California State Military Department
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California State Militia and National Guard Unit Histories
Sutter Rifles
The Pacific Stables, located across the street from the California State Military Museum, served as the armory for the Sutter Rifles and other Sacramento based militia companies. It also served as the Office of the Adjutant General during the Civil War. The building was vacated by the National Guard in 1877.
 

Assigned to: Fourth Division, First Brigade

Location: Sacramento, Sacramento County

Mustered in: June 26, 1852
Mustered out: 1861 (1)

Commanding Officers

D. B. Fry, Captain
M. D. Corse, First Lieutenant

M. D. Corse, Captain, Commissioned 1855 (Elected October 11, 1855)
E. E. Eyre, First Lieutenant, Commissioned 1855 (Elected October 11, 1855)

E. E. Eyre, Captain, Commissioned November 5, 1859
Charles J. Torbert, First Lieutenant, Commissioned November 5, 1859

Charles J. Torbert, Captain, Date of Rank March 31, 1861; Commissioned June 27,1861
Daniel Morgan, First Lieutenant, Date of Rank March 31, 1861; Commissioned June 27,1861


History

Sacramento, being the central point of distribution for the various districts which the pioneers were settling throughout Superior California, and the adopted home of General John A. Sutter (whose employee, James Marshall, had made the famous gold discovery at Coloma, El Dorado County), came into her rights by becoming the Capital of the State. The first military company which was organized in Sacramento honored General Sutter by adopting the name of Sutter Rifles. A news item in the Daily Alta California on June 29, 1852, stated that:

"A military company was organized last night at the Crescent City Hotel and the following officers were elected: D. B. Fry, Captain; M. D. Corse, First Lieutenant: J. 0. Brown, Second Lieutenant. (2)

The volunteer company was issued arms twice for which Bonds were given. The first time the Bond, which was written on Christmas Day in 1853, was valued at $2,000 to cover the expense of arms which had already been issued them, although it is impossible to give the definite date when they had been received. The second and was taken up June thirtieth after the reorganizing of June 1, 1855, and was valued at $2,500. On December 17, 1861, Adjutant General Kibbe ordered Lieutenant Morgan, acting Captain, to turn over the arms to the State, presumably to be sent to the Washoe War. The early militia companies were uniformed at each member's own expense, and companies that were comprised of men who were of the more wealthy class had resplendent uniforms which made colorful showings on the parade occasions and at social gatherings. The members of the Sutter Rifles had evidently been uniformed in their early organization, as in 1858 the Sacramento Union carried a news item telling of the proposed changes made in a few respects regarding the uniforms and stating that the material for the trousers would have to be procured from New York. (3) The new trousers and caps arrived in January 1859 and were beautiful in style and finish. The trousers which were army blue of fine cassimer cloth such as was worn by officers in the service, were trimmed with one and one-half inch wide green stripes on the outside of each leg and edged with the finest quality gold lace and cost $10.25 a pair, and the new regulation hats which were adopted by the company were black felt trimmed with blue cord and black leather (4)

From the material obtainable, records show that the Sutter Rifles had a colorful history, a history that contained work, pathos, drama, even for a time in an apathetic stage, and yet through it all almost an over-abundance of gaiety.

There was much comradeship exhibited in the friendship between Sacramento's company and the Marion Rifles of San Francisco. The San Francisco Daily Herald of July 1852 tells of a visit which was made in San Francisco when early in August the military companies of San Francisco received and entertained the Sutter Rifles and the Governor's Guards.(5) The same newspaper records the complimentary exchange visit made by the Marion Rifles in response to the invitation of the Sacramento company. On October twenty-ninth the Steamer Bragdon arrived with the San Francisco Company aboard to attend a Military Ball at the Orleans House. After the steamer had docked, the Sacramento hosts drew up in order and received their guests then escorted them to the Orleans Hotel. After breakfast, the Marion Rifles went through the rifle manual drill faultlessly and received many compliments from military generals. After the guest company completed their exhibition, the Sutter Rifles paraded admirably in dress, discipline and military bearing. (6)

At two o'clock the immortal Captain John A. Sutter arrived and was received by the Sutter Rifles in front of the Orleans Hotel with demonstration and profound respect. The Captain presented the "Rifles" with a flag accompanied by appropriate. remarks and bearing the simple but impressive inscription "Sutter Rifles, Organized twenty-sixth of June, 1852". The flag was received by Captain Fry in behalf of the Sutter Rifles. Amid shouts of admiration, the Marion Rifles added to the program by executing a dress drill in the presence of Captain Sutter. A reception was held followed by a Military Ball at the Orleans House and was considered the most brilliant affair ever witnessed in California being attended by more than 500 men and women. A news item the following day tells that the Marion Rifles spoke in high terms of the hospitality of their hosts and the citizens in general, glowing phrases of the ball, and concluded with the statement that every attention was paid the citizen soldiers, and they returned highly delighted with the trip. (7)

The Sutter Rifles made. a visit to San Francisco again when Major General Sutter was given the command of the Regiment for the Fourth of July Celebration held in the Bay City. Fifty members of the Sacramento company paraded, resplendent in their colorful uniforms; the dark blue trousers had black velvet stripes which were bordered by gold cords running down the legs; blue cloth frock coats with large military buttons to adorn them, and light blue shoulder straps; topped off with black felt caps modeled after army regulations - these were trimmed in patent leather surmounted by light blue pompons. (8)

The company was especially noted for its liberality on all public occasions having paid $1,200 for choice of the first seat at Catherine Hayes concert in 1853 and presented the ticket to General Sutter. (9)

After this-gay and busy beginning the corps fell into a lull then in 1855 when under a new Legislative Act all militia companies which desired to remain in existence were ordered to be reorganized, interest in the company was revived and the corps reorganized, June 1, 1855, with sixty men under a new staff of officers. Lieutenant Corse was promoted to the Captaincy and E. E. Eyre elected to First Lieutenant. With the renewal of life, new activities arose. The company participated in their first parade after reorganization at the Fourth of July Celebration in 1855. There were forty members in the ranks under Captain Corse. (10) On September 3, 1855, Mrs. Judah, talented wife of an army officer, was given a benefit performance in the theater by the presentation of a play written by herself, and in behalf of the militia company Captain Corse presented the lady with a gold watch. (11) Some ten days later the company was honor escort at the second election of the Society of Sacramento Pioneers. The Rifles contributed to the entertainment features by executing the manual of arms and firing several volleys in salute to the occasion. (12)

Then on the nineteenth of September the company acted as honor guard for their Captain and Second Lieutenant who departed for the East. Corse was the former proprietor of the Orleans House and Hunt. was Sheriff. The troopers were in full dress uniforms and after the departing officers had boarded the steamer for San Francisco, their comrades fired several volleys as a parting salute. (13) Captain Corse evidently returned to California as he was in active service during the Vigilance Committee trouble, then when he again went East it was reported that his name finally graced the list of General Phil Sheridan's prisoners in 1865 as General Corse. (14)

Many times the Sutter Rifles were chosen to act as guard of honor and during inaugural ceremonies several companies were represented. There are records to show that the corps took part in these affairs at three different times. The first, for Governor-elect J. Neely Johnson, was celebrated by parades of the troops, followed by dress parade when they were reviewed by the dignitaries. (15) Then a-year later the company took part in the inaugural ceremonies for Governor-elect Weller. The Rifles acted as hosts to a number of visiting militia companies from the Bay District and acquitted them selves with credit both as soldiers and as hosts to their visiting brothers in arms.(16)

The last article of social activities tells of the inauguration of Governor Milton S. Latham in 1860. These ceremonies were a radical departure from the usual inaugural affairs. Three companies of militia from Sacramento attended including a newly formed corps of German extraction called the Sacramento Hussars. They were especially noticeable for their fine horses and showy trappings, the latter receiving their first baptism in the unusually muddy streets. The Hussars, City Guard, and Sutter Rifles were all under the command of Captain Eyre. Up to this date Governor Latham was the youngest of California's chief executives and was later chosen to fill out the term of the late United States Senator David Broderick who had died of wounds received in a duel fought with former Supreme Court Justice Terry. (17)

The Sutter Rifles were active in drill and parade work as they were armed and uniformed. Target practice was often a gala occasion. The company plans for November 2, 1855, included a target excursion to the vicinity of the Starr House about eight miles from Sacramento on the Nevada road. A number of prizes were donated for the shooting contest, then following the practice the troopers were to be guests at supper and a Ball with Colonel Starr acting as host. Several officers attended from San Francisco including General Sutter. Corporal Bennett won first prize which was a gold medal valued at $200.(18)

The Adjutant-General in his Report of 1855 indicated that the Sutter Rifles were one of the best drilled corps in the country and were entirely reliable for service. The General had witnessed their target practice and stated the company showed combined elements of correct drill, good discipline, and were successful marksmen, in fact in every respect were efficient soldiers. Lieutenant Eyre was entitled to a great deal of credit for his efforts in filling the command left vacant when Captain Corse went East. (19)

A year later when San Francisco was in the throes of the Vigilante trouble, the Sutter Rifles met in response to the call of Governor Johnson to ascertain how many of the members were willing to perform the duties assigned them as citizens and soldiers Thirty-three took the oath while seven, including one Lieutenant, refused. The Sacramento Guard had refused to act, so were disbanded; the Sutter Rifles who were entrusted with the arms and accouterments of the Guard, detailed a guard of six men to the task of caring for the ordnance stores. This precaution was taken following the report that an attempt was to be made by some organization to obtain possession of the arms of the defunct Sacramento Guard. The report, however, was thought to be groundless. (20) Five days later the company held an all day meeting and at the morning meeting it was proposed to disband, but a vote on the question later brought but one dissenting vote and the corps determined not to disband.(21)

The Sutter Rifles were in active service from June fourth to June 30, 1856. The Muster and Pay Roll for the twenty-six days show the rate of pay per man, as officers from $17.05 to $21.82, and the twenty-seven privates received $14.85. Members of the company of volunteers also saw service in 1860 when militia companies were needed for service against the Indians in the Washoe War. Governor Downey was absent from the State at the time and when the appeal was sent for arms and men, Johnson Price, Secretary of State, immediately ordered several volunteer companies to stand by, ready to leave on notice. Members of the Sutter Rifles together with members of the Independent City Guard were unable to restrain themselves any longer and joined up with the hordes who were proceeding to the scene of conflict. Volunteers to fill the depleted ranks of the two companies were not lacking, however, and by May fifteenth, the ranks of both companies were again up to full strength.(22)

The militia during this era were using a manual of Tactics prepared by Adjutant General Kibbe and in 1859 endeavored to hold an encampment so as to bring the companies into a unit where a standardized training could be given the volunteers. But seven companies were financially able to make the trip to the encampment which was held one mile.northwest of Washington across the river from Sacramento. Three San Francisco companies--First California Guard, Marion Rifles, and Independent National Guard, one from Stockton--the Stockton Blues, one from El Dorado County- the Coloma Greys, and the two Sacramento corps--the Sutter Rifles and the Independent City Guard, comprised the list. The men worked under great odds at this encampment. (23) The first night many of the tents were blown away or torn to tatters by the high wind. The guard tent was demolished and a portion of the mess tent was blown away. The first day's review was witnessed by comparatively few persons because of the wind and dense dust clouds, but the next day between 1,000 and 1,500 persons were present, many ladies attending. A line of march was formed by Colonel Joseph Hooker and the Governor with his Staff and they inspected the companies, after which a short drill period was held. (23) The third day exercises included battalion review followed by separate drilling and competitive target practice to determine the winning company to receive the silk flag. The Sutter Rifles were awarded fifth prize, a gold medal, for the best target shots with rifles. An early morning sortie.almost ended in tragedy. It appears that the Turn Verein Rifles had expressed a wish to visit the site and in a friendly way make a sortie, and attempt to "drive the sentries". The officers failed to communicate
the plan to the battalion and as a result when the Marion Rifles' sentry heard the sound of drum and fife and perceived a small corps advancing up the 'road he gave the alarm. The guard turned out (using blank cartridges) and the Sutter Rifles, who had been called out to aid the Marion Rifles, charged the invading forces in a very earnest manner taking the intruders prisoners. A few of the Turner Rifles suffered slight bayonet pricks at the hands of the Sutter Rifles. In the end Colonel Hooker soothed the ruffled feelings of all concerned. The visiting companies were entertained at a social event in the evening and the following day returned to their own homes. Taken all in all the affair was declared a success. (24)

In 1856, Captain Corse became quite ired by the disparaging remarks that had been made about his company to the effect that they were composed of "gamblers and blackguards" and immediately went in search of the man who was accused of making them. The unit as a whole regarded their prestige very highly, the Captain declaring that it was tantamount to a personal affront, and upon locating the man responsible for the remarks, slapped his .face. The incident attracted a large crowd and when the reason for the Captain's action was explained, his victim was startled to hear cries of, "Kill him", "Cut his damned heart out", which left no doubt of the high esteem in which the company was held by the citizens. Be it said to Captain Corse?s credit, however, that he was the first to aid his helpless victim from further punishment at the hands of the onlookers. (25)

Twice the company acted as guard in more grim capacities. The first for a former comrade, Hugh C. Murray, Justice of the State Supreme Court and an eminent California jurist who had been an honorary member of the corps. When death claimed him on September 18, 1857, his former comrades led the vanguard of what was at that time one of the largest funeral processions ever held in Sacramento. After the body of the departed comrade had been lowered into the grave the company fired three volleys as their parting salute. A year later the Rifles were again called upon to perform the solemn duty of guard of honor when Senator Ferguson was buried. His death resulted from a bullet wound received in a duel in which he had been a participant a month before.(26)

Again on January 6, 1860, the company performed the guard of honor duty to the measured beat of drums when they throbbed out a requiem for M. T. Champney. The corps attended the funeral of the former member in full dress uniform and observed the usual ritual at the grave side. (27)

When a Chinese immigrant , Ah Chung, was convicted of killing his fellow countrywoman, Ah Lei, the Sutter Rifles with the Sacramento Guard was obliged to act as escort from-the prison brig to a spot near Fort Sutter where he was hanged. The doomed man was placed in the wagon which contained the coffin that was to receive his remains after the law had exacted its penalty. The troopers surrounded: the conveyance and the cortege moved on to the scene of the final act in the grim drama. More than 1,000 persons accompanied the ghastly expedition. (28)

The Adjutant General's Report of December 1861 states that the Captain-elect, Charles J. Torbert, had never taken his commission and what remained of the company was under the command of Lieutenant Morgan. The General also stated in this report that though not formally disbanded, the company's existence was reported to be scarcely alive. The membership of the company had been decreased by death, during the past year, and the remaining members seemed to be greatly disheartened in their efforts to keep up the organization, and he expected they would soon disband.

The arms of the company were sent to Washoe by order of the Governor in May 1860, the accouterments being retained by the company, and since that time no parades had been made excepting those necessary to perform the last sad rites to their deceased members, and no returns had been received at Headquarters.(29) After an existence of some ten years which contained much colorful military history, the Sutter Rifles were disbanded for lack of vitality to carry on.

 

California Deputy Attorney General John Q. Brown, III and Brigadier General R.E. Mittelstadt, Commander of the 79th Infantry Brigade examine the colors of the Sutter Rifles sometime before World War II. Traditionally, Company A of the 184th Infantry Regiment was known as the Sutter Rifles as late as the 1950's when the regiment was headquartered at the old armory at 12th and W Streets in Sacramento.


Footnotes

(1) Adjutant General Report December 1861, page 111.

(2) Daily Alta California June 29, 1852, page 2, column 4.

(3) Sacramento Union, October 9, 1858, page 3, column 1.

(4) Sacramento Union, January 17; 1859, page 3, column 1, and San Francisco Daily Herald, January 19, 1859, page 2, column 5.

(5) San Francisco Daily Herald, July 17, 1852, page 2, column l.

(6) San Francisco Daily Herald, October 30, 1852, page 3, column 7.

(7) San Francisco Daily Herald, October 31, 1852, page 2, column 1.

(8) Daily Alta California, June 28, 1853, page 2, column 3, Francisco Daily Herald, July 6, 1853, page 2, columns 1 and 2

(9) History of Sacramento County, Walter Reed, 1923, page 224.

(10) Sacramento Union, July 6, 1855.

(11) Sacramento Union, September 3, 1855.

(12) Sacramento Union, September 11, 1855, page 2, column l.

(13) Sacramento Union, September 19, 1855, page 2, column 3.

(14) History of Sacramento County, Walter Reed, 1923, page 224.

(15) Sacramento Union, January 9, 1856, page 2, column 1

(16) Sacramento Union, November 17, 1857, page 2, column 4.

(17) Sacramento Union, January 10, 1860, page 1, column 4.

(18) Sacramento Union, November 3, 1855, page 2, column 4.

(19) Adjutant General Report, December 15, 1855, page 21.

(20) Sacramento Union, June 5, 1856, page 2, column 5.

(21) Sacramento Union, June 10, 1856, page 2, column 2.

(22) Sacramento Union, May 14, 1860, page 2, columns 2, 3, 5, and 6.

(23) Sacramento Union, September 23, 1859, page 2, column 3.

(24) Sacramento Union, September 24, 1859, page 2, column 2

(25) Sacramento Union, June 7, 1856, page 3, column, 2 .

(26) Sacramento Union, September 21, 1857, page 2, columns 3, 4.

(27) Sacramento Union, January 6, 1860

(28) Sacramento Union, May 13, 1856, page 2, column 4.

(29) Adjutant General Report, December 1861, page 111.


This history was written in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in conjunction with the Office of the Adjutant General and the California State Library

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