California and the Civil War
The California Brigade
(Philadelphia Brigade)
by Gary Lash
Seldom, among the records of American soldiery, have the uncertainties of official procedure been more strikingly illustrated than in the case of the four so-called "California" regiments of 1861, which were destined to win fame and glory as the "Philadelphia Brigade."
On April 21st, 1861, a meeting of citizens of California was held at the Metropolitan Hotel in New York City, Senator Edward D. Baker being one of the vice-presidents. Resolutions were adopted "to raise a regiment composed of men from the Pacific coast and others who might choose to join."
Early in May, 1861, a number of citizens of the Pacific coast, who were in Washington, decided that California ought to be represented in the Army of the Union upon the Atlantic slope, and to that end urged Edward D. Baker, then United States Senator from Oregon, to form a regiment in the East to the credit of that distant State. Senator Baker decided to undertake the task provided that he be allowed to enlist men for three years. At the insistence of the President, the Secretary of War addressed Senator Baker as follows: "You are authorized to raise for the service of the United States a regiment of troops (infantry), with yourself as colonel, to be taken as a portion of any troops that may be called from the State of California by the United States, and to be known as the 'California Regiment.' Orders will be issued to the mustering officer in New York to muster the same into service as presented.
The Union force of actual Californians comprised eight regiments of infantry, two regiments and one battalion of cavalry and a battalion of mountaineers, all of which were engaged throughout the war in maintaining order in the Department of the Pacific.
Senator Edward D. Baker was, at this time, a striking figure among the great men of the nation. He was fifty years old, and of commanding appearance and great eloquence. Born in London, England, he had emigrated in 1815, with his father's family, to Philadelphia, where his father taught school, and the future United States Senator found, when old enough, work as a weaver in a mill near Eleventh and Christian streets. When he was nineteen years old the Baker family moved to Illinois, where his career ran parallel with that of his friend and sometime opponent, Abraham Lincoln. Thus, in time, Baker became a Congressman, forsaking this honor to lead a regiment in the war with Mexico. Upon his return he was again sent to Congress from Illinois, after which he became associated with Isaac J. Wistar, of Philadelphia, in a law firm at San Francisco. It was largely due to his influence that California was held against secession intrigue. In December, 1860, Col. Baker found himself once more in Washington, as the first Senator from the State of Oregon. When, a few months later, the opportunity came to him to again assume the sword, he looked to New York city for the material of his projected regiment. Mr. Wistar, an old Indian fighter, advised him, however, to depend upon Philadelphia, and the latter, who became one of his officers, began recruiting here. As a result, of the ten companies raised, nine were from Philadelphia and one from New York city. As fast as companies were formed they were sent to New York city for muster and to camp at Fort Schuyler. They were regarded as a part of the regular army. They were uniformed in gray suits, which had been confiscated in New York when just ready to be shipped to a Confederate artillery regiment. The "First California Regiment" paraded in Philadelphia upon June 29th, 1861, many people supposing the men to be actual California soldiers. After a brief stay at Suffolk Park they were sent south. While in camp at Washington the regiment was increased to fifteen companies, the accessions coming from Philadelphia. Senator John C. Breckenridge tried to induce a revolt in the camp during the absence of Col. Baker, but the eloquence of their leader, upon his return, prevailed.
In October, 1861, by authority of the President, Col. Baker increased his command to a brigade. The additional regiments thus credited to California were those of Colonels Owen, Baxter and Morehead, all from Philadelphia, respectively designated the 2d, 3d and 5th California Regiments. The 4th California Regiment, as planned, was composed of artillery and cavalry. These troops were soon detached. After the unfortunate affair at Ball's Bluff, in which Col. Baker was killed, the State of Pennsylvania claimed these four splendid infantry regiments as a part of its quota, and they became known as "the Philadelphia Brigade," Pennsylvania Volunteers. The gray uniforms of the initial regiment, then designated the 71st Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, had been discarded for the Union blue, and the men were no longer in danger of being mistaken by their comrades for Confederates. Under the command of Brig.-Gen. W. W. Burns, they were now identified with Gen. Sedgwick's Division of the Second Corps.
The Philadelphia Brigade was unique in the history of the Civil War as the only organization of its kind coming from a single city of the North. The story of its achievements and losses forms one of the most brilliant pages in the annals of our citizen soldiery of the patriotic Quaker City.
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