COMPANY C, 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry, Union Army, Civil War

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COMPANY C, California Native Cavalry Volunteers

  • organized at Santa Barbara and were ordered to Drum Barracks, District of Southern California, August 10, 1864;
  • held duty at Drum Barracks, District of Southern California, until May, 1865;
  • assigned to duty in District of Arizona May, 1865, and operating against Indians in that District till April, 1866;
  • Mustered out April 2, 1866.

Among the at least 85 men in Santa Barbara who enlisted in Company C, those who had worked on the ranches on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands include:

More than 16,000 Californians served as soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War. One California unit, the 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry, consisted largely of Californio Hispanic volunteers from the “Cow Counties” of Southern California and the Central Coast. Out-of-work vaqueros who enlisted after drought decimated the herds they worked, the Native Cavalrymen lent the army their legendary horsemanship and carried lances that evoked both the romance of the Californios and the Spanish military tradition. Californio Lancers, the first detailed history of the 1st Battalion, illuminates their role in the conflict and brings new diversity to Civil War history.

Author Tom Prezelski, in his book, Californio Lancers, notes that the Californios, less than a generation removed from the U.S.-Mexican War, were ambivalent about serving in the Union Army, but poverty trumped their misgivings. Despite a desertion rate among enlisted men that exceeded 50 percent for some companies, and despite the feuds among its officers, the Native Cavalry was the face of federal authority in the region, and their presence helped retain the West for the Union during the rebellion. The battalion pursued bandits, fought an Indian insurrection in northern California, garrisoned Confederate-leaning southern California, patrolled desert trails, guarded the border, and attempted to control the Chiricahua Apaches in southern Arizona.

In the News~

March 26, 2013 [Independent]: “ California was a state of divided loyalties when the Civil War began in April 1861, and Santa Barbara reflected this. The decade of the 1850s had seen growing ethnic tension and political conflict between elements of the Californio population and the growing number of American settlers. In October 1861, four prominent Santa Barbarans sent a letter to the U.S. commander in Los Angeles stating that “the safety of loyal citizens of the United States residing in the county of Santa Barbara is in great peril. … Indeed, some Americans are avowed friends of the rebels, and do much to inflame the native Californians and Mexicans. Nonetheless, California and Santa Barbara would remain in the Union fold. One staunch local supporter of the North was José de la Guerra, patriarch of one of the state’s most prominent Californio families. Early in 1864, his youngest son, Antonio María de la Guerra, took it upon himself to call for volunteers for service in the Union cause. So was formed in Santa Barbara Company C of the First Battalion of the Native California Cavalry. Antonio María was made captain of the 99-man detachment, his nephew Santiago was first lieutenant, and Juan de la Guerra was appointed first sergeant and translator for the Spanish-speaking rank and file. Another nephew was made second lieutenant. Mustered in July, by September the company was stationed at Drum Barracks in Wilmington just south of Los Angeles. The Anglo post commander did not think much of Californio troops, so the superb horsemen of Company C were put to work digging ditches for an irrigation project and guarding water tanks at San Pedro. Finally, in the spring of 1865, orders came down to put the Native California Cavalry on the march — not against Confederates but rather Apaches in the Arizona desert. Due to further delays, Company C did not start on the long, dry, dusty march to Fort Mason just north of the Mexican border until September. Once there, inaction again became the order of the day for Company C. Although Apaches were sighted from time to time from a distance, the Indians remained frustratingly elusive. Meanwhile, conditions at the fort were miserable: Supplies were scarce, equipment was in poor shape, and disease became a problem. The Civil War had ended in the spring of 1865, and in January of the following year, the battalion began its long journey home for disbandment. Company C made its way to Baja California, where it took ship for San Francisco. The company was mustered out in April. Despite a tour of duty that had lacked in martial glory, upon arriving home in Santa Barbara, the troop was honored with a tumultuous welcome, punctuated by music, dancing, fireworks, bullfighting, and a parade. During two years of service, two members of the company had died, both from respiratory illnesses. Additionally, the health of Captain de la Guerra was permanently broken. Treated with injections of mercury, he was blind by 1874 and died at age 56 in 1881. The last surviving member of the Native California Cavalry died in 1945 — First Sergeant Juan de la Guerra of Santa Barbara’s own Company C.”