Way Out West in ’58
I have been working these days on trying to get a sense of which way the wind was blowing – so to speak – in Los Angeles immediately before the Civil War. I know that plenty of the small 1850s population tended to lean in a southerly direction and I am always on the lookout for first-hand accounts.
From my own library, as it turns out, I had a look in Almira Russell Hancock’s 1887 publication of Reminiscences of Winfield Scott Hancock. Winfield, a career Army officer who would rise to fame as commander of the II Corps of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, found himself stationed in Los Angeles in November 1858, where he would remain until the outbreak of hostilities in ’61. Allie wrote a wonderfully descriptive account of their time in Southern California noting many of the terrain features, wildlife, and population of the pueblo:
The Los Angeles of 1858-59 was not the Los Angeles of to-day; now it contains 25,000 inhabitants, then it boasted of 4,000. Its main street was lined on both sides with adobe houses of true Spanish type, and not very many of them; but the surrounding country, with its beautiful hills and valleys, its snow-capped mountains and variegated fields, was unsurpassably charming. The population consisted principally of Spaniards, a few rough American adventurers, and many Indians of a low order, who were treacherous and required watching, and were at times very disorderly.
As tensions reached a near breaking point in the East, Allie Hancock noted the rebellious sentiments both within the ranks of the Army as well as the general population and pointed to the uneasiness felt by her husband:
The presidential election was impending, and excitement ran high. In Mr. Hancock’s opinion the situation was pregnant with danger in the event of Mr. Lincoln’s success. This conviction caused him much uneasiness, which he did not hesitate to express, but few believed it possible that the South had the intention of actually seceding from the Union. Portentous rumblings came from the East, and from the utterances of those around him, a majority of whom were Southern sympathizers, Mr. Hancock concluded that rebellion was imminent. The reckless character of the large portion of the population composing the Disunionists, most of them adventurers, willingly participating in any movement which presented opportunity to themselves, made the situation very hazardous.
She then continued to connect previous efforts to form an independent Bear Flag Republic in California and noted how the Spaniards were entirely sympathetic to this cause – or really any cause promoting independence.
And for the record (for those of you who have seen the film, Gettysburg), nowhere in the text does she refer to her husband as “Old Winnie Boy.” In fact, I have never seen that sobriquet used in any contemporary writing. And I don’t recall if Shaara used it in Killer Angels. If not, I guess Ron Maxwell just needed a catchy nickname to go over well with the movie-going public.