“My great great uncle was killed July 3, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg.”
“My great great uncle was captured near Atlanta and survived Andersonville.”
The roll call continued. Each descendent stood and described his family ties to a Civil War Union Army veteran.
One by one, the ancestor’s name, rank, military unit he fought with and his ultimate fate were declared as the Sons of Union Veterans Santa Ana Camp 17 convened for their regularly scheduled meeting.
Camp 17, formerly the Gen. John Sedgwick Post 17 of Santa Ana formed in 1881 and the Gen. Gordon Granger Post 138 of Orange formed in 1887, is part of the national Grand Army of the Republic organization. Other nearby chapters are in El Segundo and Carlsbad.
Members are all descendants of Civil War veterans. All share a strong curiosity of their own family genealogy, a sense of patriotism and a keen desire to make sure future generations keep America’s Civil War legacy alive. Evidence of that legacy is deeply entrenched throughout the city.
In addition to preserving history, a primary mission for the organization is to arrange and conduct Memorial Day ceremonies at the Santa Ana and Fairhaven cemeteries, where most of Orange County’s Civil War veterans are buried. This year, on May 28, they will again honor the heroes who fought and died for their country from 1861-1865.
Visible evidence of the war can be found at 1052 Banning Blvd. in Wilmington, site of Camp Drum which served as the Union Army’s headquarters until 1871. Los Angeles railroad tycoon Phineas Banning, who sold the land to the U.S. Army, was an active supporter of the presence of federal troops in the area because of strong pro-Confederate sentiments, including those by the Los Angeles mayor himself.
Thirteen thousand Union soldiers were encamped at Drum Barracks and its military hospital was considered the best equipped and staffed medical facility west of the Mississippi River. It was decommissioned in the 1880s and served for a time as a college campus. Today the officer’s quarters are the only surviving structures which are preserved as a Civil War Museum.
The only other remnant of the Civil War is the Union Army barracks on Catalina Island, now home to the Isthmus of Catalina Yacht Club. A small garrison of Union soldiers was there to guard the island from Confederates who they feared would raid the silver, lead and zinc mining operations.
One of Southern California’s last Civil War veterans, James M. Talcott, died in 1940 at the age of 100. At age 22 he left his New York home to enlist in the 34th New York volunteers, an artillery unit. After being injured in the battle of Cold Harbor, Va., he returned to civilian life in Elk Point, S.D. and served as mayor for four terms before moving West where he was involved in local business and politics.
One of the more prominent former Union soldiers was John B. Cox, who served as a justice of the peace in Santa Ana after the war. In a story printed in the Santa Ana Evening Blade on June 4, 1915, Cox, at age 67, is reported as “probably the youngest Union veteran of the Civil War in the state of California.” He joined the 51st Illinois Infantry at age 17 to join his father and older brother who had already enlisted. The sole survivor, he eventually moved to Santa Ana to live out the rest of his life.
More information about the Civil War legacy in Southern California can be found at www.suvpac.org.