Union troops were more than a little suspicious when they ran into a group of 16 men traveling east through San Diego’s backcountry in the early days of the Civil War. The men declared they were peaceful miners, but they each packed a rifle and a pair of revolvers instead of shovels and picks.
Most of them were Southerners, and their leader, a red-headed Confederate sympathizer named Dan Showalter, was famous. A few months earlier, this “fascinating and baffling character” had fired a bullet straight into a fellow state legislator’s mouth at 40 paces. Now, he was heading east to slaughter Yankees.
This confrontation — near the landmark Dudley’s Bakery in Santa Ysabel where modern-day drivers grab loaves of date nut raisin bread on the way home from Julian — wasn’t destined to be bloody. Showalter’s gory end was still to come, just not that day in 1861. But the story of his collusion with the enemy shines a light on how the Golden State was mightily divided over the Civil War, so much so that the Union sought to derail the “underground railroad” of Confederate sympathizers heading east to fight the North.
In fact, Showalter could barely have found a friendlier place to visit than dusty, remote “secession-tinged” San Diego County, where he was responsible for California’s only face-off between Union troops and Confederate wannabes.
‘A Hotbed of Pro-Southern Sentiment’
As the Civil War began, the Confederate States of America looked to the West as fertile territory for the expansion of the war and maybe even the extension of slavery too. “Northern California might be impossible to win over,” writes historian Glenna Matthews in her book “The Golden State in the Civil War,” “but Southern California is a hotbed of pro-Southern sentiment.”
Things were so dicey that the Union feared a pro-Confederacy uprising in these parts, especially in light of the fact that many people in SoCal had relocated from Texas and other slave states.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
It was shameful that SDUSD Board had such difficulty removing the name of a traitorous slavery supporting general from an elementary school until so very recently. First they put it to a public poll, as though our majority white populous should decide whether it was OK for black school children to be subjected to a total disregard for the impact and symbolism of this genocidal institution.
I knew that there was some reason why I continue to refer to our fine city as the Mississippi of the west. And I regret to say that very little has changed.