 16, 1863, Captain Hainer telegraphed to Adjutant-General Kibbe to "retain the commissions of the officers"; then on the sixth of October 1863, Captain Hainer again communicated with General Kibbe. At this time Captain Hainer tendered his resignation explaining that it was "owing to the disagreement with the company" and also stating that "the disorder has always been within the ranks and not among the officers". Captain Hainer's resignation was approved on November 14, 1863, and an election was held in January of 1864, at which time William Wilburn, First Lieutenant, was promoted to the Captaincy. Another election was held in November of 1864, and J. A. Vaughn was elected Captain, which office he held until January of 1866, when Sheldon Burton, First Lieutenant, was promoted to the Captaincy by election. The former Captain (Wilburn) again entered the ranks to become First Lieutenant for the second time at this January 1866. election.
When the National Guard of Downieville was organized in August 1857, it immediately made requisition for the necessary arms and accoutrements. In December of 1857, Captain Ager communicated with General Kibbe urging the filling of this ordnance application not only so the members would be instructed in regular drill, but especially as there was a slight prospect of service in Utah if the company was provided with the necessary equipment. As has been stated previously, the Adjutant-General at first refused to furnish the arms to the company, then in May of 1858, Governor Weller ordered the requisition to be met if there were arms on hand in the State Arsenal
In June 1858, Captain Ager was very anxious to have the equipment so his command could participate in the Fourth of July Parade as a part of the Sierra Battalion. The State Arsenal was unable to deliver the supply until September 29, 1858, and the arms were used by the corps until the thirteenth of May of 1860, when they were ordered to be forwarded to Virginia City, Utah Territory (now Nevada), for use in the Washoe Indian War of that district. New arms were received in July 1861, to resupply the members. A portion of this supply was destroyed in the fire of February 29, 1864. Downieville had been burned three times and each new fire was more disastrous than the preceding one, leaving the hard pressed pioneers laboring under difficulties that were hard to surmount. The fire of February 1864, was the third of the series. (2) A Board of Survey, which met to determine the cause of loss of the State property sustained at this time, exonerated the officers and men from any blame and stated that what property had been saved was so done at the peril of the lives of the members.
Captain Wilburn had been communicating with General Kibbe during the early part of 1864, endeavoring to have his company uniformed by the State, and was successful on March 17, 1864, in obtaining thirty-five uniforms (although he reported he had forty-six members and two drummers in his corps). The National Guard of Downieville was again resupplied with equipment and uniforms on November 6, 1866.
The Guards were active in their regular drill and target practice, and whenever the occasion required a military representative, such as Fourth of July Parades and Battalion Parades, they made a splendid appearance with their complement of members. The unit was one of many ordered to meet at Sacramento, October 3, 1862, for the Fourth Brigade Parade, but there was the question of financing the trip. Although General Kibbe had informed Captain Taylor that transportation accounts were to be audited and probably would be paid for by the Legislature of 1863, the company did not attend this Brigade Parade, possibly because they were unable to advance the preliminary costs of transportation. When the Camp of Instruction was held September 19, 1863, the National Guard of Downieville attended the Fourth Brigade Encampment at Camp Kibbe near Sacramento, as an unattached company. Arrangements were made by the Adjutant-General to provide the transportation for this trip. Twenty-six men were in the company and all were uniformed in fatigue dress consisting of untrimmed gray shirts, dark trousers and regulation caps.
The third call for volunteers for the War of the Rebellion was made early in 1863, on receipt of the order from the United States War Department of December 2, 1862, authorizing California to raise a regiment of Infantry and seven companies of cavalry. On February 27, 1863, the National Guard Company E of Downieville tendered its services as a company of Infantry to be recruited in that district, since about one-half of their own members desired to enlist in the United States Army. First Lieutenant Moses Knox, who was recommended to Adjutant-General Kibbe as the enrolling officer for the proposed corps, was so appointed and Captain Charles Cochran was appointed Captain of the newly formed unit which became known as Company K, Sixth Infantry Regiment of the California Volunteers. This new corps which was recruited in Sierra County with recruiting headquarters in Downieville, had a very unhappy accident at the beginning of their new service. On May 27, 1863, Company K mounted a cannon on the bluffs below the town to be fired in honor of the capture of Vicksburg; the site chosen for the celebration later became known as Cannon Point.
A premature discharge horribly mangled and killed two Lieutenants who had charge of the celebration. They were First Lieutenant M. M. Knox and Second Lieutenant William A. Donaldson. Military rites were performed by the National Guard and the local fire companies for the two volunteers.(3) The company was later sent to San Francisco where it was enlarged in numbers for active service.