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El Dorado County took part in the Civil War! 

image of Cannon at the Superior Court Building in Pleacerville

Did you ever take notice of the Civil War cannons that flank the entrance steps of the El Dorado County Courthouse? Yes, our men were in the war too! More than 16,000 California men joined up.

When the war erupted in April 1861, the California Legislature declared the state "was Union" and immediately began recruiting able-bodied men for its army. There were two full regiments and one battalion of cavalry, eight full infantry regiments and a battalion of infantry they called Mountaineers.

Most of the California recruits served in the west and southwest, although eight companies of First Regiment, Washington Territory Infantry Volunteers were also recruited in the state.

Numbers of young California men, anxious to serve, but wanting to serve in the thick of the fight, contacted Massachusetts Governor Andrews with an interesting proposition that he quickly agreed to. The men promised to recruit 100 volunteers for a "California" unit, Company A, being formed in Massachusetts. The cavalry unit that resulted became more popularly known as the "California Hundred."

image of the Placerville Superior Court Biolding on Main StreetFive companies of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers were California recruits. California Senator Baker recruited a regiment of former California men on the East coast. They were generally known as the "California Regiment," but officially they were the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteers. El Dorado County helped to supply the Union Army with troops almost from the beginning.

The Army's 4th Regiment Infantry, organized in Placerville, Auburn and Sacramento from September to October 1861, was one such unit. In February 1865, Company K, of the Union Army's 8th Regiment Infantry, organized in Placerville and Sacramento, was mustered in at San Francisco and stationed in Fort Point until October.

California proved especially valuable during the war years, it's gold helped finance the Union's efforts. El Dorado County pioneer, Samuel E. Kyburz, who held the rank of corporal at the time of his discharge, was a member of Company D in the 2nd California Cavalry.

Hamilton Manon Hinkle was a member of Company M, 3rd California Cavalry. Apparently, if he returned to El Dorado County, he didn't stay. His name and that of Patrick H. Kelly (also from El Dorado County), who was with Company K, 2nd California Cavalry, can be found today in cemeteries located in Platte County, Neb. Hinkle died on Mar. 4, 1908 and Kelly passed away on Nov. 5, 1911.

Many of the men from California were ordered to secure the State's coast and keep the confederacy from gaining any ground there as well as to protect the gold shipments to the Union camps in the East. They were stationed up and down the West coast as well as across the Arizona Territory and in Texas. Many thought it a boring proposition.

While a few Americans might know that shipments of gold from California helped keep the Union solvent during the Civil War, almost no one knew that California had more volunteers per capita in the Union Army than any other state,. nor is it generally known that by war's end California volunteers in the West occupied more territory than did the Union Army in the east. - Nearly 17,000 Californians enlisted to fight.

The efforts of the California man were not only critical in keeping California part of the Union and in keeping the flow of gold to Washington uninterrupted, but also in keeping the Far West Federal territory. Their contributions have long been ignored or little understood.


Written by Joanne Burkett from research taken from Paolo Sioli's History of El Dorado County California, from El Dorado Co. birth, marriage, death and land records and often from interviews.
California and the Civil War
Who's Got the Gold?
By Major Norman S. Marshall 
California Center for Military History