. . . the strength of his opponent, and the temper of the people among whom he moved are taken into consideration, may well be ranked as one of the most brilliant feats of that remarkable campaign.
California Acquired by the United States, featuring a series of excerpts selected from Battles of the United States by Sea and Land by Henry B. Dawson published in 1858.
Previously in California Acquired by the United States. Now we continue.
Within a few days intelligence of the action of Commodore Sloat was received by the revolutionary leaders at Sonoma; and a battalion of mounted riflemen which had been organized among them was immediately moved to Monterey, the flag of the United States was substituted for the “bear and star,” and the authority of the Commodore was immediately recognized. This battalion of mounted riflemen on its arrival at Monterey, July 23, 1846, was mustered into the service of the United States by Commodore Stockton, who had succeeded Commodore Sloat in command of the squadron — Captain Fremont being appointed its commandant, and Lieutenant A. H. Gillespie, of the Marines, its second officer — and it was immediately dispatched on the sloop-of-war Cyane to San Diego for the purpose of cutting off the retreat of General Castro, of the Mexican service, who had encamped and fortified his position near Ciudad de los Angeles, while the Commodore with his sailors — who landed from the Congress at San Pedro–moved against him in front. The expedition was eminently successful, as the Mexicans on the approach of the Commodore immediately evacuated their camp and fled in the greatest confusion — although most of the principal officers were subsequently captured–and, on August 13th, the Ciudad de los Angeles was occupied, again without opposition, by the American troops and seamen, and the conquest of California was apparently completed.
A short time afterward Commodore Stockton appointed Captain Fremont Governor of the Territory into which, by the proclamation of Commodore Sloat, the Province had been transformed; while Captain Gillespie was left, with nineteen men, in possession of Los Angeles; Lieutenant Talbot, of the Topographical Engineers, with nine men, was left at Santa Barbara; and, with his squadron, Commodore Stockton proceeded to San Francisco; while Governor Fremont, on September 8th, also moved to Monterey.
The main body had no sooner left Los Angeles than the Californians — who before the departure of the Commodore and the Governor had held secret meetings for the purpose — rose in arms for the expulsion of the invaders of their country. Indeed an attempt appears to have been intended before the Governor left the city; but, by timely precautions, it had been prevented; although the purpose and determination still continued and were called into requisition at a more convenient season. The necessary preparations having been made for that purpose under the directions of Jos. Antonio Carrillo, a professed conspirator of that vicinity, at an early hour on the morning of September 23d, the quarters of Captain Gillespie were attacked by Cerbulo Varela — a metamorphosed captain under Governor Fremont — at the head of sixty-five men, under cover of a thick fog. The morning was auspicious for such purposes, yet the Captain was not surprised; and the twenty-one rifles which he controlled were quickly brought to bear on the assailants, who retired soon afterward with three of their number killed and several wounded; and at daylight the remainder were driven from the town, with the loss of several taken prisoners, by a few men under Lieutenant Hensley, and Doctor Gilchrist, of the navy.
The insurgents who were thus expelled from the city formed a nucleus around which the disaffected gathered; and as the party gained strength day by day, it harassed the little garrison and killed one of its number. There was but little concert of action in its ranks, however; and as the rival aspirants to power struggled for authority, while the numbers rapidly increased, the efficiency of the insurgents was but slightly increased. At length, in a spirit of compromise, Captain Antonio Flores was urged to take the command of the party, and reluctantly accepted it; and he soon found himself at the head of six hundred men armed with lances, “escopetas”, and a brass six-pounder, light and well mounted.
In the mean time the little garrison had found an old honeycombed iron six-pounder, and had drilled out the spike, cleaned and mounted it, and by melting the lead pipes of a distillery had provided — unknown to the insurgents — thirty rounds of ball and grape for it. Two other pieces having been added to this, on the following day, the little garrison and its gallant commander resolved to die rather than surrender, notwithstanding the extreme efforts which had been made to strengthen its position, and the great fatigue which was incident thereto. To render his little party still more secure, however, on September 27th Captain Gillespie withdrew his command from his quarters in the city and occupied a height which commanded it, when he strengthened his position and prepared for an obstinate defense.
No sooner had this movement been effected than Captain Flores sent Don Eulogeo Celis to inquire “on what terms Captain Gillespie would surrender the city”; and that officer, after consulting with his subordinates, answered that if the enemy would consent that he should march out of the city with the honors of war, colors flying and drums beating; that he should take everything with him; that he should be furnished with means for transporting his baggage and provisions, at his own expense; and that the enemy should not come within a league of his party while on its line of march to San Pedro, he would accept those terms, and no others would be considered; and Captain Flores should be held responsible for any damage which might ensue, in case they were rejected. After some negotiations these terms were offered by Captain Flores and accepted by Captain Gillespie; and, on September 29th, the garrison began its march; reached San Pedro on the same evening, and on October 4th embarked on the Vandalia, after spiking its three old guns — an exploit which, when the circumstances under which Captain Gillespie’s force, the strength of his opponent, and the temper of the people among whom he moved are taken into consideration, may well be ranked as one of the most brilliant feats of that remarkable campaign.