‘We Have Been and Are Yet Secessionist’ – Los Angeles When the Civil War Began

In April 1862, County Undersheriff Andrew King was arrested at his office by a troop of cavalry for the use of “treasonable expressions,” cheering for Jefferson Davis, and displaying a large portrait of Confederate General Beauregard. After taking an oath of loyalty that he regarded as meaningless, King was released, as every man arrested in Los Angeles for treasonable activity during the Civil War would be.

The shelling of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor started on Friday, April 12, 1861. The Civil War had begun.

In Los Angeles, where the news would arrive almost two weeks later, an Army captain – sole representative of the United States military – waited in an adobe warehouse at the edge of the city. Army muskets, ammunition, and cavalry sabers had been hidden under sacks of oats and flour. He had shown his wife where the pistols were kept. Together, they would make some defense of the Army’s stores when the secessionist “Monte boys” came to take them.

Captain Winfield Scott Hancock expected that a raid on his warehouse would start the annexation of Southern California to the secessionist cause. He believed that many Angeleños would welcome it.

The decomposition of the United States into northern and southern factions had been driven partly by California statehood in 1850. Admission of California as a “free soil” state (whose constitution outlawed slavery[i]) destabilized the balance of political power in Congress. The effects rippled through the decade, hastening the collapse of the Whig Party, putting secessionist and unionist Democrats at odds, and allowing new parties – the Know Nothings and the Republicans – to contend for federal offices.

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