Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Forts DuPont and Stockton
By Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military
When war with Mexico came, two American
forts in San Diego figured conspicuously in the brief contest
which placed California under the rule of the United States.
As stated in the Fort Guijarros,
the fortifications of Presidio San Diego had been abandoned in
1837, but earthworks still remained.
When the United States forces first arrived in San Diego on board
the sloop-of-war USS CYANE, under the command of Captain
Samuel F. DuPont, San Diego was easily seized by the sailors
and marines from the CYANE, supported by the California
Battalion led by Lieut. Colonel John C. Fremont.
The American flag was raised over San Diego, on July 29, 1846,
at 4 p.m., by Lieut. Stephen C. Rowan, USN, at the Plaza San
Diego Viejo. Upon the capture of San Diego, the fortifications
on top of Presidio Hill were strengthened and re-named Fort DuPont,
in honor of the captain of the CYANE. Ten days after the Stars
and Stripes fluttered up the pole in the Plaza, the CYANE
and Fremont's troops departed for Los Angeles.
Upon the departure of the CYANE, San Diego was left virtually
unprotected. Captain Ezekiel Merritt and John Bidwell had been
left in charge of the American garrison in San Diego. Captain
José Maríía Flores, from the pueblo of Los
Angeles, sent Francisco Rico and Serbulo Varela with fifty men
to recapture San Diego now held by the Americans. Fearing that
they would be overrun by the Mexican forces, the Americans abandoned
Fort DuPont and San Diego as a group of Californios loyal to
Mexico recaptured the town in early October 1846. Without firing
a shot, the Mexicans drove the remaining Americans to take shelter
on the Bay aboard the Yankee whaler STONINGTON which was
anchored in the harbor.
Once again the Mexican flag floated over San Diego. The Mexican
forces held San Diego for nearly three weeks.
The Americans on the whaling ship STONINGTON were disturbed
by the existence of two Spanish cannon on Presidio Hill. The
possibility that the Californios might bring them down to the
water's edge drove a young New Yorker named Albert B. Smith to
go ashore and spike the guns in the fort a top of Presidio Hill.
He reached Presidio Hill undetected, crept up to its summit,
and hammered spikes into the cannons' touch-holes.
Encouraged by Smith's success, on October 24, 1846, the American
volunteers aboard the STONINGTON rowed ashore, formed
in battle array, charged the Mexican defensive positions. The
Mexican commander, Serbulo Varela had been ordered to send most
of his men back to Los Angeles to protect that town from an expected
attack on that city. After a brief skirmish the Americans retook
possession of the city. The Californios retired without offering
Once again, the Americans were in possession of the San Diego.
As the Americans began to haul down the Mexican flag, Maríía
Antonia Machado rushed to saved it from being trampled upon.
She clutched it to her bosom, and cut the halyards to prevent
the American flag from being raised. Smith shinnied up the flag
pole and nailed the American flag to the flagpole in the Plaza.
Two days later, on October 26, 1846, Captain Leonardo Cota and
Ramon Carrillo arrived with 100 men and laid siege to San Diego
intending to force the Americans to surrender. For the next several
months the Americans were captive inside the pueblo. Skirmishes
were a daily occurrence. Commodore Robert F. Stockton, supreme
commander of operations on the coast, reported:
"The situation of the place was found to be more miserable
and deplorable. . . . On the afternoon of our arrival the enemy
came down in considerable force and made an attack; they were,
however, soon driven back with the loss of two men and horses
killed and four wounded. These skirmishes, or running fights,
were of almost daily occurrence. Since we have been here we have
lost as yet but one man killed and one wounded."
In November 1846, Stockton arrived aboard the sixty-gun ship
CONGRESS to relieve the town of further harassment from the Mexican's
encampted on the hill which dominated the town. Two San Diegans,
Santiago Arguello and Miguel de Pedrorena, sympathetic to the
idea of American domination, led the attack on the Mexican positions,
driving the enemy from the hill and up the Mission Valley.
Eventually more than 700 American troops would enter San Diego
in preparation for the build up for the recapture of Los Angeles.
Nevertheless the siege was effective.
At this point, Stockton's forces retook the strong hold once
called Fort DuPont. Stockton immediately set out to strengthened
Presidio Hill with earthworks and posted a garrison of a hundred
men there to defend the city. He renamed it Fort Stockton.
At its best, Fort Stockton could only be described as a broad
ditch backed by earth-filled barrels, between which the muzzles
of twelve Spanish guns.
The last military company to be assigned at Fort Stockton was
when the Mormon Battalion, under command of Lieut. Colonel Philip
St. G. Cooke. The Mormon Battalion made camp at the San Diego
Mission on January 29, 1847. After one of the longest marches
of infantry in history, the Mormon Battalion arrived in California,
too late to take part in the fighting at the Battle of San Pasqual.
Company B was left at Fort Stockton to garrison the place with
seven artillery pieces while the rest of the Battalion was sent
on to Los Angeles.
The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican
era, caused Fort Stockton to cease to exist as a military post.
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