Stonesteps sunset

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Diary of General E.D. Townsend

I am reading a great book that I would like to share with you, The California Diary of General E.D. Townsend, 1851 to 1856. This is a rather fascinating tale that I recommend to any history buff. General Townsend was a fairly nondescript general, it appears that he was mostly a bean counter, had helped relocate the Cherokee, a pious latin learned, episcopal fellow who left his native Boston on a ship for California as a captain. This journal is very well written and gives the reader a good unvarnished look at early California. I will probably just copy a few entries and if you folks enjoy reading it I will periodically find my way back to the well.

The book was edited by Malcolm Edwards and published by Ward Ritchie Press. Townsend ultimately became the Adjutant General for the Pacific and later the Union Army. He worked with Grant, Sheridan and Sherman and later as Adjutant General to Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, was responsible for the defense of our nation's capitol during the Civil War.

Townsend twice acted as Secretary of War and had the mournful duty of leading the Honor Guard that accompanied the assassinated president's body back to Springfield.

I would like to share some random excerpts of the book with you, just to give you a flavor. In order to make his journey clearer to you, I should point out that Townshend left Boston, sailed to Havana, then Panama and Acapulco before continuing around the Cape of Baja and up to the Alta California coast.

Saturday November 22, 1851

Special Orders No. 141 - Headquarters of the Army, Adjutant General's Office 
Capt. E.D. Townshend, Asst. Adjt. Genl. is assigned to duty in Pacific Division, and will repair to the Head Quarters thereof and report accordingly.
By command of  Major General Scott:
/Sd./R.Jones - Adjt. Genl.

This is the order under which I started from Washington this morning at 6 o'clock for California. I leave all my family behind, and go into, to me, a new world. I had no agency in the matter and although it is not an agreeable thing to leave one's home for an indefinite period, I am now inclined to think it will prove one of the most fortunate events of my life...I bid adieu to all who are dear to me, commending them also to that kind providence with whom I feel they are safe...They were just taking in the mail when Clem put on my smallest trunk. He was staggering under the weight of the heavy one when the cars were in motion- my hurrying him did him no good, he had not strength to run.

In this dilemma a strong porter seized the trunk & just had time to get it into the mail car, leaving me no more than time enough to jump into a car before we were off with a whiz...

November 26, 1851

Last night was the longest I have passed in many a year. The ship rolled terribly & I was kept awake much of the night with a pain in my back, arising no doubt, from bile. I ate nothing after breakfast yesterday, and having eaten nothing today, being obliged to keep still to keep from being sea sick. I threw off a quantity of bile this morning but am not quite right yet.

November  28, 1851

... Judge Thornton has suffered much for the lop of his arm. Some months ago he struck another man in a quarrel. His hand was lacerated, and mortified so he was forced to have it amputated. After his arrival in Washington the inflamation traveled up his arm, and he had to lose a part of it to save his life. It had but just healed over when he was forced to come off. he has had several falls in the rolling of the ship and has paid dearly for his passion. He is an elderly man too, and seems very mild and gentlemanly.

December 1, 1851

We came off Havana at 1 o'clock last night and lay to 'till just after day light in the morning, when we got under way. I turned out to see the entrance to the Havana. What a glorious sight! There lay the "Pearl of the Ocean," with the sun rising over the land in a sea of liquid gold. Presently came the Morro, or castle, on the bluff round which we have to shape our course to enter the harbor. Nothing can, to my fancy, be more picturesque than the entire scene...

At about 8 o'clock in the evening I had finished my rambles, and Mr. Morrison was kind enough to accompany me back to my ship. I found out from him that the Spanish boatmen, volante drivers and others are as servile to those than can abuse them in their own lingo, as a foreigner who has been imposed on them could possibly desire. They hate los Americanos since the invasion of Lopez and take delight in fleecing them. 

December 5, 1851

One of the second cabin passengers lost a child of two or three years old, and the little thing was thrown overboard while the ship was under way. I may be oversensitive but the utter want of feeling which was shown on the occasion would certainly be faintly described by Lady Coortley in the little value Americans show for human life...

December 8, 1851

I rested indifferently last night between the rats which were running and squeaking round the room all night, and my nearest bedfellows. They are if the better sort of Californians, strong and heavy young men, and in their sleep they were constantly turning over to me, obliging me to keep awake to push them off with my elbows.

Sunday, December 14, 1851


Looking in at the cathedral this morning I saw at Mass a dozen Señoras and Señoritas, and half a dozen negroes, one a child of about four years, in a perfect state of nudity. This is no uncommon sight in the streets or the doors of houses, but I was not prepared to find it in the best "Sunday, go to meeting" dress of those sable urchins.

December 27, 1851

We made Cape St. Lucas last night. The head wind still continues and retards us thirty miles a day at least. I fear that Mr. Minturn will lose his bet of $25, that we shall reach San Francisco by noon of the 1st. We passed today by the bay lading to San Marguerita, where are the celebrated pearl fisheries. Occasional glimpses of the shore betray nothing but barren volcanic hills.

December 30, 1851

Another poor fellow was thrown overboard last night. He drank hard on the isthmus, got the fever and died at about 10 P.M. Scarcely was he cold before they sewed him up and launched him! He leaves a wife and seven children in the States. Is this humanity?...We entered the Harbor of San Diego this evening at about 7 o'clock. The Channel is narrow and tortuous, but the Harbor, or Bay, is a very safe one, extending two or three miles in from the sea... Here I was agreeably surprised to meet Kendrick, Sitgreaves & Parke, who are going with us to San Francisco... They have come through from New Mexico under the guide of Leroux, a famous guide of N.Mex. They have had a hard time, living for ten or twelve days on mule's flesh and being often without water for two days... The indians beset them constantly & picked off one man of the escort. There  is much excitement about a combination of indians in considerable numbers, for the purpose of cutting off the Americans & destroying San Diego & other towns in the South of California. Two men, leaders of the conspiracy have been taken and hung by lynch law. They both confessed that many of the principal Californians were implicated, and that the ground of the trouble was the operation of a certain law for taxing the indians. Our troops, not much over one hundred in number, have gone out towards the site of Warner's Ranch, which was burned a short time ago... 

December 31, 1851

The Irishman died between 12 and 2 last night, and was buried this morning. His wife is still too ill to be told of her loss. We passed up the channel of Santa Barbara this morning and saw some queer looking islands near to our course. Two have arches in their side and one resembles a buffalo mired.

It is a funny sensation that we are now in the United States. When it was first mentioned in the Harbor of San Diego, I could scarcely realize it. We saw the monument marking the Southern Boundary of California, on the top of a large table mountain, about 14 miles from San Diego, & nearly south of it. San Diego consists of three distinct towns - the old town is at the extreme inner end of the Bay- the new towns are nearly opposite each other on the north and south sides of the Bay...There is said to be much rivalry between the three places & it appears absurd to one who does not see in the small collections of low frame buildings, hardly worthy the appellation of "town," the future great city which is to arise on the shores of the Pacific. Yet San Diego is already a name much celebrated, and who shall say it is not to be the terminus of a great railroad from the East?

January 1, 1852

A happy new Year to all my good people, at both my dear homes! May we all meet as we parted, only better if possible, before the close of this same year! I dare not indulge in recording my home thoughts, or feelings, for strangers sometimes read journals!

We ran into the Harbor of Monterey at about noon today. A fine large bay, a very pretty little town, plenty of wood on the trees around, but no appearance of much activity in business.

Perhaps to be continued...