Santa Barbara was first occupied in August of 1846. Commodore
Stockton sailed from Monterey on August 1, 1849 on the Congress
with 360 marines and seamen for San Pedro with the intention
of occupying Los Angeles. On the way down the coast he touched
at Santa Barbara, perhaps on the 4th or 5th, and raised the Stars
and Stripes there, leaving a small garrison of 10 Marines under
the command of Midshipman William Mitchell.
At the time there was no resistance. The
Presidio had been dismantled and out of use for a number of years.
The arriving soldiers found three old iron cannon lying on the
berm at the Castillo or Fort to the southwest of the town on
the bluffs overlooking the ocean. Commodore Stockton returned
to Santa Barbara in the Congress on September 7, 1846 and took
on the garrison left there the month before. With the absence
of the American occupiers, the locals took down the flag and
replaced it with the Mexican flag. At about that time, Captain
Charles C. Fremont road into town with a column of troops heading
north to Monterey to join Commodore Stockton. The flag was raised
again and a garrison of nine men commanded by a Lieutenant Theodore
Talbott was left at Santa Barbara to protect the American conquest.
A revolt of the Mexicans in Los Angeles
in late September threatened the lives of the local garrison
so they departed at night and hid in Mission Canyon for a number
of weeks before proceeding north to join up with now Lieutenant
Colonel Fremont who was proceeding south again to attack Los
Fremont's column of 500 troops crossed
the Santa Ynez Mountains in a drenching Southeaster torrent on
Christmas Day 1846. Santa Barbara was again occupied two days
later and the flag again raised this time for good. Fremont commandeered
quarters for himself and staff in the San Carlos Hotel at State
and De La Guerra Streets owned by Captain Alpheus Thompson. A
week was spent resting up after the ordeal before this small
army proceeded on to Los Angeles.
The once Mexican capital of Southern California
remained unoccupied until April of 1847 when three companies
from the First Regiment of New York Volunteers were sent from
San Francisco on the bark Moscow. Companies A, B and F were sent
to Santa Barbara arriving on April 8, 1847. After two weeks Companies
A and B were sent to Los Angeles. This left about 70 American
volunteers under the command of Captain Francis J. Lippitt. Company
F was quartered in the same building on State Street as Fremont
a few months earlier, the two-story adobe San Carlos or Saint
Charles Hotel owned by Alpheus Thompson. Back of this building
was a court, formed by high adobe walls, with a double gate.
Around two sides of this court were erected quarters for the
troops and loopholes were cut in the walls for muskets. The front
of the building was used for officers' quarters and storerooms.
In addition, a large tent was set up in front of the building
in the middle of State Street. A 90-foot high flagpole was constructed
using spars from the wreck of the Fama near the Goleta Slough
and placed in the middle of State Street. Company F brought one
brass six-pounder field gun with grape, canister and round shot.
Thus a fort or redoubt was built out of this hotel. Santa Barbara
was so occupied until the end of the war when the men were mustered
out in September of 1848.
Headquarters of Company F,
First Regiment of New York Volunteers, 1847 to 1848 at the San
Carlos or Saint Charles Hotel, once located at the corner of
State and De la Guerra Streets, owned by Sea Captain Alpheus
Thompson. Note 90 foot high flag pole, made from the wreck of
the ship Elizabeth. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Historical
Society Library, Santa Barbara, California.
An enduring national and local story resulted
from the disappearance of a brass cannon at the end of the occupation.
This is referred to as the "Cannon Perdido" legend.
We will not recount it here but the interested reader can learn
all the details in the author's earlier book entitled Gunpowder
and Canvas, Chapter 15.
With the end of the war the town was turned
over to the civil government and the army disappeared. Many went
to the gold fields, other parts of California or returned to
the East Coast. Captain Lippitt was well trained in military
matters and a lawyer by education. He was a member of the Constitutional
Convention in 1849 and took part in the Civil War as a Colonel
of the 1st California Volunteer Infantry.
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