Reference Items
California In The Civil War
Wesley Howe's Spurs - Cal Battalion

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Wesley C. Howe joined the military service in San Francisco in March, 1863 with the Cal Battalion.  His company became Company M of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry.  Howe survived the Civil War, achieving the rank of Lieutenant in the process.  When hostilities ended, he remained in the East.  In the years following the war, Howe assembled a CDV album which contained images of a number of family members, and forty-five images of men with whom he served during the conflict.  This album was purchased from Howe’s descendants in 2011.  Accompanying the album was this pair of spurs which are presumed to be Howe’s.

The spurs are not government issue, but are privately made and reflect characteristics typical of west coast design, possibly having traveled with Howe from California after his enlistment.  Each branch terminates with a stud for a leather attachment strap which is now gone.  Still present are both heel chains.  The branches are nicely decorated with scallop designs halfway along the branch.  The outside face of both spurs is decorated along the shanks and branches with floral motifs, both slightly different.  Each shank has an upturned scallop to keep the cuff away from the rowel.  The rowels are 1½” in diameter with 20 points and each spins freely.   At the outside of both spurs, attached to the rowel axle is a jingle-bob. 

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-260

Pistol & Diary of George W. Buhrer - Cal Battalion

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Five journals written by members of the storied Cal Hundred and Cal Battalion have survived the years since the Civil War. They have been the source of research on the movements and daily life of 500 men who left California and served in the Civil War under the flag of the 2nd Mass Cavalry. All five diaries are held in museum manuscript collections.

Now, a sixth has surfaced. It is the daily journal of George W. Buhrer, a German immigrant who served with Company E of the Cal Battalion, part of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. The journal spans the period from his enlistment in February 1863 in San Francisco, until June 1866, with occasional entries reaching into 1867. Buhrer's recordings offer rich descriptions of the daily struggles of a cavalry trooper in the Civil War. He covers his regular forays across the byroads of Virginia in search of Confederate John Mosby, the spectacular arrival on the field of General Phil Sheridan at the Battle of Cedar Creek, and the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse.

At war's end, Sergeant Buhrer purchased his pistol, his Spencer carbine and his cavalry sabre from the U.S. government for $21.00. Accompanying Buhrer's diary is his Colt Army pistol, identified by serial number in his journal entry dated Friday, April 24, 1863. The whereabouts of his sabre and Spencer are lost to history. Also accompanying the journal is a second journal dated 1890 which contains daily entries by Buhrer on business conducted from his ranch in Montana.

The Civil War journal is hardbound, 6¼" X 8¼" and contains 117 pages of original handwritten script. The Colt revolver is in fine condition with traces of case color on the frame. All serial numbers match and place its manufacture date as early in 1863, there are two faint cartouches on opposing sides of the grips, and initials JWB carved into the butt for Jorg W. Buhrer.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-225

3rd Model Burnside Carbine

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This Burnside carbine is in good condition showing moderate use and saddle wear. It exhibits characteristics typical of a 3rd model Burnside whose manufacture took place in 1862. The hammer has a long nose with a vertical thumb spur as seen on the 1st and 2nd model Burnsides, and not the typical "S" shape found on 4th models.

The forestock is small in size and tapered at its front. The release clip for the falling breechblock is the slender variety typical of the 2nd model Burnside, yet it is hinged like the 4th models. All parts are original to the gun and all serial numbers are correctly placed and matching. The patina on all metal is consistent, and conforms to the usage and wear on the stocks. Some faded case color remains on the receiver. Of particular note are the markings on the cheek side of the buttstock. Stamped in 1/8" high letters is "1862." Below those markings in 5/16" high uppercase letters, is stamped "CAL 100" with "53" in ¼" high letters. Close examination indicates that these letters are contemporary to the era of manufacture of the carbine. The lockplate is marked "Burnside Rifle Co/Providence, R.I." Forward of the breechblock, the top of the frame is marked "Burnside Patent/March 25TH/1856" and serial number 10198 which appears on both the receiver and the breechblock. The same serial number is stamped on the underside of the trigger tang, inside the lockplate, under the breech tang plate, under the top of the buttplate and in the wood on the forward end of the buttstock. Significant wear appears on the opposite side of the buttstock, and at its heel near the buttplate. The carbine received some type of force across its center, creating a stress in the buttstock along the tang, reaching to the comb of the stock.

Members of the Cal Hundred were known to have been issued a mix of Burnside and Sharps carbines in late 1862 and early 1863. A Model 1859 Sharps carbine of the same vintage has been seen with nearly identical Call 100 markings on its buttstock.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-222

Francis Washburn - 4th Mass Cavalry

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Francis Washburn, a shavetail aristocrat from Boston, enlisted as a lieutenant with the 1st Mass Cavalry in January, 1862. He proved a capable leader, and a willing combatant. After an additional stint with the 2nd Mass Cavalry, he received a Lt. Colonel's commission with the new 4th Mass Cavalry in early 1864 and served in General Sheridan's cavalry command in the last year of the war.

By April 6, 1865, the war had entered its final hours. Robert E. Lee was racing for Virginia’s Southside Rail line that would unite him with much needed supplies. And Sheridan was racing to beat him there. Control of river crossings was critical and Washburn was sent to hold High Bridge, a long railroad trestle near Appomattox Court House. Near the bridge, his small command made an impetuous charge against a much larger Confederate cavalry force and was destroyed. Washburn was shot, then sabered, and died from his wounds. But his furious fight which was opened against overwhelming odds caused Lee to believe he had a more substantial force at his front and temporarily brought him to a hault. This action gave the Union forces just enough time to close their grasp on the Rebel army. It also launched Washburn into Massachusetts history. The following day, Lee surrendered.

A few of Washburn’s possessions were retained by his family. The items include: a CDV standing image of him with his saber, kepi, gauntlets and his greatcoat resting on a chair beside him; his wool blanket with F.W. cross stitched into the fabric; a 7½” X 9” albumen print in its original frame, depicting the officer’s corps of the 2nd Mass Cav (Washburn is 2nd from left, wearing a slouch hat. His handwriting on the back names those pictured); a small book titled "Morrison’s Stranger’s Guide and Etiquette to Washington City”; and the brass spurs he wore at High Bridge, the rowel of one having been shot off during the action.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-182

Inscribed Saber - Charles Roberts

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Charles Roberts, originally from New Brunswick, enlisted with the Cal Battalion in 1863 at San Francisco. His company became Co. F of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. Charles kept a journal for much of the early period of his military service, providing a valuable chronicle of the actions of the Californians who went east to fight.

Among Roberts’ effects are this inscribed M1860 light cavalry saber with A.G.M. inspector's marks and 1865 date at its ricasso. The scabbard has been nickel plated and is inscribed at the throat "Chas Roberts, Cal Cav Bat, 1862 - 1865", probably accomplished after the war. The saber is in original and untouched condition. The blade shows little wear and has not been sharpened. The leather grip is intact and excellent with its original wire wrap.

Joining the saber are several promotion documents including the pictured certificate attesting to his promotion to Sergeant of Company F on March 1, 1864. It bears the signatures of the Regimental Adjutant, C. Mason Kinne, also a Californian. The commanding officer is Lt. Col. Caspar Crowninshield who led the regiment at the time, Colonel Charles R. Lowell having been given command of the brigade.

Also shown is Roberts’ reunion silk ribbon, the only one we have seen of its kind, and apparently given as a souvenir during the 1886 reunion in San Francisco.

On October 19, 1864 Roberts was wounded in the thigh during a saber charge against Confederate infantry at Cedar Creek, Virginia. Recovering from his wound, he rejoined the regiment in early 1865 and remained with them to witness the final struggle leading to Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. Charles returned to California and lived in Oakland. He married Catherine Degau in San Francisco on 14 July 1866, almost a year after his discharge.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-177

Images of the Californians

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Among the more interesting photographs to survive the Civil War are the CDVs of the Californians who traveled east and fought under the flag of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. Dedicated research has turned up a surprising number of their images, many of which display the bravado that was common among these western volunteers. The jaunty tipping of their hats, their swagger for the camera, or the unique insignia decorations on their kepis all exude the rugged individualism that was their nature.

A few CDVs are displayed here. A more complete library accompanied by biographies is visible at the 2nd Mass Cavalry website hosted by Earl Robinson, at

From left:

William McNeil. San Francisco, age 21, Private, Cal Hundred. Survived the war.

Robert H. Williams. age 22, Private, Co. F, Cal Battalion. Survived the war.

Charles S. Eigenbrodt from Alameda County, age 37, Captain Co. E. Killed in action at Halltown, Va - 25 Aug 1864.

J. Sewall Reed. San Francisco, age 31, one of the founders and Captain of the Cal Hundred, killed in a fight with Mosby’s rangers at Dranesville, Va - 22 Feb 1864.

Joseph H. Burke, Irish born miner, age 27. Private, Co. M. Captured during fight with Mosby at Dranesville, Va. on 22 Feb 1864. Died at Andersonville on 04 July 1864.

Henry H. Fillebrown. San Francisco, age 19. Private, and first volunteer on enlistment roll of the Cal Hundred. Survived the war, but died two years later in San Francisco.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-164

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