Home Decor – The sting of victory: The battle after the Civil War
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865. As the most formidable force of the Confederacy, Lee’s surrender marked for many the end of the American Civil War.
There was celebration throughout Santa Cruz County, and the churches prepared for special services on Easter Sunday. Yet on Saturday, the weekly Sentinel carried the alarming news that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated on April 14. For those who hadn’t heard, the doleful tolling of the church bells on Easter morning at first were thought to be for the staggering death toll in the war.
The horror of the first American president assassinated was made worse by local Southern Sympathizers who publicly rejoiced in Lincoln’s murder. This led to the arrest of the most flagrant gloaters, who were sent to the Confederate prison at Fort Alcatraz. Their cases were dismissed some weeks later, conditional to “swallowing the dog,” as sympathizers put it. This meant choking-down an oath of loyalty to the United States, that also rebuked all allegiance to “the so-called Confederacy.”
Victory had become a time of overlapping joy and grief. The Santa Cruz/Watsonville area was one of the state’s strongest supporters of preserving the nation and ending slavery. Back in September, 1861, Albert Brown recruited in Santa Cruz the Union Company L–2nd California Cavalry troop, camping for a while between the San Lorenzo River and Branciforte Creek. Then on Nov. 22, 1861, a fundraising military ball was held at the town’s first luxury hotel, the San Lorenzo Hotel & Steamboat Exchange. Volunteers from that event helped establish a unit that became Union Company K–5th California Infantry. In 1864, Watsonville formed Union Company A–8th California Infantry, which spent its career guarding the coast.
Company K was sent to Camp Union in Sacramento, where they fought, not soldiers, but the terrible statewide flooding of 1861-62. They spent some time at Fort Alcatraz, then after March 1862, were sent to Camp Drum near Los Angeles, to stem a Texas invasion seeking to capture New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California for the Confederacy. The invasion never made it to Southern California, so Company K captured marauding Apache north of Tucson, then went to New Mexico to protect the Overland Trail route. Mustered out in November 1864, they returned to Santa Cruz in January 1865.
The Battle of Palmito Ranch, Texas, May 12-13, 1865, was a pointless altercation without any objective. Most believed the war to be over, but some feared the death of Lincoln had emboldened the Confederacy to make a fresh offensive in the West. In Santa Cruz, these worries appeared to come true, when at 3:30 in the morning, on May 21, people awoke to what they feared was bombardment rattling the coast. It turned out to be a rather strong earthquake, maybe a 5 on the Rhickter Scale, that knocked things off shelves.
Meanwhile, Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, finding that news of the Emancipation Proclamation was scarce. It had been enacted New Years Day, 1863, yet slave owners kept the news from the enslaved, to prevent rebellion or escapes. So on June 19, 1865, Granger issued General Order No. 3.
It read in part:
“…The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor….”
Celebration of national emancipation came to be called Juneteenth. Yet some slave masters at the time denounced these “Yankee lies,” and promised to kill anyone who escaped, or didn’t work as hard as before the war.
Santa Cruz certainly kept up on this kind of news, for while the county had a small Black population of around 50 people, they included some impressive activists. Joe McAfee had been one of eight Black soldiers in the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846, and was now an orator for the local Republican Party, and bootblack. He’d come to Santa Cruz in 1862 with Samuel Padmore, miner and janitor, as well as George Chester, a popular restauranteur. Chester became a spokesman for the black community, and welcome wagon for new blacks in town, often putting them up at his house, and seeing that they found a home and employment. Chester came with a wife and three children, but shortly after arriving his wife died, and she was buried in London Nelson’s plot at Evergreen Cemetery, where Samuel Padmore was also buried, when he died in 1863 of Tuberculosis.
Literacy certainly aided their interest in Civil Rights. Journalist Philip Alexander Bell had worked for William Lloyd Garrison’s “Liberator,” and was a friend of Frederick Douglass. Bell relocated to San Francisco in 1860, where in 1862 he wrote for the black newspaper “the Pacific Appeal.” After a falling out with its editor, he started his own Black weekly publication in 1865, called “The Elevator,” with the slogan “Equality Before the Law.” Both papers were popular statewide with abolitionists.
The California Colored Citizens Convention for October 1865 had more of an urgency than before, as the Reconstruction momentum extended to black civil rights. Held in Sacramento, journalist Philip Bell would represent Santa Cruz County, while Joe Smallwood (a future Santa Cruzan) was a San Francisco delegate. One of Smallwood’s sons was personal secretary to Salmon P. Chase: Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, then in 1864 Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The first California Colored Citizens Convention had been held in November 1855 at the A.M.E. Church in Sacramento. At that convention, Wm. H. Mills represented Santa Cruz County, and Joe Smallwood represented El Dorado County. The issues were ending slavery, access to public education, voting, and equal rights. The group met again in Sacramento in 1856, and in San Francisco in 1857.
Chain of events
The Santa Cruz County Jail was built like a fort’s block-house of heavy wooden beams. It sat beside the Catholic Church. In June, 1865, its sole prisoner, Pedro Lorenzana, gave the alarm that the building was on fire. Pedro was saved, but the 10 year old building was lost. It was soon replaced with a stone block jail.
Then in July, a major fire swept away most of one block in the four-block downtown. It burned the San Lorenzo Hotel (at Pacific and Plaza Lane), the neighboring Alfred Baldwin clothing store, and Almus Rountree’s “Washington Market.” South of the hotel, the fire reached clear to Locust Street, destroying James Kirkpatrick’s cobbler shop, S. Barnet’s Dry Goods Store, and Dr. Bailey’s medical offices.
The proprietors of the San Lorenzo Hotel were Wm. Moore and Amasa Pray. Pray was also part owner of a General Store with branches on the Upper Plaza and the Lower Plaza in the Santa Cruz House. This pioneer rooming house was no substitute for a luxury hotel, with its low ceilings and cramped quarters, but he did his best fixing it up as a substitute, while his new luxury brick hotel was being constructed. Then in August, another fire was spotted on the second floor of Wm. Newton’s Saloon, but this time it was put out before causing damage. Evidence of arson soon led to the arrest of Wm. O’Conner, a southern sympathizer, who resented this pro-Union stronghold of abolitionism.
Then on Oct. 8, 1865, there was a quick jolt, then a shaking of the earth so powerful (maybe 6.5) it sent folks into the streets as chimneys twisted or toppled over. Hihn & Field’s drug store lost a long display case of crockery. The new hotel under construction lost a portion of a wall where the mortar had yet to set, and the Flatiron Building had a crack down the back.
These fires and quakes were mere manifestations of the unsettled period of Union Victory. Peace did not come easily to the South, due to the extent of its devastation, president Andrew Johnson refusing to send sufficient troops to keep order or funds to rebuild, and an obsession with someone to blame besides the Confederacy.
Tennessee was split down the middle between those who opposed Secession, and Confederates, with their postwar grudge match giving birth to the Ku Klux Klan. Marshall Law was declared in Arkansas in a war to suppress the Klan, and northeast Texas was so lawless, it launched a war between the Lee Gang and Lewis Peacock. At last in 1871, U.S. Grant obtained troops for Texas, after a report of 5,000 acts of atrocity against blacks.
Back in Santa Cruz, the new hotel opened in 1866 as the last word in luxury. The street had just changed names from Willow Street to Pacific Avenue, so the new hotel was called the Pacific Ocean House. In 1868, Joseph Smallwood and Robert Francis moved from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, and opened their barber shop in the Pacific Ocean House. And when the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1870, guaranteeing all men the right to vote, Smallwood and Francis were noted in the Sentinel registering to vote.
Ross Eric Gibson is a former history columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.
Home Decor – The sting of victory: The battle after the Civil War
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