Dennis Cassinelli: Nevada’s contribution to the Civil War
No sooner had the Pyramid Lake Indian Wars ended and fear of attack from hostile Indians subsided in the Nevada Territory and on the Comstock in 1860, the American Civil War began. Fortunately, the Comstock militiamen had received much welcome help from California reinforcements to help put down the Indian uprisings.
California had become the 31st state on Sept. 9, 1850. Since many of the earliest pioneers who came to the Comstock following the California Gold Rush were transplants from California, they already had a loyalty to the Union cause when the Civil War began back in the eastern and southern states in 1861. These miners and entrepreneurs felt they had their own chores to attend and felt no obligation to participate in the fighting back east. Their loyalty was to the Union but their livelihood was right here in the Comstock.
On June 5, 1861 someone raised the flag of the Confederate States of America over Johnny Newman’s Saloon in Virginia City. The citizens of the Comstock were enraged to discover the “Stars and Bars” flying over the town. There was a strong secessionist element in the fledgling Nevada Territory, but the reaction was overwhelmingly on the Union side. The people of Virginia City responded swiftly, and a mob of townspeople tore down the rebel flag without any further violence.
The U.S. Army commander in San Francisco took the matter seriously. He ordered the commander at Fort Churchill to investigate the incident. Military experts believed the flag was a “feeler to learn the strength of southern sympathizers in the area.” The Army was concerned more than a third of the arms issued to volunteer military organizations in 1860 in Nevada Territory had never been returned. The ammunition and weapons had been used in the Pyramid Lake Indian War against the Paiutes. They knew if the weaponry had fallen into the hands of the secessionists, the situation could’ve become a serious threat to the Comstock region. An order from Fort Churchill was sent out to search where needed and to seize all the arms and munitions in the hands of the public.
Captain Moore and 20 dragoons under Lt. Baker accepted all arms and munitions seized in the raids until a company of volunteers was recruited in Virginia City the night of June 9 “for the special protection of the interest of the Union.” The weapons were released to this new unit. Because Nevadans hadn’t yet been authorized to form their own units, this group of 75 men had to proceed to California to be included in a battalion being organized there.
The army wasn’t about to take any chances following the flag raising incident at Virginia City. They were convinced an attempt was going to be made by southern sympathizers to capture Fort Churchill. With the country being stripped of troops to fight the Civil War, Nevada Territory was left exposed. There were reports Confederate President Jefferson Davis had promised the governorship of Nevada Territory to southern Judge David S. Terry. Everyone realized the value Nevada gold and silver would have to the southern cause and what a disaster it would have been to the Union cause if that resource should be lost to the secessionists.
The arms were reissued to Nevada volunteers, however, indicating the Fort Churchill authorities realized the intensely loyal feeling on the Comstock. Later, Nevadans managed to raise many volunteer units of cavalry and infantry that saw considerable action against the Indians, but they never had to fire a shot at the gray-clad Confederates.
Nevada’s contribution to the Union cause during the Civil War was more economic than military. Certainly, keeping the wealth from the Nevada mines in the hands of the Union was a major contributing factor in the winning of the war. Had the Confederate flag continued to fly over the Comstock, the outcome of the war may have very well been different than it was. Nevada became known as “The Battle Born State” due to President Lincoln’s desire to have another Union state with considerable gold, silver and other valuable mineral resources added on Oct. 31, 1864.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis’ books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount to reduce inventory and Dennis will pay the postage. These will no longer be available from Amazon.