California Militia and National Guard Unit Histories
Sacramento Light Artillery
View of ”Union Boy” cannon and a group of California Militiamen taken during the Civil War at Sacramento's Plaza Park, Sacramento Light Artillery. Circa 1865
Military Unit Designation:
Date of Organization: October 7, 1864
Inclusive dates of units papers: 1864-1881
Geographical Location or Locations: Sacramento City & County

Unit papers on file at the California State Archives

a. Organization Papers none
b. Bonds 4 documents (1865-1879)
c. Correspondence (Unclassified letters) 26 documents (1865-1881)
d. Election Returns 17 documents (1865-1880)
e. Exempt Certificates, Applications for none
f. Muster Rolls, Monthly returns 58 documents (1864-1880)
g. Oaths Qualifications 345 documents (1864-1880)
h. Orders none
i. Receipts, invoices 17 documents (1864-1880)
j. Requisitions 23 documents (1867-1880)
k. Resignations 9 documents (1865-1879)
l. Target Practice Reports 14 documents (1867-1879)
m. Other Public Property, 1 document (1870)
Report of Inspection, 1 document (1880) and Demand of Annual Allowances, 2 documents (1877)
Excerpts from and link to Official History:

"Union Boy" Cannon, circa 1863
The Sacramento Light Artillery: An Archival View
By CPT (CA) Michael D. Fellows
California Center for Military History

Between the granting of California's statehood, in 1850, and the virtual end of local militias, in 1880, the state recognized well over 300 units. With the exception of larger 'ad-hoc' formations during the Civil War, the volunteer militia was organized on a company level with strengths averaging between 50 and 100 men. The general pattern of these units saw most last a few years, with some enduring only a handful of months and some the whole period. Some were centered on common ethnic or social affiliations, and some simply on locality. The wide diversity of patterns is indicative of the lose and ill-defined tenets of these groups. Essentially all that was needed was a small number of citizens willing to sign the petition and first muster rolls, and a few reasonably responsible individuals willing to sign the bonds necessary for the state to release the weapons. In essence, the volunteer units of the California Militia were an informal collection of like-minded persons, that for a variety of reasons, decided to band together and form a military unit. (1)
The Sacramento Light Artillery (SLA) was typical of this haphazard style and these general patterns. Formed at the height of the Civil War in 1864, it lasted, in one form or another, until incorporated into the National Guard of California in 1880. Organized by some of Sacramento's most prominent citizens, its purpose was to back the Northern war effort. Beyond this stated purpose, the goal was probably as much social as anything else. (2)

The historical record of this unit is sketchy. Contemporary histories or first-hand recollections mention the unit in passing. The first 'historical' writing to include a short section on the SLA is the ever fascinating, but not always factual, Thompson and West History of Sacramento County. Its two short paragraphs only list the founding officers and the present officers, as of 1880. The next record of the unit is contained in the 1890 publication, An Illustrated History of Sacramento County, California, edited by Win. J. Davis. This article has only one short paragraph on the SLA, which is essentially a condensed version of the Thompson and West article. (3)

By 1913, the relative importance of the SLA. seems to have increased. William L. Wills' History of Sacramento County still has only two paragraphs on the unit, however; the scope of the information is greatly increased. Not only are the officers listed, but also the basic facts of its founding and all one hundred, and more, of the citizens who signed the original petition for its incorporation. This increased importance attached to the unit may be explained because, although it was then a part of the regular state militia, it was still referred to as the Sacramento Light Artillery in the local press. The trend continued in the 1923 publication of the History of Sacramento County with Biographical Sketches, edited by G. Walter Reed, which contains all the information of the first three sources, combined, and a little more. (4)

However, none of these histories contain much information on the SLA. and most of what is presented is a repeat of previous articles. Relying of the secondary record alone, little exists for the historian. Luckily, a significant amount of the archival record is extent. With the 'transfer' to the California State Archives, by the Adjutant General of the California National Guard, in the 1950's, of the majority of the state militia records, covering the period 1850-1880, a whole range of possibilities exists for research and study of most of the early units, in the state, and particularly the SLA., which has a comparatively extensive record.(5)

These are not complete records and, in any case, provide only a partial picture. However, when these original documents, which are largely organizational, are combined with reasonable assumptions and conclusions, and a degree of knowledge about contemporary military and civilian life, an interesting portrait of an early militia unit emerges. While all of the secondary histories cover the leadership of the SLA. superficially, an examination of the archival records provides a more complete and meaningful picture. Edgar Mills, a prominent early Sacramentan and wealthy banker, was the first captain of the unit. William Siddons, a Mexican War immigrant, Saloon owner, and the owner of 'Union Boy' (the unit's first piece of ordinance), was junior first lieutenant. Wyman McMitchell, D.W. Earl, and H.W. Bragg were other officers. On January 18, 1865, these five signed a bond for $2,500, guaranteeing the uniforms and equipment. So far the pattern which emerged was typical of early militia units, a few prominent and relatively wealthy citizens joined to lead a company and support it with moneys from their own pockets; what happened next was not. On February 28, 1865, both McMitchell and Siddons resigned, not only their offices, but the unit itself. Giving no reasons, their letters of resignation were almost identically worded. Although no other reference is made in the archives to these resignations, this incident probably represented a major disagreement of the leadership with the losers quitting.(6)

The SLA. functioned regardless of these resignations and, in the officer elections of 1865, Samuel S. Montague (the Chief Engineer of the Central Pacific Railroad, who succeeded Theodore Judah) took over the Senior First Lieutenancy of McMitchell. D.W. Earl moved to become Junior First Lieutenant, Siddons' former office. Earl's old office of Senior Second Lieutenant remained vacant. As if to confirm their new offices, Montague and Earl combined with Paul Morrill, in 1866, to sign an increased $10,000 bond for the SLA. This turbulence in the offices of the unit were not, luckily for the membership, typical. (7)

Typically, officers of the SLA. served terms of one or two years. Officers, generally, were elected as a group, with all five being elected as a unit and ending their terms together. The only major exception was Joseph Davis, who was captain of the battery from 1869-1874 and served through two complete administrations. With the exception of the Siddons-McMitchell resignations and the long service of Davis, the pattern of service of officers in the SLA. probably denoted a certain stability in the unit without stagnation and domination by one cliche. (8)

Civilian occupations of officers offered an interesting insight into the changing composition of the unit, and, possibly of the economy in the city. Of the five officers who signed the original muster roles on November 2, 1864, all were independent businessmen, in one form or another. Mills was a banker, McMitchell a freight agent, Siddons a barkeeper, and both Earl and Bragg listed their occupations as merchant. By contrast, in 1880, the last year that the unit was independent, four, and possibly five, of the officers were wage-earners. Jonathan Atwood, the captain, was a carpenter; Eugene Kueneman, the senior first lieutenant, was a train helper; James F. Lucas, the junior first lieutenant, was a train fireman; Charles L. Fonteneau, the senior second lieutenant, was a hatter; and J.N. Williams, the junior second lieutenant, was an engineer. All but Fonteneau were employees of the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR). Considering the common employer of the 1880 officers and the fact that they all joined between 1675 and 1879, when senior partners of the CPRR were still active members, it seems possible that the SLA served as a kind of social and professional 'stepping stone' for these men. While this assumption is unprovable, it is consistent with what we know about social clubs, in general.(9)

The changes in social status reflected in occupations of SLA. officers is also reflected in those of the general membership. On the 1864 muster rolls, of the 86 names listed, some of Sacramento's most prominent early citizens appeared: Samuel S. Montague, the newly named Chief Engineer of the CPRR, was second sergeant; Prescott Robinson, a Justice of the Peace, was fourth corporal; Henry Ramsey, City Constable, was seventh corporal; A.S. Bender, Deputy Surveyor General, a private; William M. Hoag, Under Sheriff, private; C.P. Huntington, a merchant and founding member of the CPRR., private; George Inglis, owner on the Pacific Stables, private; James McClatchy, editor of the Sacramento Daily Bee, private; Paul Morrill, publisher of the Sacramento Daily and Weekly Union, private; J.H. McKune, District Judge, private; J.P. Robinson, Superintendent of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, private; and others. By the signing of the final muster role, in December of 1880, this had changed radically. None of the names on the list was of a prominent citizen.(10)

Taken quantitatively, this change in the nature of the membership is even more apparent. On the 1864 role: thirty two members were merchants or business owners, eight in legal or public service professions, two in senior positions with railroads, two in senior positions with newspapers, five in office or clerical work, nine in manual trades, with the remainder unlisted or unknown. On the 1880 role: only one member was a major businessman, one a skilled professional in public service, one an artist, one an office worker, one a salesman, fourteen were skilled manual laborers, six unskilled laborers, with a much larger percentage unlisted or unknown. Certainly, what was a fairly exclusive organization in 1864 had, by 1880, become much less so. The explanation for this shift in the membership cannot be explained in terms of Sacramento's changing demographics alone; possibly it lies in the same sort of mechanism at work with the officer cadre. Surely, this would not be the first, not the last, time an exclusive organization was infiltrated by those wishing to climb the social ladder.(11)

The last major area of the archival record, equipment and its usage, offered little information of value. However, some interesting insights appeared when it was read as an indirect indication of the units performance. The SLA's first piece of ordinance was William Siddon's 'Union Boy'. Bought prior to the unit's formation, it was used long after he left the group for ceremonial purposes. After the bonds were signed for equipment in early 1865, the unit was issued two six-pound brass guns and two twelve-pound howitzers. Ammunition was always a problem, the unit never Carried more than one hundred rounds, on its yearly inventory, for all four guns and often less than fifty. The outcome of this lack of ammunition was that target practice was engaged in only once a year, and usually with disappointing results. In 1867, for example, the two six-pounders were used on a 9 by 8 foot target at a range of 670 yards with only 11 balls, out of 56, piercing it. By 1869, the unit had increased target size to 10 by 8 feet and decreased the range to 620 yards. Not surprisingly, marksmanship improved to 39 hits, out of 70 shots. Subsequently, the unit moved the target even closer, to 600 yards; unfortunately, accuracy was not helped, only 3 of 52 shots hit the mark. This was explained as because of "Heavy wind". By 1876, the SLA. had found the answer to the marksmanship problem. The target was moved to only 400 yards and, again, not surprisingly, accuracy improved to almost fifty percent.(12)

The detrimental effects of a lack of, or poor, equipment were displayed in other areas. Uniforms, especially, and harness equipage, for the limbers, wore-out quickly and was often not replaced or replaced only belatedly. The unit fought a constant battle, more fierce than any they ever fought on the field, just to keep adequately equipped. This was particularly noticeable near the end, when the social and economic composition had changed enough to make it difficult for the collective pockets of the unit to compensate for. The equipment problems, alone, would have rendered the unit of questionable fighting value.(13)

The records in the California State Archives, then, offered some interesting insights into the Sacramento Light Artillery. A unit formed during the height of the American Civil War by prominent and, relatively, wealthy individuals, its secondary, perhaps primary, purpose was social. It may well have served this social role by allowing later members the illusion of social mobility that went with membership. It was never a fully functional, nor potentially valuable, military unit and one wonders whether it was ever intended to be. However, it was probably, and unfortunately, typical of many such units in the state at the time. It was indicative of the major faults and weaknesses of the loosely organized and poorly prepared volunteer militia units of the mid-19th Century. One hopes that the current military hierarchy of the state has learned from the example.
M1840 Light Artillery Saber proportedly issued to the Sacramento Light Artillery


1 Dello G. Dayton. The California Militia, 1850-1866. (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California-Berkeley, 1951), passim.
2 Ibid, p. 212.
3 Thompson and West. History of Sacramento County. (Oakland: Thompson and West, 1880), pp. 201-204. and Win. J. Davis, ed. An Illustrated History of Sacramento County, California. (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1890), pp. 76-79.
4 William L. Wills. History of Sacramento County. (Los Angeles: Historic Record Co., 1913), pp. 369-370. and G. Walter Reed. History of Sacramento County with Biographical Sketches. (Los Angeles: Historic Record Co., 1923), pp. 223-226.
5 Records of Sacramento Light Artillery. 1864-1880. California State Militia Papers. Bin 3414:1. California State Archives, Sacramento.
6 Ibid. and Anonymous. Sacramento City Directory. (Sacramento: n.p., 1865 and 1880), passim.
7 Ibid. and Ibid, passim
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid. and Directory, passim.
10 lbid. and Ibid, passim.
11 Ibid. and Ibid, passim.
12 Ibid.
13 lbid.


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Updated 8 February 2016