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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.

  • The Museum is housed in the junior officers' quarters, the only surviving building from Camp Drum in the Civil War. Image obtained from HistoryNet.
  • In front of the Museum is a sculpture of a camel in honor of the failed U.S. Camel Corps that was based in the area. Image obtained from Allard Real Estate.
  • Several rooms have been recreated to depict life for the average Civil War officer at the Drum Barracks. Image obained from HistoryNet.

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 Book Club.

Civil War Trust. “California in the Civil War” (video). Posted on January 11, 2018. Accessed February 9, 2018.

C-SPAN “American Artifacts Preview: California’s Drum Barracks & the Civil War” (video). Posted August 25, 2011. Accessed February 9, 2018.

C-SPAN “American Artifacts Preview: California’s Drum Barracks & the Civil War” (video). Posted August 29, 2011. Accessed February 9, 2018.

 “Drum Barracks Garrison & Society.” Drum Barracks Civil War Museum. Accessed February 8, 2018.

Hanc, John. “What Did You Do in the Civil War, California?” New York Times. March 20, 2013. February 8, 2018.

Hewitt, Alison. “Traces of the Civil War in California.” UCLA Newsroom. August 22, 2017. February 8, 2018.  

"History." Drum Barracks. Accessed May 25, 2015.

Nelson, Joe. “Southern California’s role in the Civil War larger than most people know.” Daily Bulletin. April 5, 2015. Accessed February 8, 2018.

“The First Twelve Years: Drum Barracks As A Military Post.” Drumbeats. Spring 1987. Accessed February 8, 2018.

Vickery, Oliver and Marilyn Lofthus. “Drum Barracks.” The Shoreline. April 1982. Accessed February 8, 2018.

Wells, Allen. February 12, 1971. "Drum Barracks." National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service.

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