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Monday, February 15, 2016

California and the Civil War


My latest release is a novelette titled He Is a Good Man which is part of Prairie Rose Publication's 2016 Valentine anthology, Lariats, Letters, and Lace.

A letter delivered from the grave changes everything for two young people.

In the opening chapter, two soldiers from California meet after the 1864 Battle of Fort Stevens where Hal finds his messmate and best friend, Joshua, shot in the leg and waiting his turn with the surgeon. Having been convinced for months that he would not survive the war, Joshua reminds Hal of his promise made earlier to deliver a special letter to Joshua's sweetheart when Hal returns to California.

Wait...What? California was involved in the Civil War? 

Gen. John White Geary, first mayor of San Francisco

When the Civil War started, one of the first things President Abraham Lincoln did was to query the states and territories regarding their loyalties. He was concerned about many issues. First, because of distance, communication and transportation between the Capitol and the West was slow. Although gold was not as easy to find as it had been in the 1849 gold rush days, there was still plenty being mined. Lincoln needed it to finance the war and did not want it to fall into Confederate hands. In addition, Lincoln put out a call to arms asking for one regiment of infantry and five companies of cavalry to guard the overland mail route from Carson City to Salt Lake City. Three Weeks later four more regiments of infantry and a regiment of cavalry were requested. All of these were volunteer units recruited and organized in the northern counties of the state, especially around the San Francisco Bay region and the mining camps in the foothill counties of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These volunteers replaced the regular troops transferred to the east before the end of 1861. 
Company of soldiers recruited in Hayward, California
California was in a precarious state when it came to the loyalties of its citizens. The northern part of the states including the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento areas were settled primarily by people who came from the northern and mid-western states east of the Mississippi River and were mostly in favor of preserving the existing federal government. However, there was a large populaton in the southern part of the state--particularly around Los Angeles, El Monte and San Bernardino--that had come to California from the South. Their loyalties were solidly for the Confederacy. In addition, the Californios, the earlier residents of California from before the time when the Mexican-American War brought California into the United States as a territory in 1848 and as a state in 1850, were dissatisfied with the inequitable taxes and land laws imposed by the pro-Union state government. Many Californios also favored the Confederacy.

Col.Albert Sidney Johnston, Commander of Dept. of Pacific
Col. (Brevet Brigadier General) Sidney Johnston was the top military commander of the Department of the Pacific when the war broke out. Although he regretted seeing it come to war, he was from the south and resigned his commission. He and other top military commanders who had also resigned from the Union army managed to sneak across southern California, Arizona and New Mexico to join with the Confederate Army.

As part of the back story of He Is a Good Man, in 1862, both Joshua Penrose and Henry "Hal" Avery sign up to join the California Cavalry Battalion, a group of volunteers who agreed to travel back east and become part of the five companies of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. They left San Francisco by sea for service in the east. The California Battalion consisted of Companies A, C, F, L, and M. They participated in 51 battles, campaigns, and skirmishes.
Third Infantry California Volunteers Band in 1861

The story also includes the fate of Malinda's father, Charles Forsythe, who died while serving in the "California Column." The California Column ended up with a total strength of 2,350 men.

Col. James H. Carleton led California Column
The original mission of the California Column was to drive Confederate troops out of New Mexico, which they had occupied the previous year. During their advance the California Column engaged the Confederates in two small skirmishes, but the Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico fought between the New Mexico/Colorado militias and the Confederates drove the Confederate troops back to Texas. Much of the Column's service during the war was garrison duty to prevent the Confederates from re-entering New Mexico. They also fought against the Apaches. To learn more about the California Column, read this post from the Civil War Trust which you can reach by clicking HERE.

In addition, there were a host of local home guard units formed throughout the state to prevent those with Southern sympathies from sending men or financial support to the Confederacy.

Other California units that fought in the Civil War may be found on this Wikipedia site which you can find by clicking HERE.

"Union Boy" cannon, in Sacramento Plaza during Civil War

Now, a little more about He Is a Good Man.  
Here is an excerpt:

      “I’m trying to finish the letter I was writing to Mali last night. I told her I got shot, but it’s getting hard to write. You finish it for me, Hal. Tell her I love her. Tell her to think of me fondly as a childhood friend, but…go on with her life and be happy.”
     Hal reached over and pried the paper out of Joshua’s fist. He rooted around on the ground until his fingers closed around the pencil Joshua had been using. He smoothed the crumpled sheet reasonably flat on his knee before he read the last few barely legible sentences in order to know where Joshua had left off and where he should start.
     “Josh, what do you mean by telling her you’ve done all you can for her future? That doesn’t make much sense.”
     “That’s between Mali and me. She’ll know…when the time comes.”
     Hal shrugged and began to write, being careful to not poke the pencil through the paper weakened by the creases resulting from Joshua clutching it while fighting off his pain. He had almost finished writing the words Joshua had requested when his friend, with a voice noticeably weaker, spoke to him once more.
     “Hal, you still got that other letter I asked you to take to Mali when I die?”
     “You’re not going to die, Josh. But, yeah, I still have it.”
     “And your word’s still good, isn’t it? You won’t mail it to her, but you’ll take it to her in person. You can mail the one you’re writing on now, and the one for my folks that’s in my coat pocket…but the one I gave to you before…you swear you’ll take it to her yourself in person? And you’ll do those other two things you promised to do, too?”
     “My word’s good, Josh. I meant every word I promised.” Hal fought down the surge of annoyance that his messmate would question his honor. He turned to stare in the unfocused eyes of his closest friend. “As long as I live to return home, I’ll do what I swore to do. I doubt she’ll appreciate me doing the one, but I’ll give her the option.”
     “Thanks, Hal. I’ll die in peace knowing you’ll do that.”
     “Just hush up about dying, Josh. What did you write in that letter, anyway?”
     “Between…me and Mali,” Joshua barely mumbled his words loud enough to be heard as shock and the loss of blood took its toll. “You…just take it to her.”

About Zina Abbott:

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. Her novelette, A Christmas Promise, along with the first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, was published by Prairie Rose Publications. He Is a Good Man was published in the Lariats, Letters and Lace anthology.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.

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A letter from the grave changes everything HE IS A GOOD MAN @Zina Abbott in LARIATS, LETTERS & LACE #PrairieRosePub


  1. Zina,
    Interesting background about California. It's such a diverse state, even today. Reading about it's early days helps it make more sense. Congrats on your story! It sounds wonderful.

    1. Thank you, Kristy. I think I had as much fun doing the research for this story as I did writing it. I certainly learned just how volatile the politics in this state was its first few decades of statehood.

  2. Zina,

    Your story sent my bottom lip quivering a time or two as I read it(in a bittersweet, good way) :-). I especially enjoyed Joshua's last request that he wanted Hal to deliver on his behalf to Mali. *grin*

    1. Thank you, Kaye. Yeah, that Joshua made his mistakes, but he definitely had a soft spot for his childhood sweetheart. And that very last request, yep, that sealed the deal.

  3. Ah the Civil War. So many lives were changed. The history you shared was wonderful. And of course, Glorietta...
    I wish you the very best on this story. It reads to be a very good one. Doris/Angela

    1. Thank you, Doris. I love writing about the West, but there is something about the Civil War that grabs my attention and holds it. It isn't some much the battles and war strategies, although I've read and enjoyed plenty of that. It is the human element and the human cost in so many ways.

  4. Ya know, I never really gave thought to California's involvement in the Civil War. I guess I just assumed they had other concerns or were too far from the action to become involved. Shows you what I know.
    I enjoyed all the pictures you posted and your post that certainly shows the entire United States was engaged in the American Civil War.
    I wish you every success with the Valentine anthology.

  5. Huh? Okay, I think I knew this but it's so seldom mentioned that California took part in the war, we forget to include them. The story sounds wonderful, and the excerpt? Great.
    The post was not only interesting, it was very well done. Loved the photos. Good luck with sales, Zina/Robyn

  6. Great post Zina. I knew about the men who went East to fight but they become lost after they lose their Californian organization. I had never considered the need to protect the gold fields from exploitation by the Confederates.