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Step Back in Time

Learn more about Civil War history, California's role in the War, and Drum Barrack's past.

Drum Barracks History

The Civil War was a pivotal event in the history of the United States; unfortunately, few people realize that California played an important role in the conflict. Although the major engagements took place in the East, troops from the Drum Barracks kept California in the Union, protected much of the Southwest and secured the Arizona Territory for the Union.

The Drum Barracks Civil War Museum is housed in the last remaining wooden building of the Drum Barracks, named after Adjutant General Richard Coulter Drum, head of the Department of the Pacific. This facility served as the Union Army headquarters for Southern California and the Arizona Territory from 1861-1871.

The Drum Barracks, which was first called Camp Drum, served as the main staging, training and supply base for military operations in the Southwest, and occupied approximately 60 acres of land with an additional 37 acres near the harbor. The land was sold to the Army by Phineas Banning and B.D. Wilson for the sum of one dollar each.

After the surrender at Appomattox, Californians from Camp Drum continued to remain in the Southwest during the Indian Wars. The California units were recognized by army commanders of the time as being among the best equipped and trained in the U.S. Army. The Drum Barracks included the most important medical facility in the western states; the hospital, the best staffed west of the Mississippi River, was so vital that it was kept open for two years after the camp’s closure.

The structure housing the museum originally served as the Junior Officers’ Quarters. The building was due to be demolished in the early 1960s but was saved and opened to the public as a museum in 1987 through the efforts of community groups.

Lumber was cut in New England for the buildings of the Drum Barracks, shipped around the Horn, and arrived in 1862. Its estimated cost is 1 million dollars; the buildings were completed in September 1863.

From 1861 to 1865, approximately 17,000 Californians served in both western volunteer regiments and in regiments fighting in the east.

The Drum Barracks was home to the California Column, formed and commanded by Colonel James Henry Carleton, first commander of the camp. In 1862, Texas volunteers had taken control of the Arizona Territory for the Confederacy. Col. Carleton was ordered by the War Department to gather his troops and retake control of the territory. Thus, 2,350 men began a march to Santa Fe during the driest summer of the century.

On the way, the California Column fought the Battle of Picacho Pass, the westernmost battle of the Civil War. Col. Carleton successfully marched his troops through inhospitable territory without the loss of a single soldier, a feat regarded as a masterpiece of military planning and execution.