THE CIVIL WAR LEGACY OF ORANGE COUNTY BY PAUL GILLETTE, PRESERVATION OFFICER, CIVIL WAR ROUND TABLE OF ORANGE COUNTY
It sounds rather odd to use the words “Civil War Legacy” and “Orange County” in the same sentence, doesn’t it? After all, Orange County brings to mind visions of Disneyland, Knotts Berry farm, nice beaches, the Anaheim Angels, the Mighty Ducks, and the Crystal Cathedral. These images, however, are from the Orange County of today- there was also an Orange County of the past, and that is the story of its Civil War veterans.
As of March, 2002, 727 Civil War veterans have been identified as being interred in Orange County, distributed among nine different facilities. The vast majority of Civil War veterans are buried in Santa Ana, at Fairhaven Memorial Park and Santa Ana Cemetery. The known number at those two facilities is 599. The rest are distributed through the remainder of the county in Westminster, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Fullerton, El Toro, and San Juan Capistrano.
WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?
They came from Union states, predominantly from the mid-west. The Union veterans outnumber the Confederate veterans in the county by a 6 to 1 ratio. Over 100 of the county veterans fought for the state of Illinois during the Civil War, 75 came from Ohio, and over 70 came from Iowa. By contrast, the Northeast states of New York, Massachusetts, and Maine have a combined total of less than 50 veterans countywide.
WHAT ROLE DID THEY PLAY IN ORANGE COUNTY?
Once upon a time, this part of California was Los Angeles County. For various economic and social reasons, the good citizens of the area wanted a county, and an identity, of their own. The movement to secede from LA County began in the 1880’s, and was finally successful in 1889 with the formation of the new county, called Orange. The Secretary of the Citizens Committee who drew up the formal bill of secession was a local lawyer named Victor Montgomery, who was a former Confederate soldier. (For an extended biography of Victor Montgomery, see the Graves Registration page.) The State Assemblyman who carried the bill to Sacramento was another Confederate veteran by the name of Dr. Henry Head. (For an extended biography of Dr. Head, see the Graves Registration page.) So here we see the irony of two former Confederates who were unsuccessful in their attempts at secession in the 1860’s being very successful at their attempt to secede from Los Angeles County in the 1880’s.
After the birth of the new county it was the Civil War veterans who stepped into the leadership roles during the county’s formative years of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some examples:
The first Superior Court judge was a Union veteran who had been shot in the face during the battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas.
The first County Treasurer, as a young Private from Wisconsin, had contracted dysentery in the trenches around Vicksburg in the summer of 1863.
The second County Treasurer was a Confederate veteran from Virginia who rode for 3 years with Jeb Stuart’s cavalry.
The first District Attorney for the new county had survived the Hornet’s Nest at Shiloh as an Iowa Lieutenant.
The first man to survey what became the town of Orange had been a Captain in the Confederate Navy.
The first County Auditor, as well as the first County Coroner, were both Union veterans.
The first Mayor of Seal Beach had been a Union sharpshooter in the trenches of Petersburg in 1864.
The first Treasurer for the city of Orange was a Union veteran who had spent 10 months as a prisoner of war in Texas.
The list could go on and on. These examples are presented as a small representation of the contributions of the Civil War veterans to Orange County. The veterans started to arrive in small numbers to this area in the 1870’s, and by the 1880’s and 90’s the trickle had turned into a flood. By 1900, the city of Santa Ana had a higher percentage of its population as Civil War veterans than any other city in the state of California. The first known Civil War veteran to die in the area was Private Andrew Nixon, from Indiana, who died in 1877. He is buried at Magnolia Memorial Park in Garden Grove. Our last Civil War veteran died in 1949, and is buried at Westminster Memorial Park. His name was Private Charles Chappel, and he was 102 years old at the time of his passing. In 1865, as a member of the 10th New York Infantry, he had been on guard duty outside of Wilmer McClain’s parlor as Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Gen. U.S. Grant at Appomattox.
The purpose of this essay has been to shed some light on the long-forgotten story which is the Civil War legacy of Orange County. It is only fitting that an area that has this kind of rich connection to America’s most profound conflict should also have one of the America’s most vibrant and pro-active Civil War Round Tables.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to mention my fellow Orange County Civil War researchers who have done so much to advance the cause of local Civil War history. They are: Gordon Bricken, Charles Beal, Glen Roosevelt, Rev. Lou Carlson, Farrell Cooley, Steve Holcomb, and all of my comrades at the Civil War Round Table of Orange County.