Did you know that the southern leg of Highway 79, (formerly part
of the old 395) was a Civil War military road? It linked Los Angeles
with Fort Wright (in Oak Grove, south of Temecula and Aguanga) and
Fort Yuma during the early 1860's! These forts were manned by the
Union Army of the Pacific and were used to keep the Confederate
Army of New Mexico out of California in 1862. This not only prevented
California gold shipments from falling into the hands of the south,
but stopped the advance of the Confederate Army in New Mexico territory
and in the Confederate "state" of Arizona. Fierce Civil
War battles had been fought at Fort Craig, Val Verde, Glorietta
Pass, Peralta, and Mesilla in New Mexico Territory in 1861 and 1862.
The control of California by Union forces was culminated with the
advance of the California Column marching to Fort Yuma, thus reclaiming
the Southwest from retreating Confederate forces.
Little is it known that California was often very
divided on the issue of secession during the Civil War. San Bernardino
County was a hotbed of re-located Southerners who were active in
the gold rush of the 1860's. Most were settlers in Holcomb Valley
whose loyalties were often well known. These southern sympathizers
were joined by the dissatisfied Mormons living in the County since
the 1850's whose relatives had experienced the threat of federal
troops in 1858 in Utah. With this coalition, the secessionist movement
now found added strength. Fortunately, this local belligerence finally
ended in nothing more than a few barn burnings, reminiscent of "Burning
Kansas" a decade earlier.
What seems ever more curious is the Confederate press
in San Francisco which thrived during the war. It met with quick
death when an angry mob burned down the "Copperhead Press"
building in the wake of the Lincoln assassination. The Civil War
in California ended with a few other individual incidences, mostly
involving potential smuggling. All in all, these facts leave one
with a more interesting impression of the role California had in
the struggle for the Union.