The Union Guard was mustered into the service of the State on June 11, 1856, by order of Adjutant General Kibbe in response to the command issued by the Commander-in-Chief, Governor J. Neely Johnson. The need for the formation of the Union Guard was a Proclamation issued by the Governor declaring San Francisco in a "state of Insurrection" and ordering all militia companies to active duty. James Herbert was elected Captain and Henry J. Toye, First-Lieutenant.
The immediate cause of this Proclamation was the shooting and fatally wounding of James King by James P. Casey, publisher of the Sunday Times, on May 14, 1856. The affair was one of the most sensational of its kind in the early history oil San Francisco, and for several days after the shooting the streets were a seething mass of turbulent humanity, held in check only by the unswerving front presented by the militia companies and Sheriff's deputies The members of the dormant Vigilance Committee called a meeting of that organization, and in addition to the hundreds of old members, about one thousand new members were added to their enrollment.
It appears that King, who was editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, and at that time known as the greatest crusading newspaper man in the State had published a number of very derogatory statements about a number of political henchmen and friends of James P. Casey. Included in the statements was one to the effect that Casey had served a term in Sing Sing Prison,' New York. Casey visited King in the latter's office and demanded a retraction, which King refused to make, ordering Casey to leave the office. When a little later King departed for his dinner, he was accosted by Casey, on Montgomery Street. Casey there shot him without giving the editor an opportunity to defend himself. Casey was immediately arrested and hurriedly sent to jail.
James King was a popular editor because of his courageous fight against corrupt politicians. Casey had been in prison but a short time when people began to assemble and discuss plans to lynch him. The militia companies prevented such an act from being carried out.(1)
On Wednesday, May twenty-first, one week after the shooting, James King succumbed to his wounds. Meanwhile, the Vigilantes had increased their ranks to 2,600 members; and divided into companies of one hundred each, were drilling day and night in preparation for a "clean-up" of all undesirables of the City. News of the death of King was followed by a visit to the City Jail of a large delegation of the Vigilance Committee, headed by William T. Coleman, commander of the group, who demanded the surrender of Casey and Charles Cora, also charged with murder. The Sheriff held a consultation with Governor J. Neely Johnson who had gone to San Francisco shortly after the shooting, and the Mayor of the city, and it was decided to turn the prisoners over to the Vigilantes. Casey and Cora were tried before the Vigilance tribunal and convicted and hanged by the officers of the Committee.
On June 2, 1856, Judge Terry issued a writ of habeus corpus for the release of a man named Mulligan who was being held by the Vigilance Committee and assigned an officer to serve the committee with the writ. The officer was refused admittance to the committee rooms. This act of flaunting the law resulted in a Proclamation issued by Governor Johnson declaring San Francisco in a "state of -Insurrection. (2)
Some members of the State Militia refused to take up arms against the Vigilantes, evidently believing the work they were doing was justifiable, although not approving of their method. Three of the older militia companies decided to obey the Governor's orders, while others disbanded and reorganized as independent companies. The vacancies left by the disbanded units were taken by newly organized militia companies of which the Union Guard was one. The State Militia companies did not take any aggressive action against the Vigilantes, being content with preventing any overt act, and safeguarding the State armories and arms. This condition existed for nearly three months during which time the Vigilance Committee had convicted and hanged several more men, and disposed of other undesirable citizens.
It was decided by the Committee that this lawless element would not be allowed to reenter the State again. After having dealt with the situation to the best of their ability, the Vigilance Committee decided to disband which was done during the latter part of August.
As soon as the constituted authorities were again in command of the city, the Militia companies were mustered out of the service of the State and the Union Guard was honorably mustered out on September 11, 1856.
(1) Sacramento Union, May 161 1856, pages 1, 2, 3.
(2) Sacramento Union June 4, 1856, page 2 column 1.
Updated 5 April 2008