When the Civil War Came to San Diego

As for San Diego County, in 1859, by a vote of 207-24, voters overwhelmingly supported the idea of splitting the state into two, with Southern California becoming the Territory of Colorado. There was talk that the new territory might cozy up to the slave states, but the war snipped the plan in the bud.

Union troops were more than a little suspicious when they ran into a group of 16 men traveling east through San Diego’s backcountry in the early days of the Civil War. The men declared they were peaceful miners, but they each packed a rifle and a pair of revolvers instead of shovels and picks.

Most of them were Southerners, and their leader, a red-headed Confederate sympathizer named Dan Showalter, was famous. A few months earlier, this “fascinating and baffling character” had fired a bullet straight into a fellow state legislator’s mouth at 40 paces. Now, he was heading east to slaughter Yankees.

This confrontation — near the landmark Dudley’s Bakery in Santa Ysabel where modern-day drivers grab loaves of date nut raisin bread on the way home from Julian — wasn’t destined to be bloody. Showalter’s gory end was still to come, just not that day in 1861. But the story of his collusion with the enemy shines a light on how the Golden State was mightily divided over the Civil War, so much so that the Union sought to derail the “underground railroad” of Confederate sympathizers heading east to fight the North.

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