Occupation of San Diego and the
Founding of Fort Stockton
by Justin Ruhge
Colonel John C. Fremont sailed from Monterey
with his battalion of about 150 men in the Cyane on July 26,
1846. He reached San Diego on the 29th and landed there and raised
the flag without opposition. After a week of preparations, the
battalion started northward on August 8 leaving a garrison of
13 men under Lieutenant Ezekiel Merritt. These were soon joined
by John Bidwell and his men who had been left by Fremont to garrison
the San Luis Rey Mission. They at first abandoned San Diego but
decided to return and retake the town. Two of the brass cannon
at Fort Guijarros that were spiked by the crew of the Alert in
1842 were cleared and dragged to the old town by the men. The
firing of the guns and the attack of the Americans drove the
Mexican troops out. Merritt sent for help to San Pedro where
the Navy ship Savannah was located. The U. S. Navy chartered
the whaler Magnolia, of New Bedford, Mass. Lt. George Minor,
two midshipmen, including Robert C. Duval, and thirty-five sailors
and fifteen Volunteers were ordered to San Diego to aid Merritt.
This party arrived on October 16 at San Diego.
Duval kept a log of the actions at San
Diego as a part of the log of the ship Savannah. "The first
two or three weeks were employed in getting guns from the old
fort and mounting them in our barracks which was situated in
the west end of the town on the edge of the bank bounding the
plane and convenient to water, our forces being weak to admit
of being divided, in occupying the hill or east end of the town,
the enemy frequently visiting that end of the town by night and
appeared to be content to appear on the hill and firing into
us at long distance, especially when our flag was hoisted and
lowered, but always avoiding our efforts to engage them and as
they were mounted, of course, the distance allowed between us
was left entirely to their own wishes, in addition to our barracks
we carried adobes from the town and built two bastions at the
two corners commanding the town and the plane in the rear, in
which we mounted six brass nine pounders from the old fort."
From this narrative, we learn that the cannon that had been abandoned
by the Mexicans in the sand at Fort Guijarros were removed from
that location and moved to a redoubt at the edge of "old
town". These Americans defended the San Diego location for
about 40 days before receiving new reinforcements. In that time
about 100 Mexican mounted lancers and sharpshooters, under the
command of Captain Santiago E. Arguello, harassed them. This
enemy was camped behind the ruins of the old abandoned Presidio
This situation changed for the better
when on October 31, the ship Congress under the command of Commodore
Stockton, rounded Point Loma and landed Captain Gillespie with
forty Marines and California Volunteers. At this point the Mexicans
attacked the Barracks before the reinforcements could arrive
but were driven off. Stockton ordered that a fort be constructed
on the hill above the ruins of the Presidio where a redoubt had
been started in 1838 when San Diegans prepared for an offensive
from Los Angeles during the civil conflict between the forces
supporting Juan Bautista Alvarado and those backing Carlos Carrillo.
The American fort was called Fort Stockton. Midshipman Duvall
again takes a description of these events from the log of the
Savannah: "The Commodore now commenced to fortify the hill
which over looked the town by building a Fort constructed by
placing 300 Gallon casks full of sand close together, 30 yards
by 20 square throwing a Bank of earth and small gravel up in
Front as high as the top of the casks and running a ditch around
the whole. In the inside a ball proof house was built out of
plank lining the inside with adobe, on top of which a swivel
was mounted. A strong gate having a drawbridge in front guarded
the entrance; the whole fortification was completed in about
3 weeks. Guns mounted and everything complete not withstanding
the plank, etc. had to be carried by the men near a mile and
the ditch cut through a solid strata of gravel and rock, with
but indifferent tools to do it with. It is a monument of the
most excessive hard labor our forces have as yet performed and
notwithstanding they were on short allowance of beef and wheat
for a time without bread tea sugar or coffee, many destitute
of shoes but few complaints were made." The cannon from
the Barracks, earlier from Fort Guijarros, were hauled up to
The construction of this Fort and the
arrival of more Marines helped to calm the Mexicans in Old Town
San Diego. An added inducement was "Stockton's band"
composed of thirty-seven Italians paid for by the Commodore and
sailing with him on the frigate Congress. Every evening they
placed themselves around the flagstaff on the plaza in Old Town
and played and supplied the music for the "Bandini bailes".
This was the first time that the Mexicans in San Diego had heard
a band perform.
The Mormon Battalion under Lieutenant
Cooke with its 500 men arrived at San Diego in late January 1847.
General Kearny assigned the San Diego Fort and surrounding area
to the Mormons with their headquarters at the Mission buildings.
This was followed by Military Order No. 3, from Lieutenant Cooke
dated March 15, 1847. Captain Jesse D. Hunter in command of Company
B of the Mormon Battalion marched on that day to San Diego to
garrison the town and provide all the defenses of the surrounding
Upon his leaving for Monterey in February,
Commodore Stockton ordered the dismantling of Fort Stockton.
The cannon were to be dropped into the deepest part of the bay.
However, there is evidence that this did not happen or not right
away. Moving cannon is no easy task and unless it was sternly
pursued, it probably would not happen. We know from Bigler's
Diary notes that five cannon were fired on the Fourth of July,
1847. Apparently, they were not yet in the" deepest part
of the bay." When or if the Fort was dismantled is not known.
The Mormons were replaced at discharge
with Company I of the New York Volunteers, under the command
of Captain Shannon on December 28, 1847. This group remained
until the end of the war when they were mustered out on August
25, 1848 thus ending the military occupation of San Diego.
References: Midshipman Duvall's
Log of the Savannah, 1846-7, San Diego Historical Society Library;
History of California, Vol. V, Hubert H. Bancroft, 1886; Clark's
Point, Ann Clark Hart, 1937; The History of San Diego, Silver
Dons, Richard F. Pourade, 1963.
An artist's rendering of
the construction of Fort Stockton in 1846 on the hill above the
ruins of the Spanish Presidio. From The History of San Diego,
Silver Dons, pg. 93, by Richard F. Pourade. From the Collection
of The James S. Copley Library, La Jolla.
The San Diego Mission became
the Headquarters of the American Army in 1847 with the occupation
by the Mormon Battalion. Sketch probably made by H. M. T. Powell.
From the Continent Stereoscopic Company. Courtesy of the San
Diego Historical Society, San Diego. Photo No. 81:9208.
Note the reference
to Fort Stockton, top, and center, in this 1850 survey map of
San Diego U.S. Military Depot, established at New San Diego.
1853 Survey Map of San Diego
showing the Old Town. Fort Stockton is still noted as an active
site. There are no known records as to it actually being dismantled.
Also note ruins of the old Mexican Presidio to the north of Fort
Stockton. A Detail of the original National Archives drawing.
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