The Guns of San Diego
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A. Capture of San Diego, 1846

Com. Robert F. Stockton took command of the United States Navy's Pacific Squadron and the land forces in California on July 23, 1846. A few days later sloop USS Cyane, twenty-four guns, entered San Diego Bay. A detachment of sailors and Marines landed at the hide houses at La Playa and marched the five miles to the village where they raised the United States flag. There was no opposition. Lt. Col. John C. Frémont and his battalion of volunteers also disembarked from Cyane. After an eleven-day stay in San Diego, he marched overland to Los Angeles. [1] The shore detachment in San Diego ignored the ruined presidio and established a strongpoint on top of Presidio Hill. They first called it Fort Dupont in honor of the captain of Cyane but soon changed it to Fort Stockton. The work consisted of a ditch or moat behind which were earthworks with embrasures for twelve guns. [2]

In early December, Stockton learned that Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny was approaching California from Santa Fe. Kearny had left that newly captured town with 300 officers and men of the First Dragoon Regiment. En route, he met Kit Carson with fifteen men who were carrying dispatches from Stockton for Washington. Carson informed the general that the occupation of California had gone smoothly. Kearny decided to send 200 of his men back to Santa Fe. He proceeded toward San Diego with a total of 121 officers and men. By the time the command reached the Colorado River, Kearny learned that the Californios had taken control of large portions of the country. On December 5, the dragoons met a small detachment from San Diego who had come to reinforce the march. That night about eighty Californios arrived at an Indian village named San Pasqual. Early the next morning the two forces clashed briefly and the Californios appeared to be fleeing. The dragoons charged. Suddenly, the Californios wheeled about. In ten minutes the bloodiest battle in the conquest of California was over. Kearny had eighteen men killed; nineteen wounded, three of them fatally; and one soldier missing. The general himself suffered two wounds. Reinforcements consisting of 200 sailors and Marines from San Diego did not reach the survivors until December 11. A day later, the dragoons reached San Diego. Kearny and Stockton planned for a march on Los Angeles. They departed San Diego with a force of 600 men on December 29, 1846. [3]

Lt. William H. Emory, U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, arrived in San Diego with Kearny's command. The observant lieutenant, who would later be awarded the brevet rank of captain for his part in the battle of San Pasqual, described San Diego:

The town consists of a few adobe houses, two or three of which only have plank floors. It is situated at the foot of a high hill on a sand flat, two miles wide, reaching from the head of San Diego bay to False bay. A high promontory [Point Loma], of nearly the same width, runs into the sea four or five miles, and is connected by the flat with the main land. The road to the hide houses leads on the east side of this promontory. The hide houses are a collection of store houses where the hides of cattle are packed before being shipped; this article forming the only trade of the little town. [4]

On 27 January 1847, the Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego ending an 1100 mile march from Fort Leavenworth. The companies were distributed throughout southern California, with Company B remaining in San Diego. That company established itself in the abandoned mission buildings. When their one-year enlistment expired in July 1847, they received their discharges along with the rest of the battalion in Los Angeles. Because of the acute shortage troops in the Southern Military District, the commanding officer asked for volunteer reenlistments for six additional months. Eighty-one men responded. Known as the Mormon Volunteers, they served at the San Diego and San Luis Rey missions until March 1848. [5]

B. Mission Becomes Regular Army Post

Gold fever hit California in 1849. Army troops were bitten as hard as any civilians. Soldiers stationed in San Francisco, Monterey, and elsewhere deserted in droves and headed for the mines. Col. Richard B. Mason, commanding the 10th Military Department (California), recognized the futility of stationing units in Northern California although additional strength was sorely needed. Seven companies of the Second Infantry Regiment were already at sea and their first American port would be San Diego. Mason sent a message to San Diego for their commander, Lt. Col. Bennet Riley, directing him to disembark all the companies at that port. He explained that keeping the troops in Southern California would safely distance his soldiers from the lure of the gold rush in the north. Mason ordered the infantry to march to the Mission of San Luis Rey, about forty miles north of San Diego, where there would be ample facilities. Riley was to leave such force at San Diego as he thought proper, "Never more than one company has garrisoned that post." [6]

Riley stationed Company D at the Mission of San Diego on April 20, 1849, under the command of Capt. Samuel P. Heintzelman. At the end of April, Company A, First Dragoons, joined the post, bringing the total strength up to five officers and eighty-two enlisted men. For the next nine years "Mission San Diego" would be a regular army post. A variety of organizations came and went; besides the Second Infantry and the First Dragoons, companies from the First, Second, and Third Artillery, and the Sixth Infantry garrisoned the mission. The monthly post returns show that the largest garrison was present in January 1852: 8 officers and 141 enlisted men. The Dragoons came and went in these early years, escorting Lt. William Emory and the Boundary Commission surveying the new boundary between the United States and Mexico. In December 1851 most of the garrison joined an expedition to the Colorado River against the Yuma Indians. [7]

Many of the officers at the mission had battle experience in the Mexican War and would have again in the coming Civil War. Five of them emerged from the Civil War with the rank of major general: Samuel P. Heintzelman, the first commanding officer; Philip Kearny, killed in the Civil War battle of Chantilly; William H. Emory, the boundary commissioner; George Stoneman, after whom Camp Stoneman, California, later was named; and J. Bankhead Magruder, who was a Confederate general, seeing action at Malvern Hill. Four others won a brigadier general's star in the Civil War: Nathaniel Lyon, also killed in battle; one-armed Thomas W. Sweeny; Adam J. Slemmer; and Francis E. Patterson. Three officers won the rank of brevet brigadier general for services rendered during the war: Julius Hayden, George A. H. Blake, and William S. Ketchum. One officer, Lt. William A. Slaughter, did not have the opportunity to witness the Civil War. He was killed fighting Indians in Washington Territory in 1855. [8]

Evidence concerning the Army's treatment of the mission building is both meager and contradictory. The historian Robert W. Frazer wrote that during the occupation the mission buildings deteriorated rapidly. A visitor in 1852 said, "The Mission is at present occupied by United States troops, under the command of Col. J. B. Magruder, and in consequence is kept in good repair." An inspector general that same year wrote that the enlisted men were "occupied in making adobes and in collecting material for building quarters before the rainy season set in." He recommended that the post be furnished with a hospital and storehouses. The sick were crowded into two small rooms intended for officers' quarters, while the quartermaster and subsistence supplies were stored in an old building. The Army took some action in the winter of 1854 regarding structures when it hired five civilian carpenters to repair "the Mission Building." [9]

Fifteen years after the soldiers left the mission, The San Diego Union described the establishment, then mostly in ruins:

The main building is now covered by a shingle roof, which was placed there by the U.S. troops, by whom it was occupied from 1847 until about eight years ago [sic]. The interior [of the church] was converted into two stories by the construction of a floor midway between the roof and the ground. Only one-half of this floor now remains

On each side of the main entrance are two apartments, which were used as guard houses by the soldiery. The modifications made in the building by its military tenants failed alike to improve and preserve. [10]

In July 1858 the mission ceased to be an army post when the garrison withdrew to fight Native Americans in Washington Territory. The buildings stood desolate and unused, gradually falling into decay.

C. San Diego Barracks

By 1850 the Army found it necessary to establish a depot in San Diego from which to distribute quartermaster and subsistence supplies to military establishments in Southern California and Arizona. Lt. Thomas D. Johns arrived in San Diego in 1850 with instructions to establish a depot at La Playa on Point Loma. At the same time a group of developers led by William Heath Davis were establishing "New San Diego" (the area covering present downtown San Diego). They persuaded the lieutenant to erect the depot at their town site in return for a share in the project. The federal government acquired the land by warranty deeds for a nominal consideration on September 12, 1850. Block 39 eventually became the "corral block" with its stables, sheds, and a hay barn; and Block 31 was called the "barrack block" with its quarters and offices. [11]

The depot distributed supplies to Forts Tejon, Yuma, Mohave, San Luis Rey, Chino, Santa Ysabel, San Bernardino, and other posts. Consignments for Arizona went both by sea around the Baja peninsula to the Colorado River and overland via contract mule trains. When Inspector General Joseph Mansfield visited the depot in 1854 he called it simply "New San Diego" and said it stood three miles from Old San Diego. The one storehouse that had been erected was a two-story frame building which Mansfield thought was of remarkably good construction. He noted the personnel who operated the depot:

Quartermaster sub-depot: 1 officer, 1 enlisted man, and 23 citizens
Subsistence sub-depot: 1 officer and 2 citizens
Pay department: 1 officer [12]

plan of the army post at the Mission of San Diego
A plan of the army post at the Mission of San Diego, 1854, prepared by Col. Joseph K.F. Mansfield on an inspection tour of army posts in the Far West. One is left to wonder if the structure named "Soldiers Qts" is the mission church. From Robert W. Frazer, Ed., Mansfield on the Condition of the Western Forts, Sketch 17.

When the troops at the mission marched away in July 1858, the depot was the only military establishment at San Diego until that December when Company G, Sixth Infantry arrived. Instead of occupying the mission, the soldiers established themselves at the depot. For the next eighteen years troops garrisoned the depot irregularly while the depot continued its supply mission. The establishment was designated the "New San Diego Barracks" in June 1861. [13] That fall the regular army troops withdrew from Southern California to fight in the East and Company E, First Infantry Regiment, California Volunteers took over the post. Companies from the California Volunteers continued to occupy the post until the end of the Civil War. Only rarely was the routine broken. In November 1862 the corporal of the guard shot Pvt. Maurice Stack dead for resisting arrest. A citizen named Martin Trimmer found himself locked up in the guardhouse for cheering Jefferson Davis and uttering other disloyal sentiments in 1863. Toward the end of the war, Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell, commanding the Department of the Pacific, visited and inspected the volunteer troops. The last of the California Volunteers left San Diego Barracks in August 1865. Regulars took over the post. [14]

Cavalry troops occupied San Diego Barracks in 1876-1877 and made a series of patrols along the Mexican border because of "reports that Indians and Mexicans were stealing cattle and driving them to Lower Cal." At the height of this activity, a ten-men detachment was stationed at the border village of Campo. Diplomatic niceties were observed in 1880 when the Mexican gunboat Mexico, commanded by a Lt. Salace, arrived in the harbor. Troops returned to the border in 1885 to prevent an armed body of deserters from the Mexican Army from crossing the border. San Diego Barracks was transferred from the Department of California to the Department of Arizona at the end of 1866, but this change had little effect on the garrison routine.

San Diego celebrated the 350th anniversary of Cabrillo's discovery of the bay in September 1892. The garrison, Company C of the 10th Infantry, took part in the various activities. Foretelling the coming development of harbor defenses for San Diego, the garrison changed from infantry to artillery in December 1897. Capt. Charles Humphreys commanded the sixty-three men of Company D, Third Artillery. Over at Ballast Point on Point Loma army engineers began construction of the harbor's coastal batteries. [15]

On 15 February 1898, American battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor, an event that led to the Spanish-American War. Humphreys sent Lt. George T. Patterson and twenty-two men to Ballast Point that same month and he and the rest of the company arrived at the new works in March. The company remained at Point Loma until August when it returned to the Barracks. [16]

During the following months, the company remained at the San Diego Barracks, but a detachment was maintained at Point Loma to protect the big guns. Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter arrived in San Diego in April 1900 and inspected the barracks as well as the new post. Four months later, Humphreys and his artillery company departed San Diego for China. For the next year a motley collection of troops occupied San Diego Barracks during the confusion following the Spanish-American War, fighting in the Philippines, and the Boxer Rebellion in China. At one point, the eighty-four enlisted men at the Barracks came from forty-three different companies. Finally, in July 1901, the 30th Company, Artillery Corps, arrived for duty at both San Diego and the new post at Fort Rosecrans. [17]

Sufficient quarters having been constructed at Fort Rosecrans, it was organized as a separate post and the artillerymen took up residence there in 1903. A small detachment remained in San Diego until September. San Diego Barracks remained a sub-post of Fort Rosecrans until the Army abandoned it in 1921. The City of San Diego acquired the property from the federal government in 1938. [18]

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Last Updated: 19-Jan-2005