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150 years after the guns of Gettysburg fell silent, what was California’s role in the Civil War?

Civil War reenactors aim their weapons
Civil War reenactors aim their weapons
Ron Cogswell/Flickr

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A century and a half ago today, the guns of Gettysburg fell eerily silent. The end of the bloodiest chapter in American history was over, the Confederate Army was on the run, and the end of slavery was a mere two years off. And though the Civil War often seems like a relic owned by the East Coast and its cemeteries and historical battle reenactments, California certainly played a role in the outcome of the war that shaped America’s identity, divided it, and reunited it all at once.

Like the rest of the nation, Californians were divided by the war. Some wanted to secede, others enlisted on the side of the Union, and in the election of 1864, the state overwhelmingly cast its vote for Lincoln.

But with so much distance between themselves and the battlefields of Gettysburg, Bull Run, and Antietam, did California really have skin in the war? How did Californians play a role, and was it a decisive one?


Joan Waugh, a UCLA professor of history, Civil War authority and author of the award-winning 2009 biography “U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth” (UNC Press).  

Daniel Lynch, UCLA doctoral candidate