California State Military Department
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Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts
San Diego Barracks
(Including New San Diego Depot)
By WO1 Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History
 
Enlisted Barracks
 
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 Guadalupe-Hidalgo.

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, U.S. Army.

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 theater.

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 now occupied.

Footnotes
 
(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), Missouri.
 
(4) Major Lewis A. Armistead, of Gettysburg fame, was killed at the head of his brigade on Cemetery Ridge during Pickett's charge.

San Diego Barracks, Circa 1911
 


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