In late 2010, having volunteered to assist Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington, California, with research in pro-secession activity in California, director Susan Ogle handed me a list of names, places and events for possible investigation. One of those names was that of Dan Showalter, a California politician turned Confederate cavalry officer of whom I'd never heard.

Becoming fascinated just after reading the barest outline of Showalter's life, the next year found me hunting down everything I could find about this largely forgotten character. When I had finished my research -- which included the discovery of several previously unpublished items as well as obtaining the only known photograph from a Showalter descendent -- I had so much material that Susan exclaimed, "You've got a whole exhibit right here!"

And with her guidance, on November 5, 2011, co-curated by myself and Susan Ogle, my "Dan Showalter: California's Arch Rebel" exhibit went on display at the Drum.

Now being slated for removal in August 2012 in that ongoing round of ever-successive new exhibits that mark good museums, I've started this website as a place where, over time, I can memorialize and expand upon all the material accumulated on this remarkable Californian.

Hope you'll return often as this website expands and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dan Showalter: An Overview

Just as a general introduction to Dan Showalter, I thought first up I'd post the text of the leaflet I wrote for distribution at the Drum Barracks exhibit. This is just a quick snapshot biography for a man who lived such an eventful life, but a good introduction, I think, to not only the man himself, but the circumstances that so shaped his life:

Civil War California, although officially a “Union state,” was torn between ardent proponents of both the Union and Secessionist causes. While its largest city, San Francisco, and its capital, Sacramento, remained staunchly pro-Union, much of Southern California, particularly the counties of Los Angeles and San Bernardino, was a hotbed of sympathy for the Southern cause.

As war broke out in April 1861, the Speaker Pro Tem of the California State Assembly was Representative Dan Showalter of Mariposa County. In 1852, having reached majority and disillusioned with home life after his mother had died, Showalter left Pennsylvania for the gold fields of California, arriving in San Francisco in early 1853. With his fiery red hair and piercing eyes, the talkative and likable young miner was elected to a first term in the State Assembly in 1857. Both in that session and in the session of 1861, to which he had again been elected, Showalter proved himself a committed legislator, often serving on and chairing legislative committees, and ultimately serving as Speaker Pro Tem.

Just as California remained highly partisan with the outbreak of the Civil War, its politics had been highly charged in the years prior. Not only had the Republican Party been recently formed—generally viewed as an extremist abolition party at the time—but the Democratic Party, by far the majority party, had broken into two. “Douglas Democrats,” supporters of Stephen A. Douglas against Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election but pro-Union, vied against the pro-secession “Breckinridge Democrats,” supporters of John C. Breckinridge, then vice president of the United States. Showalter, along with the controlling faction in California politics of the day, was a “Chiv,” a member of “The Chivalry,” the pro-Southern, pro-Secession Breckinridge supporters.

During an attempt to pass a resolution in support of the Confederacy on the last day, May 20, of the 1861 Assembly session, the representative from San Bernardino County, 24-year-old former sheriff Charles Piercy, became angered by what he considered a procedural insult from Showalter. A few days later Piercy challenged Showalter to a duel. The highly publicized duel—in spite of the fact that dueling had been outlawed in California for some time—took place on May 25, 1861, in Marin County. The weapons chosen were rifles at 40 paces; after being only very nearly missed on the first shot, Showalter called for a second shot. Piercy was hit on this second round and died several minutes later. This was California’s last political duel. Although both Showalter and Piercy were Democrats and the cause of the duel was a perceived personal insult, the Northern California press spun the duel into a Union versus Secession contest and began its vilification of Showalter.

By the later months of that year, hundreds of armed Californians had determined to go eastward to aid the Confederate cause. In November 1861, Dan Showalter captained a small advance party of one of these groups sent out to test whether Union troops would try to prevent their movement to Texas. After close pursuit by Federal soldiers, the Showalter party of 18 armed men was captured southeast of Temecula, near Santa Isabel, at daybreak on November 29. After imprisonment at Fort Yuma on the California bank of the Colorado River and signing of a loyalty oath as a condition of parole, Showalter and companions were released on April 29, 1862, with provisions to make the ten-day journey back to “New San Pedro”— Drum Barracks—to retrieve their horses, equipment and weapons.

Undaunted and in spite of oaths taken, Showalter and party again headed out from Southern California shortly after release, this time going south into Mexico and then across to Texas, arriving at the end of 1862. Coming upon George L. Patrick of Tuolumne, California, now a Confederate cavalry captain, Showalter enlisted as a private soldier and almost immediately distinguished himself at the battles of Galveston and Sabine Pass fought between January 1 and 9, 1863. As a result of this action, these two ports became the only two Confederate ports to remain free from the Union blockade through the end of the war.

By March of 1863 there is notice that Showalter was serving as an artillery captain, and by June of that year he had been promoted to lieutenant colonel in command of the proposed 4th Texas Cavalry, Arizona Brigade. Although, along with other regiments, the Arizona Brigade had been formed with the intention of retaking New Mexico and Arizona for the Confederacy, and then opening lines to Southern California, none of its units ever went beyond Texas’ western border. In fact, most of its regiments were used as reserve cavalry as needed and never even fought with each other. Showalter’s Regiment, as the 4th Texas Cavalry was often styled, spent late 1863 and early 1864 in engagements in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and Arkansas.

In mid 1864, Showalter’s Regiment was called into service under Col. John S. “RIP” Ford along the Rio Grande in West Texas. Over the summer months, and largely under Showalter’s command due to a severe illness overtaking Ford for several months, these Confederate forces pushed the occupying Union forces southward to the coast at Brownsville and regained the Rio Grande.

By September 1864, personal tragedy had begun to take its toll on Dan Showalter. While successful as a miner and politician in California, his reputation had been tainted by the May 1861 duel. His capture while leading Southern sympathizers and subsequent imprisonment in late 1861 had only led to his further identification as a traitor to the Union. In February 1864, he had received, to his great surprise, a letter from Anna Forman, a young woman with whom he appears to have been romantically attached. His reply was taken by Union soldiers from the body of the Confederate spy shot dead while carrying it from Texas to California, so she neither knew that her letter had reached Showalter while he never again heard from her after his pleas for her to write often.

Showalter dealt with this personal tragedy by drinking. On September 9, 1864, when too drunk to command, Showalter’s regiment was cannonaded from across the Rio Grande by Mexican revolutionary troops. His troops panicked and fled; Showalter was brought to court-martial, but acquitted when Col. Ford, his commander, declined to appear. Ford later wrote of Showalter, “When not under the influence of liquor, he was as chivalrous a man as ever drew a sword.”

When Texas was surrendered to the Union in June of 1865, two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Dan Showalter, along with hundreds of Confederates who did not wish to live under what they saw as Northern despotism, went to Mexico. He bought a hotel and saloon in Mazatlan with a group of partners. There tragedy took its final toll. After throwing furniture around the saloon in a drunken rage, Showalter was shot in the arm by his bartender partner, F.E. Kavanaugh—who had served as his own second in command in Texas—and died ten days later, on February 4, 1866, at 35 years of age, from infection of the wound. Decades later, unknown family members placed a stone for Lt. Col. Dan Showalter in the memorial cemetery at the Jefferson Davis House in Beauvoir, Mississippi.