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Civil War Camps and Barracks in Los Angeles County

Drum Barracks during the Civil War

1863 officer's quarters at Drum Barracks in Wilmington, Los Angeles, 2008. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles via CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL & Wikimedia Commons.

When the American Civil War broke out in April 1861, the entire U.S. military presence in the Los Angeles area consisted of a single soldier, Captain Winfield Scott Hancock (later a Union Army General in command of an Army corps in the Battle of Gettysburg and presidential candidate in 1880). His post was as Army quartermaster of an army depot containing a local stock of military arms, ammunition and supplies on the edge of town. There was considerable sympathy for the Confederacy in Los Angeles (including the Los Angeles County Sheriff) and rumors circulated of a plot to capture Hancock’s stock for the Confederacy. Hancock recruited a few local friends to help set up a defense around his house and corral to fight off any such attempt.

Winfield Hancock's Headquarters, Circa 1880

Winfield Scott Hancock's headquarters, old adobe on South Main Street, Los Angeles, circa 1880. Photo courtesy California State Library.

That May, Hancock’s commander, Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, who had commanded the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific since the previous December, resigned his commission because his adopted home state Texas had seceded. Johnston had already moved his family a month earlier to Los Angeles, where his wife’s brother, John Griffith, lived. Johnston was initially opposed to secession, but, with it then a reality, elected to realign himself with the Confederacy. Johnston was joined in Los Angeles by another army officer and southerner, Captain Lewis A. Armistead,who had also resigned his commission. Armistead was Hancock’s counterpart in San Diego and the two had become close friends. Armistead came to Los Angeles to say farewell to Hancock and, with Johnston, join the Los Angeles Mounted Rifles, a private pro-Confederacy militia planning to march eastward to join the fight in Texas. Johnston and Armistead later both ended up losing their lives in the war.

General Winfield Scott Hancock, between 1860-1870

General Winfield Scott Hancock, photograph sometime between 1860-1870. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In June 1861, the 1st Regiment of U.S. Dragoons from Fort Tejon (a force of about 304, renamed two months later to 1st Regiment of U.S. Cavalry), under orders from the War Department, arrived in Los Angeles. The unit, commanded by Major James Henry Carleton, set up camp near Hancock’s depot, naming it Camp Fitzgerald (named for Brevet Major Edward H. Fitzgerald, 1st Dragoons, who died in 1860). Due to too much dust and too little water, however, the camp had to relocate a number of times. It was ultimately abandoned when its units relocated to Camp Latham in present-day Culver City.

In September, 1861, Camp Latham (named for U.S. Senator Milton S. Latham, who also served as California's governor) had been established on the north side of Ballona Creek (in present-day Culver City at Robertson & Overland). It was garrisoned by U.S. Cavalry units that had been at Camp Fitzgerald and units of the 4th California Infantry Regiment (California volunteers). A month later, Colonel George Wright arrived from Oregon to assume command in Los Angeles of the Army Southern District of California. By the end of 1861, all but two companies of the original 1st Dragoons had been transferred from the Pacific coast to Washington, D.C.

After the U.S. Army Dragoons moved to Camp Latham, Hancock departed Los Angeles for the east, being reassigned to quartermaster duties for the rapidly growing Union Army. He promoted rapidly to brigadier general and ultimately commanded a Union Army corps. Unfortunately, the old story of two separated friends facing against one another in civil war came to pass when Hancock’s forces faced the Confederate Army corps commanded by his good friend, Lewis A. Armistead in the Battle of Gettysburg. Armistead’s assault on Hancock’s defenders (as part of the famous "Pickett's Charge") ended not only with a disastrous Confederate defeat but also Armistead’s death from combat wounds.

In January 1862, units of the California 5th Infantry Regiment (California Volunteers) established a camp not far from Camp Latham in Willow Grove, on the south side of Ballona Creek (also in present-day Culver City). The new camp was named Camp Kellogg (named for Regimental commander Colonel John Kellogg). Before the end of the year, that camp was abandoned after its units deployed with the California Column (see third paragraph that follows).

In January 1862, a new camp was established in present-day Wilmington on land provided by local businessman who had lobbied for a strong presence of federal troops. It was initially named Camp New San Pedro. The location was deemed more suitable for a garrison and closer to the harbor in San Pedro. Camp Lathem was abandoned when Army Southern District of California headquarters and all remaining units there moved to the new camp. A short time later, the Camp New San Pedro moved a mile away and was renamed Camp Drum (in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Drum, assistant Adjutant General of the Department of the Pacific). Thereafter, during 1862, both Camp Kellogg and Camp Latham were abandoned when their remaining units either transferred to Camp Drum or deployed with the California Column (see following paragraph).

From Camp Drum, army details were often sent out to locate and arrest Confederate conspirators in the Los Angeles area. It was also from this post, in April 1862, that James Henry Carleton (then promoted to Colonel) led what is believed the longest and most difficult march of the Civil War, when he marched the California Column (a force of 2,300 California volunteers) into Arizona and New Mexico and successfuly drove out invading Confederate forces from Texas, intent on seizing New Mexico and Arizona territories and, ultimately, California. In 1864, Camp Drum was renamed to Drum Barracks. At its peak, during the war, as many as 7,000 Union troops were stationed at the post.

Drum Barracks, Wilmington, Circa 1865

Drum Barracks encampment, showing tents, Wilmington, circa 1865. Photo from the California Historical Society Collection at USC Library.

In March 1862, New Camp Carleton (named for James Henry Carleton of the 1st U.S. Dragoons) was established four miles northeast of El Monte by the 1st California Cavalry. The garrison moved there from San Bernardino, due to flooding at their former camp, and continued to maintain federal order over a hotbed of secessionist sentiment in seastern Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County. At the end of the war, in 1865, the camp was closed.

Drum Barracks

Drum Barracks, Wilmington, California, 1860s-Retouched

Drum Barracks in Wilmington, California, during the Civil War, 1860s, in a retouched photograph. From the California Historical Society Collection at USC Library.
Note the Arabian camel in the center. The retouch artist mistakenly added a second hump to the camel. During the 1850s, then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (later President of the Confederacy) imported camels from Arabia for hauling Army freight through the desert.

Drum Barracks in Wilmington served as U.S. Army Headquarters in the Southwest from 1862 to 1871. Originally named Camp Drum, the post became the primary garrison for the U.S. Army's presence in Southern California. The 60 acres of land for the camp was obtained by the army in the first year of the American Civil War, in 1861, from local businessmen Phineas Banning and B. D. Wilson. Banning was pro-Union and strongly advocated for the presence of federal troops in Los Angeles because of strong pro-Confederate sentiments in the area (a majority of migrants to Los Angeles came from southern U.S. states). More than $1 million was spent on construction of barracks and other buildings (22 buildings in all) and more than 13,000 Union soldiers were processed there for deployment eastward. Its military hospital was considered to be the best equipped and staffed medical facility west of the Mississippi River. After the war, in 1871, the post was abandoned when its last remaining troops were transferred to Fort Yuma in Arizona. In 1873, Banning and Wilson obtained most of the property back through auction. Later that year, Wilson donated 10 acres of the former army post to the Methodist Church for the purpose of establishing a college. The college, named Wilson College, opened in 1874 as the first coeducational college west of the Mississippi River. Although the college was a success, the Methodist Church closed Wilson College in favor of a larger school, established in 1880, on 348 donated acres closer to Los Angeles. That school was the University of Southern California.

In 1967, advocated for by local preservationists, the State of California stepped in to purchase the Drum Barracks property as a historic site. In 1986, it was turned over to the City of Los Angeles. The Officer's Quarters building at Drum Barracks remains the only surviving structure and now serves as the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum.

Visit Drum Barracks Civil War Museum, 1052 Banning Blvd, Wilmington, CA 90744

Santa Catalina Isthmus Civil War Barracks

Isthmus Yacht Club, Santa Catalina Island

Isthmus Yacht Club, Santa Catalina Island. Photo courtesy of Google Maps, Copyright 2018 Google.

The Isthmus of Catalina Island, also known as Two Harbors, is the narrowest section of the island. Silver, lead and zinc mining operations took place there in the 1860s. In 1863, the U.S. Army stationed a small garrison of troops in the middle of the isthmus to guard the island from Confederate privateers (some maintain that the Army was there on behalf of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to survey the island as a possible reservation for rebellious Native Americans from Humboldt County). Upon the Army's arrival, all civilian inhabitants were ordered to vacate the island within two months. Some miners and ranchers, however, had lived on the island for more than decade. The Army later rescinded this order and allowed civilian residents to remain subject to certain conditions. Today, the Union Army barracks building remains and is now home to the Isthmus Yacht Club.


Also see: Past & Present Military Installations in Los Angeles County