Most Americans may associate the Civil War with historic Eastern battle sites like Gettysburg, Atlanta or Richmond, but California and Los Angeles both played key roles. Here are two interesting Civil War sites to visit in Los Angeles and one site just outside the city.
The Civil War in Los Angeles
After becoming a state in 1850, Californians originally voted themselves to be two states, one Northern and one Southern. The Federal government refused and the state joined the Union as a single state. After the war broke out, Confederate troops from Texas started heading West, claiming the Arizona Territory for themselves. The Confederate troops had been ordered to attack California and seize San Francisco and the gold mining areas nearby. The Federal government took immediate action to shore up the Western defenses and sent troops, from Los Angeles, to meet the approaching rebels, stopping their progress in 1862. During the war, the city served as the headquarters for the Union Army for all of California and the Arizona Territory and some of that history remains.
Drum Barracks Civil War Museum
The Drum Barracks Civil War Museum (1052 Banning Blvd. Wilmington, CA 90744) is housed in an original Civil War building that was one of 22 structures built as the Union Army headquarters for California and the Arizona Territory. The 8,000 Union soldiers who stopped the Western progress of the Confederate troops came from these barracks and over 17,000 California volunteers would eventually serve the country. The entire base was formerly 60 acres and each of the barracks buildings held a company of about 100 men.
Visitors get to see how the regular soldiers and the officers lived, along with some exhibits of weapons and uniforms. The museum schedules regular historic events, like lectures, reenactments and Civil War musical performances. Public tours are given Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10 A.M. and 11:30 A.M. and on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 A.M. and 1:00 P.M. and the museum is closed Monday and Friday. Visitors must be on a public tour, for which a $5 donation is requested. The museum in in Wilmington, near the port of Los Angeles about 20 minutes from Downtown.
The Banning Museum
Also in the Wilmington area, the Banning Museum (401 East M Street Wilmington, CA 90744) is the residence and property of Phineas Banning . He was a key part of the Union war efforts in Los Angeles. He and a partner donated the land to the U.S. Government to build a permanent military base here, the Drum Barracks. Banning had financial motives as well, it was his company that supplied those new bases and handled the shipping of goods there, while also keeping the city in Union hands, which was friendly to Banning’s business. After the war, the land reverted to Banning, who made a huge profit from its eventual sale. Banning was also known as the “Father of Los Angeles Harbor” as after the war he helped lead the construction of a true deep water, man-made harbor that could handle the growth in commerce that would soon come.
Banning’s 23-room residence and the surrounding 20 acres of parkland are owned by the City of Los Angeles and visitors can step inside the world of Victorian Los Angeles by walking through the 18 restored rooms. The museum also stages various educations and entertaining events to share Civil War history with the public. The museum offers tours Tuesday through Thursday at 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 and adds a 3:30 tour on Saturdays and Sundays. There is a suggested donation of $5.
Although located about 70 miles north of the city, Fort Tejon (off Interstate 5 in Lebec, CA) is another Civil War site in Southern California and worth visiting, especially on a trip north to San Francisco. The fort was established in 1854 to deal with the Native Americans in the area, protecting the friendly tribes and defending settlers against the unfriendly ones. The fort did have troops stationed there during the Civil War and was an important part of the supply chain for the state’s defense. Adult admission is $3, with higher admission during reenactments and special events.
Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog travel4people.com. In the past six months, he has visited Turkey, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia and Canada and just returned from Peru. You can follow him on Twitter @thefredsherman
More from this contributor:
Great Golf Getaways: Indian Wells, California
Southern California Harley Rental Guide
Camping in the Dry Tortugas National Park