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