California Militia and National Guard Unit Histories
Benicia Guard
(Sarsfield Guard)
Military Unit Designation:
Date of Organization: 21 June 1862
Date of Disbanding: 16 August 1866
Inclusive dates of units papers at State Archives: 1862-1866
Geographical Location or Locations: Hayward, Alameda County
Unit papers on file at the California State Archives:

a. Organization Papers 4 documents (1862)
b. Bonds 1 document (1862)
c. Correspondence (Unclassified letters) 22 documents (1862-1864)
d. Election Returns 6 documents (1862-1865)
e. Exempt Certificates, Applications for none
f. Muster Rolls, Monthly returns 6 documents (1862-1866)
g. Oaths Qualifications 6 documents (1862-1863)
h. Orders none
i. Receipts, invoices 4 documents (1862-1863)
j. Requisitions 2 documents (1862)
k. Resignations 3 documents (1863)
l. Target Practice Reports none
Commanding Officers:
T. G. McDonald, Captain: Elected June 21, 1862, commissioned July 8, 1862, Resigned December 30, 1862.
B. G. McGee, First Lieutenant: Elected June 21, 1862, commissioned July 8, 1862, Resigned 1862.

Laurence J. Ryan, Captain: Elected May 16, 1863, commissioned July 16, 1863, resigned October 21, 1863
Michael · Egan, First Lieutenant: Elected May 16, 1863, commissioned July 16, 1863
James Barry, Captain: Elected May 21, 1864; commissioned June 7, 1864; reelected April 27, 1865.
John Ryan, First Lieutenant: Elected May 21, 1864; commissioned June 7, 1864; reelected April 27, 1865.
Official History:
Fifty-four citizens signed the call for the formation of a military Company and on June 21, 1862, the Benicia Guard, Benicia, Solano County, was organized. T. G. McDonald was elected Captain and B. G. McGee, First Lieutenant. Late in the Fall of 1862, the company changed its name to the Sarsfield Guard.

Although the bond was approved and the requisition for arms sent to Brigadier General Ellis, the Benicia Guard did not receive their arms and accoutrements until August 1863. This delay was undoubtedly responsible for the company's listless attitude in connection with military activities later on. Before Captain McDonald's resignation, December 1862, he expressed the fear that the members would become discouraged and resign from the company if the unit was not adequately equipped. A special election was called May 16, 1863, to elect officers to fill the vacancies due to the resignations of Captain McDonald and First Lieutenant McGee. Laurence J. Ryan was elected Captain and M. Egan, First Lieutenant.
At the time the Sarsfield Guard was organized the nation was engaged in the War of the Rebellion and reports of sedition among the members of the company were first made known to General Kibbe by the Sheriff of Solano County. The Sheriff stated that the company's rank had dwindled down to ten men and these were suspected of disloyalty to the Union cause, and in view of such circumstances suggested the company's arms be recalled.

On the strength of Brigadier-General Ellis' Report, November 19, 1863, which confirmed the Sheriff's statement that the Sarsfield Guard was a useless and an inefficient unit, a Conditional Order of disbandment was given .that the corps be mustered out of service of the State, January 21, 1864.

Evidently the Sheriff's charges of inefficiency aroused the company to such an extent that they elected James Barry as their new Captain and John Ryan as Lieutenant, proceeded to drill and prove that they were not as useless as the Sheriff intimated. Captain Barry and Lieutenant Ryan were reelected in 1865. The unit continued in existence until the sweeping reorganization law of 1866. This resulted in the mustering out of many militia companies that while they were efficient, were not located geographically to fit into the new plans of the Board of Location and Organization. It was decided that the Sarsfield Guard was not necessary for defense purposes, and therefore, the company was mustered out of the State service August 15, 1866.

This history was completed in 1940 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in conjunction with the California National Guard and the California State Library.


Patrick Sarsfield

When the Sarsfield Grenadier Guard was organized in Sacramento most of the members were Irish by birth or extraction. This being the case, it was only natural that, in selecting a name for the company, they turn to an illustrious figure in Irish history. And so it was.

Patrick Sarsfield, the titular Earl of Lucon, Irish Jacobite and soldier, and member of an Anglo-Norman family long settled in Ireland-entered Dongan's regiment of foot in 1678 and during the last years of Charles II served in the English regiments which were attached to the army of Louis XIV of France.

He served with distinction under King James. In 1689 he secured Connaught for James and was promoted to brigadier and then to major general. He gained popularity with the Irish by capturing a convoy of military stores near Tipperary, thus delaying an English seige.

Sarsfield later went to France, where he received a commission as lieutenant general (marschal de camp) from King Louis XIV and fought with distinction in Flanders until he was mortally wounded at the battle of Landen, August 19, 1693. He died at Huy several days after the battle.

Loyalists vs. secessionists: Battle between states mostly a war of words in Solano
By Ian Thompson
SUISUN CITY — The Civil War in Solano County was a war of verbal recrimination between Union supporters and secessionists that only occasionally spilled over into arson and violence.
Much of that sparring occurred between Union papers such as The Solano Press of Suisun City and secessionist papers such as the Banner of Liberty in Silveyville, near Dixon.
Surviving newspapers from then show a county that largely continued to go about its business while the war raged in the east.
Letters from Solano County residents who went east to join the military, social events and drilling of local militias, and accusations between those local leaders who supported the Union and those who didn’t fill the papers.
By 1863, several Solano County residents had made their way east to fight as part of Company L, 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, which was part of the North’s Army of the Potomac. Letters back home were published in the paper, usually starting with the notation “all the Suisun boys are well.”
At that time, the unit was stationed around Centreville, Va., and dealing with the depredations of the Confederate guerillas commanded by Col. John Mosby.
“John McKinney (of Suisun City) was slightly wounded in the back of the head by a pistol shot while bringing in horses,” one letter said.
The first California man to be drafted in the Civil War was John Hutchinson of Suisun City, who got a letter in late July telling him to report for duty to Portland, Maine, by Aug. 10.
“Maine is a good Union state, but she must be hard up for soldiers to send 3,000 miles away for men who have been citizens of California for over three years,” The Solano Press reported. Local political figures had no problem declaring themselves patriots defending the Union while slandering their opponents as secessionists and copperheads. Copperheads were Northerners who supported a negotiated end to the war.
Napa, Vallejo and Green Valley were particularly singled out for printed abuse.
In one August 1863 editorial, The Solano Press warned Union men to be prepared against possible rebellion by secessionists “who have not the slightest hope of carrying the election.”
“The traitors are speaking to rouse the Copperheads to resistance of legal authorities and involve the state in war and blood. It is a stated fact all or nearly all the rifles that have been sold for a year past in Suisun and immediate vicinity have been sold to secessionists,” the paper warned.
It also stated that the “traitors are sorely troubled about the organization of a cavalry company in this place.”
That cavalry company was the Suisun Light Dragoons, which numbered about 80 people and were armed with 40 rifles and 50 colt revolvers, according to another article.
It was one of a half-dozen such militias that were sprinkled through the county from Maine Prairie to Vallejo. The militias were pro-Union, but some members were suspected of having secessionist sympathies.
The Vacaville Rifle Company met and held regular drill under Frank Drake, their captain. The Vallejo Rifle Company and the McClellan Guard called Vallejo home, while the Sarsfield Guard was located in Benicia.
Most of their activities involved weekly drills and organizing an ongoing series of balls and social events.
The Suisun Light Dragoons was described as having “a high military ambition and were a credit to their officer,” according to state militia reports listed in a 1939 History of the California Militia.
The dragoons were disbanded after the war in 1868, a move its commander, Capt. D. Ramsey, deeply resented.
When the order to disband came, Ramsey simply left town without telling anyone about the orders to assemble at the armory for mustering out. It took the second-in-command, Lt. Gilbert Wright, to get the men together to bring in their equipment and end the dragoon’s history on a good note.
Two other militias, the Sarsfield Guard and the McClellan Guard, were suspected of disloyalty.
The Solano County sheriff wrote in 1863 that the McClellan Guard had dwindled to 18 men and was “suspected of being disloyal to the Union.” That didn’t keep the small unit from drilling for the next three years.
The Union League of Vallejo accused the McClellan Guard of disloyalty in 1863 and in 1864, saying arming the unit would be “a serious mistake and detrimental to the Union cause.” By October 1864, the state militia commander ordered the unit disbanded and its weapons collected, a difficult task because the weapons were in private homes scattered across the county. Union men and secessionists weren’t ones to keep their feelings to themselves.
One Dixon paper carried the news about a fight on Christmas Day between a Union-supporting Suisun City man and a Silveyville local known as Secesh Smith, who verbally rounded on the Suisun City man.
Not getting a reaction, Smith armed himself with an ax only to be hammered to the ground by the Unionist, who kicked him several times for good measure, according to the article. The office of Silveyville’s secessionist newspaper, the Banner of Liberty, was broken into and type stolen at least once during the war.
One of the owners, publisher William Pierce, and his son Joe Pierce assaulted Dr. J.C. Ogburn (a strong Union man) in 1862, nearing killing him before fleeing the area. They were captured two years later.
The divide between the Union and Southern rights split the congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Rockville before the Civil War.
The minister was a staunch advocate for the South and he was driven out of town. By 1863, the pro-Union portion of the congregation attended church in Fairfield and the remaining congregation dwindled to almost nothing.
The Rockville church fared better than other Methodist-Episcopal churches. The Southern-leaning one in Dixon was burned to the ground.
The assassination of President Lincoln on April 14, 1865, generated more violence in the county than the war itself.
“We hear it is reported that some foolish individuals have even ventured to publicly rejoice at the assassination of President Lincoln. Such damnable wretches should have the benefit of a little judicious hanging,” The Solano Press reported.
Charles Ramsey and his sons may have been some of those, and the Benicia Arsenal sent a detachment of mainly Mexican-American soldiers to their Green Valley home to arrest them.
In the resulting heated verbal exchange and gunfire, two soldiers were wounded, Ramsey and his family were arrested and put in the military prison in Benicia only to later be released and file suit for damages.
A man named Balaam Davis near the now-vanished town of Maine Prairie voiced his joy and said Lincoln should have been shot some time ago. He was arrested by the Maine Prairie Rifles.
The town’s justice forcibly administered the oath of allegiance to Davis and then ordered him kicked into the street, The Solano Press reported.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or

This article appeared in the April 14, 2011 edition of the Fairfirld-Susuin Daily Republic
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