Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

arrival for consultation. I got C. H. Garrison to go with me, and

we met the Governor and his brother on the wharf, and walked up to

the International Hotel on Jackson Street, above Montgomery. We

discussed the state of affairs fully; and Johnson, on learning that

his particular friend, William T. Coleman, was the president of the

Vigilance Committee, proposed to go and see him. En route we

stopped at King's room, ascertained that he was slowly sinking, and

could not live long; and then near midnight we walked to the

Turnverein Hall, where the committee was known to be sitting in

consultation. This hall was on Bush Street, at about the

intersection of Stockton. It was all lighted up within, but the

door was locked. The Governor knocked at the door, and on inquiry

from inside "Who's there?"--gave his name. After some delay we

were admitted into a sort of vestibule, beyond which was a large

hall, and we could hear the suppressed voices of a multitude. We

were shown into a bar-room to the right, when the Governor asked to

see Coleman. The man left us, went into the main hall, and soon

returned with Coleman, who was pale and agitated. After shaking

hands all round, the Governor said, "Coleman, what the devil is the

matter here?" Coleman said, "Governor, it is time this shooting on

our streets should stop." The Governor replied, "I agree with you

perfectly, and have come down, from Sacramento to assist." Coleman

rejoined that "the people were tired of it, and had no faith in the

officers of the law." A general conversation then followed, in

which it was admitted that King would die, and that Casey must be

executed; but the manner of execution was the thing to be settled,

Coleman contending that the people would do it without trusting the

courts or the sheriff. It so happened that at that time Judge

Norton was on the bench of the court having jurisdiction, and he

was universally recognized as an able and upright man, whom no one

could or did mistrust; and it also happened that a grand-jury was

then in session. Johnson argued that the time had passed in

California for mobs and vigilance committees, and said if Coleman

and associates would use their influence to support the law, he

(the Governor) would undertake that, as soon as King died, the

grand-jury should indict, that Judge Norton would try the murderer,

and the whole proceeding should be as speedy as decency would

allow. Then Coleman said "the people had no confidence in

Scannell, the sheriff," who was, he said, in collusion with the

rowdy element of San Francisco. Johnson then offered to be

personally responsible that Casey should be safely guarded, and

should be forthcoming for trial and execution at the proper time.

I remember very well Johnson's assertion that he had no right to

make these stipulations, and maybe no power to fulfill them; but he

did it to save the city and state from the disgrace of a mob.

Coleman disclaimed that the vigilance organization was a "mob,"

admitted that the proposition of the Governor was fair, and all he

or any one should ask; and added, if we would wait awhile, he would

submit it to the council, and bring back an answer.

We waited nearly an hour, and could hear the hum of voices

in the hall, but no words, when Coleman came back, accompanied by a

committee, of which I think the two brothers Arrington, Thomas

Smiley the auctioneer, Seymour, Truett, and others, were members.

The whole conversation was gone over again, and the Governor's

proposition was positively agreed to, with this further condition,

that the Vigilance Committee should send into the jail a small

force of their own men, to make certain that Casey should not be

carried off or allowed to escape.

The Governor, his brother William, Garrison, and I, then went up to

the jail, where we found the sheriff and his posse comitatus of

police and citizens. These were styled the "Law-and-Order party,"

and some of them took offense that the Governor should have held

communication with the "damned rebels," and several of them left

the jail; but the sheriff seemed to agree with the Governor that

what he had done was right and best; and, while we were there, some

eight or ten armed men arrived from the Vigilance Committee, and

were received by the sheriff (Scannell) as a part of his regular


The Governor then, near daylight, went to his hotel, and I to my

house for a short sleep. Next day I was at the bank, as usual,

when, about noon the Governor called, and asked me to walk with him

down-street He said he had just received a message from the

Vigilance Committee to the effect that they were not bound by

Coleman's promise not to do any thing till the regular trial by

jury should be had, etc. He was with reason furious, and asked me

to go with him to Truett's store, over which the Executive

Committee was said to be in session. We were admitted to a

front-room up-stairs, and heard voices in the back-room. The

Governor inquired for Coleman, but he was not forthcoming. Another

of the committee, Seymour, met us, denied in toto the promise of

the night before, and the Governor openly accused him of treachery

and falsehood.

The quarrel became public, and the newspapers took it up, both

parties turning on the Governor; one, the Vigilantes, denying the

promise made by Coleman, their president; and the other, the

"Law-and-Order party," refusing any farther assistance, because

Johnson had stooped to make terms with rebels. At all events, he

was powerless, and had to let matters drift to a conclusion.

King died about Friday, May 20th, and the funeral was appointed for

the next Sunday. Early on that day the Governor sent for me at my

house. I found him on the roof of the International, from which we

looked down on the whole city, and more especially the face of

Telegraph Hill, which was already covered with a crowd of people,

while others were moving toward the jail on Broadway. Parties of

armed men, in good order, were marching by platoons in the same

direction; and formed in line along Broadway, facing the jail-door.

Soon a small party was seen to advance to this door, and knock; a

parley ensued, the doors were opened, and Casey was led out. In a

few minutes another prisoner was brought out, who, proved to be

Cora, a man who had once been tried for killing Richardson, the

United States Marshal, when the jury disagreed, and he was awaiting

a new trial. These prisoners were placed in carriages, and

escorted by the armed force down to the rooms of the Vigilance

Committee, through the principal streets of the city. The day was

exceedingly beautiful, and the whole proceeding was orderly in the

extreme. I was under the impression that Casey and Cora were

hanged that same Sunday, but was probably in error; but in a very

few days they were hanged by the neck--dead--suspended from beams

projecting from the windows of the committee's rooms, without other

trial than could be given in secret, and by night.

We all thought the matter had ended there, and accordingly the

Governor returned to Sacramento in disgust, and I went about my

business. But it soon became manifest that the Vigilance Committee

had no intention to surrender the power thus usurped. They took a

building on Clay Street, near Front, fortified it, employed guards

and armed sentinels, sat in midnight council, issued writs of

arrest and banishment, and utterly ignored all authority but their

own. A good many men were banished and forced to leave the

country, but they were of that class we could well spare. Yankee

Sullivan, a prisoner in their custody, committed suicide, and a

feeling of general insecurity pervaded the city. Business was

deranged; and the Bulletin, then under control of Tom King, a

brother of James, poured out its abuse on some of our best men, as

well as the worst. Governor Johnson, being again appealed to,

concluded to go to work regularly, and telegraphed me about the 1st

of June to meet him at General Wool's headquarters at Benicia that

night. I went up, and we met at the hotel where General Wool was

boarding. Johnson had with him his Secretary of State. We

discussed the state of the country generally, and I had agreed that

if Wool would give us arms and ammunition out of the United States

Arsenal at Benicia, and if Commodore Farragat, of the navy,

commanding the navy-yard on Mare Island, would give us a ship, I

would call out volunteers, and, when a sufficient number had

responded, I would have the arms come down from Benicia in the

ship, arm my men, take possession of a thirty-two-pound-gun battery

at the Marine Hospital on Rincon Point, thence command a dispersion

of the unlawfully-armed force of the Vigilance Committee, and

arrest some of the leaders.

We played cards that night, carrying on a conversation, in which

Wool insisted on a proclamation commanding the Vigilance Committee

to disperse, etc., and he told us how he had on some occasion, as

far back as 1814, suppressed a mutiny on the Northern frontier. I

did not understand him to make any distinct promise of assistance

that night, but he invited us to accompany him on an inspection of

the arsenal the next day, which we did. On handling some rifled

muskets in the arsenal storehouse he asked me how they would answer

our purpose. I said they were the very things, and that we did not

want cartridge boxes or belts, but that I would have the cartridges

carried in the breeches-pockets, and the caps in the vestpockets.

I knew that there were stored in that arsenal four thousand

muskets, for I recognized the boxes which we had carried out in the

Lexington around Cape Horn in 1846. Afterward we all met at the

quarters of Captain D. R. Jones of the army, and I saw the

Secretary of State, D. F. Douglass, Esq., walk out with General

Wool in earnest conversation, and this Secretary of State afterward

asserted that Wool there and then promised us the arms and

ammunition, provided the Governor would make his proclamation for

the committee to disperse, and that I should afterward call out the

militia, etc. On the way back to the hotel at Benicia, General

Wool, Captain Callendar of the arsenal, and I, were walking side by

side, and I was telling him (General Wool) that I would also need

some ammunition for the thirty-two-pound guns then in position at

Rineon Point, when Wool turned to Callendar and inquired, "Did I

not order those guns to be brought away?" Callendar said "Yes,

general. I made a requisition on the quartermaster for

transportation, but his schooner has been so busy that the guns are

still there." Then said Wool: "Let them remain; we may have use for

them." I therefrom inferred, of course, that it was all agreed to

so far as he was concerned.

Soon after we had reached the hotel, we ordered a buggy, and

Governor Johnson and I drove to Vallejo, six miles, crossed over to

Mare Island, and walked up to the commandant's house, where we

found Commodore Farragut and his family. We stated our business

fairly, but the commodore answered very frankly that he had no

authority, without orders from his department, to take any part in

civil broils; he doubted the wisdom of the attempt; said he had no

ship available except the John Adams, Captain Boutwell, and that

she needed repairs. But he assented at last, to the proposition to

let the sloop John Adams drop down abreast of the city after

certain repairs, to lie off there for moral effect, which afterward

actually occurred.

We then returned to Benicia, and Wool's first question was, "What

luck?" We answered, "Not much," and explained what Commodore

Farragut could and would do, and that, instead of having a naval

vessel, we would seize and use one of the Pacific Mail Company's

steamers, lying at their dock in Benicia, to carry down to San

Francisco the arms and munitions when the time came.

As the time was then near at hand for the arrival of the evening

boats, we all walked down to the wharf together, where I told

Johnson that he could not be too careful; that I had not heard

General Wool make a positive promise of assistance.

Upon this, Johnson called General Wool to one side, and we three

drew together. Johnson said: "General Wool, General Sherman is

very particular, and wants to know exactly what you propose to do."

Wool answered: "I understand, Governor, that in the first place a

writ of Habeas corpus will be issued commanding the jailers of the

Vigilance Committee to produce the body of some one of the

prisoners held by them (which, of course, will be refused); that

you then issue your proclamation commanding them to disperse, and,

failing this, you will call out the militia, and command General

Sherman with it to suppress the Vigilance Committee as an unlawful

body;" to which the Governor responded, "Yes." "Then," said Wool,

"on General Sherman's making his requisition, approved by you, I

will order the issue of the necessary arms and ammunition." I

remember well that I said, emphatically: "That is all I want.--

Now, Governor, you may go ahead." We soon parted; Johnson and

Douglas taking the boat to Sacramento, and I to San Francisco.

The Chief-Justice, Terry, came to San Francisco the next day,

issued a writ of habeas corpus for the body of one Maloney, which

writ was resisted, as we expected. The Governor then issued his

proclamation, and I published my orders, dated June 4, 1855. The

Quartermaster-General of the State, General Kibbe, also came to San

Francisco, took an office in the City Hall, engaged several rooms

for armories, and soon the men began to enroll into companies. In

my general orders calling out the militia, I used the expression,

"When a sufficient number of men are enrolled, arms and ammunition

will be supplied." Some of the best men of the "Vigilantes" came

to me and remonstrated, saying that collision would surely result;

that it would be terrible, etc. All I could say in reply was, that

it was for them to get out of the way." Remove your fort; cease

your midnight councils; and prevent your armed bodies from

patrolling the streets." They inquired where I was to get arms,

and I answered that I had them certain. But personally I went

right along with my business at the bank, conscious that at any

moment we might have trouble. Another committee of citizens, a

conciliatory body, was formed to prevent collision if possible, and

the newspapers boiled over with vehement vituperation. This second

committee was composed of such men as Crockett, Ritchie, Thornton,

Bailey Peyton, Foote, Donohue, Kelly, and others, a class of the

most intelligent and wealthy men of the city, who earnestly and

honestly desired to prevent bloodshed. They also came to me, and I

told them that our men were enrolling very fast, and that, when I

deemed the right moment had come, the Vigilance Committee must

disperse, else bloodshed and destruction of property would

inevitably follow. They also had discovered that the better men of

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