No sooner had the Pyramid Lake Indian Wars ended and fear of attack from hostile Indians subsided in Nevada Territory and on the Comstock in 1860, the American Civil War began. Fortunately, the Comstock militiamen had received much welcome help from California reinforcements
to help put down the Indian uprisings.
On June 5, 1861 someone raised the flag of the Confederate States of America over Johnny Newman’s Saloon in Virginia City. The citizens of the Comstock were enraged to discover the “Stars and Bars” flying over the town. There was a strong secessionist element in the Nevada Territory, but the reaction was overwhelmingly on the Union side. Virginia City responded swiftly, and a mob of townspeople tore down the Rebel flag without any further violence.
The United States Army headquarters in San Francisco, however, ordered the Commander at Fort Churchill to investigate the incident. Military experts believed the flag was a “feeler to learn the strength of southern sympathizers in the area.” The Army was concerned that more than a third of the arms issued to volunteer military organizations a year previous in Nevada Territory had never been returned. The ammunition and weapons had been used in the two Pyramid Lake Indian War battles against the Paiutes. They knew that if the weaponry had fallen into the hands of the secessionists, the situation could have become a serious threat to the security of the Comstock region. An order from Fort Churchill was sent out to search where needed and to seize all the arms and munitions from the Pyramid Lake war still in the hands of the public.
Captain Moore and 20 dragoons under Lt. Baker accepted all militia arms from John Blackburn at Carson City. They seized 21 muskets from a Captain Curtis at Silver City, and checked at several other places. Moore’s orders were read with all military flourishes, and in each case, the arms were promptly turned over to him. A man from a southern state was arrested, but was soon released for lack of evidence. Rumors ran rampant, but no other incidents took place at that time.
Captain Moore held all the arms and munitions seized in the raids until a company of volunteers was recruited in Virginia City the night of June 9 “for the special protection of the interest of the Union.” The weapons were released to this new unit. Because Nevadans had not yet been authorized to form their own units, this group of 75 men had to proceed to California to be included in a battalion being organized there.
The Comstock area was already in a state of paranoia due to the recent Pyramid Lake Indian battles that had proven to be a disaster to the militias that had been sent out to retaliate for the perceived massacre at Williams Station. Major William Ormsby and Captain Edward Storey were both killed in these battles. The fear that an attack may occur on Virginia City caused local mining interests to place a makeshift cannon at Devil’s Gate to prevent an attack on the city. Fortunately this never had to be used.
The army was not about to take any chances following the flag-raising incident at Virginia City. They were convinced an attempt was going to be made by southern sympathizers to capture Fort Churchill, which had been established to protect Nevada Territory from Indian hostilities. With the country being stripped of troops to fight the Civil War, Nevada Territory was left exposed. There were also reports that Confederate President Jefferson Davis had promised the Governorship of Nevada Territory to southern Judge David S. Terry. Everyone realized the value Nevada gold and silver would have to the southern cause and what a disaster it would have been to the Union cause if that resource should be lost to the Secessionists.
The arms were reissued to Nevada volunteers, however, indicating that the Fort Churchill authorities realized the intensely loyal feeling on the Comstock. Later, Nevadans managed to raise many volunteer units of cavalry and infantry that saw considerable action against the Indians, but they never had to fire a shot at the gray-clad Confederates.
Nevada’s contribution to the Union cause during the Civil War was more economic than military. Certainly, keeping the wealth from the Nevada mines in the hands of the Union was a major contributing factor in the winning of the Civil War. Had the Confederate flag continued to fly over the Comstock, the outcome of the war may very well have been different than it was. Nevada became known as “The Battle Born State” due to President Lincoln’s desire to have another Union State with considerable gold, silver and other mineral resources added to the Union in 1864.
Each year Nevada has the largest Admission day celebration in the nation. It features many exciting events this October 27th, including Hot air balloons, free admission to both Nevada State Museums, Military aircraft flyover, The Nevada Day Parade, Single jack drilling contest, Indian Pow, and others.