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May 24, 2011 > History: The Civil War Affected Washington Township

History: The Civil War Affected Washington Township

Alameda County was only eight years old when the Civil War broke out in 1861. The Board of Supervisors adjourned a meeting to raise "the glorious old flag of the Union and salute it with three cheers and a tiger." A rally in support for the Union cause was held in the ballroom of the Brooklyn House in Alvarado.

The scene of actual warfare was far away, but there was great concern and preparation for conflict. Several military groups were organized to maintain the peace and protect against violence.

Union County Conventions were held in 1862 and 1863. Feelings for the Union were so strong that many patriotic celebrations and bazaars were held to aid the Sanitary Commission, a national organization formed to help Union soldiers. A May Day picnic at Alameda in 1865 drew 6,000 people from all parts of the county. Festivities included crowning the May Queen "attended by a long retinue of young ladies attired in white and acting as maids of honor. A dance around the May pole by 16 couples was followed by an oration and dancing in the open air." In 1863, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors levied a war tax of 15 cents on each 100 dollars worth of property and a poll tax on each man between the ages of 21 and 60.

A company of dragoons formed at Centerville in 1861 under C. S. Eigenbrodt of Alvarado, a supervisor of Washington Township. Hiram Clark and John Campbell from Alvarado were privates and John R. Sim was first lieutenant. Clark was later chosen to be a cavalry leader. The company became part of the famous "California One Hundred" attached to a Massachusetts cavalry regiment and fought in many battles including Gettysburg. Captain Eigenbrodt was killed leading a charge in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. The news of his death was received with great sorrow by local citizens who honored him with awards and memorials.

A California State Militia Guard was organized at Alvarado in 1863. The 55 names on the first roll call include many famous local families: Captain Ephriam Dyer was a pioneer sugar developer; Edwin Richmond was postmaster at Alvarado and Dr. J. M. Selfridge, the first regular physician in Centerville. Farley Granger and Wm. Morris Liston were pioneer Alvarado business men.

Their rules provided that any person over 15 years of age, who sustained good moral character, believed in a Supreme Being and agreed to support the constitution could join. Members were prohibited the use of intoxicating liquors and vulgar language when in drill, on parade or around the armory. Fines were $1.00 for missing parade, 50 cents for missing drill, talking in rank or neglect of duty and 25 cents for absence from a meeting. One member was disciplined for being intoxicated on parade and another was fined 25 cents for striking matches on the walls. Members could be expelled by a two-thirds vote of those present.

Guns and ammunition were purchased and used for drill, parade and target practice. Uniforms were obtained for parades and medals for shooting contests. Meetings were held in Stokes Hall, Templar Hall, Fountain Hall, Dyer's building and in the Armory. The guns were stored in Captain Benson's Warehouse or the Armory. The new Armory was dedicated with a grand ball in September 1864 which was declared the greatest social event of the year.

Not all citizens were unionist supporters. James Lewis, proprietor of the United States Hotel in Centerville, was said to be a southern sympathizer. When he hoisted a Confederate flag on his flagpole, a group of Union men showed up with axes and told him to lower the flag or they would lower the pole. He pulled down the flag ending the crisis.

William Jordan kept a hotel and saloon in the village of Vallejo Mills (now part of Niles.) He was a bitter partisan of the South and early in the war, he hoisted the American flag upside down on the pole in front of his hotel. The story is that "Old Mr. Harlan" saw the flag and was deeply insulted. He grabbed an axe, confronted Jordan in his saloon and ordered him to "right the flag" or he would cut down the pole. Jordan quickly obeyed and righted the flag.

The Guard accepted invitations to parades, drills and shooting contests in Hayward and San Jose. They even granted the free use of the Armory to the Ladies of Alvarado for a Christmas party. The guards never fired a shot in anger and disbanded in 1869.

Feelings for the union were so strong that many patriotic events were held. The Fourth of July celebration in 1863 drew complaints from nearby towns because the people of Alvarado fired their cannon too often. The next year the gun blew up and sliced the skirts off Captain Benson's coat. Bazaars were held to raise funds to assist sick and wounded soldiers.

By 1868 it was considered safe and not necessary to have military units so they were mustered out of service. The war was finally over.

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