California’s Little-Known Role in the American Civil War


As one of only two states in the entire Western United States, California could scarcely have been more isolated at the start of the Civil War. No transcontinental railroad or telegraph yet connected it to the rest of the country, and no battles would be fought there. Nonetheless, California proved pivotal to the Union war effort, propping up the economy with its vast gold reserves, raising huge sums for military medical assistance, and providing a high number of troops per capita.

It was never a fait accompli that California would join the Union. Though admitted as a free state as part of the Compromise of 1850, some white residents continued to illegally enslave Black people there, even as a movement arose to ban African Americans from the state altogether. At the same time, the state legislature promulgated a system that forced many Native Americans into bondage.


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