Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech


Accordingly, I was up bright and early, down at the wharf, found a

boat, and went off to the Columbus to see Commodore Biddle. On

reaching the ship and stating to the officer of the deck my

business, I was shown into the commodore's cabin, and soon made

known to him my object. Biddle was a small-sized man, but

vivacious in the extreme. He had a perfect contempt for all

humbug, and at once entered into the business with extreme

alacrity. I was somewhat amused at the importance he attached to

the step. He had a chaplain, and a private secretary, in a small

room latticed off from his cabin, and he first called on them to go

out, and, when we were alone, he enlarged on the folly of Sloat's

proclamation, giving the people the right to elect their own

officers, and commended Kearney and Mason for nipping that idea in

the bud, and keeping the power in their own hands. He then sent

for the first lieutenant (Drayton), and inquired if there were

among the officers on board any who had ever been in the Upper Bay,

and learning that there was a midshipman (Whittaker) he was sent

for. It so happened that this midshipman had been on a frolic on

shore a few nights before, and was accordingly much frightened when

summoned into the commodore's presence, but as soon as he was

questioned as to his knowledge of the bay, he was sensibly

relieved, and professed to know every thing about it.

Accordingly, the long boat was ordered with this midshipman and

eight sailors, prepared with water and provisions for several days

absence. Biddle then asked me if I knew any of his own officers,

and which one of them I would prefer to accompany me. I knew most

of them, and we settled down on Louis McLane. He was sent for, and

it was settled that McLane and I were to conduct this important

mission, and the commodore enjoined on us complete secrecy, so as

to insure success, and he especially cautioned us against being

pumped by his ward-room officers, Chapman, Lewis, Wise, etc., while

on board his ship. With this injunction I was dismissed to the

wardroom, where I found Chapman, Lewis, and Wise, dreadfully

exercised at our profound secrecy. The fact that McLane and I had

been closeted with the commodore for an hour, that orders for the

boat and stores had been made, that the chaplain and clerk had been

sent out of the cabin, etc., etc., all excited their curiosity; but

McLane and I kept our secret well. The general impression was,

that we had some knowledge about the fate of Captain Montgomery's

two sons and the crew that had been lost the year before. In 1846

Captain Montgomery commanded at Yerba Buena, on board the St. Mary

sloop-of-war, and he had a detachment of men stationed up at

Sonoma. Occasionally a boat was sent up with provisions or

intelligence to them. Montgomery had two sons on board his ship,

one a midshipman, the other his secretary. Having occasion to send

some money up to Sonoma, he sent his two sons with a good boat and

crew. The boat started with a strong breeze and a very large sail,

was watched from the deck until she was out of sight, and has never

been heard of since. There was, of coarse, much speculation as to

their fate, some contending that the boat must have been capsized

in San Pablo Bay, and that all were lost; others contending that

the crew had murdered the officers for the money, and then escaped;

but, so far as I know, not a man of that crew has ever been seen or

heard of since. When at last the boat was ready for us, we

started, leaving all hands, save the commodore, impressed with the

belief that we were going on some errand connected with the loss of

the missing boat and crew of the St. Mary. We sailed directly

north, up the bay and across San Pablo, reached the month of Sonoma

Creek about dark, and during the night worked up the creek some

twelve miles by means of the tide, to a landing called the

Embarcadero. To maintain the secrecy which the commodore had

enjoined on us, McLane and I agreed to keep up the delusion by

pretending to be on a marketing expedition to pick up chickens,

pigs, etc., for the mess of the Columbus, soon to depart for home.

Leaving the midshipman and four sailors to guard the boat, we

started on foot with the other four for Sonoma Town, which we soon

reached. It was a simple open square, around which were some

adobe-houses, that of General Vallejo occupying one side. On

another was an unfinished two-story adobe building, occupied as a

barrack by Bracken's company. We soon found Captain Brackett, and

I told him that I intended to take Nash a prisoner and convey him

back to Monterey to answer for his mutinous behavior. I got an old

sergeant of his company, whom I had known in the Third Artillery,

quietly to ascertain the whereabouts of Nash, who was a bachelor,

stopping with the family of a lawyer named Green. The sergeant

soon returned, saying that Nash had gone over to Napa, but would be

back that evening; so McLane and I went up to a farm of some

pretensions, occupied by one Andreas Hoepner, with a pretty Sitka

wife, who lived a couple of miles above Sonoma, and we bought of

him some chickens, pigs, etc. We then visited Governor Boggs's

family and that of General Vallejo, who was then, as now, one of

the most prominent and influential natives of California. About

dark I learned that Nash had come back, and then, giving Brackett

orders to have a cart ready at the corner of the plaza, McLane and

I went to the house of Green. Posting an armed sailor on each side

of the house, we knocked at the door and walked in. We found

Green, Nash, and two women, at supper. I inquired if Nash were in,

and was first answered "No," but one of the women soon pointed to

him, and he rose. We were armed with pistols, and the family was

evidently alarmed. I walked up to him and took his arm, and told

him to come along with me. He asked me, "Where?" and I said,

"Monterey." "Why?" I would explain that more at leisure. Green

put himself between me and the door, and demanded, in theatrical

style, why I dared arrest a peaceable citizen in his house. I

simply pointed to my pistol, and told him to get out of the way,

which he did. Nash asked to get some clothing, but I told him he

should want for nothing. We passed out, Green following us with

loud words, which brought the four sailors to the front-door, when

I told him to hush up or I would take him prisoner also. About

that time one of the sailors, handling his pistol carelessly,

discharged it, and Green disappeared very suddenly. We took Nash

to the cart, put him in, and proceeded back to our boat. The next

morning we were gone.

Nash being out of the way, Boggs entered on his office, and the

right to appoint or remove from civil office was never again

questioned in California during the military regime. Nash was an

old man, and was very much alarmed for his personal safety. He had

come across the Plains, and had never yet seen the sea. While on

our way down the bay, I explained fully to him the state of things

in California, and he admitted he had never looked on it in that

light before, and professed a willingness to surrender his office;

but, having gone so far, I thought it best to take him to Monterey.

On our way down the bay the wind was so strong, as we approached

the Columbus, that we had to take refuge behind Yerba Buena Island,

then called Goat Island, where we landed, and I killed a gray seal.

The next morning, the wind being comparatively light, we got out

and worked our way up to the Columbus, where I left my prisoner on

board, and went on shore to find Commodore Biddle, who had gone to

dine with Frank Ward. I found him there, and committed Nash to his

charge, with the request that he would send him down to Monterey,

which he did in the sloop-of-war Dale, Captain Selfridge

commanding. I then returned to Monterey by land, and, when the

Dale arrived, Colonel Mason and I went on board, found poor old Mr.

Nash half dead with sea-sickness and fear, lest Colonel Mason would

treat him with extreme military rigor. But, on the contrary, the

colonel spoke to him kindly, released him as a prisoner on his

promise to go back to Sonoma. surrender his office to Boggs, and

account to him for his acts while in office. He afterward came on

shore, was provided with clothing and a horse, returned to Sonoma,

and I never have seen him since.

Matters and things settled down in Upper California, and all moved

along with peace and harmony. The war still continued in Mexico,

and the navy authorities resolved to employ their time with the

capture of Mazatlan and Guaymas. Lower California had already been

occupied by two companies of Stevenson's regiment, under

Lieutenant-Colonel Burton, who had taken post at La Paz, and a

small party of sailors was on shore at San Josef, near Cape San

Lucas, detached from the Lexington, Lieutenant-Commander Bailey.

The orders for this occupation were made by General Kearney before

he left, in pursuance of instructions from the War Department,

merely to subserve a political end, for there were few or no people

in Lower California, which is a miserable, wretched, dried-up

peninsula. I remember the proclamation made by Burton and Captain

Bailey, in taking possession, which was in the usual florid style.

Bailey signed his name as the senior naval officer at the station,

but, as it was necessary to put it into Spanish to reach the

inhabitants of the newly-acquired country, it was interpreted, "El

mas antiguo de todos los oficiales de la marina," etc., which,

literally, is "the most ancient of all the naval officers," etc.,

a translation at which we made some fun.

The expedition to Mazatlan was, however, for a different purpose,

viz., to get possession of the ports of Mazatlan and Guaymas, as a

part of the war against Mexico, and not for permanent conquest.

Commodore Shubrick commanded this expedition, and took Halleck

along as his engineer-officer. They captured Mazatlan and Guaymas,

and then called on Colonel Mason to send soldiers down to hold

possession, but he had none to spare, and it was found impossible

to raise other volunteers either in California or Oregon, and the

navy held these places by detachments of sailors and marines till

the end of the war. Burton also called for reenforcements, and

Naglee'a company was sent to him from Monterey, and these three

companies occupied Lower California at the end of the Mexican War.

Major Hardie still commanded at San Francisco and above; Company F,

Third Artillery, and Shannon's company of volunteers, were at

Monterey; Lippett's company at Santa Barbara; Colonel Stevenson,

with one company of his regiment, and the company of the First

Dragoons, was at Los Angeles; and a company of Mormons, reenlisted

out of the Mormon Battalion, garrisoned San Diego--and thus matters

went along throughout 1847 into 1848. I had occasion to make

several trips to Yerba Buena and back, and in the spring of 1848

Colonel Mason and I went down to Santa Barbara in the sloop-of-war


I spent much time in hunting deer and bear in the mountains back of

the Carmel Mission, and ducks and geese in the plains of the

Salinas. As soon as the fall rains set in, the young oats would

sprout up, and myriads of ducks, brant, and geese, made their

appearance. In a single day, or rather in the evening of one day

and the morning of the next, I could load a pack-mule with geese

and ducks. They had grown somewhat wild from the increased number

of hunters, yet, by marking well the place where a flock lighted, I

could, by taking advantage of gullies or the shape of the ground,,

creep up within range; and, giving one barrel on the ground, and

the other as they rose, I have secured as many as nine at one

discharge. Colonel Mason on one occasion killed eleven geese by

one discharge of small shot. The seasons in California are well

marked. About October and November the rains begin, and the whole

country, plains and mountains, becomes covered with a bright-green

grass, with endless flowers. The intervals between the rains give

the finest weather possible. These rains are less frequent in

March, and cease altogether in April and May, when gradually the

grass dies and the whole aspect of things changes, first to yellow,

then to brown, and by midsummer all is burnt up and dry as an


When General Kearney first departed we took his office at Larkin's;

but shortly afterward we had a broad stairway constructed to lead

from the outside to the upper front porch of the barracks. By

cutting a large door through the adobe-wall, we made the upper room

in the centre our office; and another side-room, connected with it

by a door, was Colonel Mason's private office.

I had a single clerk, a soldier named Baden; and William E. P.

Hartnell, citizen, also had a table in the same room. He was the

government interpreter, and had charge of the civil archives.

After Halleck's return from Mazatlan, he was, by Colonel Mason,

made Secretary of State; and he then had charge of the civil

archives, including the land-titles, of which Fremont first had

possession, but which had reverted to us when he left the country.

I remember one day, in the spring of 1848, that two men, Americans,

came into the office and inquired for the Governor. I asked their

business, and one answered that they had just come down from

Captain Sutter on special business, and they wanted to see Governor

Mason in person. I took them in to the colonel, and left them

together. After some time the colonel came to his door and called

to me. I went in, and my attention was directed to a series of

papers unfolded on his table, in which lay about half an ounce of

placer gold. Mason said to me, "What is that?" I touched it and

examined one or two of the larger pieces, and asked, "Is it gold?"

Mason asked me if I had ever seen native gold. I answered that, in

1844, I was in Upper Georgia, and there saw some native gold, but

it was much finer than this, and that it was in phials, or in

transparent quills; but I said that, if this were gold, it could be

easily tested, first, by its malleability, and next by acids. I

took a piece in my teeth, and the metallic lustre was perfect. I

then called to the clerk, Baden, to bring an axe and hatchet from

the backyard. When these were brought, I took the largest piece

and beat it out flat, and beyond doubt it was metal, and a pure

metal. Still, we attached little importance to the fact, for gold

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