Washington, D. C.
February 18, 1848.
On my return from California in November last, the circumstances of the times seemed to present reasons for delaying a full report of my transactions and operations on the coast of the Pacific.
The authority under which I had acted was questioned or denied; the validity of much that had been done was doubted, and investigations were on foot in which the propriety of my proceedings might be brought to the especial notice of the Executive.
After a full consideration of the circumstances, to which it is unnecessary here further to allude, it appeared to me decorous and respectful to withhold, for a brief period, my own views of the questions in which I was to some extent implicated, and to leave the Executive to learn the details of those transactions from other quarters. The period, however, has now arrived in which I feel that I can, without the imputation of improper feelings or motives, lay before the Executive, in a tangible and official form, a narrative of the occurrences which I directed in California; explain the circumstances which induced the course which I pursued, the motives by which I was guided, the objects which I designed to accomplish, and thus to put the President in possession of ample means to form a judgment upon my conduct.
It appears now to be no longer questioned that I actually possessed and exercised the powers of governor of California and commander-in-chief of the forces of the United States in that quarter, and that, whether rightfully or wrongfully, I executed the duties and administered the functions appertaining to these high offices, for the administration of which I am alone responsible. The despatches which were from time to time addressed to the Department were designed to furnish the government with accurate information of what transpired; but, under the circumstances in which they were prepared, it did not enter into my purpose to give a general narrative of the entire operations. Opening a full view of the circumstances which influenced my judgment in selecting the course which was adopted, and the policy by which that course was determined, with your permission I beg leave, at this time, to perform this duty; the obligations to do which, at this juncture, seem to me more imperative, since it appears that in an official communication addressed to the Department by my successor in command, I am in the most explicit terms censured for premature as well as injudicious action. With what of propriety or of professional courtesy this condemnation has been passed by an officer of equal rank with myself, without any report or communication to him of what had occurred, or the reasons by which I was governed, is not so apparent.
Under the instructions from the Department, I arrived, in command of the United States frigate Congress, at the harbour of Monterey, about the middle of July, 1846. The American flag was there flying. I immediately went on board the United States frigate Savannah, then lying off that town, and, in conformity with my orders, I reported myself to Commodore Sloat as forming part of the squadron then under his command. From him I learned that in the preceding month of June, while lying off Mazatlan, he had received intelligence that war had commenced between the United States and Mexico; that he had forthwith proceeded to Monterey, landed a force, and hoisted the flag of the United States without resistance.
In the course of our interview, Commodore Sloat apprised me of his intention to return in a short time to the United States, whereby the command of the squadron would devolve upon me. In this position it became my duty to examine into the state of affairs, and, in view of the responsibility which was about to rest upon me, to obtain all the information which would enable me to exercise a proper judgment as to the ulterior measures to be pursued. The result of my inquiries and investigations showed me that the position I was about to occupy was an important and critical one. The intelligence of the commencement of hostilities between the two nations, although it had passed through Mexico, had reached Commodore Sloat in advance of the Mexican authorities. When he made his first hostile demonstrations, therefore, the enemy, ignorant of the existence of the war, had regarded his acts as an unwarrantable exercise of power by the United States, and the most lively indignation and bitter resentment pervaded the country.
The public functionaries of the territory were not slow in availing themselves of this feeling, and endeavored to stimulate it to the highest possible degree. A proclamation was put forth, denouncing in the most unmeasured terms all foreigners; but it was unquestionably aimed principally at the citizens of the United States, and such others as sympathized with them. Two or three were, in fact, murdered, and all were led to apprehend extermination from the sanguinary feeling of resentment which was everywhere breathed.
The local legislature was in session. Governor Pio Pico had assembled a force of about seven hundred or one thousand men, supplied with seven pieces of artillery, breathing vengeance against the perpetrators of the insult and injury which they supposed to have been inflicted. These hostile demonstrations were daily increasing, and, by the time that the command devolved on me by the departure of Commodore Sloat, the situation of things had assumed a critical and alarming appearance. Every citizen and friend of the United States throughout the territory was in imminent jeopardy; he could count upon no security for either property or life. It was well known that numerous emigrants from the United States were on their way to Upper California. These, marching in small and detached parties, encumbered with their wives and children and baggage, uninformed of the war and consequently unprepared for attack, would have been exposed to certain destruction.
It was also ascertained that, in the anticipation of the eventful conquest of the country by the United States, many of those in the actual possession of authority were preparing for this charge by disposing of the public property, so that it might be found in private hands when the Americans should acquire possession, believing that private rights would be protected and individual property secure. Negotiations were in actual progress thus to acquire three thousand leagues of land, and to dispose of all the most valuable portions of the territory appertaining to the missions at nominal prices, so that the conquerors should find the entire country appropriated to individuals, and in hands which could effectually prevent sales to American citizens, and thus check the tide of emigration, while little or no benefit would result to the nation from the acquisition of this valuable territory.
All these considerations, together with others of inferior moment, seemed to make prompt and decisive action an imperative duty. To retain possession merely of a few seaports, while cut off from all intercourse with the interior, exposed to constant attack by the concentrated forces of an exasperated enemy, appeared wholly useless. Yet to abandon ground which we had occupied, to withdraw our forces from these points, to yield places where our flag had been floating in triumph, was an alternative not to be thought of, except as a last resource. Not only would all the advantages which had been obtained be thus abandoned, and perhaps never be regained without great expenditure of blood and treasure, but the pride and confidence of the enemy would be increased to a dangerous extent by such indications of our weakness and inability to maintain what we had won.
Previous to the departure of Commodore Sloat, be had, at my instance, and upon my representations, placed at my disposal the United States sloop-of-war Cyane, as well as the forces on shore. I immediately apprised Captain Fremont, then of the topographical corps, with whom I had previous communications, of the position in which I was placed, and that I had determined upon my plan of operations.
Captain Fremont and Lieutenant Gillespie, of the Marine Corps, had already raised a body of 160 volunteers, prepared to act according to circumstances. I informed those gentlemen that if they, together with the men whom they had raised, would volunteer to serve under my command so long as I should remain in California and require their services, that I would form them into a battalion, appointing the former major and the latter captain. These arrangements were all completed in the course of the 23d of July, and my letters of that date to Commodore Sloat, to Commander Du Pont, and Captain Fremont, on file, in the Department, will have apprised you of my movements.
It was thus that the battalion of California volunteers was organized, which subsequently, under its gallant officers, took so patriotic and efficient a part in the military operations in that territory. It was received into the service of the United States to aid the Navy, as essential as well to the maintenance of the position we then occupied as to execute the plans which I had contemplated in the interior.
A few days subsequently, Commodore Sloat sailed in the Levant, thus devolving upon me the command of the entire force, both afloat and on shore. That force then consisted of the frigates Congress and Savannah, sloops-of-war Portsmouth, Cyane, and Warren, and the store-ship Erie. The Portsmouth was at San Francisco, the Congress and Savannah at Monterey, the Cyane had been sent with the California battalion to San Diego, the Warren was at Mazatlan, and the Erie at the Sandwich Islands. The force to be employed on land consisted to men, furnished from the Congress, provided with about 90 muskets and bayonets, some small cannon procured from the merchant-vessels, and the battalion of volunteers, all indifferently provided with the appendages of an army.
Sails for Los AngelesLeaving the Savannah at Monterey, for its protection, I sailed about the first of August, in the Congress, for San Pedro. This town is situated about 28 miles from Ciudad de los Angeles, in the vicinity of which the enemy was stated to be. On the way to San Pedro, we landed at Santa Barbara, of which we took possession, and, leaving a small force for its defense, proceeded to San Pedro, where we arrived on the 6th of August. Here information was received of the arrival of the Cyane at San Diego, of the landing of the battalion, and that Major Fremont had experienced great difficulty in procuring the necessary supply of horses. We immediately commenced the landing of our forces from the frigate.
On the following day two persons arrived representing themselves to be commissioners sent from General Castro, authorized to enter into negotiations with me, and bearing a letter from the General, which is already in possession of the Department. Before, however, they would communicate the extent of their power or the nature of their instructions, they made a preliminary demand that the further march of the troops must be arrested, and that I must not advance beyond the position which I then occupied. This proposition was peremptorily declined. I announced my determination to advance; and the commissioners returned to their camp without imparting further the objects of the proposed negotiations. Independently of the character of the preliminary conditions insisted upon by these commissioners, various considerations induced me to be averse to any negotiations in the existing state of affairs, and to press forward for the purpose of dispersing the forces which had been collected to oppose my progress. Some of these considerations I feel it my duty to submit to your notice, that my objects and designs may be properly appreciated by the government.
From the brief period which had intervened since the commencement of hostilities, it was obvious that the central government in Mexico could not have been apprised of the existing state of affairs; and, therefore, could not have communicated to this remote quarter orders and instructions accommodated to these circumstances. The local functionaries, therefore, who proposed to negotiate with me, must have acted upon their own authority, and their proceedings with a foreign power must depend for their validity upon the subsequent ratification and approval by the general government. Such ratification, it was confidently believed, would be given or withheld, according as the exigencies of the times made advisable.
Any arrangements, therefore, by which the further progress of the American arms would be stayed, would have left all the advantages to the one party. It was further manifest that the single act of entering into negotiations with this local authority would have been a recognition of its power to act definitively upon other subjects. If it could treat with us, a foreign foe, it would be impossible to deny its authority in matters more obviously within its sphere of action. The transfer of the public domain and property could scarcely have been questioned by us; and, as was well understood, arrangements were in progress to transfer all of it that was valuable to private bands, bitterly inimical to the United States and its interests. To prevent the accomplishment of this design was one of the chief objects which had been contemplated from the organization and march of the forces under my command; to enter into negotiations without the entire dispersement of the local government, and of the troops which it had assembled for its defence, would have been absolutely to relinquish this highly important design.
In addition to this, preservation of American interests, and of the lives and property of our citizens already in California and on their way to this territory, imperatively demanded that the troops which had been assembled under General Castro should be defeated or dispersed. The condition insisted upon as a preliminary clearly indicated that no arrangement would be acceded to which did not leave the Mexicans in the full possession of power throughout the province; and, if left in this possession, relieved from all apprehensions of molestation on our side, they would have been enabled to direct all their energies and force to the accomplishment of other objects.
The extermination of the Americans, which had been threatened in the proclamation already referred to, was too much in accordance with the feelings which pervaded the country and with the policy which governed its rulers not to have been the immediate and certain result of any opening of negotiations begun under such inauspicious signs as were insisted upon as preliminary conditions. Every evil consequence which I had apprehended would result from leaving things as they were found on my arrival in California was still to be feared; and even the movements which had already been made, unless pressed to a successful close, would have tended only to aggravate and precipitate them. There was, further, every reason to believe that the principal, if not the only, object which the Mexicans were sincerely desirous to obtain, was to gain time; and this would have been accomplished with entire certainty by the mere commencement of negotiations and the arrest of our advance, without reference to its final termination.
Our march would necessarily have been suspended at the outset; the sailors and marines must have re-embarked; the California battalion, so prompt and energetic in volunteering to aid us, must have been abandoned to its own resources, and, thus insulated and unsupported, must either have dispersed or fallen a sacrifice to an exasperated and powerful enemy. In the meanwhile, the Mexican General, relieved from all danger of disturbance from us, might, and certainly would, have increased his numerical force, augmented still more its efficiency, until he had acquired the capacity of expelling us from the places which had submitted to our arms.
The foregoing were among the prominent reasons which determined me to reject the Mexican proffers of negotiation, and I trust they are such as recommend my proceedings to the favourable consideration and approval of the President.
The commissioners were dismissed to their own camp, with an intimation that I should immediately follow them, and that the result of a battle would speedily determine whether General Castro and Governor Pio Pico, or myself, were to exercise authority over the inhabitants and territory of California.
Two or three days afterwards, other persons arrived from the camp of General Castro, with a communication from that functionary, stating his determination to defend the country to the last extremity, and indulging in the most extravagant language.
Having completed all the arrangements which time and circumstances permitted, and despatched a courier to Major Fremont, apprising him of my movements, we commenced our march towards the camp of the enemy on the llth of August. In the course of the afternoon of that day information reached us that the enemy's force, instead of awaiting our approach, had dispersed; that they had buried their guns, and that the governor and general had retreated, as was supposed, towards Sonora. We continued our march towards Ciudad do los Angeles, and on the 13th, having been joined by Major Fremont with about 120 volunteers under his command, we marched into the city, which we quietly occupied.
After the dispersement of the army of the enemy, the flight of the general and governor-in-chief out of the territory, a number of the officers of the Mexican army were captured and made prisoners of war. Among these were Jose Maria Flores, whose name will hereafter appear prominently, and Don Andres Pico, brother of Governor Pio Pico. These officers were released upon their parole of honour not to bear arms against the United States pending the war, unless exchanged; with what of fidelity they performed this obligation will appear in the sequel. The people in general came in, tendered their submission to our authority, and promised allegiance to our government. Every indication of a hostile force had now disappeared from the country, tranquillity was restored, and I forthwith determined to organize a temporary civil government to conduct public affairs and to administer justice as in time of peace. Various considerations prompted to this course. It appeared to me that the existence of such a government under the authority of the United States, would leave no pretence upon which it might be urged that the conquest of the country had not been accomplished.
While merely the military power exercised power, enforcing its authority by martial law and executing its functions through the instrumentality of a regular military force, nothing could be regarded as settled, and opposition to its power would be considered as a lawful opposition to a foreign enemy. When, however, the whole frame of civil administration should be organized, -- courts and judges performing their accustomed functions -- public taxes and imposts regularly collected and appropriated to the ordinary objects and purposes of government -- any opposition might be justly deemed a civil offence, and the appropriate punishment inflicted in the ordinary course of administering justice.
Indeed, military law appeared to me wholly inadequate to the emergency. It could not reach many of the objects over which a salutary control ought to be exercised. It could not effectively administer the property or sufficiently guard private rights. A civil government which should, through its various functionaries, pervade the entire country, exercise a superintendence over all the inhabitants, discover, restrain, and punish all acts of insubordination, detect and check all attempts at a hostile organization, recognise and sanction the possession, use, and transfer of property, inflict upon criminals the appropriate punishment, and remedy injuries inflicted upon individuals, seemed not only an important instrument in the accomplishment of the objects which I had in view, but essential to the attainment of the ends of the government. It appeared to me desirable that the actual possession and exercise of power should be transferred, with the least possible delay, from the military to civil functionaries.
Under our institutions the military is regarded as inferior to the civil authority, and the appropriate duty of the former is to act as auxiliary to the latter. Such being the general character of our institutions, it seemed in the first degree desirable that the inhabitants of the country should, as soon as practicable, become familiar with them, that they might perceive and appreciate their importance and their value, their capacity to maintain right and redress wrong, and, in the protection afforded to persons and property, to recognise a guarantee of all their individual rights. The marked contrast which would thus be afforded to their former institutions and rulers would reconcile the Mexican portion of the population to the change; while the American inhabitants would gratefully witness an administration of law and justice analogous to that to which they had been accustomed at home.
Actuated by such considerations, I gave my immediate attention to the establishment, upon a permanent basis, of a civil government throughout the country, as much in conformity with the former usages of the country as could be done in the absence of any written code. A tariff of duties was fixed, and collectors appointed. Elections were directed to be held for the various civil magistrates; Major Fremont was appointed Military Commandant of the territory, and Captain Gillespie military commandant of the Southern Department. The battalion of volunteers was ordered to be augmented to three hundred; and, contemplating soon to leave the territory, I determined on my departure to appoint Major Fremont Governor of California. He was apprised of these intended arrangements, and instructed to meet me at San Francisco on the 25th of October, for the purpose of consummating them. These acts and intentions were officially communicated to the Department in my several despatches.
This exposition of my operations and acts will, I trust, prove satisfactory to the Executive, and be a sufficient reply to Commodore Shubrick's charge of premature action. In a state of actual war against a foreign enemy, I found myself at the head of a force and in command of means competent to take and hold possession of an important part of the hostile territory. I found that before the command had devolved upon me the flag of my country had been raised in some parts of California. Important interests were involved; to stop short would have led to their absolute sacrifice, accompanied by great individual loss and suffering. No middle course was open to my choice. The alternative was the subjection of the entire province to our authority, or its total abandonment. In such a position I could not hesitate as to the line of duty. Empowered to conduct the war against Mexico according to the exigency of circumstances and my own judgment, I determined to support the honour of my flag and to promote what I regarded as the best interest of the nation.
Having achieved the conquest of the country, and finding my military strength ample to retain it, the establishment of a civil government naturally and necessarily resulted. The emission to do this would have marred the entire plan and stamped a character of imbecility and instability upon the whole operation. My views of the interests of my country were decisive; as to the expediency of my measures, the estimate I entertained of my authority impressed upon them the sanction of duty. The arrangements having been thus completed, I determined to leave California under the administration of the civil authority, and with the squadron under my command, aided by a volunteer corps raised for the purpose, to sail for the southern part of Mexico, capture Acapulco, and, having secured proper positions on the coast, to march into the interior, advance towards the city of Mexico, and thus to cooperate with the anticipated movements of General Taylor, or produce a powerful diversion which would materially aid him in his operations. My despatches have already put the department in possession of these plans.
About the 2d of September I left Ciudad de los Angeles, embarked on board the Congress on the 3d, and on the 5th sailed for Santa Barbara. Having taken on board the small detachment which had been landed at this place, we proceeded to Monterey, where every thing was found tranquil. The people appeared to be quite satisfied with the state of affairs.
Information was here received leading to the apprehension that Sutter's settlement on the Sacramento was threatened with an attack by a body of one thousand Walla-Walla Indians. The Savannah was immediately ordered to San Francisco; Lieutenant Maddox, of the Marine Corps, appointed Military Ccommandant of the Middle Department, and, other necessary arrangements having been made, I proceeded in the Congress to San Francisco, which place I reached in a few days. It soon appeared that the reports in regard to the Walla-Walla Indians had been greatly exaggerated. They were not so numerous as had been represented, nor had they any hostile intentions. The inhabitants of San Francisco, on my arrival, received me en masse, with every demonstration of joy on the conquest of the country, and with every manifestation of personal respect as the Governor of the territory and Ccommander-in-Chief of the United States forces.
About the 30th of September, a courier arrived from Captain Gillespie, despatched by that officer to convey to me the information that an insurrection had broken out at Ciudad de los Angeles, and that be was besieged in the government-house at that place by a large force. I immediately ordered Captain Mervine to proceed in the Savannah to San Pedro, for the purpose of affording aid to Captain Gillespie. Major Fremont was at Sacramento when the news of the insurrection reached him, and, having formed the determination to march against the insurgents with the force he could muster, amounting to about one hundred and twenty men, was preparing to move. I sent a request to him forthwith to join me at San Francisco with his command, and to bring with him as many saddles as he could procure. While awaiting the arrival of Major Fremont I detached officers in various directions for the purpose of procuring volunteers to join the battalion, and engaged the merchant-ship Sterling to take them down to Santa Barbara.
About the 12th of October, Major Fremont arrived at San Francisco, and immediately embarked on board the Sterling, with about one hundred and sixty volunteers. He was directed to proceed to Santa Barbara, there to procure horses to march to Ciudad de los Angeles, while I, with the Congress, was to sail to San Pedro, and by that route advance towards the same point. The insurgents were represented to be encamped in the neighbourhood of that city. The Congress and Sterling sailed in company from San Francisco, but separated the same evening in a fog.
Between San Francisco and Monterey we spoke a merchant-vessel from the latter port, with despatches from Lieutenant Maddox, apprising me that Monterey was threatened with an attack, and that he was in want of immediate assistance. We ran into the Bay of Monterey, landed two officers with fifty men and some ordnance.
Having thus strengthened that post, I proceeded to San Pedro. On my arrival at that place, about the 23d of October, I found the Savannah frigate. Captain Mervine informed me that Captain Gillespie, with the volunteers under his command, was on board his vessel, having left Ciudad do los Angeles under a capitulation entered into with General Flores, the leader of the insurrection, - one of the Mexican officers who, having been made prisoner of war, had been released on his parole.
Captain Mervine further informed me that, about two weeks before, he had landed with his sailors and marines for the purpose of marching in conjunction with Captain Gillespie and his detachment of volunteers to Ciudad de los Angeles. He had not carried any artillery with him; that about twelve miles from San Pedro he encountered a party of the insurgents with one piece of artillery; a battle ensued; that several charges had been made upon the insurgents' gun, but it was impossible to capture it, as, whenever lie approached, they bitched their horses to it and retreated. Having sustained a loss of several men killed and wounded, he retired with his force and re-embarked.
Proper arrangements having been made during the night, in the morning we landed a strong force with several pieces of artillery, once more hoisted the flag of the United States at San Pedro, and formed our camp there. The insurgent force in the vicinity was supposed to number about eight hundred men. Our authority was necessarily limited to the portion of territory in our actual possession or within the range of our guns. The insurgents, in the undisturbed occupancy of the interior, and watchful of our every movement, could, at their pleasure, threaten us with an attack by night or day, and had the precaution to remove beyond our reach every horse and all the cattle which might have been available either for food or transportation.
The roadstead at San Pedro was also a dangerous position for men-of-war, being exposed to the storms which at that season of the year rage with great violence upon the coast.
This consideration decided me to proceed to San Diego, which, although the entrance was obstructed by a bar which had never been passed by it vessel of equal draught of water with the Congress, might, I hoped, be crossed; and, if the passage should prove practicable, would be found a convenient and safe harbour. We did not, however, leave San Pedro until I had been compelled to relinquish all expectation of the co-operation of Major Fremont, from whom I had not heard a word since we parted off San Francisco, nor until the officers and men had become completely exhausted by their incessant duties on shore, in guarding the camp from attack and pursuing small parties of the insurgents who approached us. Having embarked the men belonging to the squadron, and volunteers under Captain Gillespie, I sailed for San Diego in the Congress.
On my arrival off the harbour of San Diego, I received information from Lieutenant Minor that the town was besieged by the insurgents, that his stock of provisions was small, and that he was in want of an additional force. He gave it as his opinion that the Congress might be got over the bar. ln attempting this, however, the ship struck, and her position was so dangerous that we were compelled to return to the anchorage outside.
On the following day the Malek Adhel, a prize to the United States ship Warren, arrived from Monterey with despatches from Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont. I thus received information from that officer that on his way to Santa Barbara he met the merchant-ship Vandalia, from San Pedro, by whom he was informed of the state of affairs at the South; that it would be impossible for him to procure horses at Santa Barbara, in consequence of which he had proceeded to Monterey, and would employ all diligence in preparing his force to march for Ciudad de los Angeles.
Lieutenant Minor was directed to send the ship Stonington, then lying in the harbour of San Diego, with as many volunteers as could be spared, to Ensenada, about ninety miles below San Diego, for the purpose of procuring animals, which lie was instructed to have driven into San Diego. Without a supply of horses and beeves, it was not prudent to commence our march. Captain Mervine was despatched in the Savannah to Monterey, to aid Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont in his preparations to march, and, having myself gone to San Pedro, returned with all convenient speed to San Diego.
About thirty or forty miles from that place our progress was arrested by a calm. My anxiety on account of Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont, and my desire to go to his assistance was so great, that a boat was immediately despatched with Lieutenant Tilghman, the bearer of a communication addressed to Lieutenant George Minor, in command at San Diego, apprising that officer that on my arrival I would be ready to take the field in person, and, with an additional force of two hundred and fifty men from the ship, to take up the line of march for Ciudad de los Angeles. Lieutenant Minor was directed to arrange with Lieutenant Tilghman, the commanding officer of the artillery, and Mr. Southwick, commanding officer of the engineers, to have the horses necessary for the transportation of the guns and ammunition.
Notwithstanding my first unsuccessful attempt to get into the harbour of San Diego, it was an object of too great importance to be abandoned, unless from the absolute impossibility of effecting it. The bar and channel were again, on my return, examined and buoyed, and a second attempt made. After crossing the bar, the ship grounded, and in such a situation that it became expedient to prepare her spars to shore her up, to prevent her from tumbling over. While thus occupied, the insurgents commenced an attack upon the town, and, notwithstanding the perilous condition of the frigate and the necessity of employing the crew in extricating her from her position, a portion of them was simultaneously engaged in landing from the ship, in boats, to take part in the fight. In executing my orders in reference to those two distinct objects at the same time, the conduct of the officers and men under my command was such as to command my warmest commendation. Every thing was performed with the regularity and order of the ordinary duties of the vessel. Having accomplished a landing of the men from the ship, the attack of the insurgents was successfully repelled by the combined force under the command of Lieutenant Minor and Captain Gillespie.
The situation of the place was found to be most miserable and deplorable. The male inhabitants had abandoned the town, leaving their women and children dependent upon us for protection and food. No horses could be obtained to assist in the transportation of the guns and ammunition, and not a beeve could be had to supply the necessary food; some supplies of provisions were furnished from the ship. The expedition to the southward for animals, under the command of Captain Gibson, of the battalion, had succeeded in driving about ninety horses and two hundred head of beef-cattle into the garrison.
The horses were, however, much worn down, and it was supposed a fortnight's rest would be required before they would be fit for service. During the time required for resting the horses, we were actively employed in the construction of a fort, for the more complete protection of the town, mounting guns, and in making, the necessary harness, saddles, and bridles.
While the work of preparation necessary for our march to meet Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont at Ciudad de los Angeles was thus going on, we sent an Indian to ascertain where the principal force of the insurgents was encamped. He returned with information that a body of them, about fifty strong, was encamped at San Bernardo, about thirty miles from San Diego.
Captain Gillespie was immediately ordered to have as many men as be could mount, with a piece of artillery, ready to march for the purpose of surprising the insurgents in their camp. Another expedition, under command of Captain Hensley, of the battalion, was sent to the southward for animals, who, after performing the most arduous service, returned with five hundred head of cattle and one hundred and forty horses and mules. About the 3d of December, two deserters from the insurgents, whose families lived in San Diego, came into the place and reported themselves to Lieutenant Minor, the commander of the troops. On receiving information of the fact, I repaired to Lieutenant Minor's quarters, with my aid-de-camp, Lieutenant Gray, for the purpose of examining one of these men.
While engaged in this examination, a messenger arrived with a letter from General Kearney, of the United States army, apprising me of his approach, and expressing a wish that I would open a communication with him and inform him of the state of affairs in California.
Captain Gillespie was immediately ordered to proceed to General Kearney's camp with the force which he had been directed to have in readiness, carrying a letter which I wrote to General Kearney. Captain Gillespie left San Diego at about half-past seven o'clock the same evening, taking with him one of the deserters to act as a guide in conducting General Kearney to the camp of the insurgents. The force which accompanied Captain Gillespie consisted of a company of volunteers, composed of Acting Lieutenant Beale, Passed Midshipman Duncan, ten carbineers from the Congress, Captain Gibson, and twenty-five of the California battalion. Mr. Stokes, who was the bearer of the letter from General Kearney, was also of the company.
In the evening of December 6, Mr. Stokes returned to San Diego, to inform me that General Kearney, on the morning of that day; had attempted to surprise the insurgents, under the command of Captain Andres Pico, in their camp at San Pasqual; that he had been worsted in the action which ensued, but to what extent he was unable to say, as he had left the field before the battle was concluded. He, however, was under the impression that General Kearney had lost a number of men killed and wounded.
The following morning, Lieutenant Godey, of the California battalion, with two men, came into San Diego with a letter from Captain Turner, of the dragoons, informing me that General Kearney had had a fight with a considerable body of the Mexicans; that he had about eighteen killed and fourteen or fifteen wounded, and suggesting the propriety of despatching without delay, a considerable force to his assistance. Preparations were immediately made to despatch a detachment for this purpose. Captain Turner had not mentioned the strength on either side, and Lieutenant Godey was not able to inform me.
From the information, however, I deemed it advisable to proceed in person, with all. the force that could be spared from the garrison, to form a junction with him. Two days' provisions were ordered to be prepared, and the advance, with two field-pieces, under Acting Lieutenant Guest, wag directed to march forthwith to the mission of San Diego, where it was my intention to join it with the rest of the force the next morning. Before, however, the advance had moved, in Indian came in from General Kearney. From the information be gave, I judged that the necessity for immediate assistance was much more urgent than had been previously supposed.
Anticipating great difficulty and delay from the want of animals to drag the artillery, should I march with my entire force, and believing, from the representations now made, that the force of the Californians was less than had been supposed, and consequently that a portion of my command would be sufficient for the purpose, I determined not to move in person, but to send on as rapidly as possible an effective body of men. About ten o'clock at night, Acting Lieutenant Beale, of the Congress, arrived from General Kearney's camp, and confirmed the worst accounts we had received and the importance of prompt assistance. The advanced body, increased to the number of 215 men, was placed under the command of Lieutenant Gray, my aid-de-camp, with orders to proceed directly to the camp of General Kearney.
The order was successfully performed, and Lieutenant Gray, having accomplished it, returned to San Diego accompanied by the General. On their arrival, General Kearney, his officers and men, were received by all the garrison in the kindest and most respectful manner. So far as my observation extended, no civility or attention was omitted. Having sent, with Captain Gillespie every horse that was fit for use to General Kearney, I was without one for my own accommodation. I was therefore compelled, on foot, to advance and receive the General, whom I conducted to my own quarters, until others more agreeable to him could be prepared.
The arrival of General Kearney was to me a source of gratification, although it was my decided opinion -- which as yet I have seen no reason to change -- that, under the circumstances that existed, I was entitled to retain the position in which I was placed of Commander-in-Chief; yet, in consideration of his high standing in the army, his long experience as a soldier, the importance of military science and skill in the movements that were to be made in the interior of the country, I immediately determined to yield all personal feelings of ambition and to place in his hands the supreme authority. In accordance with this determination I tendered to General Kearney the position of Commander-in-Chief and offered to accompany him as his aid.
This proposition was on more than one occasion renewed, and with all sincerity and singleness of purpose. The responsibility of moving from San Diego, and leaving the safety of the ships, deprived of so large and efficient a portion of their crews, was of itself a momentous one. This, however, in the discharge of duty, I felt no inclination to shrink from. But the fate of the territory itself might depend upon the issue of a battle to be fought on shore against an army organized to encounter us. The nature of the service and the importance of the stake, it seemed to me, appertained rather to a general in the army than a captain in the navy. Whatever ambition I might feel for distinction, either on my account or on that of the gallant officers and men under my command, was voluntarily and deliberately offered as a sacrifice to a paramount sense of duty. The offers thus made were, however, on every occasion distinctly and positively declined by General Kearney, who, on his side, offered to accompany me in the capacity of my aid, and tendered to afford me the aid of his head and hand.
A day or two after his arrival at San Diego, General Kearney removed from my quarters to others which at his instance had been provided for his accommodation. Before leaving, however, he handed me his instructions from the War Department. On reading them, I came to the conclusion that he had submitted them to my perusal to afford me the gratification of perceiving how entirely I had anticipated the views of the government in the measures which I had adopted. In return, I exhibited some of my own despatches to the Department. Subsequently, and before leaving San Diego, General Kearney mentioned the subject of his instructions from the War Department, and seemed to intimate that he ought of right to be the governor of the territory. His language, however, though perhaps sufficiently explicit, was not very intelligible to me, as I was at a loss to reconcile the assertion of such a claim of right with his repeated refusal to accept the offer, which I had more than once made to him, to devolve upon him the supreme command in the territory. The subject, however, was discussed between us without any interruption of that harmony which had commenced on our first interview.
A few days before I expected to take up the line of march, I addressed a note to the General, expressing a wish that he would accompany me. In his reply lie repeated the language which he had before employed: -- that he would so accompany me, and afford me the aid of his head and hand. Accordingly, on the morning of our departure he appeared upon the ground. After the troops had been paraded, and were nearly ready to commence the march, as I was about to mount my horse, General Kearney approached me and inquired who was to command the troops. I replied, Lieutenant Rowan was to have the command. On his expressing a wish that he should himself command them, I replied, that he should have the command. The different officers were at once convened, and informed that General Kearney had volunteered to command the troops, and that I had given him the appointment, reserving my own position as commander-in-chief. This arrangement having been made, we proceeded on the march.
During our march I was informed by Captain Gillespie who was sent by General Kearney, who was in the advance, that two commissioners had arrived with a flag and a communication addressed to me. Repairing to the front, I received the commissioners, who bore a letter, signed by General Flores as governor and commander-in-chief, addressed to the commander-in-chief of the American forces. Upon reading it, and ascertaining from whom it emanated, I replied to the commissioners, substantially, that I perceived the letter was written by General Flores, whom I had captured and held as a prisoner, but whom I had released on his parole of honour; that in appearing now in hostile array he had violated his parole, and could not be treated as an honourable man; that I had no answer to return to his communication but this: -- that if I caught him I should shoot him. With this reply the commissioners departed, and we proceeded on our march to meet the enemy.
The battles on the Rio San Gabriel and on the plains of the Mesa took place on the 8th and 9th of January, 1847. On the morning of the 8th, we crossed the river under a galling fire from the enemy, who were posted, with their artillery, on the opposite bank, about fifty feet above the level of the river. Having crossed the guns, we placed the two nine-pounders in battery, and commenced the fire. As soon as the troops had passed the river, they commenced forming the squares. At this time I perceived the insurgents were about to make a charge upon our left flank, and I ordered the men of that flank to be kept in line, that we might have a more extended line of fire. At this time, observing that the insurgents had withdrawn their artillery from the hill, I sent Lieutenant Gray, my aid-de-camp, to General Kearney, to move the square, with one field-piece, up the hill. At this moment the insurgents charged the left flank, but were received with such a shower of lead that they were soon repulsed. We immediately moved the line up the hill with the two nine-pounders, which I placed in battery in advance of the troops. I ordered the troops to lie down to avoid the insurgents' cannon-balls, as the fight was kept up by the artillery alone.
On the morning of the day we marched into Ciudad do los Angeles, General Kearney came to me with Mr. Southwick, who was acting as engineer, to ascertain from me by what road I intended to enter the city. He requested Mr. Southwick to mark on the sand the position of the city, and the different roads leading into it. I selected the plainest and broadest road, leading into the main street of the city; and when we marched into the city I led the way with the advance-guard. My position as Commander-in-Chief was again distinctly recognised in a letter of January 13, addressed to me by General Kearney, as Governor of California, commanding United Slates forces.
A few days after we had taken Ciudad do los Angeles, Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont arrived with his part of the battalion.
With the firm convictions which existed upon my mind as to my rights and authority as Commander-in-Chief, and the obligations which all officers and men under my command were under to obey implicitly all my orders, I should not only have felt it to be my right, but a matter of imperative duty, to assert and maintain my authority, if necessary, by a resort to force. I continued this exercise of power of Commander-in-Cchief without its having been denied or questioned by any person, as far as I was informed, up to the 16th of January, when I received a letter of that date from General Kearney, which is now on file with the Department, in which he demands that I will cease all further proceedings relating to the formation of a civil government for that territory. In my reply of the same date to that letter, (which, I think, is also on file in the Department,) I suspended General Kearney from his volunteer command under me, when he again became Brigadier-General Kearney, over whom I never attempted or desired to have any command or control.
I exercised no authority in the territory after I left San Diego, except that which was induced by the receipt of a letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Cook, informing me that he had received information that a French schooner had been landing some guns on the Southern coast, and that General Bustamente, with 1500 Mexicans, was approaching the territory. I wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel Cook that I would go in search of them as soon as possible. I went down the coast 120 miles, landed and mounted some of my men, and went in pursuit. It turned out to be a false alarm. After performing this last service in California I returned, via San Diego and Monterey, to San Francisco, where I gave up the command of the frigate Congress, and returned to the United States by way of the Rocky Mountains.
The California Battalion was organized under my own personal direction and authority, under a special condition that it should act under my orders as long as I might remain in California and require its services. It was paid by my orders, as long as I had any thing to pay with. The officers derived their appointments exclusively from me. It was never, in any form or manner, mustered into the service of the United States as a part of the army or connected with it. It was exclusively and essentially a navy organization. The battalion was entirely composed of volunteers, organized under my authority, but with their own free consent, according to the terms of a distinct and specific agreement to obey my orders and to serve while I should require their services. These men were not of that kind of personnel which sometimes compose regular armies: they were principally free American citizens who had settled in California; they were men of respectability, of influence, and of property; they were no ordinary men, because, when told that I had offered them as pay ten dollars a month, they said that they would not accept that pay, -- that it would not pay their expenses, -- but that they would volunteer to serve under my command without compensation.
This was the origin, character, and position of the battalion when engaged, in co-operation with the squadron under my command, in accomplishing the objects which I had in view.
Such was the posture of things when General Kearney arrived in California, and when he joined me in San Diego. He brought with him a very inconsiderable force, -- wholly insufficient of itself to accomplish the important objects of tranquillizing the province and subjecting it to the authority of the Union, by the suppression of the insurrection which had been organized for the purpose of recovering the positions we occupied, overthrowing the government we had organized, and expelling us from the country, if, indeed, it had proved itself able to defend itself without our aid. When General Kearney declined the proffers I made to him of devolving upon him the high and responsible position of Commander-in-Chief; when he volunteered to act as my aid in the march against the enemy; when, at his own request, I assigned to him the position of commander of the troops; when the battles were fought which broke and dispersed the army of the insurgents; when, finally, we entered in triumph Ciudad de los Angeles, during this entire period I had not received any intelligence of the movements of Major Fremont.
The battalion was never placed under the command of General Kearney by me, and was not subjected to his orders. It still remained in immediate subordination to me and to my authority. Up to the period last mentioned, -- viz.: the date of our occupation of Ciudad de los Angeles, the only authority which General Kearney had exercised, while he accompanied me, was simply that authority which he had asked me to give him, and which he had voluntarily accepted at my hands.
No one has ever pretended -- I certainly never claimed -- that I possessed any right or authority to command General Kearney as such. All the power which I ever claimed or exercised over him was derived from his volunteering to aid me and to act under my orders. This connection, being purely one created by mutual consent, was, at any time, dissoluble at the will of either of the parties. As I could not originally have compelled General Kearney to assume the position he held, neither had I any authority to detain him in it one moment against his inclination. He might, at any time, have laid down his character as a volunteer under me, and resumed his official rank and rights as brigadier-general in the army of the United States.
In his capacity of brigadier-general, however, he had no authority to command me or any portion of my force. I was as independent of him as he confessedly was of me. If the force which I had brought ashore from the squadron constituted a portion of the Navy, -- if the California Battalion, which I had raised and organized, was ever rightfully subject to my orders, -- both were as independent of General Kearney, or any other officer of the army, as I myself was.
Nor have I ever questioned, much less denied, the authority of General Kearney to assume command over and give his orders to Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont. He might, at any time, without my controverting his power, have directed Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont to leave my command, to terminate his connection with me as a volunteer under my command, and to report to him for orders. With any such exercise of authority I should never have interfered; whether rightfully or wrongfully exercised was not for me to judge. That was a matter dependent upon the relative rights and duties of the parties themselves, as fixed by the military law, and to be decided by military authority.
I did, however, and do still, deny that General Kearney, while occupying the position of volunteer under my command, had any authority whatever, as brigadier-general, over any portion of the forces serving under me. I deny that after the character of volunteer was laid down, and that of brigadier-general resumed, he had, as such, any authority, nor could the Secretary of War give him any such authority over any portion of the force which I had organized. Whatever authority he might lawfully exercise over Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont personally, I deny that it reached to the battalion organized under me and by me placed under the command of that officer. And, finally, I deny that General Kearney could rightfully control me in my conduct as governor of California, more especially after having explicitly refused to accept the supreme authority when voluntarily tendered to him.
I have the honour to be, faithfully, your obedient servant,
To the Hon. John Y. Mason
Secretary of the Navy
Washington, D. C.