San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco

Armory Hall.PART THIRD.  Independent Military Organizations.

Immediately after the excitement into which the town of San Francisco was thrown by the capture, trial, and expulsion of the notorious “Hounds,” had in a measure subsided, some of the most prominent citizens, dreading a recurrence of like scenes, conceived the idea of organizing a permanent volunteer military company, to aid the legal officers in the maintenance of order and personal security. The proposal met a ready acquiescence, and in the early part of July, 1849, several preliminary meetings were held for that purpose in the “Institute,” as the schoolhouse on the plaza was designated, and on the 27th of the month, forty-one gentlemen signed the following Preamble, organizing an artillery corps to be known as the “First California Guard.”

“We, the undersigned, do hereby form ourselves into an association under the name and style of the First California Guard, and for the good government thereof, have adopted a Constitution and By-Laws, for the support of which we mutually pledge ourselves:—
H. M. Naglee, W. E. Spoffard, Joseph Hobson, A. Priest,
J.  P. Haven, Hall McAllister, R. H. Sinton, E. H. Harrison,
W. H. Tillinghast, Myron Norton, Saml. Price, W. C. Cleeman,
D. T. Bagley, Wm. L. Hobson, Rich. M. Sherman, R. Julius Stevens,
W. D. M. Howard, Eugene Musson, James C. Ward, Gustav Beck,
Wm. Sim, Frank Turk, Samuel Ward, Wm. H. Davis,
S. Russell Gerry, E. L. Sullivan, Wm. Hooper, E. Mickle,
C. Melhado, W. L. Robinett, A. G. Randall, John Sime,
J. W. Austin, H. F. Teschemacker, Chas. H. Johnson, A. G. Abell,
Hiram Grimes, A. J. Ellis, Benj. Reynolds, Jas. Creighton,
Edward A. King."

Of these, the following officers were chosen:—

Captain.—Henry M. Naglee.
First Lieutenants.—W. D. M. Howard, Myron Norton.
Second Lieutenants.—HalI McAllister, David T. Bagley.
Orderly Sergeant.—Richard H. Sinton.
Surgeon.—SamueI Russell Gerry, M. D.

At this time there was not a suitable room for an armory in the town, and the gentlemen who had organized the company, being all men of ample means, agreed to form a joint stock company (out of members of the guard only), whose income would be sufficient to defray all their military expenses and enable them to purchase a lot of land and erect a building with a hall adapted for drilling purposes. This scheme was soon carried into effect. The stock was divided into three hundred shares of one hundred dollars each, all of which were readily taken. A lot was purchased, situated on the north-east corner of Dupont and Jackson streets, and a two and a half story building, forty feet square, was erected in the course of the fall—the whole expense amounting to about $30,000. The company commenced occupying it in the latter part of 1849, and soon obtained arms and accoutrements sufficient for the drill, which was that of the infantry, though the company was organized as artillery. The Guard prospered, and received many new members. The 22d of February following was celebrated at their hall by the most recherché entertainment ever given in San Francisco, and on all similar subsequent occasions, public parades, etc., they have formed an essential and imposing portion of the body politic.

In August, 1850, their services were called into requisition for the first time, and the importance of the organization and its capacity to do all that had been expected in its formation, was made manifest. The squatters of Sacramento having armed themselves, had a bloody encounter with the legal authorities. Governor Burnett had ordered out General A. M. Winn, of the Second Brigade, First Division, California Volunteers, to the seat of difficulties, and Lieutenant-Governor McDougal, then at Sacramento, immediately requested Capt. Wm. D. M. Howard (then commanding the Guards) to loan the authorities their muskets, which the company unanimously resolved to bear in person, and though only called together at 8 o’clock, A. M., were ready in two hours, “armed and equipped as the law directs.” Simultaneously, Mayor Geary called on the people of San Francisco to volunteer in the aid of their sister city. The proclamation attracted a large crowd of citizens, who deserted their occupations, and proceeded, as elsewhere narrated, on board the steamboat “Senator” to the scene of the action, along with the Guards, numbering eighty men, and the “Protection Fire Company, No. 2,” who, to the number of fifty, had hastily equipped themselves with red shirts and dark pantaloons, and muskets, under Capt. W. McCormick. On the voyage, the volunteers were drilled by Capt. F. J. Lippitt, a most excellent officer. Notwithstanding the troops were not called into actual service, the moral effect of their promptitude and universal action, showed the efficiency of the volunteer militia in defending law and order, and did as much as any thing else to prevent the repetition of similar outrages in other parts of the country.

In the latter part of 1850, a second military organization was completed under the name of the ”Washington Guards,” which remained in existence only a few months. During that time, however, it had an opportunity of usefully serving the city, on the occasion of the attempt of the mob to Lynch Burdue and Windred at the City Hall, in February, 1851, when under the command of Capt. A. Bartol, it resisted the effort of the people to wrest the prisoners from the hands of the municipal officers.

The “California Guard” continued to prosper, a large number of the first citizens had joined it, and remained in regular attendance. Every thing had been done to furnish the armory and meeting-mom in a luxurious style, when the fire of 17th September, 1850, completely destroyed the whole property. This was a severe loss to the company; but an agreement was speedily entered into with Mr. John Sime, the builder of the first armory, to erect another of brick on the same site, which was completed in three months and occupied by the company, who had meanwhile removed to temporary quarters elsewhere. This building was supposed to be fire-proof, but in June 22d, 1851, it suffered the fate of every other for many blocks around. Not deterred by calamity, but with the phoenix-spirit of San Francisco, the Guard determined, at whatever expense, to perpetuate the organization, and they have succeeded so well, that at the present day it is still the most extensive company in the city. Fifty thousand dollars is a low estimate of what has been paid as contributions by the members for its support since its organization.

The Indian disturbances at San Diego in December, 1851, again called for the exhibition of the military spirit from the restless people of San Francisco, who, ever true to the American propensity, are ready to fly to arms at the call of danger. The beleaguered inhabitants of the south had applied for aid to General Hitchcock, of the Pacific Division of the United States Army; but most of his command were operating under Colonel Casey against the Indians in the north, and he could dispatch them but fifty regulars under Lieutenant Frazer. In this emergency, the governor authorized the raising of two companies of mounted volunteers from the city of San Francisco, and Col. Geary, Judge J. G. Marvin, and Capt. Aldrich immediately issued a call for men. It needed no drum to summon the recruits together. Did one man, commissioned or non-commissioned, draw up a roll, hundreds were ready to sign it. A meeting was held in the California Exchange. Colonel John W. Geary was made president, and J. Martin Reese and Joseph C. Smith, Esqs., were chosen secretaries. Col. Geary enrolled one hundred and thirty men, soon increased to one hundred and seventy-five, three times the authorized number, who met at the armory the California Guards, organized “The San Francisco Rangers,” and elected the following officers:—John W. Geary, captain; George H. Haig, first lieutenant; John W. Rider, second lieutenant; Joseph C. Smith, third lieutenant; Charles J. Beebe, first sergeant; and Augustus Larrentree, second sergeant.

The second company met at the Parker House, and took the name of the “Aldrich Rangers,” electing Daniel Aldrich, captain; William Mulligan, first lieutenant; Ira Cole, second lieutenant; David Hoag, third lieutenant; and J. R. Dunbar, first sergeant.

Both companies adopted a hasty uniform of blue shirts, and black pants and caps, and held themselves in readiness to proceed south under the command of the officers appointed by Governor McDougal, viz.: John C. Hayes, colonel commanding; Alexander Wells, adjutant general; A. H. Sibley, quarter-master general; H. J. Williams, commissary; and Samuel Purdy, aid-de-camp. The next vessel, however, brought the news of the settlement of the difficulties, and the batallion was dismissed. Fifty of them, whose military career was not thus to be so untimely terminated, organized a company under Captain Hoag, and persisted in sailing for San Pedro.

Until May, 1852, the “California Guards” existed alone in the city, with the solitary exception of the “Washington Guards,” and we might add, of the “Empire Guards,” a target company, organized April 12th, 1851, for annual target excursions, out of the members of the Empire Fire Company, No.1. The old Guard had increased largely in numbers, the members being principally picked young men who had but recently seen active service in the war with Mexico, each of whom was actuated by that esprit du corps which they had brought with them from their victorious battle-fields.

On the 14th of May, the “Marion Rifle Corps” was organized, the following officers elected:—T. B. Schaeffer, captain; G. R. Davidson, first lieutenant; J W. Rider and W. W. Hawks, second lieutenants; W. Neely Johnson, first sergeant. Shortly after this, June 25th, the “Eureka Light-Horse Guards,” a fine cavalry corps, was formed; and these were succeeded by the “National Lancers,” also cavalry, on July 4th, and on August 4th, by the “San Francisco Blues,” infantry.

These five companies, joined by the “Sutter Rifles,” of Sacramento City, formed in batallion on the 4th of July, 1853, and were reviewed by Major-General John A. Sutter, after which they proceeded to Russ’s Garden, where they received a splendid ensign from Mrs. Catharine N. Sinclair, and celebrated the appropriately with an entertainment and other jollities. The city companies (1854) are now proposing to form a batallion and elect a colonel and subordinate officers. According to the laws at present in force, every white male citizen, who refuses to perform militia duty, is liable to a tax of three dollars; but as the militia has not yet been properly organized, the law has been suffered to remain a dead letter on the statute book. As soon as the organization has been completed, the law will probably be enforced.

Until last fall, all of these volunteer companies supported themselves by contributions from their members, when the first encouragement ever received from the city was given by an ordinance passed, appropriating five hundred dollars per month for the rent of an armory to be used in common by all the volunteer companies of San Francisco. They now occupy a splendid hall as an armory and drill room in the fourth story of a new fire-proof building, owned by Mr. S. Brannan, and appropriately called “Armory Hall,” at the north-east corner of
Sacramento and Montgomery streets. This elegant structure, occupying a front of sixty feet square, was commenced on 1st July, 1853, and completed November 15th following, at a cost of $225,000. Each company has a separate room in the third story for meeting and such purposes, and the use of the drill-room on its allotted evening once a week. All are flourishing. Their meetings and parades are well attended, and all justly regard the “First California Guard” as the pioneer corps of the State.

Source: Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, M.D., and James Nisbet. The Annals of San Francisco. 1855: San Francisco.

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