Southern California does indeed have a Civil War history


Ulysses S. Grant IV, a grandson of the Civil War general and U.S. president, was a geology professor at UCLA.

More than 30 Confederate soldiers are buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Civil War history: The L.A. Then and Now column in the May 30 Section A, about Southern California ties to the Civil War, said the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum is in San Pedro. It’s in Wilmington. —

Rosecrans Avenue was named for Union Army general (and later Los Angeles-area resident) William Rosecrans.

UCLA history professor Joan Waugh ticks off such facts to illustrate that, though it’s natural to associate the Civil War with cities in the East and the South, links to the struggle can also be found in Southern California.

Gettysburg Avenue, Antietam Avenue and Appomattox Drive, for instance, are roads inside Los Angeles National Cemetery near Westwood.

Waugh, the author of “U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth,” grew up in Los Angeles but says she was unaware until about a decade ago that there were about 10,000 Civil War veterans buried at the cemetery.

Waugh, who teaches a seminar titled “The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture,” now takes her students to the cemetery — a different world just a few blocks from the comfort zone of Westwood — to “bring Civil War history alive. It’s a moving experience.”

The facility began in 1888 as a free-of-charge home for Union soldiers, many of whom had migrated to sunny Southern California. Confederate veterans were banned.

The cemetery’s first resident, former Pvt. George Davis of New York, was so eager to leave the miserable winters of that state that he couldn’t wait for construction to begin and took up “residence in a tent set up on the grounds,” The Times reported.

There was no cemetery at first. It was established as the veterans began to die off.

Mexican War veterans were also welcome, and among those buried there is Nicholas Earp, onetime bootlegger, Colton city clerk and father of gunfighter Wyatt Earp.

One mysterious figure on the grounds is the statue of a soldier, which the cemetery’s website says was erected in 1942.

But Cheryl Wilkinson, a student of Waugh’s, researched the matter for her honors thesis and found that the statue dates to at least 1896, when a Times article mentioned its arrival.

Wilkinson also disputed a book about military cemeteries that says it is the likeness of a Revolutionary War soldier.

She pointed to the figure’s kepi (hat) and the “US” stamped on its haversack to show that it was a Civil War soldier.

Though the name of the sculptor is unknown, it’s questionable whether he saw combat since the figure is shown doing something a soldier would never do: draping his hand over the muzzle of his rifle.

That Confederate War veterans were banned from the cemetery is somewhat ironic, since secessionists may have been in the majority in pre-Civil War Los Angeles.

In the 1850s, there was talk of the southern half of California splitting off to form its own state. (Few protests were heard from San Francisco.)

In the 1860 presidential election, Abraham Lincoln collected just 179 votes in Los Angeles, less than 25% of those cast.

Fearful of a secessionist revolt, the federal government built Camp Drum in San Pedro in 1861 (now the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum) to maintain order.

Even Catalina Island was believed to be in peril. Rumor had it that Confederate privateers planned to seize the island and use it as a base for raiding ships that were transporting gold along the coast. Federal troops were sent there to evacuate all private citizens.

More than half a century after the end of the Civil War, oil magnate Robert Watchorn atoned in part for L.A. voters’ snub of Lincoln by establishing another Southland link to the conflict.

He financed the construction of the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands. The shrine, which contains some 10,000 books and pamphlets, is the only museum and archive west of the Mississippi River that is dedicated solely to the study of Lincoln and the Civil War.

Why Redlands, a city never visited by Lincoln? Watchorn, like many wealthy Easterners escaping the cold back then, was a winter resident of the city.

U.S. Grant Jr., meanwhile, kept the 18th president’s name alive in Southern California by building the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego in 1910.

And, from 1931 to 1959, U.S. Grant IV, a grandson, taught geology at UCLA. Unconfirmed reports say that he appeared on a 1953 segment of the quiz show “You Bet Your Life,” hosted by Groucho Marx. (The consolation question on each show from wise-cracking Groucho was, “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?”)

The Drum Museum and the Lincoln shrine will be closed on Memorial Day. But Los Angeles National Cemetery will be open. So will Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where the Long Beach chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy maintains a Confederate monument.

And Catalina, no longer under federal occupation, is also available to visitors. The island’s onetime Union barracks is now the Isthmus Yacht Club.