The Mexican War and California
Monterey's Presidio Occupied and Improved
by Justin Ruhge
On July 1, 1846, Commodore John Drake Sloat and Commodore Jones, Commander of the Pacific Squadron, anchored in Monterey Bay with three ships: the Savannah, the Cyane, and the Levant. Mindful of Commodore Jones' blunder in 1842, Commodore Sloat remained at anchor in the harbor for almost a week before becoming convinced that a state of war existed with Mexico and that he should carry out his standing orders of seizing and holding the ports of California, including that of its nominal capital, Monterey. Accordingly, at 10:20 on Tuesday morning, July 7, 1846, a force of 165 sailors and 85 marines, under the command of Captain William Mervine, commanding officer of the Cyane, came ashore at the small beach near the customhouse and took possession of California for the United States.
Despite the fact that the American fleet had been in the harbor for almost a week, no resistance was offered or apparently even contemplated by the Mexican garrison - after all, they had been through all this once before. Since the mood of the captured populace was peaceful, nearly all of the sailors were returned at once to their ships, leaving some Marines under Captain Ward Marston as the permanent garrison. Work was begun immediately to erect a more effective fortification than the Mexicans had there to protect the harbor and town.
Five days after the landing, Commodore Sloat wrote that: "There are no guns at this place and you know the state of the forts. I am making a stockade around the rear of the upper battery, and shall build a blockhouse there, upon which I shall mount two or three of my 42-pounders to protect that side: on the front I shall mount three or four of my long 32s to protect and defend the bay." The Mexican El Castillo had no guns because they had been removed by the Mexicans to San Juan Bautista where they were buried.
Under the direction of Ensign Baldwin, C. T. M. Cecil, the carpenter of the Savannah, began to construct above the old site of the El Castillo a new fort, consisting of a blockhouse and a battery mounting three 42-pounders, both surrounded by a ditch. This battery was at first called Fort Stockton, after Commodore Robert F. Stockton who took over command from Sloat on July 15, 1846, and then Fort Mervine, after the commander of the first landing party.
The "upper battery" mentioned by Sloat appears to confirm the existence of a second battery begun by the Mexicans after the first American landing in 1842. Writing on March 1, 1849, Henry W. Halleck, who eventually completed the construction of Fort Mervine, stated that "another battery in rear of and auxiliary to (the old battery) was begun by the Mexicans previous to July 7, 1846 and afterward enlarged by the Americans and occupied by them without intermission, to the present time." The 1875 Guidebook to Monterey also reported "about the year 1843 Gen. Micheltorena dug a deep ditch on the site of the present fort, with two or three embrasures for guns which were never mounted."
Construction of the new fort was taken over by the U.S. Army when 113 men of Company F of the 3rd Artillery landed in Monterey on January 28, 1847 from the USS Lexington. Commanded by Captain Christopher Q. Thompkins, the company's five officers included two Lieutenants who were to become generals in the Civil War - E. O. C. Ord and William Tecumseh Sherman. An Army Corps of Engineer, Henry W. Halleck, was also on board charged with the construction of fortifications at Monterey and San Francisco.
This romanticized drawing shows the landing by Commodore John Drake Sloat in 1846. It was printed in 1902 to help raise funds for the construction of the Sloat Monument on the Presidio Hill, which was dedicated in 1910. Depicted to the right are the Sloop of War Cyane, the Flagship, Frigate Savannah, and the Sloop of War Levant (Detail) Provided by The Pat Hathaway Collection, Monterey, California.
The newly appointed Monterey alcalde, Walter Colton, ship's chaplain of the Congress, observed that the Lexington was "laden with heavy battery guns, mortars, shot, shell, muskets, pistols, swords, fixed ammunition, and several hundred barrels of powder. She also has a quantity of shovels, spades, ploughs, pickaxes, saws, hammers, forges, all the necessary utensils for building fortifications of the first class."
Lieutenant Sherman noted before disembarking that: "on a hill to the west of the town had been built a two-story block-house of hewn logs occupied by a guard of sailors under command of Lieutenant Baldwin, United States Navy… It was soon determined that our company was to land and encamp on the hill at the blockhouse." Lieutenant Ord assumed command of Company F on April 1847, two days after complaining that "my company is destined to stay here and build a fort...'Tis disagreeable work and makes the men grumble and desert." Sherman was at this time Ord's second in command, but left the company shortly thereafter to become adjutant to Colonel R. B. Mason, 1st. Dragoons, U. S. Military Commander at Monterey. In May of 1847, Sherman noted that "the company of artillery was still on the hill under the command of Lieutenant Ord, engaged in building a fort whereupon to mount the guns we had brought in the Lexington, and also in constructing quarters out of hewn pine-logs for the men."
By June 23, 1847 the fortifications had progressed to the point where Colonel Mason could inform the Adjutant General that: "The garrison of the place being of a mixed character, I have exercised the command myself, and caused the construction under the immediate superintendence of Lieutenant Halleck of engineers, of a redoubt in the form of a bastion, on a hill overlooking the town and anchorage. It has twenty 24-pounders mounted, and four 8-inch mortars on platforms. All the shot and shells brought out by the Lexington are piled within the redoubt. In the rear of the redoubt, I have caused to be constructed, mostly by contract labor, a stone house, 75 feet by 25, with an excellent shingle roof, containing ample room to store all the valuable ordnance stores sent out in the Lexington."
Shortly thereafter this redoubt came to be known as Fort Halleck, although it was referred to for a short period as Fort Savannah. An additional source of confusion in naming the Fort is the fact that the old Mexican Fort of El Castillo was occasionally referred to as Jones' Fort and the hill on which both forts stood was often referred to as Fort Hill. The deserted remains of the old Mexican Fort were located just below the new American Fort.
An Act of Congress on May 13, 1846 authorized the formation of a regiment of volunteers, commanded by Colonel Jonathan Drake Stevenson of New York City. The volunteers were to sail around Cape Horn to hold the land acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War and to settle the land by developing farms, ranches and cities. The majority of volunteers picked were young, single tradesmen. Ten companies of men were formed as a result of the recruitment efforts of the company officers. Mustered in at New York in August 1846 were 38 officers and 729 men, 188 additional men joined a month later. The regiment was named the 1st N. Y. Volunteers by the War Department. The regiment was to be a part of the force under General Kearny. The regiment departed New York on September 26, 1846 on three transports. The Thomas E. Perkins, of 697 tons, carried companies B, F and G with Colonel Stevenson. The Loo Choo, of 639 tons, carried companies A, C and K. The Susan Drew, of 701 tons, carried companies D, H and I. Company E was divided between the three ships. The fleet was under the convoy of the U. S. sloop-of-war Preble. Each ship was loaded with arms and munitions for the occupation. The voyage of all the transports was uneventful, except for seasickness.

The Perkins arrived first at San Francisco on March 6, 1847, followed by the Drew on the 19th and the Loo Choo on the 26th. The Preble arrived on April 19th. By this time offensive military operations in California were at an end and General Kearny was at Monterey. Therefore the regiment was put on construction and garrison duty.
Assisting in the occupation of Monterey were companies A, B and D. The Volunteers were garrisoned in Monterey itself in the old Mexican barracks, El Cuartel. With no military operations to keep them busy, the Volunteers amused themselves as best they could by producing amateur minstrel shows and theatricals.
The end of the Mexican War and the discovery of gold in California effectively put an end to any military presence in Monterey. The news of the discovery of gold reached Monterey on May 29, 1848. In a report to the Paymaster General, William Rich stated that on October 23 and 24, 1848 Companies A, B and D of the New York Volunteers were mustered out and that nearly all of Company F of the 3rd Artillery had deserted by that time for the gold fields. One unforeseen result of this mustering out was the creation of Monterey's first theatre. The amateur actors of Stevenson's regiment persuaded a saloonkeeper, Jack Swann, to use his establishment for paid theatricals. The opening performance was "Putnam, or the Iron Son of '76". The ex-Volunteers and some of their wives made up the bulk of the cast and discharged soldiers most of the audience. Tickets were five dollars each and on opening night the
house was packed with an audience of about 95 men and recorded five females of dubious virtue. The war ended on May 30, 1848. The unoccupied men were mustered out on August 7, 1848.
In 1847, a field map by Lieutenant Warner showed Fort Mervine as a diamond-shaped construction, about 650 feet long and 400 feet wide, with ravelins at each corner. The stone house reported by Colonel Mason was shown in the western corner. In June 1849 a traveling artist, William Hutton, sketched the Fort, labeling it the Monterey Redoubt. Hutton's sketches showed two wooden buildings behind a log palisade and an earthwork rampart mounting ten 24-pounders, "5 each face." In August 1852 Company F of the 3rd Artillery departed, leaving the Fort empty of troops but with a considerable number of military stores on hand. The post was designated as the Monterey Ordnance Depot in 1852; the title and function were discontinued in 1856.
On September 15, 1855, Jacques A. Moerenhout wrote that: "the fort of Monterey has been disarmed in part. There were no more than ten pieces of twenty-four, the other ten having been transported to San Francisco. The powder, which has been here for five or six years, deposited under a wooden shed, could serve for no other purpose than for that of saluting. It is going to be transported to Benicia and only the projectiles, the cannon balls, bullets and small shells will remain here." Moerenhout's information was accurate, for most of the guns were soon sent to Benicia Arsenal. A few guns remained, however; two of which can still be seen in front of the Larkin House, thrust muzzle down in the earth and badly rusted. One served as a hitching post, while one on the corner was placed there to keep carriages from cutting the corner too sharply.
On February 17, 1865 the old Fort on the hill was returned to temporary life by the arrival of 6 officers, 156 enlisted men and a surgeon, all under the command of Major C. O'Brien. These were Company G, 6th Infantry and Company B, 1st Battalion, Native Cavalry, both of California volunteers, stationed at Monterey in the closing months of the Civil War. Two log huts were erected at the site of the old Fort to house these troops and the Fort was renamed Ord Barracks. Later occupied by Company B of the 2nd U.S. Artillery, which departed on October 18, 1865, the redoubt was finally abandoned completely in August 1866.
View of Monterey by William R. Hutton in May 1847. To the far right is the berm of the new Fort Mervine and to the left of that is the Mexican El Castillo (Detail). Courtesy of The Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino.
A rendering of Fort Mervine by William R. Hutton in June 1849 shortly after the fort was completed (Detail). There were ten 24-Pounders, five on each face. Note the two chimneys on the blockhouse. Courtesy of the Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino.
"Redoubt of Monterey", Fort Mervine, as drawn by Henry Miller in 1856 (Detail). Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Map of Fort Hill by Lieutenant Warner 1847 showing the Monterey Redoubt (Detail). From A History of the Presidio of Monterey by the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.
A drawing of Fort Mervine and the Town of Monterey by Army Inspector General Joseph Mansfield in 1854. National Archives.

At this time the military reservation consisted of about 158 acres, as established by an executive order of November 23, 1866 and according to Warner's survey. Through an error in a subsequent survey by S. W. Foreman, only about 140 acres were actually occupied. With the departure of the troops, this land was left in the informal charge of a discharged veteran, Francis Doud, sergeant-at-arms of the Constitutional Convention of 1849 and founder of the well-known Doud family of Monterey, with the request that he keep an eye on it. The log barracks eventually disappeared, although the blockhouse lasted into the twentieth century. Eventually only the military cemetery remained, along with the old dug-out jail, or calabozo, of El Castillo, which was still used until the end of the nineteenth century to sober up an occasional drunk.
In the town, El Cuartel continued to deteriorate. In 1875 it was described as a "two-story, ruinous looking adobe building, with a balcony running around it." In 1880 Lady Duffus Hardy wrote that "in the heart of the town there is a long, low range of deserted buildings formerly occupied by the military; the windows are all broken, the worm-eaten doors hang, like helpless cripples, on their hinges, and only the ghostly echo of wind goes wandering through the empty chambers". Shortly after the turn of the century El Cuartel had vanished completely.
Up on the hill overlooking the town, the old fort fared little better. There is a classic Monterey story that about 1890, the Mayor of Monterey, Bob Johnson, wrote the War Department, suggesting that the deserted fort and its lands be given to the city as a park. The return letter from the War Department is supposed to have denied the request but to have thanked the mayor for "calling our attention to our land in Monterey, which we did not know we had". Rather like Isaac Graham's cannonball, however, the story is more colorful than the facts. Somebody in the War Department knew they owned the land because in 1889 a license was issued to the Southern Pacific Railway Company to construct a line of track across the reservation and in 1890 the War Department issued another license to Mrs. Jane L. Stanford to erect a monument to Father Serra on the post.
In 1905 the Sloat Monument was constructed on the site of Fort Mervine as a memorial to those that conquered and settled California.
The American Military Governors of California:
Commodore John D. Sloat July 7, 1846
Commodore Robert F. Stockton July 29, 1846
Lieutenant Colonel John C. Fremont January 19, 1847
General Stephen W. Kearney February 23, 1847
Colonel Richard B. Mason May 31, 1847
General Persifer F. Smith February 28, 1849
General Bennett Riley April 12, 1849
The arrival of the First Regiment of New York Volunteers in 1847 at San Francisco As Rendered in 1847 by William F. Swasey. From the lithograph published in 1886 by the Bosqui Engraving and Printing Company and published in California Pictorial by Jeanne Van Nostrand and Edith M. Coulter 1948, Plate 21 pg. 48. Shown from Left to Right are the Ship Vandalia (C), Coasting Schooner (D), U.S.S. Portsmouth (A), and U. S. Transports Ships, Loo Choo, Susan Drew and Thomas H. Perkins (B). Other Numbers in the Drawing are Identified in the Captions for Plate 21.
Upper, photograph of the Fort Mervine Blockhouse circa 1905. Note the double chimneys in this and the sketch by Hutton in 1849 shown earlier. Photograph taken by L. S. Slevin. Courtesy of the Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino. Lower, photograph of the Mexican El Cuartel in Monterey circa 1890. Courtesy of The Pat Hathaway Collection, Monterey
At the site of Fort Mervine, the Granite Eagle Sculpture by Arthur Putnam sits atop a pedestal, sculpted by Earl Cummings. A granite sculpture below the eagle bears a portrait of Commodore John Drake Sloat. The monument was started in 1886 and dedicated in 1910 to the capture of Monterey on July 7, 1846 by Americans under the command of Sloat. This symbolic monument was a joint effort of the Federal government, the State of California, and the Masonic Order of California. The base is 24 feet square, the number of hours in a day: the base stones are 4 feet long, the number of hours in a sailor's watch and 2 feet wide, the number of hours in a "Dog Watch." There are three layers of stone blocks, representing the fact that Sloat was a Master Mason of the 3rd Degree. The eagle's pedestal is 13 feet high, the number of original states. On September 9, 1850, California was the 31st state to be admitted to the Union and this fact is represented by the total height of the monument-31 Feet. Photograph Courtesy of the Defense Language Institute.
Photograph of Fort Hill in Monterey showing the Sloat Monument on the far right at the original location of Fort Mervine. To the right and below is a cross which marks the location of the founding of the Presidio of Monterey by the Spanish in 1770, and to the far left is a monument to Father Serra Located near the position of El Castillo. Photograph courtesy of the Defense Language Institute.
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Updated 8 February 2016