“…with banners flying and martial music. We embarked…” George Buhrer, Cal. Battalion
Monday morning March 23, 1863, Merrill and his comrades of the California Battalion prepared for their final parade through San Francisco. Every man in the battalion made sure his buttons were shined, his leather polished, his saber gleamed, and his uniform was perfect. As the Battalion formed in companies preparing to leave Platt’s Hall, seven companies of the local militia prepared to escort the Battalion to Folsom Street Wharf.
The city turned out to see their Battalion off to war. The route of the parade was known before hand; “all the thoroughfares along the line of march were crowed with people… some on foot many in vehicles.” (1) The band from the local militia played martial music. Three hundred and seven cavalry men marched in step through the streets of San Francisco. As the California Battalion made its way to the wharf, the crowds “continually cheered, while the ladies waved their kerchief…” (2)
By the time the Battalion reached the wharf, “it was densely crowed” with the people of San Francisco. (3) “Every nook and post” was utilized by the citizen of San Francisco to get a glimpse of the men of the Cal Battalion as it departed for the East to the Union cause. (4)
The crowd was so thick and congested that the escorting militia “with some difficulty forced a passage through the dense crowed.” (5) Once a passage was cleared, the local militia formed an honor guard along the wharf to the S.S. Constitution. As the Cal Battalion marched along the wharf to the gang plank, the honor guard saluted. This outpouring of patriotic pride and raw emotion, from the local citizens for the Cal Battalion, must have made Merrill and his comrades march smartly and stand taller. Merrill and the men of the Cal Battalion answered the call to save the Union voluntarily. California was not required to send men east to fight. The citizens of San Francisco understood what the men of Cal Battalion were voluntarily giving up.
Once on board the S.S. Constitution, the American flag and the company guidons were flown from the stern of the ship. Merrill standing at the rail along with the rest of the battalion waited while the crowd cheered and the band played. “After a delay of about an hour” the order was given to cast off all lines. “The band played Home Sweet Home, the artillery fired a salute,” and the crowd cheering as the SS Constitution began its journey south to Panama. (6)
The fourteen day trip down the west coast of California, Mexico and Central America was probably the first time Merrill had seen these far away exotic lands. George Buhrer of company E kept a daily account of the trip. Buhrer noted in his entry for March 24 that one of the men had fallen overboard and was lost at sea. As the ship sailed down the west coast, land was always insight. On the 29th of March, the Ship landed at Manzanilla. To Merrill and his comrades the tropical “greenery was picturesque and… romantic” However, upon closer inspection the place had a “few houses and some miserable huts.” In the opinion of Buhrer “the natives were indolent and slovenly in the extreme.” (7)
On the evening of the Thirtieth of March, the steamer made port in Acapulco. Compared to their previous stop Acapulco was an exotic tropical paradise. For Merrill, this was most likely the first time he saw a tropical paradise. The night air was “cool and laden (sic) with the fragrance and perfume of thousands of tropical flowers.” When Merrill looked up into the clear evening sky, the luminescing glow of the stars were overwhelmingly beautiful. (8)
Two days later the weather changed. The steamer encountered bad weather. Between the “stormy weather” and the “ rough seas” the “boys … became sea sick.” (9) The S.S. Constitution was a side wheel paddle steamship approximately 150 feet in length. By today’s standards, this ship was small. It was probably tossed about the ocean like a rubber life raft in moderate seas. I’m sure Merrill was one of the men standing at the rail holding on for dear life as he prayed to God to end his misery but save his life. Finally “during the night” the storm abated and the sea calmed down.
Steamer Commodore a typical steamship that worked the West coast in the 1860s
The rest of the trip was uneventful. The Battalion arrived on the west coast of Panama at 4am on April 6, 1863. By 10 am the Battalion was loaded into “the cars of the Panama Rail Road Co.” and “ …. transported across the Isthmus to Aspinwell” on the east coast of Panama. (10)
On Tuesday the 7th of April, the Battalion embarked on “the Ocean Queen escorted by the naval gun boat Connecticut.” (11) The reason for the escort was due to the fact that rebel pirates were prowling the area looking for prize vessels. The conditions on the Ocean Queen were “miserable” compared to the Constitution. Thankfully the passage was short; however the weather became “cold and windy” throughout the voyage.
The Battalion arrived in New York Harbor on April 14th at 2 pm. Waiting at the pier was the “state agent for Massachusetts Col. Howe” Howe proceeded to” escort the Battalion to the Park Barracks” where they would spend the night. (12) The Men were fed after which, Governor Nye of Nevada gave the troopers a speech commending their patriotism. The New Yorkers did not disappoint the men from California. After their long tedious ocean voyage the Battalion was “extended an invitation” to the New Bowery Theatre for an evening of entertainment. (13)
New York City was not done showing its appreciation to the Cal Battalion. The following morning the Battalion was escorted to their ship by the “Sons of New England and New York along with the Seventh Regimental Band …” From there, the Battalion marched down a patriotically festooned Broadway. In “every windows,” there “young girls or women” cheering and “waving handkerchiefs” as the Battalion began its march into history. (14)By the time the Battalion reached the pier, it was late afternoon. The men boarded the steamer Plymouth Rock to the “sweet strains of music” by the accompanying band. (15) As he was getting closer and closer to home, I can’t help but wonder what was going through Merrill’s mind. Dressed in Union blue cavalry uniform, trimmed with gold cavalry piping, marching in formation down, what would later become known as the Canyon of heroes, Broadway Merrill must have had a sense of patriotic pride, a sense of satisfaction at being able to fulfill one’s duty, a sense of adventure, a sense destiny.
1. Rogers , Larry , and Keith Rogers . Their Horses Climbed Trees: A Chronicle of the California 100 and Battalion in the Civil War, FromSan FRancisco to Appomattox . Atglen : Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001. 112-113. Print
2. Rogers and Rogers 112
3. Rodgers and Rodgers 111
4. Rodgers and Rodgers 112-113
5. Rodgers and Rodgers 112-113
6. Rodgers and Rodgers 111
7. Buhrer, George. "reunioncivilwar.com: The Daily Journal of George N Buhrer." The Second Mass and Its Fighting Californians. Michael Sorenson Collection . Web. 10 Nov 2012. <http://www.2mass.reunioncivilwar.com/Artifacts/BuhrerDiaryColt.pdf>.
12. Rodgers 123
13. Rodgers 121-122; Buhrer
14. Rodgers 123
The steamship Commodore: http://www.maritimeheritage.org/ships/steamships.html
Manzanilla, Mexico: www.aquaticsportsadventures...
Park Barracks: www.sonofthesouth.net