Book Review: Los Angeles in Civil War Days, 1860-1865

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by John W. Robinson

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. Pp. 186. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 0806143126

The Civil War in Southern California

Although almost always omitted in historical treatments, California and other parts of the far west also had roles, albeit small, in the Civil War.  Moreover, even in works about the “Golden State” in the war the focus tends is primarily on the more populous areas around San Francisco (which had nearly 60,000 people in 1860), thus Los Angeles (c. 5,000) and the southern parts of the state are doubly neglected.

Originally published nearly 40 years ago, Los Angeles in Civil War deals with politics, war, and society in this thinly populated, very isolated corner of California, which was perhaps marginally pro-Southern due to the background of many of the recent American settlers.  Robinson, a California historian of some note, introduces the region with some background on its earlier history under Spain and Mexico, through the American conquest, the “Gold Rush”, statehood, and on to the outbreak of the Civil War.  He throws light on the political life of the region during the war, which was the scene of several secessionist plots, some Confederate recruiting, duels between pro- and anti-secessionist newspapers, Unionist counter-moves and mobilization, political battles, and more. 

Robinson has a surprisingly good cast, including Albert Sidney Johnston and Winfield Scott Hancock, with many lesser-known figures in supporting roles.  He does, however, unfortunately neglect the “native” Californios, who were mostly Unionist, and contributed volunteers for the war who saw action in New Mexico.  In addition, more attention might have been given to how the war affected the local economy and development.  Of course, while a new look at the subject would be in order, until one appears Los Angeles in Civil War Days gives us an interesting look at a part of California neglected in accounts of the state in the war.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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