State Military Department
- The California
- A United States Army Museum
- Preserving California's
- California Naval History
- The California Naval Battalion
- by W. F. Burke
- Editorial Notes by
Colonel Norman S. Marshall and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark J.
- California Center for
- This article was first published in The
Californian, 1893, Vol. IV, pp. 548-559. W. F. Burke, its
original author at the time was an Ensign in Company B of the
Naval Battalion of the National Guard.
- Just two years ago, August 22d, 1891,
a crowd of men met in one of the justices' dingy little court-rooms
in the City Hall of San Francisco, and together they were sworn
in as the first company of naval reserves on the Pacific coast.
Soon after, another company was sworn in at San Diego, another
and another followed at San Francisco in quick succession, and
the four companies of the battalion being then formed, their
officers met and elected F. B. Chandler, who had been identified
with the movement from the start, as Lieutenant Commander.
This last act completed the organization of the California Naval
Battalion. Almost without warning it had sprung into existence,
and in a little over two months after the first company had taken
the oath of enlistment, the Lieutenant Commander issued his first
order, in which he assumed command.
The act of the Legislature by which the California Naval Battalion
became a possibility, was approved March 31, 1891. It was entitled:
"An act to establish a naval battalion, to be attached to
the National Guard of California." It provided for "Not
more than four companies of naval militia, which shall constitute
a battalion, to be known as the Naval Battalion of the National
Guard." It further provided that the battalion would be
commanded by a Lieutenant Commander, that each company should
be commanded by a Lieutenant, and should have in addition three
other officers and eighty petty officers and men.
By the terms of the act, the organization of the battalion was
made to conform generally to the provisions of the laws of the
United States government militia bodies, and the system of discipline
and exercises was made to conform as nearly as might be, to that
of the United States Navy, as at present existing, or as may
be hereafter prescribed by Congress. When not otherwise provided
for, the government of this new organization was placed under
the laws of which govern the National Guard of California, and
the Governor has the same power over it as he has over the other
State military forces.
It was also set forth in the act that the duty, or any part of
the duty of this naval militia, could be performed afloat in
United States vessels, and the Governor was empowered to apply
to the President for the detail of commissioned or petty officers
of the navy, to act as inspectors and instructors in the art
of naval warfare.
Such was the act under which the "fresh water sailors,"
as at first the newspapers delighted to call them, were ushered
into the service of the United States and of the State of California.
As may be seen, the act of the Legislature, while providing for
the formation of the companies, was woefully silent regarding
the means with which they were to be supported; and as the Legislature
had adjourned only a few months previous to the organization
of the first company, the prospect of financial assistance from
the State was not particularly brilliant. This was the first
The second was a question of precedence. The first command had
been sworn in as Company A; yet without warning the coveted first
letter, of which the boys were so proud, was shifted to the San
Diego Company, the second one organized, and the oldest company
became Company B. In the discussion which followed, the individuality
of the companies was strongly brought out, and being emphasized
from the first and intensified afterwards in the struggle for
existence, it now forms the weakest spot in an otherwise powerful
and prosperous organization.
- As a matter of fact, the theory of the
Naval Battalion does not recognize companies in the military
sense of the word, at all, but rates the entire organization
as a ship's crew. Each so-called company is a division, destined
to man a certain number of guns on shipboard and to take a certain
place in a land attack; the bill called them companies, however,
and the designation has stuck to them ever since.
The Naval Battalion occupies a peculiar position in its relation
to the military forces, both regular and militia, and the naval
forces of the United States. It partakes of the properties of
all, and yet the true reserve man is every inch a sailor. Following
the theory of the organization to its logical conclusion, the
finished reserve man should be a fighter of the first order.
He must know the duties of a sailor on shipboard, first of all;
he must know how to land on a beach or rocky shore, and that,
too, in the face of an enemy; then when he lands he becomes a
soldier, and a soldier's duties and the theory of land warfare
must be familiar to him. He must be a good shot with his rifle,
whether on solid ground, on the rolling deck of a ship, or in
the swaying "top" at the mast head. He must understand
machine guns, torpedoes and powder in all its forms; he must
be able to use his cutlass and revolver with deadly effect, and
above all, those long black, wicked looking naval breech loaders
must be as familiar to his hand and eye, as his vessel itself.
He must be a sailor at sea, a soldier on land, a sharp-shooter
in the top, a gunner on deck, and at home efficient in any or
all of his numerous characters.
The California Naval Battalion, at present, contains nearly 300
men. They are fully armed with Lee magazine rifle-the navy arm-and
with the navy revolver. Their uniform is similar of that of an
able seaman in the United States service, with the exception
of the hat ribbon, which, in the Reserve, bears the words "Naval
Battalion," instead of the name of a ship. The officers
are armed and uniformed exactly as the regular officers, and
in every detail the California Naval Battalion has been made
to conform as nearly as possible with the regular service.
Having organized, the next step was to procure a place to drill,
and here the first serious mistake was made, an unavoidable one,
however, because of lack of funds. Each company shifted for itself.
For some time Company B then Company A, drilled by moonlight,
when available, and by guesswork when dark, in the bid, gloomy
courtyard of the City Hall. It soon went into an armory, however,
as did the other companies, and then the battalion began to take
some semblance of a permanent organization. But the armories
were in different parts of the city and the companies were separated.
The dues of the men, by careful management, sufficed for armory
rent and current and incidental expenses, but they were not sufficient
to purchase uniforms. The merchants of the city were then appealed
to, and they responded with nearly #3,000. This went for uniforms
for the men, the officers providing their own. The $25,000 annually
appropriated by Congress, becoming due about that time, the battalion
held its first muster, March 22d, 1892, and applied soon after
for a pro rata for 371 men, as shown at the muster. This meant
$8,584.43. The California Battalion was then the largest in America,
and the amount of its share of the appropriation was nearly $1,000
more than that of the New York Battalion, the next in size.
The federal appropriation, however, is not furnished by money,
but in arms and equipments. The battalion commander, therefore,
applied for everything necessary to equip the men, and the following
list of what was sent will show how the battalion is armed and
equipped at present, as no accouterments have been furnished
the men since that time: 280 rifles, 280 gun slings, 280 bayonet
scabbards, 40 revolvers, 40 belts, 40 holsters, 40 cartridge
boxes, 40 packs for revolvers, 280 single web belts, 360 haversacks
and straps, 370 rubber ponchos, 360 canteens and straps, 3 grubbing
hoes, 6 shovels, 370 coat straps.
The rifles were all new and furnished with bayonets. The web
belts have loops for cartridges and pockets for magazines, and
the haversacks are of canvas. In addition, with each gun were
furnished all the necessary cleaning and repairing tools and
over half a dozen magazines.
A flag, consisting of a blue field, in the center of which are
two crossed anchors, fouled in their cables and surrounded by
thirteen white stars, was then adopted. A fact simile of this
flag heads all battalion stationary, and its miniature, on a
button, forms the official badge of the battalion.
A three-inch breech lading rifle and all its accessories was
secured for the Mare Island Navy Yard, and things were beginning
to look well for the reserve, when Lieutenant Commander Chandler
resigned. Captain Charles Miner Goodall, a man well known among
the shipping men of San Francisco was elected to the vacancy.
Captain Goodall is a master mariner, and as he took hold with
enthusiasm, the battalion has prospered under his rule.
A sixteen-oared barge, fitted with two masts and sails, was the
next addition to the equipment. For obvious reasons she was called
the MAYFLOWER, and her triangular sails and flowing ensign
at the stern have been familiar figures on the bay ever since.
From the time of her appearance, the nautical instinct in the
men developed rapidly. When the cruisers CHARLESTON
and SAN FRANCISCO came into the harbor and anchored, this
sentiment was at its height, and when the boys were invited on
board to drill with the big guns and to behave like seamen generally,
there once more sprang up between the companies a fellow feeling,
which has done more than all else to hold the organization together.
It brought home to them the fact that though separated on shore,
on sea they are all in the same ship's crew.
From the advent of the CHARLESTON, Captain Picking commanding,
the characteristic history of the Naval Battalion commences.
Before that, the boys felt the terms, "land sailors"
and "fresh water sailors," which were freely applied,
had as much truth as ridicule in them, but the CHARLESTON
has been the means of making real seaman out of the raw reserves,
and to speak ill of the gallant craft in presence of a reserve
man is as bad as to belie his commander.
The CHARLESTON entered the service of the battalion in
July, 1892. On alternate days the city companies used to muster
all the men available, and they would row out in their own barge
to the white cruiser, and would drill for hours at her guns.
After some weeks of this, a night attack was planned, and one
moonlight evening the nine boats of the cruiser were manned by
two of the city companies, while the third manned the search
lights on board. The boats tried to come close enough to launch
an imaginary torpedo with deadly effect, while the great streaks
of light shot across the water, spying them out, and enabling
the men on the machine guns to demolish them with phantom shot
and shell. Thousands of the people of the city watch the sight,
for it was truly a magnificent one; and for a great many the
inquiry as to what was the meaning of those four dazzling beams
of light, shooting about like gigantic ghostly arms, brought
the first information of the Naval Battalion, an organization
which had been in their midst for more than a year.
August 6th, 1892, in Battalion order No. 10, came the order to
gather upon the Folsom-street wharf at 7:30 A. M., August 12th,
and proceed on board the CHARLESTON for a trip to Santa
Cruz. Short as the time was, the men hurried round asking for
vacations-those who had not had any, and those who had, brought
influence to bear upon employers to get another; as a result,
when the Battalion formed upon the wharf at the appointed time,
there were one hundred and seventy men in line from the three
San Francisco companies. The men were fully armed and equipped.
This, in naval parlance, means that each man wore his blue suit
and tan canvas leggings, and that he carried a haversack, containing
his lunch, a tin plate and cup, knife and fork. Over each shoulder
was slung the blankets, wrapped in the rubber poncho, around
each waist was hooked the belt and bayonet with its scabbard,
and in the hand was the rifle.
The cruiser BOSTON was in the harbor at the time, and
she was ordered to accompany the CHARLESTON to Santa Cruz.
She took none of the men, however, but gracefully saluting as
the CHARLESTON passed her, she took her place off the
starboard quarter, and in this way escorted her sister ship down
The run down was a beautiful one. A slight ground swell gave
the ship just enough roll to keep the boys careful of their steps,
but not sufficient to disturb any stomach. The officers and men
of the CHARLESTON behaved toward the battalion in a way
to fully justify the statement that the "white squadron"
is manned by gentlemen and sailors. There was never a laugh at
any of the clumsy actions which at first characterized the reserve
men, but instead the sailors took the boys in hand and showed
them everything. At mess, although the battalion boys had been
warned to fill their haversacks, as there would be no provisions
for them on the ship, the crew took them below and loaded them
with a seaman's fare.
Several times on the way down, the men were called to quarters,
and were made to "cast loose and provide," "secure,"
"prepare to ram" etc. Then first and second boarders
were called away; first, second and third riflemen were called
away, and altogether the ship's decks were kept lively by the
men hurrying to and fro with shot and powder, rifles and cutlasses.
One of the reserve companies was formed into the powder division,
and the men stalked about in their long white robes and wooden
shoes, to the amusement of all, until the reason for such a costume
was explained; then there was no more laughing.
When off Santa Cruz, Governor Markham boarded the vessel and
inspected the men, both regulars and reserves, and then the companies
were landed at the wharf. They ware marched to some bath-houses,
in which the men were to spend the nights of their stay in Santa
Cruz, for there was not room on board the cruisers for the battalion.
Here quarters were paid for out of the company's funds, and not
a word of complaint came from the men when they had to sleep
on the hard floor, for they saved money thereby. They provided
their own meals too, as the State had made no appropriation for
the expenses of the trip, but the boys cared little for that.
The next day, Saturday, the companies again boarded the CHARLESTON,
and all the morning they pegged away at a target with the big
guns. The loading, firing, and sponging were done entirely by
the reserves, there being a regular seaman at each gun, however,
to prevent accidents. The green gunners soon caught the knack
of firing just as the ship completed her upward roll, and then
some really creditable shooting was done. If a ship had been
in place of a target, she would probably have been sunk, but
it would have taken every shot, for some went rather wide of
On Saturday afternoon the seaman from the CHARLESTON and
BOSTON, and the naval reserves march to Camp Columbus,
the militia camp, two miles in from the coast, and they formed
a feature of the big parade held on that day. It was hoped to
have them land on the beach and attack a battalion of infantry,
but there was not time to arrange for such a manoeuver, and besides
the reserves had not yet been given cartridges, either blank
On Sunday morning the CHARLESTON weighed anchor and started
home. The only really notable thing on the trip up was the Sunday
inspection, in which the naval battalion shared. Everything was
found in good condition, for the CHARLESTON's men had
patiently and without a word of complaint, cleaned all the big
guns after the reserves were through with them on Saturday, a
proceeding the boy's watched closely, and from which they gleaned
many bits of information about the mechanism of breech-blocks
It was during this homeward cruise that the boys responded to
their first "church call" at sea. Down on the berth
deck they assembled, where stood a table, and beside it a small
organ, and where officers and seamen sat together with heads
uncovered. The simple services transformed the bare cheerless
place at once into a solemn house of worship as any on land,
and rank and distinction were alike forgotten for the time being.
Just below, the foam swished softly around the steel brow of
the vessel as it drove through the water, and the sound blended
sweetly with the voice of the chaplain, as he offered a prayer
for "poor Jack;" while the steady even roll of the
vessel, the forbidding steel sides and deck beams, and the gurgling
of the waves on the cut water beneath, emphasized the prayer
and brought the words home to the reserve boys with a meaning
they had not seen before. In the minds of more than one, that
simple sea service is one of the most vivid memories of the trip.
Being Sunday, of course there was no drill, so the boys amused
themselves as best they could. This was disastrous, for following
the well-established rule that an idle mind will work evil, the
thoughts of quite a number turned to their stomachs, and as a
consequence they became seasick. Even then, however, the regulars
never cracked a smile, but kindly offered valuable assistance
to the stricken reserve men, who recovered quickly under the
treatment and were all well before the vessel arrived home.
The three days' trip ended without an accident, and as the boys
left the white cruiser, the cheers they gave came from the heart
as well as the head. It was echoed back from the decks more than
once, and when the Charleston's men stood upon the rail the better
to see the departure, the officers of the ship did not order
The cruise is ancient history now, and every one is familiar
with all its events, those who stayed at home as well as those
who went; but, nevertheless, it is still a subject of armory
conversation, and will continue to be such for a long time to
come. The only drawback was that Company A of San Diego could
not go also. Company A has now had fully as much drill on the
cruisers as the other companies, however, and is quite as efficient.
At present, the battalion is in a most enviable condition in
every way. The companies have turned out several times, and the
organization is looked upon as being a permanent, prosperous
and efficient element of the State militia. The battalion is
relieved from all apprehension on the score of finances, for
the State allowance began in July, and by special act, an appropriation
was made to pay armory rent from January, 1893.
The drill of the companies is, in infantry tactics, substantially
the same as that of the army, only it is not so exacting. They
have, in addition, their field gun drills, their lectures on
seamanship, and when a cruiser is handy, their drills on ship
On this last matter, however, the battalion will soon be made
independent of periodical drills on visiting ships of war, for
the Pensacola, that famous old frigate which made such a gallant
record for itself during the late war, will be ordered down to
the city from Mare Island for its use. She will be used as a
receiving ship by the Government, and will have on board a sufficient
number of men and officers from the regular service to take care
of her. She will be armed with converted rifles bored for breech-loaders,
and with a good secondary battery of modern machine guns. A couple
of modern 6-inch rifles will also be mounted on board. It is
hoped, too, to have her old frigate rig put on her again (she
is now dismantled) but it may that she will have only military
masts. Her engines will be left in her, however, and each year
it is intended she shall take the battalion out into blue water
for at least a week. She will be moored to a wharf, and her decks,
guns, and boats will at all times be at the service of the battalion.
The original organization of the companies, prescribed by the
bill, has been closely adhered to, but there are changes which
experience shows are much needed. Each company has four officers
and sixteen petty officers, and the membership of each keeps
at sixty or over. The petty officers in each company are chief
boatswain's mate, chief gunner's mate and chief quartermaster;
captain of the forecastle, captain of the fore-top, captain of
the main-top, captain of the afterguards, three coxswains, a
signal man and a bugler.
There will be more equipments received in a short time, for the
second federal appropriation, since the organization of the battalion,
has been made. It was decided to use it in the purchase of three
1-pound Hotchkiss rapid-fire guns, a number of revolvers and
belts, some cutlasses and tents sufficient to cover the whole
battalion. The Hotchkiss guns each cost $1,500. Each has three
mounts-a boat mount for use in the barge, a barbette mount for
use on earth-works or land fortifications, or on shipboard, and
a field mount for use as light artillery and in street work.
The new equipments are even now on their way here, and when they
arrive, and when the Pensacola is placed at its disposal, the
California Naval Battalion will be one of the best equipped militia
bodies in the United States. The men will have fine new rifles
of the latest pattern; they will have three of the best rapid-fire
guns made; they will have a ship-a real ship with a glorious
record, and not an old hulk-for drill and for cruises; they will
have modern breech-loading rifles for heavy ordnance practice;
they will have all the necessary boats for boat practice, and
the only thing lacking will be instruction and illustration in
the theory and practice of torpedo warfare.
The best thing about the battalion, and the characteristic which
will make it a credit to the State and to the service, is the
evident disinclination of the men to be taken for anything but
sailors of the naval reserve. They are very proud of their uniform,
and when in citizen's clothes, the little "battalion button"
is conspicuously displayed on nearly every man's coat. In addition
to this, many of the boys have had their cuticles engraved with
all manner of shapes and figures dear to the nautical heart,
but constant intercession by the officers is putting a stop to
this truly laudable ambition to be "salt." The officers
are all young and enthusiastic, and many of them have risen from
the ranks. The complete list of the battalion officers is as
follows: Charles M. Goodall, Lieutenant Commander; Frank A. Brooks,
Lieutenant and Adjutant; Fred H. Stahle, Lieutenant and Ordnance
Officer; Shafter Howard, Lieutenant and Paymaster; Daniel B.
Northrup (San Diego), Lieutenant and Surgeon; Albert H. Taylor,
Ensign and Assistant Surgeon; James G. Decatur (San Diego), Ensign
and Assistant Ordnance Officer. Company officers - Company A:
William D. Bloodgood, Lieutenant; Frank M. Simpson, Lieutenant
Junior Grade; Thomas M. Shaw and Joseph C. Crenshaw, Ensigns;
Company B: Charles H. Crocker, Lieutenant; Cecil C. Dennis, Lieutenant
Junior Grade; Guy C. Calden and W. F. Burke, Ensigns; Company
C: Colin A. Douglass, Lieutenant; Ewald J. Schmeider, Lieutenant
Junior Grade; Edward E. Manseau and John T. McMullen, Ensigns;
Company D: Louis H. Turner, Lieutenant; William E. Gunn, Lieutenant
Junior Grade; Theodore F. Tracey and Chauncey M. St. John, Ensigns.
The Lieutenant Commander is a well tried sea captain, who has
commanded more than one large vessel, and among the other officers
are several ex-man of warsmen and a number of yachtsmen, so the
battalion is not without nautical hands to guide it. The boys
are willing to learn, and the teaching is easy, for officers
and men are bound together by two inseverable ties. One is the
flag under which they serve, the other is their love for the
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