Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
The Americans Land at Yerba Buena
by Justin Ruhge
When the American squadron under Commodore John D. Sloat arrived at Monterey on July 1, 1846, the Portsmouth, under Commander John B. Montgomery, was dispatched to Yerba Buena to occupy a position near shore until it could be determined that war with Mexico had begun. This news arrived from Sloat on the 8th. Early on the morning of July 9, 1846, Montgomery and a watch of marines and sailors came ashore at Yerba Buena to the accompaniment of a two-man fife and drum band playing "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Receiving no challenge from the pueblo, the company advanced to the flagstaff at the square in front of the custom-house where amidst "three hearty cheers from the bystanders, a prolonged howl from the dogs, and a salvo of 21 guns from the ship," the Stars and Stripes ran aloft over the port of San Francisco. Montgomery gave a short speech to principally foreign residents and the proclamation of war was read in both English and Spanish and then posted on the flagstaff. Not only was there no opposition but also there was not a single Mexican official in the town from whom to demand surrender. Turning about the party headed back to the Portsmouth to the strains of "Old Dan Tucker," leaving U. S. Marine Corps. Second Lieutenant Henry B. Watson on shore with 14 of his fellow marines who took up permanent quarters at the customhouse.

With Old Glory flying over the pueblo, the Americans immediately marched on to the Castillo, hoisted the flag and began to take stock of the shocking state of decay and disrepair that prevailed in the Fort. Navy Lieutenant John S. Misroon described the walls as badly rent in several places, yet capable of sustaining and rendering good service. He noted the guns that Fremont had spiked months earlier (10 altogether) and expressed the hope that the three brass guns could be put back in service. The Fort itself required the addition of a new outpost at its rear to guard against the high ground that commanded the defense work. Montgomery suggested that two more 18-pounders from Sonoma be sent to San Francisco and placed in a new defense work that he planned for the Yerba Buena anchorage. In anticipation of Sloat's approval for this project, Montgomery ordered construction of a gallery and platform to receive the guns.

Two days later, Misroon visited Mission Dolores where he also raised the flag and obtained a collection of public documents. The residents had at first fled on hearing of what had happened at Yerba Buena but now they were returning to their homes and becoming reconciled to the change

In the next few weeks the Americans gradually consolidated their hold on the Presidio and the Castillo. Montgomery brought a small gun, named the "Betsy Baker," from the Portsmouth and placed it in front of the flagstaff at the customhouse in the main plaza. A newly established lookout atop Telegraph Hill soon spotted the arrival of the British frigate, H.M.S. Juno, July 11. Although the English turned out to be friendly, Montgomery ordered the clearing of gun vents in the Castillo and recovered another gun, a long twelve culverin buried in the sand at the Presidio. For the first time in years the Presidio was buzzing with martial activity. East of the Presidio, high on the bluffs at the corner of present-day Green and Battery Streets, Montgomery's sailors built a fortification known as "Misroon's Folly". One sailor described it as a sort of half-moon shape on the backside and a kind of lozenge shape in front. This impromptu fort was named Fort Montgomery. It mounted five guns, three from the old Castillo and two from Sonoma. A sixth cannon guarded the rear of the Fort.
The raising of the American flag and taking possession of Yerba Buena on July 9, 1846. From a lithograph Edwin A. Sherman depicting the event made at a later date. Courtesy of the Pat Hathaway Collection, Monterey.

The event is described by a sailor on the USS Portsmouth, Joseph T. Downey as follows: "By 7 bells matters were all arranged, and the party of Marines and Carbineers landed on the bank, and after being marshaled in due order, the Band, consisting of one drum and one fife, struck up Yankee Doodle, and off we marched keeping time as best we might, to conquer the redoubtable town of Yerba Buena. As we had anticipated, there was no foe to dispute our right of possession…On we went then through sand and some little mud, until through the skillful pilotage of our Old Man, we at last found ourselves brought up all standing in a hollow square, round the Flag Staff. Here, had time allowed, our Old Man would no doubt have inflicted a speech if not a sermon upon us, but Fate decreed to the contrary, consequently the Flag was bent onto the Halyards and by a flourishing and a patronising invitation, the whole of the male population of Yerba Buena, comprising, dogs and all, some 25 or 30 souls were called into the Square. The oration was delivered, the Proclamation read, and then the Autocrat (Lieutenant John S. Misroon) with his own hands hoisted the Colors, while three hearty cheers from the bystanders, a prolonged howl from the dogs, and a salvo of 21 Guns from the Ship completed the affair."



As Presented in San Francisco, 1806-1906 by Jeanne Van Nostrand, Plate 11.
Mission Dolores at Yerba Buena by Walter Colton at the Time of the Conquest (Detail). Courtesy of the Society of California Pioneers, San Francisco.

With the arrival of men and material from the Expeditionary Forces sent from New York and Utah, work started immediately on repairing the quarters, storehouses and the road from the Presidio to the beach. Companies H and K were stationed at the San Francisco Presidio under Major Hardie as commandant of the post with Captain Folsom and Dr. Parker. Here these companies remained to the end of their service, except that Company H exchanged posts with the Sonoma Company for a short time in August 1848. Troops cut down trees in Marin County where they built a sawmill. They thereby provided sturdy redwood material for construction and repair. They also restored and enlarged the Castillo and built a new road to connect the fortress and the main post. This progress halted when the terms of enlistment for the New York Volunteers expired. They served until the end of the war, which occurred on May 30 and were mustered out on August 7, 1848. Replaced by only a small number of men from the Third U.S. Artillery Regiment, the garrison at the Presidio further dwindled when the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill brought about desertion. With an inadequate work force and limited funds the Presidio of the late 1840s through the late 1850s differed little from the past. The overall appearance of the Presidio remained similar to that of the late Spanish through Mexican periods of occupation. Three or four long shed-like barracks and cottages for officer's quarters were added to the original adobe buildings.
As soon as the Navy had secured Monterey and Yerba Buena, Lieutenant Joseph Warren Revere of the Portsmouth was sent to raise the flag at Sonoma Barracks and to occupy that location with local troops. The area was deserted and the troops mustered were mainly Americans who with Revere occupied the old Mexican barracks. Two of the brass cannon sent there by Vallejo in 1839 were returned to Yerba Buena where they were put into the small Fort Montgomery. A flag was sent to Sutter's Fort where it was raised by Sutter himself. The flag was raised at Stephen Smith's Bodega farm and sawmill where he was asked for horses and two cannon he had in his possession. The flag was also raised at San Juan Bautista and finally at San Jose.
The Navy occupied the Old Adobe, or Customs House, at Yerba Buena for its shore headquarters. The office of Alcalde was given to Washington A. Bartlett, a lieutenant in the Navy. Among the numerous decrees issued by Alcalde Bartlett in the next few months was one dated January 30, 1847, in which Yerba Buena was officially changed to San Francisco.
The New York Volunteers held the major locations after they arrived in 1847. Company C left San Francisco in April 1847 and was stationed at Sonoma under Captain Brackett. A detachment of twenty-five men was sent to garrison Sutter's Fort from June to September under Lieutenant Anderson. In May 1848, the company was ordered to Lower California but was sent back to Sonoma from Monterey and on August 5th it went to San Francisco, being replaced on the northern frontier by Frisbie's men of Company H.
The Presidio and the Castillo were improved by the arrival of the American Army and a fort was built at Yerba Buena. That would have been the end of the effort if it had not been for the discovery of gold at Coloma on January 24, 1848. The word spread around the world and an avalanche of humans began to descend on California. A civil government was now needed sooner than would have been the case otherwise.
Colonel Robert B. Mason, the military governor of California at Monterey, called for the development of a state government. However, Mason did not want to be involved with a civil government. Having done all he felt he could do to secure California under the military government Mason requested to be replaced. Newly elected President Taylor granted his request. General Bennett Riley replaced Mason on April 13, 1849. He arrived in California with three troop transports, bearing a regiment of soldiers to replace those that had been mustered out or deserted. With them the first steamers also began to arrive on the west coast bringing army supplies and gold rush miners. First to arrive was the California, in late February followed by the U.S.S. Edith, March 21 and the Oregon on March 31. At the same time hundreds of sailing ships arrived at Yerba Buena and were abandoned there by the crews who sought their fortunes at the gold mines in the Sierra. The fast-changing scene is shown in two drawings of the harbor that also show Fort Montgomery.
The U.S. Army incorporated the remains of the Mexican adobe structures to form the core of its Presidio. However new buildings of wood were used at first followed in the future by the use of brick and stone. Compare This view to thatdrawn By G. M. Waseurtz, The King's Orphan, in 1843 shown earlier under the Mexican Presidio. How little things changed except for the flag. Further discussion of the development of the Presidio will follow in sections devoted to that subject after the conquest. Courtesy of the National Archives Still Pictures 111-SC-91387.

The upper drawing is by George H. Baker showing the Port of San Francisco on June 1st, 1849. Telegraph Hill is in the center. The white dot above the water to the right is Fort Montgomery. The ship in the center background may be the U.S.S. Edith. In the far background is another steamship, perhaps the California or Oregon or Panama. To the right are some of the hundreds of ships that were abandoned by their Crews. Drawing taken from Clark's Point by Ann Clark Hart. The lower drawing is by an unknown artist. It depicts the telegraph hill area about August 1849. Fort Montgomery is clearly seen on the left. The Ship Telegraph Station has been built on the top of the hill and Clark's Wharf at the foot of Broadway and Vallejo is in the foreground. Courtesy of Well Fargo Bank and Union Trust, San Francisco.

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Updated 8 February 2016