Meeting of March 31, 2015

Steve Batham on “Catalina Island in the Civil War”

Catalina Island Army barracks

Catalina Island Army barracks

Just twenty-six miles off the coast of Los Angeles, Santa Catalina Island became the home of the Union Army for one mysterious year. On January 2, 1864, eighty enlisted men under the command of Captain West occupied Catalina Island and forced the evacuation of its residents. By the end of the year, they were gone as quickly as they had arrived, leaving only their barracks behind. But why? The army remained completely silent about their intentions for the island and as a result, it has led to much speculation about their motivations. This forgotten military operation seems to be an inconsequential event in the scope of the Civil War, but this occupation reveals some of the larger issues that consumed California 150 years ago.

While we may never definitively know why the Union Army occupied Catalina, the presentation outlines three plausible scenarios. Could it have been to protect the coastline from Confederate privateers? Could it have been motivated by the allure of gold and silver mining? And what could be the possible connection to Indian wars in Eureka? Heavily researched utilizing firsthand accounts and other primary sources, the presentation will attempt to answer all these questions through a PowerPoint presentation. The Union Army barracks are still standing in Catalina and although it is privately owned today, the Professor Batham was granted a rare opportunity to photograph the interior of the original structure and will be sharing those pictures with the group during the presentation.

Steve Batham grew up in Los Angeles and spent several summers in Catalina. After receiving his B.A. and M.A. in history from CSU, Northridge, he lectured at his alma mater, College of the Canyons, and with students abroad at the University of Vienna. Steve moved to the Bay area in 2012 to teach at Foothill College where he serves as a professor of U.S. and Latin American history.

Meeting Minutes March 2015