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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 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 by the sheriff) and rumors circulated that there was a plot to capture Hancock’s stock for the Confederacy. Hancock recruited a few local friends to help him set up a defense around his house and corral to fight off any such attempt.

General Winfield Scott Hancock, between 1860-1870

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

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 secession then a reality, elected to realign himself with the Confederacy. Johnston was joined in Los Angeles by another Army officer and southerner who had also resigned his commission, Captain Lewis A. Armistead. Armistead was Hancock’s counterpart in San Diego and the two had become close friends. Armistead came to bid Hancock farewell and join with Johnston 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.

In June 1861, the 1st Dragoons from Fort Tejon (a force of about 304), 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). However, due to too much dust and too little water, the camp relocated a number of times. It was ultimately abandoned when its units relocated to Camp Latham in present-day Culver City.

The following September, Camp Latham (named for U.S. Sen. Milton S. Latham, who also served as a California's governor) was established on the north side of Ballona Creek, not far from Camp Kellogg (in present-day Culver City at Robertson & Overland). It was garrisoned by units that had been at Camp Fitzgerald and units of the 4th California Infantry Regiment (California volunteers). The camp was abandoned by the end of the year when its units were transferred to Camp Drum.

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, the camp was abandoned after its units deployed with the California Column (see last paragraph below).

After the garrison moved to Camp Latham, Hancock left Los Angeles for the east, reassigned to quartermaster duties for the rapidly growing Union Army. He quickly promoted to brigadier general and ultimately commanded a Union Army corps in the Battle of Gettysburg. Unfortunately, the lives of two separated friends once again came together when Hancock’s forces came face-to-face with a Confederate Army corps commanded by his good friend, Lewis A. Armistead. Armistead’s unfortunate assault on Hancock’s defenders ended not only with a Confederate defeat but also with Armistead’s death from wounds sustained in combat.

On October 1861, Colonel George Wright arrived from Oregon to assume command of the Army Southern District of California in Los Angeles. In January 1862, a new camp was established in present-day Wilmington near the harbor on land provided by local businessman Phineas Banning. It was named Camp New San Pedro. The location was deemed more suitable for a garrison and closer to the harbor in San Pedro. A short time later, the camp moved a mile away to its present location and was renamed Camp Drum (in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Drum, assistant adjutant general of the Department of California). Both Camp Kellogg and Camp Latham were abandoned during 1862 when their remaining units either transferred to Camp Drum or deployed with the California Column to Arizona and New Mexico.

From Camp Drum, the Army garrison often sent details out to locate and arrest local Confederate conspirators. It was also from this post, in April 1862, that James H. 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 to drive out Confederate forces from Texas intent on seizing New Mexico and Arizona territories and then, ultimately, California. The name of Camp Drum was changed to Drum Barracks in 1864. During the war, as many as 7,000 troops were stationed at the camp.

Drum Barracks

Drum Barracks in Wilmington served as U.S. Army Headquarters in the Southwest from 1861 to 1871. Also known as Camp Drum, the post became the primary garrison for the U.S. Army's presence in Southern California. The camp was established in the first year of the American Civil War on 60 acres of land sold to the Army by local businessmen Phineas Banning and B. D. Wilson. Banning, a pro-Union advocate, was an active supporter of 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 the barracks and more than 13,000 Union soldiers were processed there for deployment east. Its military hospital was considered to be the best equipped and staffed medical facility west of the Mississippi River. Drum Barracks was finally decommissioned in 1880s and served for a time as a college campus. The Officer's Quarters are the only surviving structures. It now serves as a Civil War museum.

Drum Barracks, Wilmington, California, 1860s-Retouched

Drum Barracks in Wilmington, California, during the Civil War in a retouched photograph. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection at the 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.

Visit Drum Barracks Civil War Museum, 1052 Banning Blvd, Wilmington 90744; telephone (310) 548-7509

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.