California Milita and National Guard Unit Histories
The Coast Artillery Reserves, National Guard of California
Fort Rosecrans
By Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History

The coast defenses of San Diego was the official designation which included Fort Rosecrans, Fort Pio Pico, San Diego Barracks, and was inclusive of some other minor military reservations in the area.

The primary object in the organization and training of local companies of California's coast artillery reserves, members of the National Guard of California, was to provide a body of men that would be available, in time of war, to support the U.S. Army's regular coast artillery corps in manning the country's coast defenses. These men were, however, fully equipped as infantry, and their training included drills, exercises and small arms practice. Yet the value of these troops to the country as coast artillery far outweighed their value as infantry. In all cases their artillery work came first, and their infantry training was considered as a side issue.

In the matter of field service, the National Guard's coast artillery reserves were uniformed and equipped by the United States government with the same as provided for the regular service.

The local armory, center for mustering the National Guard, provided adequate storage for each company assigned. Inside the local armory was the company locker room. Here, it took only a few moments for the National Guardsman to exchange his civilian attire for that of the soldier. During those years, the uniform of the coast artillery reserve consisted of olive drab pants, flannel shirt, sweater, leggings, and service hat. The same uniform as those of the infantry man. Each man's kit included a haversack, containing a meat can, knife, fork, spoon and tin cup, a canteen and cartridge belt with suspenders. Each man had a shelter half which included the blanket roll, which contained a blanket, poncho, shelter tent pole and pins, and extra underclothing. In a rack nearby are the rifles of the company, always clean and ready for use, each man's name over his rifle. Securely locked in the store-rooms are 20,000 rounds of ball cartridges, which are always kept on hand. The cartridges are packed in bandoleers containing sixty cartridges each, and twenty bandoleers are packed in a box. Surplus blankets and equipment were kept packed in squad boxes so that they could readily be taken along. Packets containing first-aid bandages were also kept on hand, as well as overcoats, which, though of not much use in San Diego, were kept in case of service in a more rigorous climate. All of this clothing and equipment was counted and minutely inspected annually by an officer detailed from the regular army, and was always ready for service.

In the matter of field service equipment the battalion was equipped with large conical and wall tents, to be used in camps of a permanent nature, which were carefully folded in the store rooms at the armory and ready for instant service. Each company had a field range for cooking in the field, and packed inside of it are all utensils necessary for the preparation of food. Picks, shovels, axes, pails, and other necessary implements are always ready, as are field desks containing records and such office equipment as would be required for field service.

The training of coast artillery reserve troops of the National Guard, included camps of instruction and actual firing of large caliber guns. This was accomplished at the forts of the coast defense, which, in this case, is Fort Rosecrans. The policy of conducting training side by side with the regular coast artillery corps of the U.S. Army was to familiarize the reserves with the armament and local conditions at the fort to which they would be most quickly available for service in case of emergency.

The object, of course, was in a local emergency, the battalion could be readily available almost immediately as infantry. This was demonstrated in a very efficient manner when the California National Guard was suddenly called upon for border service in 1911, 1912, 1914, and again in 1916. These troops were made ready in less than six hours and were on their way to the stations assigned to them, fully equipped for field service and carrying five day's rations.

During 1911, each company sent troops to the Mexican Border seven different times, and in every case they departed within hours of receiving their orders. During this service they furnished garrisons for Calexico, Jacumba Springs, Campo, Tecate, Cottonwood Creek, Dulzura, Tia Juana, and many patrols. In 1912 and again in 1914, the troops at Fort Rosecrans were again doing Mexican Border duty to preserve neutrality and the National Guard were called to duty.

In 1916, National Guardsman were again called upon for boarder duty to reinforce Fort Rosecrans troops. This time, these coast artillery troops, along with other California units, were federalized and went to the border fully prepared for field service, with equipment in first-class condition. There, they spent several weeks in intense training maneuvers, demonstrated their ability to take care of themselves in the field. These maneuvers prepared them for the larger role they would play in World War I.

For an extended campaign in the field, however, these mobile forces of the National Guard would require additional training at mobilization camps to prepare them for overseas duty in that war. But, for service as coast artillery, to reinforce the regular garrison at Fort Rosecrans, the San Diego battalion of coast artillery reserves were fully trained and immediately available should this country become suddenly involved in a defensive war, for which there had been no time for military preparations.

One of the most important points in showing the value of the National Guard as an adjunct to the regular forces at Fort Rosecrans was the training and experience of its officers. Not including the officers of the medical corps attached to the battalion, the commissioned personnel consisted of eight officers, all of whom had service ranging from three to twenty years. Many of these officers had attended the garrison school for regular army officers at Fort Rosecrans, and others completed the course of instruction at the Coast Artillery School at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Of both the officers and enlisted men of California's coast artillery reserve, many had served enlistments in the regular army, navy or marine corps, and in the national guard of other states before entering the California National Guard. In addition to border duty, many of these men served in Cuba and the Philippine Islands during the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, some even saw service in Vera Cruz, and many more of them saw service in two world wars.

San Diego's battalion of coast artillery reserves stationed at Fort Rosecrans were well trained and, at all times, ready for any call to duty that may have been required of them. This is the legacy of the National Guard of California.

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Updated 8 February 2016