Thursday, March 21, 2013

New York Times Covers Los Angeles's Role in the CIvil War - and Our Civil War Museum You Probably Never Knew Existed

On of the best ways to learn about our city is to read about it in... the New York Times.    Now even though at times that distant vision can get a little ... skewed.... but - more often - the NYT's can see with a fresh eye what local papers sometimes miss - or haven't covered in many years.  One such subject is Los Angeles' role in the Civil War and LA's own Civil War Museum located in our last remaining military institution built during the Civil War - the Drum Barracks in Wilmington.

What Did You Do in the Civil War, California?

ABOUT 15 years ago, Ron Hyde was thumbing through a Civil War magazine when he came across an advertisement for a museum called Drum Barracks.
“The ad said it was located in Wilmington, Calif.,” said Mr. Hyde, who lives in Norco, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles. “I thought, ‘That’s got to be a typo. It must be in Delaware or North Carolina.’ ”
Intrigued, he called the number and found the state was no mistake. A Civil War museum was in Wilmington, a part of Los Angeles about 20 miles from downtown.
What is more, the museum was housed in the last surviving structure of a 22-building Union Army base.

The article - located in a special museum section that just went on-line at the New York Times goes into both the history of the building, but also the entire history of the Civil War in California.
 The outpost owes its existence to a chain of events in the Far West, an often overlooked theater of the Civil War. In summer 1861, a few months into the war, Confederate forces struck out into the Arizona territory from Texas. Their long-range goal was the ports, mineral resources and open lands of the lightly defended California, which was admitted into the Union in 1850. In her 2012 book “The Golden State in the Civil War” (Cambridge University Press), the historian Glenna Matthews writes that Confederate leaders viewed California, particularly the pro-secessionist southern section, as “a land of opportunity for them.”

In Southern California then was Capt. Winfield Scott Hancock, who would become a hero of the Battle of Gettysburg. He and Maj. James Henry Carleton, a cavalry officer dispatched from San Francisco to help him, chose a site a half-mile from the harbor to build a base, which was named Camp Drum. That was in late 1861. From there, in April 1862, Major Carleton’s force, the California Column, rode east to meet the Confederates. By the time the force reached the Rio Grande, the main Southern army had turned around. But the Union troops battled the rebels at Picacho Pass, about 50 miles northwest of what is now Tucson.

Back in Wilmington, an expanded base was built with the help of Phineas Banning, a local businessman who named the community he had developed after his hometown in Delaware. He donated 60 acres for what would become known as Drum Barracks.

The new base became a depot, training base and staging point for operations of the Union Army in the West. Almost 8,000 men passed through Drum Barracks during the war. In her book, Ms. Matthews cites a letter from an Army officer who called the large, well-built base “astonishing,” adding that “some of the men in our company who had seen service in the East said that they had never seen anything like it.”

No doubt one of the most astonishing sights was the 36 Levantine camels quartered there. The Army brought them from the Middle East in the 1850s for use in the desert. For the most part, they spent the war munching the grass around Drum Barracks.
It also discusses some of the many relics and exhibits the museum contains,
Visitors find a wealth of artifacts in the 14 rooms of the U-shaped building, which was originally the junior officers’ quarters. One of the most impressive is an 1875 Gatling gun, part of an extensive display of Civil War-era weapons, including a collection of 291 bullets. A battle flag was donated by the family of a veteran of the Battle of Vicksburg who received the Medal of Honor. Rooms are decorated to show the living conditions of soldiers and officers, featuring period pieces, like a rare 1869 Steinway piano. Drums Barracks also has a genuine drum from the 8th New York Volunteers, a library of 3,000 volumes and the artificial leg of a soldier, which was donated by his descendants.  
And how to get more information about it.
Drum Barracks Civil War Museum, at 1052 Banning Boulevard, Wilmington, Calif., is open for tours Sunday, Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday. It is closed Monday and Friday. Donation: $5. For more information:
About the only thing this article does not cover is that an even large museum - the Banning Museum -  is located not far away. It was the home of the man who not only founded Wilmington, but who also donated the then 60 acre site to the Union Army,  Phineas Banning.

And I'll bet that almost no one reading this post has even visited one of these landmarks - much less both of them


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