"Becoming California, a series that brings the California Gold Rush alive with the people who lived it."
Halt! Who Goes There?

by Don Baumgart

Secessionists from Grass Valley were rumored to be planning a raid on Nevada City.

The Civil War was in full swing, being financed in large part with the gold from California's mines. Grass Valley was a hotbed of sentiment for the South and for the continuation of slavery. In the federal election of 1864 Allison Ranch precinct voted 328 against Abraham Lincoln. Curious since only 100 people were on the tax rolls at the time.

The fledgling Grass Valley Union newspaper was a lone voice in support of the North, and Lincoln.

Nevada City residents were more inclined to be in support of the North and Lincoln, and opposed to slavery. The sheriff received word from an informant in the Allison Ranch area that plans were afoot to sack Nevada City, rob the banks, and claim the arms from the Nevada Light Guard, stored there.

Families were moved out of harm's way to Sugar Loaf, the low mountain above Nevada City. The sheriff mustered what forces he could to defend the town then set about fortifying himself with a goodly quantity of whiskey.

The Nevada Light Guard assembled at their armory and the sheriff took charge of the armed men. They expected to hear a bugle blast at any minute, announcing the beginning of hostilities. Guards were set, sentinels paced, night fell. The stars were bright, the night clear. Men waited armed with revolvers, hatchets, and knives.

The night wore slowly away toward dawn but no enemy appeared.

Scouts were sent out to reconnoiter the ground between Grass Valley and Nevada City for signs of the approaching enemy.

Meanwhile the guards, chilly and apprehensive, continued to walk their rounds. A thoughtful soul sent for a bottle to sustain them. Soon one of the guards, fearing the worst, saw an approaching figure.

"Who comes there?" he called out.

"Friend with a bottle of cocktails," came the answer.

"Advance, friend with the cocktails," the guard responded promptly, "and damn the countersign!"

The night was warmed by the bottle's contents and the men waited for dawn. It came, but the secessionist hordes from Grass Valley failed to materialize. And so it was that what might have been one of the historic battles of the Civil War became just a training exercise.

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Copyright Don Baumgart, 2007


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