California State Military Department
The California Military Museum
A United States Army Museum Activity
Preserving California's Military Heritage
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. Denger
California Center for Military History
 
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 difficulty encountered.

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 coast.

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 the mark.

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 or ball.

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 and gun-carriages.

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 them down.

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 board.

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 sea.
 


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