Monday, March 3, 2014

February Program Review - Ceasar Castro's "California in the Mexican-American War"

The 26 February program presentation for the Chula Vista Genealogical Society was "California and the Mexican War (1846-1850) from a Genealogical Point of View" by CVGS member Ceasar Castro.

Ceasar noted that historians want to highlight leaders and events, but genealogists want to find information about individuals - not only the leaders, but the soldiers and residents also.

In this talk, Ceasar provided a detailed history timeline of the events that led up to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), not only in California but also in the United States and in Mexico.  

California was explored in the 16th century by Cortez, Cabrillo and others, but it wasn't until 1697 when Spain granted permission to the Jesuits to settle Baja California in Loreto, and built a series of missions.  Alta California was not settled until Jose de Galvez and Father Junipero Serra arrived in and built a mission in San Diego in 1769.  More missions and presidios were built up and down the coast until the 1820s, when Mexico declared independence from Spain.  The Spanish and Mexican governments conferred large land grants, called ranchos, on retired soldiers and their friends after independence. 

The first U.S. citizen to settle in California was Thomas Larkin in Monterey in 1832 as a consul.  Others followed in small groups, especially in northern California around the San Francisco Bay and along the California Trail through Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada.  

John Fremont was tasked by the U.S. government to come overland in June 1845 to survey western North America, and he arrived at Sutter's Fort in the Valley and in Monterey and met Larkin.  The U.S. Navy sailed along the coast and occasionally had conflicts in the ports.  The catalyst for the Mexican-American War was probably statehood granted Texas in 1845, and increasing conflicts with Mexico.  War was declared by Congress and President Polk in May 1846.  Orders were given to capture California and small battles occurred in Los Angeles, Monterey, Sonoma, Vallejo and other settlements between U.S. settlers, soldiers and sailors and the Mexican soldiers and settlers.  

U.S. soldiers under General Stephen Kearny, the 500-strong Mormon Battalion, and a group of New York Volunteers, headed to California overland and by ship around the Horn.  Sonoma, Monterey and Yerba Buena (San Francisco) were captured by U.S. forces already in California, and Los Angeles was contested for months.  The Bear Flag Republic was declared in Sonoma in June 1846.  Los Angeles was recaptured by the Mexicans and Californios in September 1846. 

Kearny's troops arrived in early December 1846 in eastern San Diego county, and found the Mexican and Californio defenders who had been alerted by residents on a nearby rancho.  The Battle of San Pasqual ensued and Ceasar described it in significant detail.  Both sides eventually claimed victory, but the U.S. side had more casualties.  

Throughout the discussion, Ceasar presented lists of the known U.S. participants in the different movements and skirmishes.  His handout provided a bibliography of historical books that discussed the military, political and social history of California in the 1840s.

Ceasar will finish the history and have more information about California as it approached statehood in 1850 in a subsequent presentation in September.

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