THE NAVAL CONQUEST OF CALIFORNIA
California bad virtually slipped from the grasp of Commodore Stockton and the forces available for
its conquest were meagre in the extreme. The indispensable spearhead consisted of only about 200
marines who had a valuable supplement in the "California Battalion" of nearIy 40O
American volunteer settlers under Fremont and Gillespie who had organized and trained them. Towards
the last General Kearny arrived overland with a reinforcement of about 100 soldiers. The more
numerous seamen constituting the ships' crews could be used ashore in considerable numbers only
temporarily and in special emergencies. Otherwise the ships would have become demobilized, whereas
Stockton's greatest strength lay in the mobility given by sea transport. Small as the total force
was its power was greatly multiplied by the ability to concentrate quickly where needed. Without
the ships there would have been required many times more muskets ashore to win the country.
The acute difficulties of Lieutenant Gillespie in Los Angeles that called for Commodore Stockton's
urgent return to the south in October 1846 is primarily attributable to the weakness of the
garrison. Sixty men having no artillery and isolated inland from ready naval support, obviously
offered a tempting invitation for attack to the several thousand Californians residing in the town
and surrounding territory. This danger was ripened by the ease with which thirsty volunteers could
get wine and aguardiente in the free-living place and by some $20,000 in gold that was commonly
known to be in Gillespie's treasury for the military government and which local gamblers coveted.
Early plots to attack the Americans and seize the money were detected and certain leaders arrested.
Although most of his untractable irregulars were in confinement for disciplinary lapses, the alert
Gillespie was prepared for the first surprise attack at 3 a. m. on September 23rd. Twenty-one men
on the roof of their quarters soon drove off 150 Mexicans, and at daylight a pursuit party captured
several of them. The overt act of insurrection, however, had the effect of quickly unifying
Californians in the general vicinity and of stimulating them to further aggression. Soon Jose
Flores had mobilized nearly four hundred men and brought forth some hidden artillery with which to
lay siege to the handful of Americans. Rapidly the situation became serious.