Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
San Diego Barracks
(Including New San Diego Depot)
The Golden State was admitted to the Union
in 1850. This same year, San Diego County became the first county
created in the new State. It will be remembered that the pueblo,
also known as "Old Town", was located immediately below
the presidio, about three miles from the port.
The principal houses of Old Town surrounded the city square or
plaza, in the center of which, flanked by two artillery pieces,
stood the flag-staff from which the Mexican flag gave way to
the Stars and Stripes. From Old Town the road followed the north
bank of Mission Valley to Mission San Diego, where during those
years, there was stationed a detachment of U.S. troops.
In those early days of American rule, San Francisco was the army's
closest source of supply for troops stationed in San Diego. The
increase of military garrisons in Southern California, had brought
about by the need for military escorts to accompany the U.S.
Boundary Commission, then establishing the boundary line between
the United States and Mexico, under the terms of the Treaty of
It was during this period of San Diego's history, in 1850, that
Andrew B. Gray, then a surveyor for the U.S. Boundary Commission,
and William H. Davis, together with Jose Antonio Aguirre, Miguel
de Pedrorena and Wm. C. Farrell, made plans for the founding
of a new settlement in San Diego. This new settlement, called
"New San Diego" was for many years rather ironically
referred to as Graytown, or "Davis's Folly." Even the
U.S. Commissioner J. R. Bartlett, in his personal narrative says,
"without wood, water or arable land, this place can never
rise to importance."
Nevertheless Davis and Gray, with their associates, formed a
partnership for the purpose of developing the townsite which
became known as New San Diego. Before papers were signed, however,
a vessel arrived at La Playa with materials for the construction
of an army warehouse. Supplying outposts was very expensive and
slow in those early days. It had been determined that a distribution
center closer to the activities involved was needed. The Army
had selected a site at La Playa, on Point Loma, for this purpose.
In charge of the project was 2d Lieut. Thomas D. Johns, 2d Infantry,
Realizing that the location of the government buildings at La
Playa would make it difficult to attract population to their
new townsite, they prevailed upon Johns to reship the materials
from La Playa, across the bay to the new townsite. To further
persuade Johns, Davis agreed to build a wharf at the end of Market
Street for this purpose. Apparently, Johns evidently joined the
syndicate, for he received one of 18 shares issued for the townsite
and was one of those who deeded land for the military reservation
which became the New San Diego Depot. (1)
The wharf and several buildings were erected in 1851. The original
storage facility at La Playa soon proved to be insufficient and
the Quartermaster's Department soon made plans to augment this
storage space at New San Diego. The wharf was "L" shaped,
600 feet long, and cost $60,000 to build. Military supplies for
the depot were unloaded from ships onto the wharf and transferred
to the New San Diego Depot where they were then transported by
pack or wagon train to Fort Tejon, Fort Mohave, San Luis Rey,
Chino, Santa Ysabel, San Bernardino, Fort Yuma, and other places.
A line of pack trains across the desert was successfully established
in 1851 by William H. Hilton, who carried supplies from San Diego
to Fort Yuma for some time, under contract.
During these years New Town consisted only of a hand full of
frame houses, a depot for the U.S. Subsistence and Quartermaster's
Department and a large wharf. This then, was New San Diego.
San Diego Barracks, known at that time as the New San Diego Depot,
was soon occupied by Volunteers (2). Captain Nathaniel Lyon,
2d Infantry, U.S. Army, was the constructing quartermaster in
charge of the erection of the depot buildings (3). The first
U.S. troops to be stationed at New San Diego was Battery D, 3d
Artillery, who arrived in San Diego in 1855.
In May 1858, the Pacific Slope Indians went on the warpath in
the Washington Territory and an expedition was fitted out, under
command of Colonel George Wright, 9th Infantry, U.S. Army, for
the purpose of chastising them. The only remaining company left
at the San Diego Mission was Company D, 3d Artillery, under the
command of Captain Francis O. Wyse, which had arrived on February
1, 1858. Company D was ordered north in June of that year to
join Colonel Wright's expedition.
The departure of the soldiers created considerable alarm in San
Diego, as it left the southern border of the United States exposed.
The citizens of San Diego were called upon to hold themselves
in readiness to lend assistance to the local corps of the California
Militia (known today as the National Guard). With the departure
of Company D, the use of the San Diego Mission as a military
post ended. The Washington Indians were defeated in three successive
battles fought early September, 1858.
On December 6, 1858, Company G, 6th Infantry, with Captain W.
S. Ketchum commanding, moved into the New San Diego Depot which
now became a garrisoned post. Upon the promotion of Captain Ketchum
to major in June, 1860, command of the post devolved upon Brevet
Major Lewis A. Armistead (4).
The outbreak of the Civil War caused the transfer of most of
the regular army troops from the New San Diego Depot to the eastern
Early in November, 1861, Captain T. L. Roberts with Company E,
1st Infantry, California Volunteers (5), relieved the regular
troops at San Diego who departed shortly afterwards by steamship
for the east. Company D, commanded by Captain William. H. French,
and Company H, commanded by Captain Sylvester Soper, both of
the 5th Infantry, California Volunteers, occupied the post of
New San Diego in February and March, 1862. Company H was ordered
away shortly afterwards and Captain French's company was transferred
in November, being replaced by Company G, 4th Infantry, California
Volunteers, commanded by Captain Grant. Captain Grant remained
in charge of the post until August, 1865, when he and his company
were moved to La Paz, Arizona.
The post was vacated in June, 1866, the barracks and other buildings
remaining empty of military personnel for years.
General Orders No. 2, Military Division of the Pacific, dated
April 5, 1879, changed the designation of the post from the New
San Diego Depot to the San Diego Barracks.
During the next decade various companies of the 8th and 9th Infantry
regiments garrisoned the Barracks. Occasionally the company was
called out when Indian troubles arose; sometimes it returned
to San Diego, but again was replaced by another.
During World War II the U. S. Navy was permitted to erect temporary
buildings on the property which were used for the fleet post
office. The property reverted to the city at the end of the war
and, in 1946, was loaned to the state of California for use as
a National Guard armory, for which purpose the buildings are
(1) The land embraced in the reservation
was conveyed to the government on September 12, 1850, by warranty
deeds for a nominal consideration. The deeds, eight in number,
were not placed upon record with the recorder of San Diego County
until Jan. 17, 1870.
(2) The name of the post was changed from
New San Diego Depot to San Diego Barracks by General Orders No.
2, Military Division of the Pacific, San Francisco, April 5,
1879. San Diego Barracks continued to operate as a subpost of
Fort Rosecrans until abandoned December 15, 1921.
(3) Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, U.S. Army, rose
to the rank of brigadier general during the Civil War. According
to official army records, his activity and judgment at Boonville,
on June 17, 1861, held Missouri in the Union, deciding "the
fate of the state in favor of the Union." General Lyon was
killed on August 10, 1861, at the Battle of Wilson' Creek (Springfield),
(4) Major Lewis A. Armistead, of Gettysburg
fame, was killed at the head of his brigade on Cemetery Ridge
during Pickett's charge.
Undated US Army Corps of Engineers
Los Angeles District History
A Quartermaster Depot was established
in the early 1850's on 2.83 acres of property located on Blocks
18, 31, and 39 of the San Diego Barracks. This land was acquired
by the War Department on September 12 and 14, 1850 from seven
separate private parties. On 19 March 1909, the Treasury Department
acquired an additional 1. 61 acres, lots E and F in Block 44
and Block 156 in its entirety, for the War Department under authority
of an Act of Congress. Subsequently, on 2 August 1909, this property
was formally assigned and transferred to the War Department in
exchange for Block 39 (1.38 acres), which was assigned and formally
transferred to the Treasury Department on 22 July 1909, under
authority of the same act. The total site acreage is 4.44 acres,
because the War Department once held that portion of the site
which was later transferred to the Treasury Department.
Troops were stationed at the depot for the first time in approximately
1855 and the depot buildings were utilized as shelter for the
troops. The post was subsequently abandoned in May 1866, reoccupied
in January 1870, again abandoned and reoccupied in 1876, since
which date occupation for military purposes was continuous until
1921 although, in 1909, a property exchange with the Treasury
Department occurred. The original name of the post was "New
San Diego" but, was changed in 1879 to "San Diego Barracks."
In June 1928, lots E and F of Block 44 and Block 156 in its entirety
(1.61 acres) were sold to private parties. However, the actual
transfer of Block 156 (1. 38 acres) did not take place until
24 March, 1943. All improvements were sold or transferred with
the property. In January 1929, in the opinion of the Judge Advocate
General, it was held that the United States acquired no title
to those portions of the lots 1 to 19, Block 18, lying below
the line of mean high tide. It was determined that the major
portion of lot 1 and a small portion of lot 2 are above the line
of mean high tide. On 3 December 1934, lots 1 and 2 (.08 acre)
of Block 18 were sold to a private party. By Executive Order
No. 7451, dated 17 September 1936, Block 31, in its entirety
(1.37 acres), was transferred to the Secretary of the Navy. This
block was acquired on 13 July 1938, by the City of San Diego.
Block 156, in its entirety, is owned by Packard Properties, Inc.
and is leased to commercial and industrial businesses. Block
31, in its entirety, is now owned by the Catellus Development
Corporation and the entire block is currently used as a parking
lot. The southwest corner of Block 44 is part of a condominium
complex. Block 39, in its entirety, is owned by the United States
General Services Administration and is occupied by the old Federal
Courthouse building. Lots 1 and 2 of Block 18 are owned by the
City of San Diego but, are currently in the process of being
conveyed to the San Diego Unified Port District.