The vigilante military march on county jail

Charles Doane, the chief marshal of the military forces of the Committee of Vigilance, reported at about eight o’clock on Sunday morning, May 18, 1856 that the men under his command were ready for immediate, effective service. That the committee had managed to organize, arm and then field a well skilled force in such a short time was a wonder to some, but Edward H. Parker, an agent for eastern manufacturers had loaned all the muskets and ball cartridges needed. Many committee members were military men and had seen active service in the war with Mexico or else they were a part of one of the militia units that had disbanded in lieu of supporting Sheriff Scannell and the Law and Order Party and then simply reorganized as vigilance companies.

Sharpshooters of the vigilance committee, 1856

Vigilance committee sharpshooters, 1856

One of these reformed companies was a noted artillery unit called the First California Guard led by Captain Thomas D. Johns, but they had no cannon to oppose the two pieces that had been taken from ships at the harbor and placed in front of the jail. The executive committee then called on Captain James D. Farwell and Richard M. Jessup to procure cannon for the unit. In less than an hour they returned with a brass field piece that was more than a match for the guns at the jail and had once been in service with the same First California Guard unit. It was prepared for use, supplied with horses and placed with the artillerymen who were warned to be ready for immediate orders.

Vigilance committee military units, 1856

Military units of the Committee of Vigilance, 1856

The executive committee then appointed Miers F. Truett, Edward S. Osgood, Henry S. Brown, William T. Thompson, Samuel T. Thompson and Thomas J. L. Smiley as a war committee to direct Marshal Doane and the effort to take the jail. The ten men then inside the jail were withdrawn and a letter sent to Governor Johnson that notified him per their agreement. The letter arrived before eleven o’clock that morning. About the same time the different companies of the committee received orders to march, each by a separate and specific route with instructions to be in a location close to the jail at a certain time. No company had knowledge of the orders of any other company. The march on county jail began.



  1. Now that is fascinating. I have been having withdrawals from the posts. It is called ‘work’

  2. It puts vigilantes in a new light for sure, Doris.

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