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They Learned in California - Generals and Admirals of the Civil War
A number of Civil War Personalities had California connections, though not all were celebrated as Californians.
John C. Fremont (1813-1890) had the most direct and expansive role in California.. In 1842, as a young Lieutenant of Topographical Engineers, Fremont explored and surveyed an overland route from Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean. His reports and newspaper publicity gave him national visibility and he became acclaimed at the “Pathfinder”.
Fremont played a critical behind the scenes role in the Bear Revolt, then commanded a battalion of California Volunteers (with the rank of major) in the early days of the war with Mexico. After the American occupation of California then Col. Fremont was appointed acting governor of California by Commodore Stockton.
After the war Fremont settled in California and was elected one of the new state’s first senators (he served from Sept.9-1850 to March 3, 1851). At the time of the Civil War Fremont had been retired from the army for over a decade but was one of the most prominent former officers in the country. Lincoln was under pressure to appoint him to a significant position in the army.
Philip St. George Cooke (1809-1895) was a West Point graduate and professional army officer whose introduction to California came when he was took command of the famous Mormon Battalion in 1846. He shepherded this unit’s five hundred soldiers from Santa Fe to San Diego where he arrived on January 19, 1847. Cooke went on to fight in the Mexican American War. He stayed in the army where he received the prestigious assignment to be an official U.S. observer in the Crimean War (1853-56).
Col. Cooke was one of the professionals who the army turned to for leadership when war with the south became inevitable.
JOSEPH WARREN REVERE (1812-1880), the grandson of Paul Revere, was in the U.S. Navy at the time of the outbreak of hostilities with Mexico. He was the young officer who raised the stars and stripes over the town plaza at Sonoma for the first time. He also was involved in the U.S. capture of Monterey.
Revere published a book about his experiences out west, entitled A Tour of Duty in California. He resigned from the navy in 1850, and traveled extensively. Because of his illustrious name and previous military service he was an obvious candidate for service in the Civil War.
Another young navy lieutenant who played a prominent role in the takeover of California was STEVEN CLEGG ROWAN (1805-1890). Executive officer of the USS Cyane. Rowan raised the American flag over the plaza of San Diego on July 29. 1846.
Lt. Rowan saw extensive service during the Mexican War. During blockade duty in the Gulf of California twenty Mexican vessels were captured. He commanded the naval brigade at the U.S. victories of San Gabriel and La Mesa in January of 1847, and led a expedition in to the interior of Mexico.
Rowan, who was promoted to Commander in 1855, was still on active duty at the outbreak of the Civil War, in charge of the steam sloop Pawnee.
The man who emerged as one of the most famous Civil War Generals, WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN (1820-1891) was a young lieutenant and artillery officer in the Mexican War. He served in California from 1847-50 as adj. general under various military governors. The house he occupied in Monterey is now an historic site. After resigning from the service, Sherman returned to California in 1853 to become a partner in the banking firm of Lucas, Turner & Co. in San Francisco.
At the outbreak of hostilities, all of these men became involved in the conflict.
Philip St. George Cooke was already on active duty at the outbreak of hostilities. He was commissioned a Brigadier General in the regular army on Nov. 12, 1861.
Gen. Cooke participated in the Peninsula Campaign then served in a series of staff positions throughout the remainder of the war. He is remembered not so much for what he did but for his families divided loyalties. His son became a Confederate general and one of his daughters married J.E.B. Stuart. In early 1854 General Cooke was given the brevet appointment of Major General in recognition of his war service. After the end of the Civil War he retired from the army after fifty years of service.
Joseph Warren Revere was appointed Colonel of 7th New Jersey in September 1861. He saw service in the Peninsula Campaign and Antietam. In October 1862 he was appointed Brigadier. General and commanded a brigade at the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. He was court-martialed for marching to the rear during the battle and resigned his commission in August 1863.
At the beginning of the war Commander Rowan was commissioned a Captain (and named Commodore in 1862). Commodore Rowan saw active duty throughout the war from the first naval engagement through successful campaigns along the Confederate Coast. He was made a Rear Admiral on July 25, 1866 and continued to serve his country for another twenty years.
William Tecumseh Sherman rejoined the Army as Colonel in 1861, but was rapidly promoted to Brigadier General. In the spring of 1864 General Sherman was made supreme commander of the armies in the West.
On September 1, 1864, Sherman’s troops captured the city of Atlanta and within two months began his infamous March to the Sea. After the war Sherman was commissioned Lieutenant General in the regular army and, when Ulysses S. Grant became President of the United States, was given command of the entire U.S. Army. He retired in 1883.
The man who had the largest public persona had a short and mediocre Civil War career. John Fremont was one of the first individuals appointed a major general by President Abraham Lincoln in May 1861, and placed in command of the Western District, based in St. Louis.
He was removed from that office after refusing to modify a proclamation declaring martial law in Missouri, ordering that secessionist property be confiscated and their slaves emancipated. . Because of the political influence of his family (his wife was the daughter of former Senate leader Thomas Hart Benton) Fremont was given a second chance to participate in the war and appointed head of the Mountain Department. Stonewall Jackson roundly defeated Fremont twice during his successful Shenandoah Valley Campaign. When Fremont was then placed in a subordinate position to a former subordinate, John Pope he resigned from the army and did not see service again in the Civil War.