LA’s Connection to Gettysburg

Before he was a hero at Gettysburg, Winfield S. Hancock served as the Army Quartermaster in Los Angeles in 1861. While warning of a potential secessionist uprising in Southern California, Hancock allowed Southern-born officers to slip away to join the Confederacy. 

Before he was a hero at Gettysburg, Winfield S. Hancock served as the Army Quartermaster in Los Angeles in 1861. While warning of a potential secessionist uprising in Southern California, Hancock allowed Southern-born officers to slip away to join the Confederacy. 

As we witness a turning point in popular opinion regarding the Confederate battle flag, today is a good day to remember the military turning point for the Confederacy itself. The Battle of Gettysburg began exactly 152 years ago on July 1, 1863. Over the course of three days, Union forces fighting in and around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, turned back a daring northern offensive that the Confederates would never be able to repeat.

General Winfield S. Hancock was instrumental in holding the Union line at Gettysburg, and his war hero status would lead to his nomination as the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1880. At the outset of the war, Hancock was stationed in California. Writing from Los Angeles in 1861, he warned a superior in San Francisco about the risk of a Southern California uprising, which he feared might start with pro-Confederate Anglo Americans before spreading to native-born, Spanish-surnamed Californios. “When once a revolution commences,” he wrote, “the masses of the native population will act.” Although concerned about the possibility of a local “revolution,” the staunch Unionist with pro-slavery views did nothing to stop his fellow officers from leaving Los Angeles to join the Southern rebellion. According to the memoir of his wife, Almira, the Hancocks actually hosted “a never-to-be-forgotten evening” to say goodbye to those officers before they started “upon their overland trip to the South.” The guests, she recalled, included the soon-to-be Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston as well as three men later “killed in front of General Hancock’s troops” at Gettysburg.

In this interview for KPCC’s Air Talk, which aired on July 3, 2013, during the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, UCLA Professor Joan Waugh and I discuss the battle and Southern California’s Civil War connections. Unfortunately for us, history intervened that day and the host had to break away mid-interview to cover the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Professor Waugh discusses the significance of Gettysburg in the first part of the recording. My discussion of Civil War California can be found at 6:15 and again at 13:55.