California State Milita and National Guard Unit Histories
The Creation of the National Guard of California
By Colonel Norman S. Marshall and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History

In 1849, the California Constitution created California's militia force, which is modeled after the justly famous British Militia, creating a supplement or reserve force to the functions of the United States military, providing the State with a needed military for the protection and defense of the State. [1]

Since the State of California is about 750 miles in length, 250 miles in width, and has some 1,200 miles of coast line, it is greater in area than the combined States of Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Ohio, and Vermont. This condition made the defense of the state almost an impossible task. The Pacific Squadron, which in 1846, consisted of only eight armed vessels, carrying 300 guns, was dispersed with the line-of-battleship USS Ohio alone being at San Francisco in 1849. She lay at Sausalito, and was of use in preventing the entire abandonment of California's mail service. [2] Defense of California's coast at this period was virtually non-existent. In the early periods of our statehood, the defense of the State was of natural concern to the people of California [3]

Since much of California's Naval Militia owes its success and development to the National Guard of California, it seems only appropriate to take a brief look at the origins of the National Guard.

Of the several California militia companies which organized between 1849 and 1866, had within their ranks many men who were veterans of the Mexican War, many from the New York Volunteers, having both military training and experience, and being liable to military duty upon the call of the state and nation. These organized and regulated militia units were caparisoned in regular military fashion but were essentially fraternal and social organizations. The first of these militia companies formed in San Francisco under the name of the First California Guard. It was an artillery company, but also drilled in the tactics of the infantry. It consisted of only 41 members in July 1849, but was increased to 100 men by September of that year. [4]

These various militia companies provided an excellent social opportunity -parades, balls, banquets, receptions, and target excursions -that lent both color and social graces to California's frontier society. The First California Guard continued its existence as a militia company under the state's militia laws, and was the initial military organization of this state. By 1890, the First California Guard was better known as Company A, First Regiment or Light Battery, of the National Guard. Ultimately, twenty-one companies organized in San Francisco prior to the Civil War, which greatly stimulated the military spirit in California. [5]

The state's first enactment of California Military Law was provided for by the Legislature, in session in the City of San Jose in the year 1850, which provided for the organization of a State militia and the election of an Adjutant General, defining his duties. The state's militia force, under this early enactment, was partitioned into four divisions under four major-generals, and two brigades to a division, with a brigadier-general assigned to each, and a quartermaster general. The governor was the commander-in-chief, who might appoint two aides-de-camp, with rank of colonels of cavalry; but the legislature elected the major and brigadier-generals, one adjutant and one quartermaster general, with the rank of brigadier-general, all to be commissioned by the governor.

The state's militia law was patterned after the Militia Act of 1792 which declared that all free white men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, excepting such as had served a full term in the army or navy, or were members of volunteer companies within the state, were subject to enrolment for military duty in the state. [6]

In 1851, Indian disturbances in San Diego called for troops, and two companies were organized from the California Guard, Washington Guard, and Empire Guard, the only existing military companies in San Francisco at that time. However, before transportation to San Diego could be arranged the trouble had blown over.

The Legislature by the adoption of Chapter XL, Statues of 1852, made provisions for the full employment of the militia in matters of security. In 1854, there existed six companies in San Francisco, which were formed into a battalion. No military services were required of them until 1856, when a vigilance committee unlawfully assumed control over the city government of San Francisco, and the militia was ordered to report for duty by the governor of the state. The year before, 1855, the Legislature reorganized the militia by Chapter CXV, Statues of 1855. This legislation provided for six divisions and 12 brigades, and for more extended military rolls to be kept by the county assessors of each county.

Early in the spring of 1860, when the debate over slavery in the territories threatened to ignite into a war, the Pony Express, operated by the Central Overland stagecoach line, covered 1,900 miles between Missouri and California; being Washington's only line of contact with the West. In fact, it was the Pony Express that delivered Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address to Californians less than eight days after it was given in March 1861. By October of that year, the telegraph line was completed to California and the Pony Express faded out of existence.

California has always had an optimistic view of itself, a sense of its special destiny. At the period of the commencement of hostilities by the South, the only fortifications on the coast or California and Oregon were Alcatraz and Fort Pont. At the former, there were only 130 troops. Fort Point was not occupied until February 15, 1861, and was garrisoned by only two companies numbering 160 men. However, at the same time, 10,000 stand of arms and 150,000 cartridges were stored at Alcatraz. Fort Point was the principle fortification of the Presidio reservation, which forms one side of the entrance to the San Francisco harbor. On the opposite side of the channel was Line Point, where other detached batteries were placed. Lying on the north of San Francisco, and almost directly facing the Golden Gate was Fort Alcatraz, on a small rocky island, was the military prison. Angel Island, north of Alcatraz, and Point San Jose, north of Point Lamb, were also fortified. At the Presidio was one artillery company with recruits, etc., in all 115 men. At Benicia, the garrison consisted on companies G and K, 6th infantry, 162 men. The arsenal was staffed by 41 men of the ordnance corps, in all about 500 troops in the vicinity. In the Department of the Pacific, there were 3,650 of whom 1,725 were stationed in California, and 1,925 in Oregon and Washington. However, it was fully understood that in the event of war, the regular troops, above mentioned, would be needed at the east, and not only they, but volunteers also. This posed yet another problem in the defenses of California. Despite this, California's militia force would rise to the challenge.

In 1862, the Legislature again reorganized the militia of this State under the provisions of Chapter CCXCVI, in which staffs were provided, bonds required, military duty exacted, enrollments and assessments created, muster rolls defined, the militia classified, activation of the militia determined, disciplinary procedure adopted, courts-martial provided, compensation fixed, arms and equipment provided, and prior conflicting acts repealed.

California called upon all good citizens in the counties to form themselves into companies, battalions, and regiments, promising arms should there be a call for their services and California's military spirit ran high. Most of California's militia force hoped to be allowed to serve in the east. However, in this they were to be disappointed.

With very few exceptions, almost all of California's regiments and parts of regiments served out their periods of enlistment on the Pacific Coast, or at least west of the rebel frontier. However, their patriotism was of that superior sort which enabled them, while burning with ardor to fight on the more glorious fields of the Civil War, to suppress their ambition and serve on the outposts of civilization, if the government required such service. However, their duty was by no means insignificant. They were charged with the safekeeping of all the western slope of the continent within United States limits, not only in California but also in Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Californians were charged with keeping closed the highways against the agents of succession from the Texas line to San Diego. [7]

The Civil War mobilized a larger percentage of volunteer manpower than any other war in United States' history. The whole number of troops raised in California during the Civil War was 16,231, or more than the whole of the U.S. army at its commencement, and far in excess of the state's quota. On mustering out of the troops in the service of the general government, 88 militia companies under various names had been formed to serve, if required, in their respective localities, or to respond to a call from the governor.

It was not until the close of the Civil War, in 1866, that the Legislature enacted Chapter DXLI, Statues of 1866, and for the first time legislation officially named the State's uniformed militia force as the "National Guard of California."

The Eighteenth Legislature created the University Cadets and provided for military instruction in the University of California under the control of the Board of Regents. This was followed by legislation recognizing military academies, providing for commissions to military instructors and the issuance of arms to such institutions.

The Twentieth Session of the Legislature provided an exemption to members of the State Militia exempting them from payment of the poll tax, road tax, and head taxes. A further exemption from military duty, except in time of war, was granted to members of the National Guard who had served the State in a military manner for seven years. (See: Caliifornia Political Code, Sec. 64).

The services of the militia were again required in 1871 to put down a strike of miners. In 1877, three days of labor riots in San Francisco caused the militia to be placed on duty to guard the armories and prevent the destruction of valuable property. The service rendered on each of these occasions amply illustrated the benefit of California's militia.

In 1872 the organized, uniformed troops of the State were again the subject of legislation which converted them into the present organization know as the National Guard of California. [8] The act declared that the National Guard of California should not exceed 80 companies, 64 being of infantry, 12 of cavalry, and 4 of artillery, located with regard to the military wants of the state, and means of concentration. Subsequently, the National Guard of California was divided into six brigades, and the tactics prescribed for the regular army was made the practice of the Guard. [9] The number of companies was again reduced by the next legislature from 80 to 60 companies, and other than a few minor changes, the morale of the militia of this state remained excellent.

In 1891, according to the State Roster [10], the National Guard of California consisted of "two light batteries, one troop of cavalry, forty-seven companies of infantry, one cadet company, and four signal corps -organized into eight regiments, two battalions, and one unattached company, six brigades and one division, with a total strength of four hundred and three officers and three thousand nine hundred and one enlisted men." That year, the California Naval Militia was also formed by the adoption of Chapter CLXXVI, Statues of 1891, by which the Naval Battalion was attached to the National Guard. The Naval Militia was stationed throughout the coast; San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Eureka. Like their counterparts in the National Guard, they served the state on a part-time basis.

By the statutes of 1909, Chapter 378, the Legislature provided that the national Guard shall consist of such members of companies of engineers, signalmen, coast artillery, infantry, cavalry, and divisions of the Naval Militia as the Governor shall direct, provided the total number of companies did not exceed 84.

During the years 1895 to 1917, several United States ships were loaned to the State as training ships for the Naval Battalion. California's Navy furnished officers and sailors for service in vessels of the U.S. Navy during the 1898 War with Spain. Apart from national service, members of the California Naval Militia were activated for State Military Service during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire assisting in the restoration of civil authority to the stricken city. In World War I, members of the California Naval Militia were mustered for active Federal Service. These included Deck Divisions 1 through 11, the First Engineer Company, the Aeronautic Section, and the First Marine Company, acquitting themselves so well in that conflict that the Secretary of the Navy acknowledged the California Naval Militia as one of the finest military organizations of its kind ever to enter Federal Service. The California Naval Militia also set the world record for naval gunnery in 1913; had the first aircraft in the military department and as part of the Naval Militia, and formed a U.S. Marine Company, which was organized as a detachment on board the USS Olympia.

Chapter 600, Statutes of 1913, divided the State's Militia into two classes: 1. The organized militia. 2. The reserve militia. The organized militia was to be known as the National Guard of California. In 1917, the Legislature by Chapter 16, Statues of 1917, brought the National Guard of the State in accord with the National Defense Act of June 3, 1916. Chapter 241, Statutes of 1919, provided that federal service should be considered as continuous state service, granted preference to units with federal service during the reorganization process, recognized the attained federal commissioned rank of officers, and provided for privileges, exemptions and retirements.

Just over one hundred years ago, Brigadier-General C.C. Allen, N.G.C., then Adjutant-General of the State of California [1890-1894] published an article which provides us with insight into the workings of the National Guard of California and the then newly formed Naval Battalion of the National Guard. We hope you will enjoy.


1. The heritage of California's militia or the "citizen soldier" volunteer dates back to the American Revolution and has its roots in the enrolled militia of Anglo-Saxon England and colonial America. The idea of supplementing Regular or full-time forces with Reserve or part-time forces depended upon the Comitatus, a full-time, regular Army that was backed by the limitanei or part-time soldiers charged with the defense of the state in time of emergency. This concept employed the use of a highly trained professional army equipped with the finest weapons available –backed by the enrolled militia or select fyrd. While the full-time professionals were available for service anywhere, the enrolled militia was a minimally trained and individually equipped force of citizen-soldiers who, except in times of emergency, carried on their civilian pursuits as lawyers, doctors, farmers and merchants. Below the enrolled militia was its unenrolled counterparts, the great fyrd or levees en masse, which consisted of all reasonably healthy men of the state. This larger body of unorganized, untrained and undisciplined men was the last force used to defend the homeland from invasion.

2. Postal communications in 1847, 1848, and part of 1849 had been by military express from post to post, citizens being permitted to avail themselves of this service without charge.

3. The whole army of the United States in 1849-50 was comprised of two regiments of dragoons, one of mounted rifflemen, four of artillery, and eight of infantry, aggregating the engineer corps and general staff –12,927 members. All the mounted troops were enployed in Oregon, California, Texas and New Mexico, and on the routes leading to the Pacific Coast.

4. According to the Minutes of the First California Guard, August 25 and October 2, 1849 (F. Soule, The Annals of San Francisco, 1855, p. 703), the company formed itself into a joint stock company, composed exclusively of Guard members, who subscribed to three hundred shares of stock at one hundred dollars each. The funds raised enabled the company to construct a lavish two and one-half story Military Hall and armory (H. H. Bancroft, History of California, 1884-1890, Vol. VI, p. 188), consisting of elegant suites of apartments, a drill room, billiard saloon, reading room, etc., elegantly furnished for the exclusive comfort of the company's members.

5. These companies were organized as the Washington Guard, 50 men; Empire Guard, 125 men; Marion Rifles, 65 men; National Lancers, 45 men; Eureka Light-Horse Guard, 50 men; San Francisco Blues, 60 men; City Guard, 100 men; Washington Continental Guard, 40 men; Independent National Guard, 50 men; Independent City Guard, 100 men; California Fusileers, 60 men; Black Hussars, 42 men; First Light Dragoons, 59 men; Mechanics Guard, 50 men; Schuetzen Verein, 150 men; California Light Guard, 66 men; City Guard, 60 men; French Guard, 75 men; McMahon Guard, 43 men; and, Montgomery Guard, 50 men.

6. Declaration of Independence. The question of a standing army during peacetime was one of the first issues addressed prior to the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the American Revolution. The debate over the military question, however, continued throughout the period of the Articles of Confederation, and was finally put to rest in 1787 with the Constitution of the United States. The U.S. Constitution granted to Congress the power to: "declare war" (U.S. Const., Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 11), "raise and support armies" (U.S. Const., Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 12), "provide and maintain a navy" (U.S. Const., Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 13), "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces" (U.S. Const., Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 14), "provide for the calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, supress insurrections and repel invasions" (U.S. Const., Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 15), and to "provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress (U.S. Const., Art. I. Sec. 8, Cl. 16). In 1792, the Congress passed the Militia Act of 1792 calling for all able-bodied white male citizens, aged 18 to 45, to be enrolled in a general militia. This militia system existed well past the Civil War. During the Mexican War (1846-1848), militia units such as the First Mississippi Rifles under Col. Jefferson Davis served with distinction. My the time of the Civil War, the Militia Act of 1792 was still the law of the land. The Militia of California, given the state's financial situation, provided an economical means of rounding out regular forces during times of emergency.

7. The services of California's militia force during the Civil War briefly are as follows: The 1st and 5th California Infantry, the 1st California Cavalry, and one battery of the 3d U.S. Artillery, in all about 2,500 men, marched from Camp Latham, with a stop at Camp Wright, to the Rio Grande, and performed well the part assigned to it of fighting Indians, and driving back rebels from the frontiers of New Mexico and Colorado. Perhaps the most conspicuous regiment of the California volunteers in the service of the United States on the Pacific Coast was the 2d Cavalry. The regiment marched thousands of miles, and skirmished with Indians from New Mexico to Oregon. The 3d Infantry Regiment of California Volunteers, numbering 1,634 members, was organized in Stockton and Benicia, and was employed in protecting the cental overland route from Nevada, eastward having a rough ungrateful service. It was known as the 3d Battalion of Infantry. The 2d Infantry Regiment, consisting of 1,980 men, was organized at Camp Sumner in 1861 and were employed in defending the frontier of California, Washington, and Idaho. Half of the regiment was sent to the north, marching from the Puget Sound to Fort Boise, which they established, and then from Fort Walla Walla to Fort Conville. The remainder of the regiment served in Humboldt against Indians.

The other volunteer organizations were the 1st Cavalry, and 3rd, 4th, and 5th Infantry Regiments. The 1st Cavalry consisted of but five companies, until 1863, when a second battalion of seven companies were raised and sent to join the regiment. The regiment took part in the campaign against the Navajos, Comanches, and occupied New Mexico and Texas for several years. This regiment numbered 1,830 members. The 4th infantry was organized in September, 1861, serving in Southern California and Arizona. The men of this regiment volunteered in Placerville, Shasta, Auburn, Sacramento, and San Diego, and numbered 1,639 exclusive of one company, which preserved no register. The 5th Infantry Regiment was also drawn from the norther part of the state and composed of young vigourous men, numbering nearly 1,000 men, was ordered to Southern California in the spring of 1862, and served in parts of Arizona. The 6th Infantry Regiment, numbering 1,243 men, was organized at Benicia in 1863 and was stationed chiefly at that place, engaging primarily in Indian fighting. The 7th infantry regiment was not organized until 1864. It served in Arizona, participating in the battle of Chiricahui mountains, it mustered out in 1866. The 8th infantry regiment was the last California regiment raised under the congressional act of July, 1864, and consisted of ten companies of a total membership of 960.

Finally, the California Hundred, a select body of young and expert equestrians, organized in San Francisco in 1862, paid its own expenses from the date of its organization until being accepted into service in the east. It fought 23 general engagements, and lost many of its number killed, mortally wounded, and missing. It was mustered out at Fairfax Court House on July 20, 1865, its last engagement being at Cedar Creek under General Sheridan. The banner carried by the company was a Bear Flag. Following shortly after the California Hundred was the California battalion of 400 men which went to offer its services to the government early in 1863. They were assigned to duty in the 2d Massachusetts cavalry of which regiment the California Hundred formed a part of the first battalion. The California battalion and California Hundred met in July, 1863, at Centreville, Virginia, and served together thereafter. They were terribly earnest fighters, and won the applause from the enemy who made havoc in their ranks. Of the 500 Californians of the Massachusetts regiment, only 182 remained to be mustered out at the close of the war. The major of the battalion was DeWitt C. Thompson, one of the founders of the California Guard in 1849.

8. California Codes, 154-184.

9. "All acts of the Congress of the United States relating to the control, administration, and government of the Army of the Untied States and the United States Air Force and relating to the control, administration, and government of the United States Navy, and all rules and regulations adopted by the United States for government of the National Guard and Naval Reserve or Naval Militia, so far as the same are not inconsistent with the rights reserved to this State and guaranteed under the Constitution of this State, constitute the rules and regulations for the government of the militia." (California Military. & Veterans Code, Section 101).

10. E. G. White, Secretary of State, California Blue Book, or State Roster, 1891, Military, The National Guard of California, p. 128.

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