California Milita and National Guard Unit Histories
The Naval Battalion of the National Guard of California
By Major Norman S. Marshall and Sergeant Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History

The importance of a naval presence in California was recognized almost immediately and appropriations were made for the building of the first Pacific coast navy yard; –Vallejo, Mare Island. The Mare Island Navy Shipyard cost the government vast sums of money, and was, perhaps, the most commodious work of its kind for its day. However, the United States naval force in the Pacific was insignificant. In the early 1850's, the United States Navy was still small by any standard. By the 1890's, the fleet was composed of only sixty four ships and nearly one third [21] were an array of wooden ships driven by steam or sail and dating from the Civil War or earlier.

The small size of our fleet in the 1890's and the neglect of our coastal fortifications alarmed commentators who noted the urgency of strengthening our Navy. Congress withstood all such criticisms for years, but in 1888 an appropriation of $5,000,000 was agreed to by the senate for these purposes, but was rejected by the house, which left the state in its former condition of being practically defenseless.

Another problem which plagued the state, was the lack of quick transit between the coasts. In the event of a crisis, the state would be totally vulnerable, which concern was not only shared by the state but by industrialists in the interior who foresaw the engines of industry faltering in the event supplies of foreign materials and goods were interrupted. Though studied since President Ulysses S. Grant's administration, the building of what was then called the Nicaragua Canal [Panama Canal], one solution, would not be completed until August, 1914, a week after the first World War broke out.

Early on, the United States had placed an emphasis on State-controlled naval militia organizations, supplied and assisted by the U.S. Navy Department. Despite this, the need for a strong Naval Reserve was recognized by many Congressional and Naval leaders of the day. Despite the efforts of those who wanted a Reserve force under the operational control of the United States Navy, the politics of the next 30 years dictated a State-controlled naval militia.

California's 1849 Constitution provided authority for the formation of both an "army and navy of this State." However, the formation of a naval militia was not possible until 1891. That year, California, by an act of the Legislature entitled: "An act to establish a naval battalion, to be attached to the National Guard of California," formally authorized the formation of a naval militia. The act, formally approved on March 31, 1891, provided for "four companies of naval militia, which shall constitute a battalion, to be known as the Naval Battalion of the National Guard."

By the end of August, 1891, the first company of naval reserves on the Pacific coast where sworn in, making California one of the first of the Pacific states to muster a naval militia. In little over two months, four companies had been formed, and California finally had a respectable naval militia augmenting the National Guard with a few good men of a sea-faring bent.

On August 23, 1892, B. F. Tracy, Secretary of the Navy, reported that the naval appropriation act, approved July 19, 1892, had the following provision: "For arms and equipment connected therewith for naval militia of various States, under such regulations as the Secretary of the Navy may prescribe, $25,000 ...," thereby providing necessary funding for the equipment of California's newly formed naval militia.

By 1893, the National Guard of California had grown to a total strength of 450 officers and four thousand seven hundred enlisted men. In addition to the afore mentioned force, the Naval Battalion of the National Guard consisted of "four companies of naval militia, with headquarters at San Francisco," with companies stationed as follows: Company A, San Diego; Companies B, C, and D, San Francisco. It had "a total strength of 23 officers and 280 seamen," making it the largest naval militia in the country, exceeding even New York and Massachusetts. The whole of the State's enrolled militia strength now totaled 154,589 men under arms.

By the time of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the regiments and companies of the National Guard of California, including units of the Naval Battalion of the National Guard, were made available for mobilization, serving honorably in said war.

On April 1, 1898, the war with Spain commenced, and on April 23, 1898, the President of the United States issued a call for 125,000 troops, of which California's pro-rata was 3,238 officers and men. California furnished, under this call, two twelve-company regiments (First and Seventh California Volunteer Infantry), one regiment of eight companies (Sixth California Volunteers), and the First Battalion of Heavy Artillery (four batteries), aggregating 3,343 officers and men; and in addition a Signal detachment of 3 officers and 20 men, or 128 more men than her pro-rata; all of the above first call being furnished from the National Guard of California, excepting three batteries of heavy artillery, of which arm of service California had none among her National Guard. The second call for 75,000 troops, issued by the President on May 25, 1898, California furnished one complete regiment (the Eigth California Volunteers) of twelve companies, and 1,294 officers and men, aggregating 2,310 officers, or 367 more officers and men than her pro-rata under the second call, for a total of 495 more officers and men under the first and second calls than the pro-rata required from this State.

In additon to the above mentioned troops furnished to the Army, California furnished 12 officers and 80 men to the United States Auxiliary Naval Forces, for the protection of the Pacific Coast. This made a total of 48 companies furnished by California, of which, 44 companies were taken from the National Guard of this State. As in the past, the militia provided men for the army, and National Guard units were encouraged to volunteer en masse. During this conflict, the National Guard units of the several states provided most of the manpower for the 125,000-man Volunteer Army.

By 1899, the National Guard of California consisted of 46 companies of infantry, 4 troops of cavalry, 1 cadet company, and 3 signal corps –organized into 5 regiments and 4 unattached companies, 3 brigades, and 1 division. In addition to this force, there now existed a battalion of 7 companies of naval militia, with headquarters in San Francisco, Capt. Lois H. Turner, commanding. Divisions of the naval militia were stationed as follows: The First Division, organized September 3, 1891; Second Division, organized September 29, 1891; and, the Engineer Divisions, organized August 30, 1897, were each stationed in San Francisco; the Third Division, organized September 12, 1891, was stationed in San Diego; the Fourth Division, organized December 7, 1895, was stationed in Eureka; and, the Sixth Division, organized on July 10, 1897, was stationed at Santa Barbara. The Naval Battalion's total strength had now grown to consist of 35 officers and 488 seamen. Additionally, the State's enrolled militia now totaled 211,911 able-bodied men.

From its early beginning , the United States relied heavily on California's naval militia as its reserve force. However, it was evident that the naval militias of the several States could not fill the need for a second or innerline of defense in case of a national emergency as they were purely State organizations, organized and controlled by State law. The Federal Government, represented by the Navy Department, had no direct control in the naval militia matters of California. In effect, Congressional appropriations and Navy vessels and equipment were used by the Naval Battalion of the National Guard as the State saw fit. This caused the Secretary of the Navy, George V. L. Meyer, in 1906, to write:

"...Beyond a few men on the retired list, for the most part too old to render effective service, we have no other reserve that the officers and men of the Naval Militia of the several States... we have about 6,000 naval militia organized by the different States bordering on the sea and on the Great Lakes. These small groups, while enthusiastic and generally efficient, are not under central control and training. The formation of a national naval militia, on the lines of the land militia, is a necessity and legislation is required to accomplish this."

By the year 1907, California's Naval Militia had now grown to a total of eight divisions consisting of 52 commissioned officers and 382 enlisted men. Combined, the total forces of the National Guard was 290 commissioned officers and 2,580 enlisted men. The returns of the brigade commanders for the year 1906 showed the number of the enrolled militia to be 260,367.

In 1911, the Department of the Navy submitted to the 61st Congress a draft of a bill embodying its idea for the legal establishment of a naval reserve of officers and men (introduced as S. 7644 and H.R. 24942) entitled: "A bill to provide for a reserve of personnel for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and for its enrollment...". The result was the April 12th, 1914 publication of Navy Department General Order No. 93, which established a Division of Naval Militia Affairs in the Navy Department.

Navy Department General Order No 153, of July 10, 1915, provided the statement that the Navy Department was to: "so organize, arm, uniform, equip the Naval Militia that it may be eligible to be called forth by the President of the United States to serve the United States in the event of war...." Additionally, to encourage former enlisted men of the Navy and Marine Corps to enter the Naval Militia, and so as to avoid interfering with the promotion of enlisted men of the Naval Militia who had no previous Navy or Marine Corps service, the Order further provided:

"Any former enlisted man of the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps who is in good standing in the community and who was honorably discharged will be allowed to enter the Naval Militia without professional examination in any unit of organization or headquarters of a brigade or of a battalion, with such rate or rank as he last held in the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps...."

By 1915, California's Naval Militia was to grow rapidly, but passage of the Naval Militia Act of February 16, 1914, finally gave the Navy Department virtual control of the Naval Militia. On March 3, 1915, the 63rd Congress passed an act providing for a larger Navy and creating the Naval Reserve. What was to follow with the passage of the Naval Act of 1920, in effect, overshadowed the Naval Militia and was soon to be superseded by the U.S Navy and Marine Corps Reserve. Our modern day Navy and Marine Corps Reserves are the successors of their brothers of 100 years ago who essentially were the Reserves for their day. Not just by name, for, in the final analysis, the Naval Battalion of the National Guard and Naval Militia were simply the "Reserves" for their day.

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Updated 8 February 2016