California State Military Department
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Preserving California's Military Heritage
Historic California Posts
Post at Mission San Diego de Alcalá
By WO1 Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History
 
Mission San Diego de Alcalá
 
 
Twenty two years after Mexico achieved independence from Spain, the United States declared war on Mexico. The old Mission of San Diego would once again figure prominently in a brief contest which would place California under the rule of the United States.

The war led to the American take-over of San Diego and its mission. The first military camp of the United States to be stationed at San Diego was in 1846, established by the Navy at Fort Stockton. It was followed by the establishment of San Diego's first military post at the San Diego Mission. This took place when the Mormon Battalion, under command of Lieut. Colonel Philip St. George Cooke (2), made camp at the San Diego Mission on January 29, 1847.

General Kearney placed Company B at Fort Stockton to garrison Fort Stockton with seven artillery pieces while he sent the rest of the Battalion on to Los Angeles.

The old Mission, under Company B, would become the army's strategic post in the area. The old Mission stood on an eminence, at a point in the valley of the San Diego River which commanded a view of the entire valley to the sea on the one side, and of the mountain passes on the other. The main building, about ninety feet long, extended from north to south, with the main entrance being at the south end. The Mission's massive walls, about four feet in thickness, was found to be more than sufficient for the protection of the troops now quartered there.

With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the end of the Mexican era ceased. For nearly a decade the old Mission of San Diego would continue to serve as an army post.

Heintzelman (2), Magruder (3), Burton (4), Winder (5), and Fauntleroy (6) commanded the post at different times. Post San Diego Mission quartered troops at the Old Mission until 1856.

Footnotes
 
(1) Major General Philip St. George Cooke was a cavalry officer, whose military career spanned almost half a century beginning with his graduation from West Point in 1827 to his retirement in 1873. He was born at Leesburg, Virginia, on June 13, 1809, and entered West Point in 1823, and upon graduation, received a brevet to 2d lieutenant, Infantry, July 1, 1827. He served in garrison at Jefferson Barracks and Fort Snelling before being assigned to frontier duty. He participated in the Black Hawk War, Mexican War, the Indian Wars, and the Civil War. A native of Virginia, General Cooke remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. Perhaps his most enduring achievement came when as a lieutenant colonel during the Mexican War, where he led a battalion of Mormons from Missouri to California. He was in command of the celebrated Morman Battalion, from Santa Fe to California. The route led by Colonel Cooke in 1847 opened the first wagon route to California and today the railroad follows much of the early wagon trails. Breveted to lieutenant Colonel, February 20, 1847, for meritorious conduct in California. During the opening days of the Civil War, Cook was promoted to Brigadier-General, November 12, 1861, and placed in command of Regular Cavalry in the defense of Washington. Breveted to Major-General, March 13, 1865, for gallant and meritorious services during the Rebellion. He retired from active service on October 29, 1873 after more than fifty years of service. He died at Detroit, MI, on March 20, 1895, and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Camp Cooke (now Vandenburg Air Force Base) was named in his honor.
 
(2) Samuel P. Heintzelman, Major-General, US Army, was born in Pennsylvania, on September 30, 1805. A graduate of West Point in 1826, he entered the army as 2d lieutenant of infantry. He spent several years in border service, and fought in the Seminole War. He served during the Mexican War with the rank of captain. At Huamantla he won distinction for bravery, and on 9 October, 1847, he was brevetted major. He organized a battalion of recruits and convalescent soldiers at Vera Cruz, and marched them to the city of Mexico. From 1849 till 1855 he served in California, where he had some rough experience with the Coyote and Yuma Indians, and established Fort Yuma on the Colorado river. In 1859-'60 he was in command of the troops in the Cortina War on the Rio Grande against Mexican marauders (border war between U.S. and Mexicans under Cortina, in 1859) which is the subject of a book by Jerry Thompson, published in 1997, entitled "50 Miles And A Fight", the substance of which was taken from Heintzelman's journals located in the Library of Congress, approximately 15,000 pages of journals spanning 40 years. In May, 1861, he was breveted lieutenant-colonel for meritorious services against the Indians in California, and ordered to Washington to take the office of Inspector-General. In May of the same year he was commissioned colonel of the 17th regular infantry. On 17 May he was appointed brigadier-general of volunteers, and ordered to the command of a brigade at Alexandria. He commanded a division of McDowell's army at Bull Run, and was wounded. During the organization of the army under General McClellan, in the winter of 1861-1862, he retained command of his division. When the Army of the Potomac began to move, in March, 1862, Heintzelman was in command of the 3d Army corps, was in the battle of Williamsburg on 5 May, was made major-general of volunteers on the same day, where he commanded the 3d and 4th corps, and for his gallantry was breveted brigadier-general in the regular army. He was appointed to the command of the Department of Washington, and of the 22d army corps. He was relieved in October, 1863, and in January of the following year was put in command of the Northern Department, embracing Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. In March 1865 he was breveted major-general, and resumed command of the 17th infantry, in New York harbor and in Texas. On 22 February, 1869, he was retired with the rank of colonel, and on 29 April, by special act of congress, was placed on the retired list, with the rank of major-general. His public career ended with his retirement from the army. Heintzelman was also instrumental in creating the legislation that made Arizona a state. He also owned two silver mines in Arizona. Samuel Heintzelman died in Washington, D. C., on May 1, 1880; Buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York. Plot: Section T, Lot 7, West
 
(3) John Bankhead Magruder, Major-General, Confederate, dubbed "Prince John," was born in Virginia in 1807. Magruder attended the University of Virginia, before entering the military academy. Graduating from West Point in 1830, Magruder embarked upon three action-packed decades of service in the U.S. Army, taking him from Florida during the Seminole Wars to the frontiers of Maine, New York, and Texas. In 1847, his pivotal leadership of General Winfield Scott's forces was instrumental in defeating Santa Anna at the gates of Mexico City. By the spring of 1861, Prince John Magruder had risen to commander of the Washington garrison. When secession and war became imminent, Magruder resigned his duties as the president's bodyguard to race home to Virginia to answer the Confederate call to arms. In the opening engagements of the Civil War, Prince John's initiative and audacity earned him both admiration and acclaim. Magruder was transferred to the district of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. When the war ended, he headed for Mexico, serving in the government of Emperor Maximilian. Magruder, once more, with enemy forces closing in, attempted to arrange an escape plot for the doomed ruler. When the plan failed, Magruder fled to Cuba, eventually returning to the United States, where he died in 1871.
 
(4) Henry S. Burton, Brigadier-General, U.S. Army, was born in New York in 1818. He was appointed to West Point from Vermont and gradutated in 1839. He served as a 2d lieutenant of the 3d artillery in the Florida war, 1839-1842, and was made 1st lieutenant, November 11, 1839, and was an instructor at West Point, 1843-1846. He served in the Mexian War as lieutenant-colonel of New York volunteers, distinguishing himself by his defense of La Paz, Lower California, and was also engaged at Todos Santos. Burton was promoted to Captain, September 22, 1847, serving as commander of Post Mission San Diego, when he married Maria Amparo Ruiz. She was born in La Paz, Baja California and came to California in 1849. In 1852 Maria and her husband purchased Rancho Jamul in San Diego. Maria's great uncle, Francisco Ruiz had been the comandante of San Diego in the early 1800s. In California she studied English under a tutor and was a life-long friend and correspondent with Mariano Vallejo. She would later write to Vallejo of her aspirations:

"...I am persuaded that we were born to do something more than simply live, that is, we were born for something more, for the rest of our poor countrymen."

Captain Burton remained in California on duty in various forts until 1862, when, having been promoted to major, May 14, 1861, the Civil War began. He was made colonel of the 5th artillery, August 11, 1863, and assumed command of the artillery reserve of the army of the Patomac, 1864. He was breveted brigadier-general, March 13, 1865, for services at the capture of Petersburg, and stationed in various forts until his death at Fort Adams, Newport, R.I., April 4, 1869. After her husband's death, Maria returned to San Diego where she wrote two novels, "Who Would Have Thought It?," published in 1872, and "The Squatter and the Don," published in 1885, under pen name C. Loyal, becoming California's first Mexican-American woman writer. While living on rancho Jamul, the Burtons had made improvements on it and submitted title to the Court of Land Claims. For the next few decades Maria would be involved in dozens of lawsuits trying to retain title to her land. All the while she was involved in litigation over Jamul and eventually her attorney fees for the litigation and the costs of unpaid mortgages forced her into bankruptcy. She traveled to Chicago to find help for her fight for her rights to another rancho that had been in her family, Rancho Ensenada de Todos Santos. There she died in 1895 trying to get political support for her claims.
 
(5) Captain Winder, who later resigned from the army to remain in San Diego, came to the post in 1854, with two companies of the 3rd Artillery. On March 26, 1855, he and his company marched from San Diego as an escort to the first Pacific Railroad Survey, under Lieutenant Parke, of the Topographical Engineers.
 
(6) Thomas L. Fauntleroy, Brigadier-General, US Army, was born in Virginia, and was commissioned a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. Commissioned a Major of Dragoons, June 8, 1836, he served in the Seminole War. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, 2d Dragoons, June 30, 1846. From this duty he commanded the cavalry of General Scott's army in Mexico. In 1849 he was in command of the 1st Dragoons, commanding troops on frontier duty in Texas. From here, he was assigned to San Diego and was promoted to Colonel, July 25, 1850. In the winter of 1854-1855 he conducted a campaign against the hostile Indian tribes of the Rocky Mountains and made another mid-winter campaign against the Indians in New Mexico. He led several expeditions against the Apaches in the company of Kit Carson and from 1859-1861 commanded the Department of New Mexico. On the eve of the Civil War, in May 1861, he resigned his commission and was appointed by the governor of Virginia as Brigadier-General of the Provisional Army of Virginia. But after the organization of the Confederate government he refused to confirm his commission. He was relieved on August 25, 1861, having never held Confederate rank. He died on September 12, 1883, and was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, Virgina.


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