In L.A., love and sup­port for the rebel South

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Kevin Waite Kevin Waite is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can his­tory at Durham Univer­sity in Bri­tain. He’s writ­ing a book on slav­ery and the Civil War in the Amer­i­can West.

Dwarfed by the tombs of celebri­ties and so­cialites, a clus­ter of graves in the Hol­ly­wood For­ever Ceme­tery bears silent wit­ness to a largely for­got­ten chap­ter in Cal­i­for­nia’s his­tory. There lie buried some 30 Con­fed­er­ate vet­er­ans from nearly ev­ery rebel state, along with a seven-foot gran­ite mon­u­ment com­mem­o­rat­ing their mil­i­tary ser­vice.

Re­cent high-pro­file fights over Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments have largely taken place in Dixie, in cities such as New Or­leans and Rich­mond, Va. But Hol­ly­wood’s Con­fed­er­ate memo­rial re­minds us that the strug­gle over slav­ery was not con­fined to the Amer­i­can South. Here in Los An­ge­les, the Con­fed­er­ate re­bel­lion found a wel­come re­cep­tion and a long af­ter­life.

Civil War-era Cal­i­for­nia was a state di­vided against it­self. The more pop­u­lous north­ern coun­ties sent thou­sands of troops into the Union army and en­sured Cal­i­for­nia’s loy­alty dur­ing the war. But mi­grants from the slave states con­sti­tuted a ma­jor­ity of Los An­ge­les County’s white pop­u­la­tion. And many of them sided with their na­tive South.

In the early months of the war, hur­rahs for the Con­fed­er­ate Pres­i­dent Jef­fer­son Davis rang out through L.A.’s streets, as did pop­u­lar tunes like “We’ll Drive the Bloody Tyrant from Our Dear Na­tive Soil.” The city’s main ho­tel, the Bella Union, dis­played a large por­trait of Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral P.G.T. Beau­re­gard in its sa­loon, while se­ces­sion­ists con­ducted mil­i­tary drills in El Monte and San Bernardino.

Some se­ces­sion­ists stayed put, but more than 250 South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans left the state to en­list in the Con­fed­er­ate army (ver­sus just two Union vol­un­teers from Los An­ge­les who went east). In May 1861, a se­ces­sion­ist com­pany known as the Los An­ge­les Mounted Ri­fles made its way to Texas. It would be­come the only mili­tia from a free state to fight un­der a Con­fed­er­ate ban­ner. Lo­cal lead­ers such as Joseph Lan­caster Brent, per­haps the most in­flu­en­tial politi­cian in Los An­ge­les, fol­lowed shortly there­after. Dur­ing the war, Brent rose to the rank of brigadier gen­eral.

Cal­i­for­nia’s Union com­man­ders waged an ag­gres­sive cam­paign against se­ces­sion­ist ag­i­ta­tion. To both con­tain the rebels in their midst and guard against Con­fed­er­ate forces in Ari­zona, they es­tab­lished a mil­i­tary gar­ri­son south of Los An­ge­les known as Drum Bar­racks. It housed thou­sands of Union sol­diers through the war, who oc­ca­sion­ally clashed with nearby Con­fed­er­ate sup­port­ers. Sev­eral prom­i­nent Con­fed­er­ate sym­pa­thiz­ers were ar­rested for trea­son and jailed on Al­ca­traz Is­land, in­clud­ing the ed­i­tor of the city’s lead­ing news­pa­per, the Los An­ge­les Star, as well as the for­mer state at­tor­ney gen­eral, E.J.C. Kewen. A street in Pasadena still bears Kewen’s name.

De­spite the best ef­forts of some of these western rebels, Cal­i­for­nia re­mained a Union state. But even af­ter the Con­fed­er­acy’s col­lapse in spring 1865, the spirit of re­bel­lion lived on in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Later that year, An­drew King, for­mer un­der­sh­er­iff of Los An­ge­les, de­fi­antly pro­claimed, “We have been and are yet se­ces­sion­ist.”

Else­where in the state, self-iden­ti­fied mem­bers of the Ku Klux Klan un­leashed a small-scale reign of ter­ror. Whereas Klans­men in the South ter­ror­ized newly eman­ci­pated African Amer­i­cans, Cal­i­for­nia’s KKK tar­geted a dif­fer­ent non­white pop­u­la­tion they deemed a greater threat: Chi­nese im­mi­grants. They as­saulted these im­mi­grant work­ers, threat­ened their white em­ploy­ers and burned down churches that served the Chi­nese com­mu­nity.

Black Cal­i­for­ni­ans didn’t es­cape post-war per­se­cu­tion ei­ther. Dur­ing Re­con­struc­tion, Cal­i­for­nia was the only free state to re­ject both the 14th and 15th amend­ments — those that, re­spec­tively, guar­an­teed cru­cial civil rights and granted the fran­chise to black men. Even af­ter black male suf­frage be­came na­tional law in 1870, a num­ber of Cal­i­for­nia clerks re­fused to register African Amer­i­can vot­ers, while L.A. County courts up­held these clear vi­o­la­tions of civil law. Thus Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials an­tic­i­pated some of the ex­clu­sion­ary mea­sures of the Jim Crow South.

That a num­ber of Con­fed­er­ate vet­er­ans moved to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in the decades af­ter the war should come as no sur­prise, given the re­gion’s his­tory and po­lit­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ties. In San Gabriel, they es­tab­lished the only Con­fed­er­ate vet­er­ans’ rest home out­side Dixie. These are the vet­er­ans that now lie buried in Hol­ly­wood For­ever Ceme­tery.

Today, minia­ture Amer­i­can flags grace the graves of Hol­ly­wood’s Con­fed­er­ate dead, which could per­haps be read as a ges­ture of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Or it might be a pro­foundly ironic state­ment: The ban­ner of the na­tion that these men re­belled against now stands guard over their fi­nal rest­ing place.

Through­out the South, cries grow louder to re­move mon­u­ments to a failed slave­hold­ers’ re­bel­lion. This western memo­rial, how­ever, will likely en­dure — as well it should. It serves as a needed cor­rec­tive to a self-con­grat­u­la­tory strain in the sto­ries Cal­i­for­ni­ans tell about them­selves.

An­ge­lenos might be tempted to view the cur­rent con­tro­versy over Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols, and the ugly racial pol­i­tics they rep­re­sent, as a dis­tinctly South­ern prob­lem. But a visit to Hol­ly­wood’s ceme­tery plot and some his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive teach us oth­er­wise. Los An­ge­les was the west­ern­most out­post in a re­bel­lion that spanned the con­ti­nent.

Some se­ces­sion­ists stayed put, but more than 250 South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans en­listed in the Con­fed­er­ate army.

Kevin Waite Spe­cial to The Times

A MON­U­MENT to “Sol­diers of the Con­fed­er­ate States Army” at the Hol­ly­wood For­ever Ceme­tery.

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