Sunday, May 24, 2020

John Wilkes Booth remains a mystery

History: John Wilkes Booth remains a mystery
By Phil Connelly May 22, 2020

Despite his success as an actor, John Wilkes Booth will always be remembered as the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Before killing the president, he had actually performed in front of Lincoln in 1863. Booth was a fierce Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War. Prior to that momentous night at Ford’s Theater, he had conspired to kidnap Lincoln. The president would then be exchanged for all Confederate prisoners. When that plan did not work out, Booth and his co-conspirators decided to kill the president, Vice President Johnson, and Secretary of State Seward.

Johnson was stabbed, but not fatally, by fellow conspirator Lewis Powell. Another conspirator, George Atzerodt, was supposed to have killed Johnson, but lost his nerve. Booth was the only one who succeeded in the plot.

On April 14, 1865, Booth entered the theater’s balcony, shot Lincoln at close range, jumped to the stage, and uttered these words "Sic semper tyrannis” — "Thus always to tyrants." Unfortunately, as he leapt over the railing, Booth caught a spur on the flag, causing him to land awkwardly and breaking his right leg. After righting himself, he immediately fled the theater.

After a 12-day manhunt, Booth and another man were cornered in a barn on Richard Garret’s property. One man surrendered, but Booth refused to come out. The troops decided to flush Booth out by setting the barn on fire. During this time, one of the soldiers fired his gun into the air. As luck would have it, the bullet somehow found an opening in between slats on the barn’s roof and miraculously entered Booth’s neck, killing him instantly. Case closed.

Maybe not. For over 150 years, many people have claimed that the man shot in Garret’s barn was not Booth.

One such claim was made by John Stevenson, a friend of Booth. After Booth's death, Stevenson asked Booth's widow, Izola, to run away with him. She told him that would not be possible because after the assassination, her husband had returned to the farm to recuperate from the broken leg.

In another instance, Kate Scott, who had met Booth while working as a nurse during the Civil War related this story — “In July of 1865, I received a letter in handwriting that was certainly Booth’s, asking me to retrieve an important envelope. The letter writer said that I should have it at our farm on September 15th. On that date, Booth appeared, but without his moustache and featuring an appearance such that he looked completely different.”

In 1877, lawyer Finis Bates took his dying friend's confession. In his confession, John St. Helens claimed that he was John Wilkes Booth. After not dying after all, St. Helens decided it would be best to leave town and disappear.

In 1903, a man in Enid, Oklahoma, by the name of David E. George, was dying. Before he died, he confessed to his landlord, Mrs. Harper, that he was John Wilkes Booth. It was later determined that David E. George and John St. Helen were one and the same.

In 1872, the marriage of a John Wilkes Booth and Louisa Payne was recorded. A few months later, John wanted to take Louisa to Memphis to collect money owed him by the Knights of the Golden Circle. However, after arriving in Memphis, Booth was recognized by several people. Fearing for his life, he sent his wife back to their hometown, and he disappeared, never to see Louisa again.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Knights of the Golden Circle

Knights of the Golden Circle, a semi-military secret society that was active in the Midwestern states during the American Civil War.
In 1859 George Bickley, a freebooter and adventurer, launched a fraternal order which proposed the establishment of military colonies of Americans in Mexico. The eventual goal of the plan was the annexation of all of Mexico to the United States. This would, according to Bickley, protect the Southern states from being overwhelmed by the industrial and commercial interests of the North. Widespread publicity in Southern expansionist newspapers called attention to the new order, and Bickley soon claimed it had 65,000 members. He later increased his claims to 115,000, but such numbers were widely dismissed as fanciful.
The order itself had little influence in the South and had few or no Northern adherents. With the outbreak of the war, however, Republicans charged that Democrats who opposed the conduct of the war were influenced by, or were members of, the Knights. The order and its alleged influence sparked the formation of Union League clubs to carry on counterpropaganda. Although civil and military authorities made strenuous efforts to uncover the order and charges abounded in newspapers and in political oratory, no single member or unit of the organization was ever conclusively brought to light.
A successor organization, the Sons of Liberty, was alleged to have taken its place. Some 250,000 to 300,000 oath-bound members were said to have existed in the Midwest. Copperheads Fernando Wood, former Democratic mayor of New York City, and Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio were reputed to be the chief officers. They opposed the U.S. government’s war policy, actively encouraged desertion, prevented enlistments, and resisted the draft. Receiving reports of the activities of the Order of American Knights (a new name for the alleged order) in Missouri and Illinois, U.S. Pres. Abraham Lincoln sent his secretary, John Hay, to investigate. The new charges, said Lincoln on receiving Hay’s report, were “as puerile as the Knights of the Golden Circle.” Treason trials against members of the Sons of Liberty in Indianapolis on the eve of the election of 1864 furnished campaign material for the Republicans. The leaders were sentenced to death or imprisonment by military commissions, but the sentences were suspended, and in 1866 the convictions were overturned by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cartoon about the Copperheads, published in Harper's Weekly, February 1863.

Hate-Filled Zone: The racist roots of a Northwest secession movement

By Knute Berger

For much of our history, the Pacific Northwest has been remote physically and psychologically. We’re a place people come to when they want to escape, improve their lot in life and build their idea of utopia. Joseph Smith, fleeing persecution, once considered establishing the Mormon homeland at Nootka on Vancouver Island. In the 1970s, discussion ramped up of Ecotopia, a green secession movement echoed in today’s talk of the sustainable nation of Cascadia.
In the 1990s, when Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations were making headlines, a joke went around that America consisted of the “49 states and the Reich of Idaho." Their racist "dream" of a separate nation — a nightmare, more accurately — didn't die with Butler.
In the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina church massacre in which a young white supremacist slaughtered African American churchgoers, a Northwest connection was made that highlights two aspects of our history: separatism and race. The accused shooter, Dylann Roof, left an online manifesto describing his journey to racist extremism, and in the course of that referred to the Northwest Front, a white supremacist organization seeking to create an all-white “homeland” in the Pacific Northwest.
Roof was critical of the Northwest Front for encouraging separatism instead of action. Wrote Roof, “To me the whole idea [of a Northwest white homeland] just parralells [sic] the concept of White people running to the suburbs. The whole idea is pathetic and just another way to run from the problem without facing it.”
The Roof reference sparked online interest in the Northwest Front, a Seattle-based group (at least, that’s where their P.O. Box is) that wants to create what they call a Northwest American Republic. The group has a website, a detailed draft constitution (whites-only, no gays, no Jews) and the prime mover behind it, Harold Covington, hosts a podcast, Radio Free Northwest.
He promotes white flight to the region to prepare for the new country. As the group’s draft constitution says plainly, “The Northwest American Republic shall be a Homeland solely for the use and habitation of White people of all nationalities, cultures and creeds worldwide, in order that Western civilization may be preserved and White children may be raised to responsible adulthood in safety, prosperity and tranquility.”
A how-to 101 on white migration by a Northwest Front Seattle supporter can be found here. Aryan migrants are urged to move to Seattle and Portland to engage in the cause.
Covington has a long association with white supremacist and Nationalist groups, from neo-Nazis to the Klan. Unlike Dylann Roof, he’s actually been to racist countries he admires, like the old South Africa and Rhodesia (today's Zimbabwe). He embraces a frankly racist agenda.
A recent Covington podcast following up on the aftermath of the Charleston shooting is an eclectic mix of commentary, advice and music, including a warning to followers to keep their mouths shut and only express their real racist opinions to other white true-believers — he doesn’t encourage acts like Roof’s. He insists that whites be “on lockdown” like defeated slaves, biding time until they are free again — free to express their race rage and white angst without fear of being outed on Facebook by someone with a cell phone camera.
Yes, in Covington’s upside-down world, it is whites who are the slaves, quietly preparing for rebellion and secession.
Covington freely uses derogatory terms for minorities and women, speaks of “suck-ass white traitors,” and calls Hillary Clinton the “Hilldebeast” or the “Sea Hag.” His July 2 show includes a performance of a jazz-folk Holocaust denial song (“The holocaust is not what it appears to be … an impossibility,”), a review by “Gretchen” of a book on practical Odinism (a kind of neo-paganism), a Nazi SS marching song, and commentary on the recent Supreme Court decision on what he calls “sodomitic marriage.”
It’s an ugly, alternative universe; from a Seattle ideological standpoint, it’s anti-matter. It’s delivered in an avuncular style. Think of host Covington as white hate’s answer to Garrison Keillor. Covington writes novels, too, only his Lake Woebegon is a dystopian future that gives rise to white Northwest republic.
How much of a following Covington has is unclear, though it must be small since he represents a subset of a white supremacist subset — he says that a recent try at a call-in show produced only two calls. He complains of a lack of coverage by the mainstream press, which he believes is due to being on a government and media blacklist. (He was recently profiled by The Guardian.)
But he has been adept at getting his message out via the Internet and You Tube where the Dylann Roofs can find him. It also might help sell a few of his many self-published books on Amazon. He had been around long enough that he is tracked by organizations that keep tabs on hate groups, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (check out their interview with Covington’s brother explaining the family background), and the Anti-Defamation League.
Covington refers to the destiny of an all-white Republic in the Northwest as the “Northwest Imperative.” Why the imperative isn’t more operative in parts of the nation that are “whiter,” like New England, isn’t entirely clear, but parts of Idaho and Eastern Oregon are somewhat comparable, and King County is the whitest "big" urban county in the country. We have a history of red-lining, racial covenants and segregation, and mistreatment of minorities, from the indigenous peoples to the Chinese exclusion riots to the Japanese internment.
The idea that the Northwest could be a “white homeland” for non-indigenous peoples (the DNA check on Kennewick Man didn’t turn out the way Odinists had hoped) is not unique, either to Harold Covington nor to this century or the last.
The most relevant example, especially given the Confederate flag controversy that the Charleston murders kicked off, is the so-called Pacific Republic movement of the 1850s and ’60s. The notion that the West Coast — California, Oregon and Washington — might one day be a separate country is an idea that goes back to Thomas Jefferson and a time before the transcontinental railroads and telegraph. Jefferson imagined the Pacific Northwest as the germ of a “great, free and independent empire.”
The idea bubbled up in a number of ways. The annexation of Texas from Mexico planted the seed, the short-lived Bear Flag Republic of California, as well as disenchantment on the part of the far Western settlers toward the faraway federal government that seemed to neglect them. Writing on the history of the Pacific Republic idea in Oregon Historical Quarterly, Joseph Ellison observed, “Remoteness and isolation have always fostered the spirit of self-reliance and independence.” In an era when America’s borders were in flux and Manifest Destiny strong, no lines on the map seemed to be written in dry ink. With the rise of sectional conflict in the run-up to the Civil War, however, the idea of the Pacific Republic began to morph into a pro-Southern secessionist scheme — an opportunity to enable the expansion of slavery and the subjugation of other races.
The region had never been friendly to blacks, and laws were passed to restrict their rights and even their presence in the region, most infamously Oregon’s voter-backed decision to exclude all blacks from the state, whether slave or free. Oregon is the only state to enter the Union (in 1859) with such a racial exclusion law embedded in a state constitution. One town in Oregon flew the Confederate flag during the war, and it still flies along I-5 in southwest Washington.
During the 1860s, the notion of a Pacific Republic movement became mostly a scheme to assist the South by turning the West Coast into a friendly foreign power as a way of furthering Southern causes, like the expansion of slavery into the West. One plan outlined in 1860 indicated “slaves were to be procured by inviting coolies, South Sea Islanders, and negroes to immigrate to California, and then reducing them to slavery.” The new Pacific Republic was to feature an aristocracy with inherited nobility and limited suffrage.
Another concept imagined the new country encompassing all or parts of what are now California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico broken into 10 states, of which half would be permanent slave states. Many Pacific Republic advocates also wanted to extend slavery and white colonization into Mexico.
The West Coast secession movement was real, and serious, and backed by many of the West’s most prominent politicians, including California’s first senator, William Gwinn and Oregon’s first senator, Joseph Lane, who ran as vice president with John C. Breckinridge on the pro-slavery Democratic ticket in 1860. Southern sympathizers abounded in the region before and during the Civil War, and there were plots by secret societies — most notably the Knights of the Golden Circle, a group that played a key role in Southern secession and formed the model for the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan. John Wilkes Booth was a member, by the way, as allegedly were Gwinn, Lane and other prominent figures.
The Knights were especially active in California and Oregon and there is some evidence they attempted to smuggle arms through Washington. The Pacific Republic movement, essentially hijacked by Southern interests, began to lose credibility as Southern states seceded after Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, but persisted as a subversive "Copperhead" element throughout the war. The majority sentiment in the Pacific Coast states remained loyal to the Union. Washington Territory, Oregon and California all eventually formally repudiated the Republic idea.
On January 30th, 1860, the Washington Territorial legislature passed a resolution that said in part, “That we utterly discountenance — as fraught with incipient treason, and the insidious offspring of reckless aspirations and disappointed ambition, or culpable ignorance — all projects for a Pacific Confederacy.” Oregon lawmakers did the same, calling the “Pacific Confederacy” a “weak and wicked scheme.”
The use of the term “confederacy” instead of “republic” had new and purposeful political meaning as America faced a civil war that the Knights and Southerners largely welcomed. It also reflected how the issues of race and slavery had become central to the debate of Northwest identity during the 1850s and ‘60s.
A pro-slavery, white-dominated Pacific Republic was officially rejected 155 years ago, but for some haters, that vision somehow limps on.

About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Secret Political Societies in the North during the Civil War by Mayo Fesler

Secret Political Societies in the North during the Civil War
by Mayo Fesler
Indiana Magazine of History
Vol. 14, No. 3

Published by: Indiana University Press

KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE Submitted by Jack Flammang

Caveat Lector:

Submitted by Jack Flammang

The Knights of the Golden Circle is a popular riding destination about 2 miles east of the Garden of the Gods that some of you may have visited. There are some interesting rock formations there and a small overhang that has seen many campfires and has been a favorite lunch stop for many trail riders.

As many of you know, the Shawnee Trail Conservancy received a grant to develop a trailhead at this location which will be able to accommodate several truck and trailer rigs. But, how many of you knew that the name “Knights of the Golden Circle” was actually the name of the largest secret and subversive organization that existed in the U.S. during the latter half of the nineteenth century?

The Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) was created in 1854 to establish a slave holding empire that would include many southern states in the U.S., the West Indies, Mexico, and parts of Central America. The Golden Circle would have a radius of 1200 miles and would be centered in Havana, Cuba. This empire would monopolize the production and trade of tobacco, cotton, and sugar and would be so strong that it would insure slavery could never be abolished by the northern states.

Historians and writers feel the ideas of the KGC may have come from a number of other groups. Some feel the roots may go back as far as the Sons of Liberty of the American Revolution. Others feel they were associated with ideas emanating from the Southern Rights Clubs popular in the south during the 1830’s. Others associate them with the Order of the Lone Star founded in 1834 which helped initiate the Texas Revolution. The Knights of the Golden Circle was divided into three divisions, the military, the commercial/financial, and the political. Each division was further divided into two classes that had specific duties and responsibilities. As an example, the military division was divided into the Foreign Guards who would invade Mexico while the Home Guards would help supply the Foreign Guards with supplies and provisions. Local groups that formed throughout the North and South were called Castles. They conducted their meetings at secret locations and participated in elaborate rituals that used codes, signs, and secret passwords.

Before the Civil War the KGC reportedly had their own army consisting of 16,000 men and had a total membership throughout the U.S. of 48,000. Their intention was to invade Mexico and divide it into 15 new slave holding states. This would mean there would be more slave holding states than non-slave holding states and would prevent the abolishment of slavery in the US. The KGC made one attempt to invade Mexico during the spring of 1860. For what ever reason, the attempt failed and shortly after that the Civil War broke out forcing them to postpone their plans.

When the Civil War broke, out the KGC sided with the Confederacy and participated in the war. Most of the men were soldiers, some were officers, and many were involved in conspiracies that undermined the efforts of the Union Army. Members of Quantrill’s Raiders, Jesse James, and John Wilkes Booth were all reported to be members of the KGC. It was said the KGC had plans to kidnap Lincoln before he was even elected President and that they eventually played a part in his assassination.

After the Civil War, the organization had to become even more secretive. They looked forward to the South rising again and the invasion of Mexico. Some think Jesse James and others robbed with the intent of providing funds for the KGC’s future plans. Millions of dollars are supposed to have been cached in secret locations throughout the Southwest known to only a few KGC members. There was recently a television program documenting the hunt for several of these caches.

The above is only a very brief history of this organization. Much more can be found by searching on-line. Could it be that the Knights of the Golden Circle trailhead, a favorite meeting place and lunch stop for trail riders, was also once a secret meeting place of this organization? Who knows???

Information for this article came from the Knights of the Golden Circle website and the Handbook of Texas On-line published by the Texas State Historical Association.

The Knights of the Golden Circle Research and Historical Archives

Thursday, October 5, 2017

'We Have Been and Are Yet Secessionist' – Los Angeles When the Civil War Began
July 10, 2017
The shelling of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor started on Friday, April 12, 1861. The Civil War had begun.
In Los Angeles, where the news would arrive almost two weeks later, an Army captain – sole representative of the United States military – waited in an adobe warehouse at the edge of the city. Army muskets, ammunition, and cavalry sabers had been hidden under sacks of oats and flour. He had shown his wife where the pistols were kept. Together, they would make some defense of the Army’s stores when the secessionist “Monte boys” came to take them.
Captain Winfield Scott Hancock expected that a raid on his warehouse would start the annexation of Southern California to the secessionist cause. He believed that many Angeleños would welcome it.
The decomposition of the United States into northern and southern factions had been driven partly by California statehood in 1850. Admission of California as a “free soil” state (whose constitution outlawed slavery[i]) destabilized the balance of political power in Congress. The effects rippled through the decade, hastening the collapse of the Whig Party, putting secessionist and unionist Democrats at odds, and allowing new parties – the Know Nothings and the Republicans – to contend for federal offices.Territory of Colorado would have included all of the southern part of California from the Mexican border to Kern and Kings counties.
Californians were similarly estranged. Sectional differences and tensions within the Democratic Party encouraged division of the state into northern and southern territories. The Territory of Colorado would have included all of the southern part of California from the Mexican border to Kern and Kings counties. If the new territory was open to slavery, it might one day restore the political balance of “free soil” and “slave” states and suspend the issue of slavery for another generation.
The California legislature (described as “intensely pro-slavery”[ii]) passed the Pico Act in 1859, calling on Congress to divide the state. It was signed by Governor John B. Weller, overwhelmingly approved by voters in Southern California,[iii] and sent to Washington.
Los Angeles as the Civic War began. Angeleños endured flooding, economic stagnation, and the possibility of a secessionist coup in the opening months of the war. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Los Angeles as the Civic War began. Angeleños endured flooding, economic stagnation, and the possibility of a secessionist coup in the opening months of the war. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
We are for a Pacific Republic”
Governor Weller did not expect the Territory of Colorado to relieve the political crisis, even if Congress could be persuaded. Disunion was too far advanced. If it wasn’t civil war, the result would be two weaker nations at constant odds. Distant California, Weller thought, would mean little to either North or South except to be taxed.
Weller offered the alluring alternative of independence. “If the wild spirit of fanaticism which now pervades the land,” he said, “should destroy (our) magnificent confederacy – which God forbid – (California) will not go with the south or north, but here upon the shores of the Pacific found a mighty republic, which may in the end prove the greatest of all.”[iv]
Others agreed. “We are for a Pacific Republic,” the editor of the Sonora Democrat declared. “(California) has all the elements of greatness within her borders. Situated thousands of miles from the distracted States, she would be an asylum of peace and safety …”[v] The San Francisco Herald joined in as well. Angeleños Henry Hamilton, publisher of the Los Angeles Star, and Los Angeles County Judge Benjamin Hayes also endorsed the plan.
In Stockton, a home-made flag with the legend “Pacific Republic” briefly flew.
When John Downey – an Angeleño, Democrat, and secession sympathizer – became governor in early 1860,[vi] he was less certain about independence. But Downey needed to be cautious. California’s representatives in Congress – Senators Milton Latham and William Gwin and Representatives John Burch and Charles Scott – believed that the complaints of the southern states were valid. Publically, they called for California’s neutrality in the event of civil war and hinted at the state’s eventual independence.
The fantasy of a western republic, extending from Canada into northern Mexico and from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains, seemed more real when news of Fort Sumter reached Los Angeles on the afternoon of April 24, 1861. Henry Hamilton, secessionist publisher of the Los Angeles Star, wondered in print, “Shall we, too, strike for independence – or, like whipped spaniels, crawl at the feet of either a Southern or a Northern Confederacy?”[vii]
Los Angeles Star. Under the editorship of Henry Hamilton, the Star was the voice of secessionist agitation in Southern California. Montage of images courtesy of USC Digital Library
Los Angeles Star. Under the editorship of Henry Hamilton, the Star was the voice of secessionist agitation in Southern California. Montage of images courtesy of USC Digital Library
A fractured California, a Confederate California, or a neutral California – the alternatives, based on the reports of reliable Union men in California, seemed real enough in Washington. The War Department, knowing his loyalty to Texas, had already recalled Brigadier-General Albert Sidney Johnston, commander[viii] of the US Army in California, from his post at the San Francisco presidio. Johnston resigned his commission in early April but continued to serve until Brigadier-General Edwin Sumner arrived from the East to replace him.
Sumner was warned that Johnston knew of secessionist conspirators in San Francisco (which was true) and he suspected that Johnston might also be one of the architects of the Pacific Republic scheme (he wasn’t). But Sumner and those who advised him saw disunion everywhere in California.
Writing to the Army Adjutant General on April 28, just four days after his arrival in San Francisco, Sumner lamented,[ix]
The secessionists are much the most active and zealous party, which gives them more influence than they ought to have from their numbers. I have no doubt that there is some deep scheming to draw California into the secessionist movement, in the first place as the Republic of the Pacific, expecting afterwards to induce her to join the Southern Confederacy. ​
Ominously, Sumner warned the War Department that “the troops now here will hold their positions, but if there should be a general uprising of the people, they could not … put it down.”
Hot-bed of disloyalty”
The spirit of disunion grew worse in Southern California while Captain Hancock and his wife waited through the first three weeks of April. He surrounded the Army storehouse in Los Angeles with the high-walled wagons that hauled military freight. He collected enough pistols at his home to arm “a few loyal friends.”[x] Among the few[xi] likely to stand with him were District Attorney Ezra Drown, rancher and pro-Union polemicist Jonathan Warner, publisher Charles Conway of the Semi-Weekly Southern News, and Los Angeles port operator Phineas Banning.
General Sumner in San Francisco was pessimistic about popular support for the Union cause, particularly in Southern California. “I believe there is a large majority of Union men in the State,” he reported, “but they are supine with confidence, while there is an active and zealous party of secessionists who will make all the mischief they can.”[xii]
Jonathan Warner, writing to the Sacramento Daily Union, named the leading Angeleños he thought particularly zealous in support of secessionist mischief.[xiii][xiv]
All our judges are secessionist [Hayes and Dryden] or at least strongly tinctured with it. Our Sheriff [Tomás Sanchez] is a secessionist; our Deputy Sheriff [Andrew King] ditto; our County Clerk [John Shore] ditto – in one word, all our own public officials, with the exception of the District Attorney [Ezra Drown] and County Surveyor [William Moore] are secessionists, root and branch.
Warner could have included Mayor Damien Marchesseault among secessionist sympathizers in Los Angeles, along with attorneys Edward Kewen and Volney Howard, wealthy rancher Benjamin Wilson, physician John Griffin (brother-in-law of General Albert Sidney Johnston), former Assemblymen Daniel Showalter and Joseph Lancaster Brent, and former State Senator Cameron Thom.
Judge Benjamin Hayes, although he remained publically ambivalent, assured his sister in February that “the tone of the people here (Los Angeles) is Southern to a greater extent than might be supposed …”[xv]
Sympathy for secession had lately become something more serious for Hancock. Under the pretense of enrolling a volunteer militia for the defense of Los Angeles, secessionist leaders in February had begun recruiting among ex-southerners and native Californios. Joseph Lancaster Brent urged Judge William Dryden to formally enroll the members of what was called the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles. In March, attorney George Gift mustered a force (at least on paper) of 80 members at the county courthouse.
The membership roll was as diverse as Los Angeles. It included, along with Brent and Gift, Sheriff Tomás Sanchez, Undersheriff Alonzo Ridley, at least four other city and county law enforcement officials, and members of the Californio, German, Irish, and Jewish communities.  Most were, to one degree or another, secessionist.
Alonzo Ridley, as the unit’s captain, petitioned Adjutant General William Kibbe of the California state militia to supply 80 rifles, Colt pistols, and sabers. Ridley was confident that the arms could be requisitioned in Los Angeles,[xvi] even though it was generally known that secessionists led the Mounted Rifles.
They weren’t the only show of secessionist force in early 1861. The newly organized Monte Mounted Rifles, led by Los Angeles County Undersheriff[xvii] Andrew King, made a similar request for arms. Union supporters complained of para-military organizations openly drilling in El Monte, San Bernardino, and the Holcomb Valley mining camps where a shadowy organization called the Knights of the Golden Circle was found to be training recruits who would leave for  “Dixie” and service in the Confederate States army.
Secessionist officials, armed conspirators, and Confederate recruiters – so “many active and influential citizens who are hostile to the Government whose efforts for its disintegration are strenuous and undisguised” – made Southern California, for Union men, “the nursery, resort, and hot-bed of disloyalty.” [xviii]

A county not to be relied upon”
Henry Hamilton, publisher of the Star, actively fostered the spirit of disloyalty in Los Angeles. Hamilton had mocked Lincoln during the election of 1860 and loudly supported the southern states in abandoning the Union in advance of Lincoln’s inauguration. In February 1861, Hamilton had suggested that disunion should lead to an impossible compromise. “Even if secession should run its full course, and there be presented a consolidated South against the aggressions of a united North, there may, even in that attitude … arise negotiations for a union … in which the rights of the South shall be fully and fairly stipulated and guaranteed.”[xix]
Southern rights necessarily included the right to own human property, which Hamilton defended as fundamental to the principles of the Constitution. As John W. Robinson has argued, “Historians of the pre-Civil War period would be hard put to find anywhere a more vociferous advocate of slavery.”[xx]
Hamilton was an “inflexible Confederate sympathizer” who rallied secessionist Angeleños with editorials that championed states’ rights and white supremacy. He denounced Republicans, unionist Democrats, and anyone who sought to abolish slavery. He would, the following year, describe the Civil War explicitly as a race war.
Hamilton was not alone. Edward Kewen[xxi], a nativist and white supremacist, had given rousing speeches before cheering Los Angeles audiences in the weeks leading up to the 1860 election. So had California’s newly elected U.S. Senator, Milton Latham. Democrats in the pro-secession Breckenridge Club had met in front of the Montgomery Saloon in Los Angeles every Tuesday evening before the election, often to hear Kewen speak, followed by a torchlight procession up Main Street to the old Plaza.
Having told listeners “I must confess … I am not enamored with this word loyalty,”[xxii] Kewen continued to stir up secessionist support during the first months of 1861. “Hardly a day goes by, wrote a worried Jonathan Warner, “without leading to the discovery that individuals unsuspected of disloyalty are deeply tainted with disloyalty.”[xxiii]
There was a great deal of loose talk at the bar at the Bella Union Hotel, where ex-southerners and pro-secessionists gathered, sometimes to spill out on the street with shouts of “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” and boozy choruses of “We'll Drive the Bloody Tyrant Lincoln From Our Dear Native Soil.” With an air of urgent expectation, armed riders from San Bernardino and El Monte would appear at the Plaza, only to ride off again. Union men increasingly felt intimidated.
Charles Conway, publisher of the Semi-Weekly Southern News, understood their anxiety. His paper stood in opposition to secession and Southern California’s drift toward annexation to the newly created Confederate States.[xxiv] He attacked Hamilton, calling him a traitor, and deplored the extent of secessionist enthusiasm that Hamilton’s Star had encouraged.
We shall be set down as a county not to be relied upon, and as a county containing naught but traitors and conspirators,” Conway would later warn. [xxv] He eventually called for the suppression of Hamilton’s paper. “No other government in the world suffers itself to be misrepresented and maligned by its citizens," he would complain, "and it is time our Government should prove no exception.”[xxvi]
Hancock’s Headquarters. Captain Winfield Scott Hancock was the sole representative of the United States military in Los Angeles. He expected this adobe warehouse to be raided by Angeleño secessionists. Photograph courtesy of California State Library
Hancock’s Headquarters. Captain Winfield Scott Hancock was the sole representative of the United States military in Los Angeles. He expected this adobe warehouse to be raided by Angeleño secessionists. Photograph courtesy of California State Library
More danger of disaffection”
Both secessionists and Union men in Los Angeles expected California to be dramatically changed by the onrush of events following the fall of Fort Sumter. What form that change would take remained unclear.
Legislation to divide the state into northern and southern territories had gone to Congress two years before, but Congressional action was unlikely. The state’s pro-secession Congressional delegation had advocated the Pacific Republic scheme, but it was too fantastic to generate support now that war had begun.[xxvii] Neutrality did have support from secessionists and many Democrats, but no mechanism other than secession could enforce it. Joining the entire state to the Confederacy was unlikely, but Southern California might be annexed to the Confederate States, if momentum toward secession could be maintained.
A. S. Johnston left San Francisco on April 25 after resigning his commission. Although a committed secessionist, Johnston was a thorough soldier. He knew Hancock’s vulnerability in Los Angeles and doubtlessly warned General Sumner. And Sumner knew the psychological effect a successful move against Army supplies would have on secessionist Angeleños. It might be the signal for the “general uprising” he feared.[xxviii]
In Los Angeles, Hancock had literally circled the wagons in anticipation of a raid on his store of arms. There was little he could do now but observe, report to Sumner, and wait.
On April 29, Sumner wrote the War Department:[xxix]
I have found it necessary to withdraw the troops from Fort Mojave and place them at Los Angeles. There is more danger of disaffection at this place than any other in the state. There are a number of influential men there who are decided Secessionists, and if we have difficulty it will commence there.”
On Sumner’s order, troops from Fort Mojave and later from Fort Tejon began preparations to relieve Hancock and block secessionist ambitions in Southern California. In support of the troop movements, Hancock set two wagon trains in motion to collect stores from both forts, but it would take weeks.  Until federal troops arrived, Hancock and his store of arms remained at risk.
On May 4, Hancock wrote to Sumner that if there “should be a difficulty in California it is likely that it will first show its head (in Los Angeles), but I do not think the matter is ripe yet for any serious movement.” Hancock went on to warn Sumner that[xxx]
There are people here anxious for a difficulty and there may be (I believe there are, although not yet formidable) organizations to that end. The people generally are scarcely prepared for strife, and there is a strong loyal element among them. On the other hand, there is quite a number of reckless people who have nothing to lose, who are ready for any change, and who are active in encouraging acts tending to hostilities …
Hancock thought the city’s Union men were capable of giving him aid (encouraged perhaps by news of the troop movements underway) but “those persons who have heretofore been influential and active leaders in politics, and have exercised great control over the people, are encouraging difficulties here by open avowals of their opinions.” Hancock knew, he told Sumner, that a small artillery piece was in the hands of the secessionists and asked that Fort Tejon or Fort Mojave bring two, 12-pound howitzers. With dry understatement, Hancock wrote that “the moral effect would not be trifling in case of a difficulty.”
Winfield Scott Hancock. Hancock, like many Californians, did not favor abolition, but he would fight to preserve the Union. Photograph from Wikimedia
Winfield Scott Hancock. Hancock, like many Californians, did not favor abolition, but he would fight to preserve the Union. Photograph from Wikimedia
Hancock’s contradictory report to Sumner – Los Angeles was quiet and Union men confident but the city was restless and the Army’s response to “a difficulty” would require heavy artillery – illustrates the uncertainty that both Sumner and Hancock felt.. If Hancock were to be driven from his post, secession would have had its first victory in separating Southern California from the Union.
Both Sumner and Hancock had to consider the implications of A. S. Johnston’s arrival on May 2, trailing a cloud of rumors about his connection to secession conspiracies and the Pacific Republic scheme. After turning over his command of the Army’s Department of the Pacific to Sumner, Johnston and his family were now living with his wife’s brother, Dr. Griffin, in Los Angeles.
If Johnston had been active in plotting with secessionists to bring California into the Confederacy, Sumner and Hancock knew, then Los Angeles would naturally have been Johnston’s destination to begin the rebellion.
Hancock’s immediate concern was who would arrive first – mounted Army dragoons or “the Monte boys” and other like-minded secessionists. Rowdies in El Monte and San Bernardino had already begun to parade the bear flag of the California Republic, now taken to be a symbol of secession. Hancock expected that the next attempt to “raise aloft the flag of the ‘bear’” would come in Los Angeles on May 12, before federal troops were expected to arrive.
Hancock had learned that a group of 50 or more riders planned to meet at the Plaza and raise the flag of secession over the county courthouse. And would that end, after drinks at the Bella Union, with stripping the Army depot of its guns and ammunition?
But a different plot was underway. The secessionist leaders of the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles worried that an assault on Hancock would put their own plan at risk. They now intended to slip out of the county, cross the Colorado River at Yuma, disappear into the disputed Arizona territory, and make their way to Texas and the Confederate States.
Sheriff Sanchez (who was a 2nd lieutenant in the Mounted Rifles) hastily persuaded “the Monte boys” to hold off any demonstration in Los Angeles, and Alonzo Ridley, as captain of the Mounted Rifles, met with Johnston and invited him to join in their escape from Los Angeles.
Tent encampment. Federal military units set up temporary encampments much like this one to suppress secessionists in Los Angeles and El Monte. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Tent encampment. Federal military units set up temporary encampments much like this one to suppress secessionists in Los Angeles and El Monte. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Gone to Dixie”
On May 14, Major James Carleton and 50 mounted troopers from Fort Tejon finally rode into Los Angeles. They set up a temporary encampment about half-a-mile from the Army depot, placed strategically so as to oversee Hancock’s position and close enough to the center of town to respond the provocations of secessionists. Carleton named the site Camp Fitzgerald.
Hancock, his wife, and the Army supplies were safe. The moment had passed when secessionists might have raised a force of several hundred from El Monte, San Bernardino, and among the Californios in Los Angeles. Enough force, perhaps, to have persuaded Confederate units operating along the Texas/New Mexico border to make a thrust across the Colorado River into Southern California.[xxxi]
Hancock was ordered to active service in the East (and eventually to become a Union hero at Gettysburg). Before he left with his family in July, Hancock’s daughter rechristened Phineas Banning’s new steam tender with her name: Ada Hancock
The threat of insurrection in Southern California had ended, but Los Angeles would continue to be troubled by secessionist agitators abetted, Colonel Carleton told Sumner, by a sheriff who wouldn’t arrest them; judges who wouldn’t try them; and juries that wouldn’t convict them.
The boys from El Monte would continue through the war to swagger through doors of the Bella Union Hotel with the implication that they still might deliver vigilante “justice” to upstart Unionists. Tomás Sanchez would remain sheriff of Los Angeles County, despite his connection to leading secessionists.[xxxii] Dr. Griffin, Judge Hayes, Benjamin Wilson, and other secessionist Angeleños would continue to sympathize with the Confederacy, to the point of contributing substantially to organizations that aided wounded and disabled Confederate soldiers. And Henry Hamilton would continue to publish anti-Lincoln editorials in the Star until he was elected to the state Legislature.
A. S. Johnston, along with the most ardent secessionists among the Mounted Rifles, quietly left Los Angeles on June 16, crossed into Arizona, and with the help of secessionists there joined the Confederate States army. The Johnston/Mounted Rifles party wasn’t the first to make the desert crossing and the not last. An estimated 250 Southern Californians, many from Los Angeles, joined the Confederacy by that route.
Only two Angeleños volunteered to join the Union army: Horace Bell and the city’s zanjeroCharles Jenkins.
Jefferson Davis made Johnston the second-ranking general of the Confederate Army. He died early in the war at the battle of Shiloh, Alonzo Ridley by his side. George Gift, who had presided over the original mustering of the Mounted Rifles, became a Confederate naval officer. Joseph Brent found his own way to the Confederate States, ultimately becoming an army brigade commander. So did Cameron Thom, who became a captain in the Confederate army, returned to Los Angeles, and served at the city’s mayor from 1882 to 1884.
Horace Bell. Bell was one of only two Angeleños who volunteered to serve in the Union army. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Horace Bell. Bell was one of only two Angeleños who volunteered to serve in the Union army. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Cameron Thom. Thom had been the City Attorney, county District Attorney, and a State Senator before joining other secessionist Angeleños in fighting for the Confederate States. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles
Cameron Thom. Thom had been the City Attorney, county District Attorney, and a State Senator before joining other secessionist Angeleños in fighting for the Confederate States. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles
That leading men in Los Angeles remained openly secessionist for so long and that so many Confederate volunteers passed through the city at the start of the war troubled Unionists then and those who wrote about the Civil War in its immediate aftermath.
Had Los Angeles remained attached to the state and the Union only by the presence of Army troops, as Charles Conway of the Semi-Weekly News believed? Or had a policy of toleration on the part of some Army commanders, obliged to work with disloyal city and county officials, actually preserved Southern California, whose militant secessionists had “gone to Dixie” across the Colorado River rather than fight at home?
The Civil War remains a powerful lens through which to examine how Angeleños saw themselves then and how we see ourselves as Angeleños today.
The question doesn’t have an unequivocal answer, which is why the Civil War remains a powerful lens through which to examine how Angeleños saw themselves then and how we see ourselves as Angeleños today.
In April 1862, County Undersheriff Andrew King was arrested at his office by a troop of cavalry for the use of “treasonable expressions,” cheering for Jefferson Davis, and displaying a large portrait of Confederate General Beauregard. After taking an oath of loyalty that he regarded as meaningless, King was released, as every man arrested in Los Angeles for treasonable activity during the Civil War would be.
When the war ended, former Undersheriff Alonzo Ridley joined another dubious cause and died fighting for Emperor Maximilian in Mexico. Edward Kewen, white supremacist and former state legislator, was now willing to accept that African Americans had some civil rights. And Andrew King now ran a newspaper (ironically, what was left of Conway’s pro-Union paper).
Challenged in late 1865 to define where he and other secessionist Angeleños stood, now that the Confederacy had been defeated, King wrote a defiant reply. “We have been and are yet secessionist,” he insisted.[xxxiii] There were many Angeleños would have silently agreed.
John Gately Downey. Governor Downey’s support for secessionists ended his political career. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
John Gately Downey. Governor Downey’s support for secessionists ended his political career. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Joseph Lancaster Brent. Like many other secessionists, Brent left Los Angeles to join the Confederate army. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Joseph Lancaster Brent. Like many other secessionists, Brent left Los Angeles to join the Confederate army. Photograph courtesy of Security Pacific National Bank Collection, Los Angeles Public Library
Albert Sidney Johnston. Former commander of the US Army in California, Johnston left Los Angeles with the Mounted Rifles in mid-1861. He had “gone to Dixie” to join the Confederate army. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia
Albert Sidney Johnston. Former commander of the U.S. Army in California, Johnston left Los Angeles with the Mounted Rifles in mid-1861. He had “gone to Dixie” to join the Confederate army. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia
[viii]  Johnston took command of the Department of the Pacific on December 21, 1860.  He resigned on April 9, 1861, when his adopted home state of Texas seceded.
[x].    According to his wife, writing many years later.