The Drum Barracks Civil War Museum, located in the Wilmington neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, explores California's role in the Civil War. It holds a large collection of Civil War artifacts and memorabilia, and a research library.
The museum is housed in the junior officers' quarters of what was formerly Camp Drum; it is the only surviving Civil War base in the Los Angeles area. The building, which was constructed in 1862, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it also a designated California Historical Landmark and Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
During the Civil War
California was a coveted territory because of its gold deposits and access to
the Pacific Ocean. In the summer of 1861, Confederate troops from Texas occupied
the Arizona Territory with the broader goal of capturing southern California.
The Union presence in California was comparatively thin, and officials
scrambled to organize a defense. Major James Henry Carleton and the First
Dragoons were deployed from Fort Tejon to defend Los Angeles and the local
quartermaster depot, which was manned solely by Captain Winfield Scott Hancock.
In 1862 a Union force called the California Column left the base and marched to
the Rio Grande, only to find that the Confederate forces had retreated,
eliminating the immediate threat to California. They engaged in two small
skirmishes with Confederate pickets, the Battles of Apache Pass and Picacho
Pass, which were the westernmost battles of the entire war. California ended up
contributing to the war effort far more financially than militarily; one-fourth
of Union war costs were paid for by California gold. After the war thousands of
Union and Confederate veterans migrated to the state and built new lives.
In late 1861 a base was
established in present-day Wilmington for the troops stationed around Los
Angeles. It was built close to the harbor on a sixty-acre plot of land donated
by prominent residents Phineas Banning and Benjamin D. Wilson (grandfather of
George S. Patton). It was named Camp Drum after Lt. Col. Richard Coulter Drum,
the Assistant Adjutant General for the Department of the Pacific. Later it
began being referred to as the Drum Barracks. The complex of twenty-two
buildings was used to both house and train troops. Of the 17,000 Californians
who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, 8,000 passed through the
Drum Barracks. The base was also home to a herd of Levantine camels. In 1856
the U.S. Army formed an experimental U.S. Camel Corps to see if they would be
more efficient performing in the desert terrain of the American Southwest; it
was discontinued in 1861. After the war ended, the Drum Barracks continued to
be used by the military as the headquarters for the Army of the Southwest until
it was decommissioned and auctioned off in 1873.
Over the next century most
of the structures at the Drum Barracks were demolished except for the junior officers’
quarters. At different points the surviving building served as a high school, a
boardinghouse, and a private residence. By the 1960s it was in disrepair and
risked being demolished. In 1966 a group of locals formed the Society for
Preservation of Drum Barracks (today the Drums Barracks Garrison & Society)
and purchased the building. It was then sold to the State of California, which in
1974 signed a lease with the City of Los Angeles to restore the junior officers’
quarters and maintain it as a museum. The Society spent years fundraising and
restoring the building, opening it for limited tours by appointment during the
1970s. In 1987 the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum formally opened as a public
museum. A new fifty-year lease with the City of Los Angeles was signed in 2007.
Today the museum is under the jurisdiction of the City of Los Angeles
Department of Recreation and Parks as well as the State of California
Department of Parks and Recreation.
Today the Drum Barracks
Civil War Museum features an extensive collection of Civil War relics and
memorabilia among fourteen rooms. Items include an 1875 Gatling gun; a flag
from the Battle of Vicksburg; a drum from the 8th New York
Volunteers; an 1869 Steinway piano; a Civil War-era prosthetic leg; and a large
camel statue in the front yard memorializing the U.S. Camel Corps. Some rooms
have been converted into recreations of living quarters for soldiers and
officers, and there is also a 3,000 volume library open for research. The
courtyard behind the barracks is made of bricks from the original chimneys,
fireplaces, and foundations of the building. The museum hosts various events
throughout the year including a Mother’s Day Tea, a Civil War Technology Fair,
a Christmas celebration, and monthly meetings of the Richard Collins Civil War