Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Thence Round Cape Horn

Robert Erwin Johnson

published by
United States Naval Institute
Annapolis, Maryland

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p77  6. Too Many Commodores

The strong American interest in California which has been noted was increased by reports that the people of that region were apathetic, or even disloyal, to the Mexican government. Thomas O. Larkin, a prominent merchant of New England origin serving as American consul at Monterey, had been appointed a confidential agent in 1845 by Secretary of State James Buchanan, with instructions to encourage a pro‑American feeling among the Californians and to minimize the influence of foreign agents, especially those of the British government. Buchanan hoped that it might be possible to win California without engaging in a war with Mexico, much as had been done in the case of Texas.

In June 1845, an expedition of United States Army Topographical Engineers, commanded by Captain John C. Frémont, had set out from the United States, and arrived at Sutter's Fort in northern California early in 1846. Ostensibly its mission was the improvement of communications between the United States and Oregon, so its presence was tolerated by the Mexican authorities. Actually, Frémont seems to have worked all along to further the dissatisfaction of the Californians from Mexican control. He and his men assisted in the formation of the Bear Flag Republic which declared its independence from Mexico on 14 June 1846, an action which alienated many prominent Californians and brought Larkin's efforts largely to naught.

The USS Savannah joined the Cyane and the Levant at Monterey on 2 July,​a but Commodore Sloat did not take possession of the town at once. He obtained permission from the civil authorities to grant liberty to the flagship's company, and he conferred with Larkin at some length. We do not know what transpired during these conversations, but it seems likely that Sloat was remembering the caution enjoined by Bancroft's orders. Larkin wanted him to act on  p78 4 July, and it may be that his urgings finally nerved the "wavering Commodore" to take the crucial step. At any rate, on 6 July Sloat sent word of his intended action to the Portsmouth's Commander John B. Montgomery at San Francisco, together with orders to take possession there if his force were strong enough, or to await the arrival of the irregular troops raised and led by Frémont if necessary. On the next day, 7 July, Captain Mervine led a landing party which hoisted the American flag at Monterey. Larkin wrote Commander Montgomery:

10 o clock [sic]

The Step is taken

The Deed is done

The Flag is flying​1

Officers from the warships were appointed to act as temporary civil officials, and arms were furnished to equip small bodies of cavalry recruited and commanded by naval officers. A leading part in the latter work was taken by Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie, U. S. Marine Corps, a secret envoy of President James K. Polk and bearer of dispatches for Sloat and Frémont.

Montgomery received his orders on 8 July and sent a party of sailors and Marines to take possession of Yerba Buena on the following morning. Again, no opposition was encountered, and the Portsmouth's officers assumed civil duties temporarily. The commander had to summon his subordinates on board hastily on 11 July when an unidentified warship was reported standing into the bay. She proved to be HMS Juno of twenty-eight guns, and the Americans feared that the expected British intervention was at hand. The Briton, however, accepted the situation calmly, supposing that Sloat had given his orders in accordance with instructions from the United States. Nevertheless, Montgomery soon consolidated his position by building a shore battery mounting a number of old cannon brought from former Mexican posts in the vicinity. Its construction was directed by Lieutenant John S. Missroon, and although the work was called Fort Montgomery, the sweating sailors quickly dubbed it "Missroon's Folly."

Meanwhile Sloat continued to employ his ships at Monterey in support of the comparatively weak landing parties. This would seem to have been an obvious precaution, but when Frémont arrived at  p79 Monterey with his irregulars, he protested against the commodore's inactivity. Sloat, however, was unwilling to enter into close cooperation with Frémont on the ground that the legal status of the latter's force was uncertain. Gillespie joined Frémont in urging a more active policy, but to no avail since the naval officer distrusted the Marine's political maneuverings also.

At this point, the USS Congress arrived at Monterey, flying the broad pennant of Commodore Robert F. Stockton. And on the next day, 16 July, HM line-of‑battleship Collingwood, flagship of Rear Admiral Seymour, stood in and anchored. Sloat immediately sent an officer "to tender him the usual courtesies and facilities of the Port." Seymour received the American civilly enough, and accepted a set of topgallant masts and other spars for his ship. He sailed for the Hawaiian Islands a week later. Sloat reported:

The visit of the Admiral was very serviceable to our cause in California, as the inhabitants fully believed he would take part with them and that we would be obliged to abandon our conquest, but when they saw the friendly intercourse subsisting between us, and found that he could not interfere in their behalf, they abandoned all hope of ever seeing the Mexican Flag fly in California again.​2

No official news of the declaration of war had yet been received when Stockton arrived at Monterey, and his letters implied disapproval of Sloat's actions on the ground that the United States would probably return Monterey and San Francisco to Mexico. This attitude likely was intended to clear Stockton of any responsibility in case there was no war; at any rate, the new arrival promptly undertook to convince Commodore Sloat that he should avail himself of the opportunity to return home on account of ill health. After conferring with kindred spirits Frémont and Gillespie, Stockton ordered them to "volunteer" to serve under his command. Sloat remained obdurate, so Stockton addressed him:

It is very important to take General Castro or to drive him out of the country — until one or the other is done I can see no hope of restoring peace and good order to this territory.

I wish to send the Cyane with Captain Frémont's men, to the Southward to head him off, and drive him back here.

Had you not better send me an order to take command at once, and make my own arrangements.

 p80  It will facilitate operations and relieve you from a great deal of trouble.​3

This urging was effective; Stockton assumed command on the same day, 23 July, and Sloat sailed for Panama in the Levant six days later. He carried a full report of his proceedings, but Bancroft did not wait for the commodore's explanations. On 13 August, the Secretary sent the erstwhile commander in chief a strongly worded letter of reprimand for his unwillingness to initiate offensive action, and followed this five days later by an order for Stockton to relieve Sloat if he had not already done so. But even Bancroft could vacillate; he reinstated Sloat on 3 September.

Needless to say, Bancroft's whims had no effect on the Pacific Squadron. However, it may be well to consider the Secretary's actions. Sloat had been notified of the earnest hope of President Polk that peace might be preserved, and was particularly cautioned against any act which might precipitate hostilities.​4 Yet little over a year later, the same Secretary of the Navy was extremely critical of Sloat for his circumspection. In retrospect, it does not seem that American interests were endangered by Sloat's reluctance to act until he had received definite information. His squadron, except the flagship, was stationed ready for immediate action, and the Cyane's orders of 18 May 1846 contained one section that implied a definite willingness on Sloat's part to take a risk.5

Frémont's biographer has characterized Commodore Sloat as "wavering, indecisive and timid."​6 Cautious the naval officer was, but there seems to be no reason to believe that he should be condemned for desiring to be sure of hostilities before acting. He knew the situation in California quite well, and no time was lost in implementing his conquests once they had been made. Stockton has escaped criticism on the same point, but the junior commodore implied that Sloat's occupation of Monterey and San Francisco was wrong some eight days after it had occurred. The Frémont biographer further states that Sloat "took himself off the scene at the earliest possible pretext."​7 This statement needs no refutation other than that contained in Stockton's Letter Book. Sloat was more cautious than Commodore Jones, with the latter's experience to guide him, but no one can fairly criticize the result of his actions.

When Commodore Sloat's broad pennant was broken in the  p81 Levant, several officers changed commands. Stockton continued in the Congress, Commander Samuel F. DuPont left that vessel to relieve Captain Mervine in the Cyane, and the last-named took command of the Savannah. Gillespie was ordered to serve as Frémont's second-in‑command, and the latter's rifle­men were afforded every assistance from the squadron.

This military force, numbering some 150 rifles, was embarked in the Cyane, and the sloop sailed for San Diego on 26 July. The attempt to cut General José Castro's Mexican army off from Lower California was unsuccess­ful, but Lieutenant Stephen C. Rowan of the Cyane hoisted the American flag at San Diego on 29 July. Stockton himself departed for San Pedro in the Congress a few days later, leaving the Savannah at Monterey with Mervine in charge of matters in northern California.

San Pedro and Santa Barbara were taken without trouble, and Stockton's landing party of sailors, Marines, and rifle­men experienced no difficulty in occupying the Ciudad de los Angeles. The commodore wrote Bancroft:

Thus in less than a month after I assumed the command of the U. S. Forces in Calif., we have chased the Mexican Army more than 300 miles along the coast — pursued them 30 miles in the interior of their own country, routed and dispersed them, and secured the Territory to the U. S. — ended the war, restored peace and harmony among the people, and put a Civil govt. into success­ful operation. . . .​8

He expanded on this report in a private letter to President Polk:

My word is at present the law of the land — my power is more than regal. The haughty Mexican Cavalier shakes hands with me with pleasure, and the beauti­ful women look to me with joy and gladness as their friend and benefactor. In short all of power and luxury is spread before me, through the mysterious workings of a beneficent Providence.

No man could or ought to desire more of power and respect, but my work is almost done here, and my duty calls me again upon the ocean, to protect as well as I may, the lives and property of our fellow-citizens engaged in commerce. I will go without the least hesitation, and will transfer my power to other hands without [resisting].​9

Frémont, promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel by Stockton, was appointed Governor of Upper California, and the commodore returned to Monterey in the Congress. Gillespie was left at Los Angeles with an occupation force of forty-eight rifle­men. On 19 August,  p82 Stockton proclaimed a blockade of "all ports, harbors, bays, inlets, outlets, . . . on the west coast of Mexico south of San Diego."​10 The Cyane and the Warren were sent to enforce this blockade a few days later. The two sloops-of‑war found good hunting and virtually wiped out all commerce under the Mexican flag. One of the prizes was the fast New York-built brig Malek Adhel which was captured by a cutting‑out expedition from the Warren at Mazatlán. She mounted ten guns and was utilized as a dispatch vessel for the Pacific Squadron. A Cyane prize, the schooner Liberdad, was also taken into the service as a tender. In spite of their success, however, it was obviously impossible for two ships to blockade some twenty-five hundred miles of coastline, and this was to cause the United States government some annoyance.

Before leaving Los Angeles, Commodore Stockton had imposed duties on all foreign ships and cargoes entering ports controlled by his forces: fifty cents per ton on shipping and fifteen per cent ad valorem on imports. These duties were extended to harbors on the Gulf of California and the Pacific coast of Mexico, as they were occupied by the Pacific Squadron, and furnished a respectable source of revenue for the United States until the end of the war.

At Monterey, the commodore found that the men of the Savannah, whose enlistments had all expired, were in a very disaffected state, and for this he blamed Captain Mervine. That officer seems to have been unpopular with most of his contemporaries, but it will be remembered that Sloat also had experienced difficulty with the frigate's crew before he departed.

With conditions seemingly quiet in Upper California, Frémont was sent to raise more irregular troops and to obtain additional horses. Commodore Stockton had formulated an extremely ambitious plan for his squadron and Frémont's force, nothing less than a landing at Acapulco or Mazatlán. From the debarkation point, the troops were to fight their way inland toward Mexico City. "I would that we might shake hands with General [Zachary] Taylor at the gates of Mexico."11

It is hardly necessary to comment on this grandiose project. Upper California was held by ridiculously small forces, two ships were blockading 2,500 miles of enemy coast, the crew of one of his two major vessels was nearly mutinous, and still Stockton could plan such  p83 a campaign. Moreover, the bulk of the invading army would have to be Frémont's poorly equipped and undisciplined rifle­men. It is probably very fortunate that news reached Monterey which caused the ambitious commodore to abandon his great plan. A large party of Walla Walla Indians was said to be approaching San Francisco from the north, bent on avenging the murder of a tribesman by a white man, so Stockton sailed for that port in the Congress to meet the threat.

Hardly had the frigate reached San Francisco, when more serious trouble was reported. Gillespie sent word that all of southern California was in a state of rebellion. His small force had been besieged by some six hundred armed Californians, and after holding out for a week, was allowed to withdraw to a refuge on board a merchant vessel at San Pedro. It is not easy to explain this uprising, but some American officers thought it was caused by Gillespie's arrogant manner toward the proud Californians. Certainly the weakness of the occupation force must have tempted many to break their paroles.

Notwithstanding the serious nature of this crisis and the fact that his orders placed the greatest importance on American possession of Upper California, Stockton continued to await the Walla Wallas, sending only the Savannah to San Pedro. There, Captain Mervine carried out his orders to land a force for the purpose of recapturing Los Angeles.

The landing party, sailors and Marines together with Gillespie's rifle­men, was ready to march on 7 October, but the lack of horses compelled the Americans to proceed without artillery, and Mervine's preparations in general seem to have been quite haphazard. The force encountered mounted Mexicans almost at once, and unable to match their mobility, could only beat off their harassing attacks and continue on the road to Los Angeles. A horse-drawn fieldpiece was particularly irksome, although its gunners proved less adept at hitting their targets than at removing it quickly whenever an American detachment approached. His inability to overtake this gun seems to have been an important factor in Mervine's decision to retire after his men had proceeded some thirteen miles inland. Naturally, the retreat was more difficult than the advance, for the encouraged Mexicans pressed their attacks; the landing force, correspondingly dispirited, had sustained some casualties, for whose transportation no  p84 provision had been made. The exhausted men re‑embarked in the Savannah on 8 October, having lost four of their number killed and several wounded.

Meanwhile, Stockton had found the force of the Indians greatly exaggerated — instead of 1,000 braves seeking vengeance, Chief Yellow Serpent was followed by some forty Indians whose main interest was in trade — and news of Mervine's defeat brought the commodore south under a press of canvas.

Before he left San Francisco, Stockton had arranged with Commander Montgomery that the worn‑out Warren should relieve the Portsmouth as guardship there. The latter had to await the arrival of a storeship and so was still at San Francisco when the Warren's launch was sent to Sacramento with currency and $846 in gold to pay the garrison. Passed Midshipman William H. Montgomery of the Warren commanded the launch, and was accompanied by his brother Elliott, captain's clerk in the Portsmouth, and Midshipman Daniel C. Hugunin, also of the Portsmouth. The boat departed on 13 November and was never heard from again. The Portsmouth was ordered to get under way for San Diego a few days afterward, and Commander Montgomery was forced to depart before search parties could bring any news of his sons. At first it was thought that the boat had foundered in a gale one day after her departure, but almost two years later, it was reported on fairly good evidence that the boat's crew had mutinied, murdered the three young officers, and escaped to the interior. Actual proof remained lacking, although the latter account was widely believed, and no subsequent information has solved the tragic mystery.

When Commodore Stockton arrived at San Pedro, he learned that an attack on San Diego was imminent, so he ordered the Savannah to return to Monterey and hastened southward himself, leaving word for Montgomery to follow with the Portsmouth. The flagship's entry into San Diego was nearly disastrous, for she grounded on the bar, and only extreme exertions prevented her from rolling over on her beam ends. But Stockton was in time to prevent the Mexican occupation of San Diego, and began to prepare for the recapture of Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, 100 dragoons led by Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearny were coming overland from Santa Fé. As this force approached,  p85 the commodore sent a small party under Gillespie to inform the general of the existing situation. They met on 5 December and planned an attack on a smaller group of Californians in the San Pascual Valley. It was launched on the next morning and turned out badly, for the enemy withdrew with little loss after his lances had killed eighteen Americans and wounded as many more. Both Kearny and Gillespie were among the wounded, and their force, short of both food and water, encamped to await assistance from Stockton. The relief expedition, 215 strong, reached Kearny's battered command on 11 December, and escorted the dragoons into San Diego the next day.

The arrival of General Kearny led to more difficulty. By a direct order of President Polk, designed to eliminate friction between senior officers of Army and Navy, the former was in charge of all land operations, while the Navy conducted affairs in its own sphere. Thus, Kearny should have assumed command of the military forces in California, although most of the men in their ranks came from the Pacific Squadron or from Frémont's improvised regiments. But Stockton could not allow his protege, Frémont, to be ousted from the position of military governor, to which the commodore had appointed him. After some unpleasantness, Stockton did offer the command of the expedition against Los Angeles to Kearny, but the general refused to accept it as a gift at the disposal of the commodore, and chose to serve as the latter's chief of staff instead. Nevertheless, Kearny may be said to have triumphed finally. After his return to the United States, he preferred charges of insubordination against Frémont which led to that officer's trial by court-martial. He was sentenced to be dismissed from the Army, but Polk remitted the sentence, and Frémont resigned his commission.

Command difficulties having been settled for the time, Stockton turned his attention to the organization of an "army" composed of 600 sailors, Marines, and dragoons, which he led northward overland at the end of December. This time his force was adequate for its purpose, fighting and winning the battles of the San Gabriel River and La Mesa on 8 and 9 January 1847, sustaining only slight losses. Soon thereafter Frémont arrived at San Fernando some four hundred mounted men from northern California, and faced with encirclement, the Californians capitulated at Cahuenga on  p86 13 January. All of Upper California was again held by the Americans.

With the end of hostilities north of San Diego, the Pacific Squadron turned its attention once more to the coastline of Lower California and Mexico. Stockton's blockade had been discontinued when it became necessary to concentrate the squadron to cope with the rebellion. The Portsmouth went south to re‑establish the blockade of Mazatlán, and there Commander Montgomery found HMS Fisgard. The Briton's Captain John A. Duntze took issue with the American's notice that he was renewing the blockade. Duntze was willing to acknowledge the existence of any legal blockade which might be enforced by the Portsmouth, but he held that the original blockade proclaimed by Commodore Stockton had, in fact, never existed because it had never been enforced by a sufficient number of warships. Therefore, Montgomery was renewing an illegal blockade, and the Royal Navy could not recognize it.

An exchange of letters between the two commanding officers followed, each citing historical precedent and quoting international law to uphold his opinion. One suspects that this correspondence was carried on with tongue in cheek, since the two men became close personal friends and dined together on occasion. In time, the Fisgard was relieved by HMS Constance, and Captain Sir Baldwin Walker took the same stand as had his predecessor. He also became a friend of the personable American commander.

The British officers were joined in their protest by the consular representatives of Prussia, Spain, and France. All requested relaxation of the blockade in favor of their ships on the ground that the merchant shipping of other nations had not been prevented from entering Mexican ports by the nonexistent cruisers.

The general language used in Stockton's blockade proclamation had already been brought to the attention of the United States government. Secretary of the Navy John Y. Mason advised the commander in chief on Pacific Station that Polk wished to avoid any inconvenience to neutral commerce, and that Stockton's proclamation had caused alarm in neutral commercial circles. He directed that the blockade be revised so as to allow trade in articles not considered contraband.

Mason did not address the commander in chief by name because  p87 no one in Washington was sure who was commanding the Pacific Squadron. Before George Bancroft left the Navy Department, he had ordered Commodore W. Branford Shubrick to the Pacific in the razee frigate Independence. Earlier, he had sent orders to Commodore James Biddle, commanding the East India Squadron in the line-of‑battleship Columbus, to proceed to the Puget Sound area on an exploring mission much like that on which the Shark had been lost. Biddle's orders were changed when the war began, and he was directed to go to California instead.

It seems probable that Bancroft's orders to Shubrick were prompted by the news that Stockton had assumed command of the Pacific Squadron. Stockton was relatively junior and inexperienced; thus, the Navy Department likely considered him only as an interim commander.

Shubrick met Commodore Biddle at Valparaiso and was told that the latter had been ordered to look in on affairs in California, but would remain there only if the presence of the Columbus was necessary to ensure success in that theater. The Independence sailed on toward Monterey, and there Commodore Shubrick assumed command of the Pacific Squadron on 22 January 1847. On 2 March, Commodore Biddle arrived at Monterey to reveal that he had received orders to become commander in chief of the Pacific Squadron. The sensitive Shubrick thereupon asked that he be ordered home since Bancroft had showed so little confidence in his ability. Biddle carefully pointed out that this move would probably end Shubrick's naval career and would not be in the best interest of the United States. He promised to forward Shubrick's letter of protest to the Navy Department, and to give him every opportunity to serve on more or less independent missions in the meantime. Furthermore, as soon as the aged Biddle felt that he could, he would relinquish the command and sail for the United States. Shubrick accepted this generous offer, and departed to direct operations in Lower California.

Commodore Stockton's "paper" blockade had been revoked by Biddle, and its place was taken by a number of proclamations referring to specific ports which were in fact blockaded by American warships. However, it was obvious that the blockaders would be unable to keep their stations during the summer months because of the frequent storms in those waters. A blockade was not considered to  p88 have been broken if the cruisers had merely been driven off station by foul weather, but the small number of ships available, the lack of protected anchorages, and the fact that the nearest base was at Monterey, combined to make the blockade a difficult operation. Occupation of the blockaded ports by American forces would have eliminated much of the difficulty, and the United States could have imposed customs dues on all commerce using the ports. Unfortunately, there was insufficient military force to hold these ports unless some of the men-o'‑war were present.

Commodore Shubrick was given the frigates Independence and Congress and the sloops Portsmouth, Cyane, and Dale to carry on operations in his area. Biddle in the Columbus remained on the northern coast with the Warren sloop, and the storeship Erie was armed with a light battery so that she could cruise for the protection of American commerce. The Warren's condition was deemed too poor to allow her use as an active cruiser, so she combined the functions of guardship and storeship in San Francisco Bay.​12 The Savannah was sent home to discharge her discontented company.

The ships cruising off the coast of Lower California lost no time in occupying its principal ports — La Paz, San José del Cabo, and San Lucas — because Secretary Mason had informed Commodore Stockton that both Californias were to be retained by the United States. The actual occupation was easy in each instance, but the Mexican forces withdrew only a few miles inland and were reinforced from the mainland. As a result, the garrisons at San José del Cabo and La Paz were subjected to bitter attacks in the succeeding autumn and winter months. Naval Lieutenant Charles Heywood and his twenty-five men at San José del Cabo were besieged for three weeks and suffered some losses before the Cyane arrived to relieve them in February 1848. La Paz, occupied by a small force of New York Volunteers under Lieutenant Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry S. Burton, was also beleaguered by greatly superior numbers, and only the timely assistance of a warship enabled Burton to hold his position.

Somewhat earlier, Bancroft had informed the naval commander in the Pacific that the ports farther south were thought to be disaffected  p89 from the Mexican government; accordingly, naval officers were authorized to enter into agreements with local officials who wished to remain neutral. That these agreements might leave the local inhabitants liable to punitive action by the Mexican government after the war does not seem to have occurred to Bancroft. However, the naval officers serving on Pacific Squadron realized their responsibility to the peoples who responded to their overtures of friendship. Some of the inhabitants of the regions occupied were won over, although there was never a wholesale secession of states from the central Mexican government. This reluctance on the part of the populace to respond to American gestures of friendship may be ascribed in part to the memory of Commodore Jones's brief occupation of Monterey. Many of the Mexicans feared that the Americans would again surrender their conquests, and in fact this did occur in part.

As operations were proceeding satisfactorily under the direction of Shubrick, Commodore Biddle decided that his presence was no longer required on Pacific Station. Therefore, he sailed for the United States in the Columbus after turning the station over to the junior in July 1847. Shubrick's assumption of the command was not accompanied by any radical change in strategy since he had had virtually a free hand before Biddle's departure. However, he did request that the Congress be replaced by one or more sloops, much better suited for his purposes than frigates. The third-class sloop Preble was already on her way out, but Shubrick would receive no other reinforcement before he was relieved.

Before Commodore Biddle sailed, he had rendered the cruising units of his squadron good service by establishing a prize court at Monterey. Thus, captured ships could be judged and sold or released, according to their guilt, without being sent around Cape Horn. Otherwise it would have been necessary for prize crews to sail the ships to the United States for adjudication — a practice which the squadron was too shorthanded to follow.

Commodore Shubrick decided to supplement the blockade by occupying as many ports as he could garrison, and to this end his vessels were employed as soon as the summer hurricane season was past. Captain Elie A. F. LaVallette took Guaymas on 20 October after an hour's bombardment by the Congress and Portsmouth. Shubrick  p90 arrived off Mazatlán on 11 November with the Independence, Congress, Cyane, and Erie. Light winds delayed the attack, but it was carried out as planned in spite of darkness. Both Shubrick's tactical planning and the manner in which it was executed won the praise of British officers who observed the attack. San Blas and Manzanillo were blockaded and then occupied in January 1848, but the few ports remaining in Mexican hands could not be occupied because of the lack of men. However, Commodore Shubrick held the commercially important towns on the Pacific coast, and to have spread his inadequate forces over a greater area would have been unwise.

Commodore Shubrick's indignant letter regarding his supersession by Biddle reached the Navy Department in the autumn of 1847, and Secretary Mason grasped the opportunity to satisfy the demand of Thomas ap Catesby Jones that he be reappointed to command the Pacific Squadron. The one obstacle standing in the way of the assignment had disappeared as soon as Mexican sensibilities had no longer to be considered, so Jones was ordered out in the line-of‑battleship Ohio. Commodore David Geisinger accompanied him as a passenger; he was to transfer to the Congress and proceed to the East India Station as commander in chief.

Arriving on his station, Jones found that the Congress was in no condition to undertake another long cruise and that her crew's enlistments were due to expire soon; consequently, Geisinger was given the Preble for the East India Station. The necessity of detaching a sloop for this duty made Jones extremely critical of Commodore Shubrick for allowing the Portsmouth to sail for the United States because of expiring enlistments, although Mason had approved of Shubrick's action. Able Commander Montgomery had won his crew's respect and affection to a degree seldom seen, and on his recommendation Shubrick had decided that the fine sloop should be allowed to return home.

Jones relieved Commodore Shubrick on 6 May 1848, and the latter asked to be allowed to serve under his successor until the cessation of hostilities. Actually little remained to be done. It took some time for news of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to reach the Pacific coast, but Commodore Jones had no opportunity to distinguish himself in the Mexican War. Soon after he assumed the  p91 squadron command, the Cyane was sent to San José del Cabo to quell a mutiny of the New York Volunteers, and this marked the end of warlike activities on the part of the Pacific Squadron.

Of the roles played by the successive commanders in chief on Pacific Station during the Mexican War, Commodore Sloat's part has already received some attention. It may be noted, however, that he prepared the way quite well for his successor's more ambitious plans. Commodore Stockton must be given due credit for his vigorous conduct of the campaign which won Upper California. It cannot be denied, however, that his conquest was endangered by the wide dispersal of his forces, and his ill‑considered proclamation of blockade was an embarrassment to his government. His co‑operation with Frémont and Gillespie helped to further the success of his plans, but his treatment of Kearny was neither just nor in accordance with his orders. Stockton's ambition seems never to have been curbed fully by good judgment.

Commodore Biddle took no direct part in the operations of the squadron, but his tact in dealing with the angry Shubrick probably saved a valuable officer for the United States Navy. Commodore Shubrick deserves commendation for his conduct of operations against Lower California and Mexico — one is tempted to believe that the basic strategy was so obvious as to be readily acceptable to all of the senior officers concerned. This fact should not be allowed to vitiate the very undesirable aspects of no less than five changes of command in less than two years. George Bancroft, mainly responsible for this policy, can receive here no praise for his unwillingness to maintain one officer in command of the Pacific Station during that short period.

As stated, the strategy governing the Pacific Squadron during the Mexican War was sound. Upper California was secured first, and then all of the ports through which the Mexicans could receive supplies were blockaded or occupied. Virtually all of the Mexican merchant vessels in the Pacific Ocean were taken or destroyed, and the  p92 revenues resulting from opening the occupied ports to trade paid a large part of the expenses of the Pacific Squadron.

Events might have developed much differently had Admiral Seymour's British squadron become involved, but Great Britain did not desire trouble with the United States over California, and Commodore Sloat helped to ensure British friendship by his courteous reception of Seymour at Monterey in July 1846.

American possession of California was guaranteed by the success of the Army and the Navy in another theater of operations, but the Pacific coast area was seized and held by the Pacific Squadron. The activities of Kearny and Frémont were of minor importance, despite the credit given them by some historians. California might not have been won, except for the success­ful performance by United States Naval Forces on Pacific Station.

The Author's Notes:

1 Larkin to Montgomery, 7 Jul 1846 (duplicate of Sloat's order of previous day, sent by courier), "Area Nine File, 1914‑1910."

[decorative delimiter]

2 Sloat to Bancroft, 31 Jul 1846, "Pacific Squadron Letters."

[decorative delimiter]

3 Stockton to Sloat, 23 Jul 1846, "Letter Books of Officers of the United States Navy at Sea, March 1778–July 1908."

[decorative delimiter]

4 See p72, supra.

[decorative delimiter]

5 See p75, supra.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Allan, Nevins, Frémont, The West's Greatest Adventurer (2nd ed.; New York: Harper and Bros., 1928), I, 324.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Ibid., I, 324.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Stockton to Bancroft, 22 Aug 1846, "Stockton Letter Book."

[decorative delimiter]

9 Stockton to Polk, 26 Aug 1846, ibid.

[decorative delimiter]

10 Proclamation of blockade, 19 Aug 1846, "Area Nine File, 1814‑1910."

[decorative delimiter]

11 Stockton to Mervine, 19 Sep 1846, "Stockton Letter Book."

[decorative delimiter]

12 Chapelle, op. cit., p358, says Warren became a storeship in 1840, but actually she served actively as a cruiser during the early months of the Mexican War.

Thayer's Notes:

a For another view of the Navy's occupation of Monterey, see DeVoto, The Year of Decision, p255. A good chunk of that book is taken up by the American movement to occupy and annex California.

[decorative delimiter]

b This illustration, though included in the book, depicts an event never mentioned in it, glossed over by the above text covering the years 1846‑1847. To quote the U. S. Navy's Naval Historical Center,

"Home Squadron service in the Caribbean area occupied Vincennes until mid‑1844. Nearly a year later she left the East Coast for another trip, this time eastbound, to Asian waters. In July 1846, in company with the ship-of‑the‑line Columbus, she attempted to pay a diplomatic call on Japan, but the effort was rebuffed by Japanese authorities. After further duty on the China Station, Vincennes came back to New York in April 1847."

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 5 May 21