As the American Civil War began in 1861, Sacramento was strongly pro-Union, although the Confederate States of America also had active supporters there. Sacramento’s population was alarmed when Union forces stationed within the city were drawn eastward for battle in anticipation of an invasion by Confederate forces stationed in Texas. Consequently, volunteers formed military defense forces to counter a possible invasion. Sacramento adopted the Pony Express in 1860 to replace the inefficient ocean-based letter delivery system around Cape Horn in South America. The Great Plains were the first cross-continental communication route and connected California with the east. The Pony Express lasted only 18 months and was rendered obsolete when the First Transcontinental Telegraph arrived. The telegraph lines on the other side of the continent were connected to Sacramento by 1861.
The devastating floods of December 1861 and January 1862 threatened the future of the city. Sacramento residents agreed that additional levee construction was necessary to resolve the issue. Nevertheless, the city was divided between those who supported only a slight grading to raise the city off the crests of the rivers and those who supported substantial grading for basements in the city. After the election of 1863, the level of grading in the city became a primary factor; candidates that supported high-level grading won, and high-level grading renovations began.
In 1865, the burgeoning company acquired the Sacramento Valley Railroad, and in 1867, the Western Pacific Railroad was incorporated to connect Sacramento to Stockton. Due to the joint efforts of the two railroad companies, the Yolo-Sacramento Bridge was built, the first bridge across the Sacramento River.
Here are some stunning historical photos that show Sacramento, California in the 1860s.
In the immediate foreground, with a train stopped at its side, is the Sacramento Valley Railroad depot; to the right of that is the freight depot of the Central Pacific Railroad at 65 Front Street; beyond that, and boasting a double-cupolas roof, is Central Pacific’s passenger depot. At the end of Front Street, near the intersection with I Street, is the Sacramento Water Works building. Visible to the right of the photograph is wholesale grocer Adams, McNeill and Company. To the far left of the photograph and spanning the Sacramento River is the Central Pacific Bridge.
Hastings was a long standing bank in Sacramento and held distinction as the western terminus of the Pony Express which ran from 1860 to 1861. Hastings operated until November of 1871, when it failed. The Metropolitan was one of many bath houses in Sacramento. A much earlier Capital City bath house was the Eureka, which sat on Second Street, between I and J Streets.
In the foreground is a sign for dentist W.H. Thomas, and the dry goods store of Patrick O'Connell and Jonathon Ryan. Just across the street is the St. George Drugstore. The winter of 1861-1862 saw two different levee breaks for Sacramento, one at 31st Street on Dec. 9 and one at Rabel's tannery on the American River a month later. In 1863, the city's business district was raised by 18 feet to avoid further flooding.
A. A. Sargent,” also known as Number Seven, at the foot of J Street, facing east from Front Street. The locomotive’s namesake, Aaron Augustus Sargent, served as U.S. Senator from California from 1873 to 1879. In the foreground, two rail workers look toward the camera while the locomotive’s tender is packed with wood.
The land formerly belonging to Sutter was contested in the years preceding this image with the City of Sacramento seeking to claim the former Mexican land grant. Decades before the restoration spearheaded by the Sons of the Golden West, in this image the fort lacks walls and consists of a single central building flanked by two smaller structures and surrounded by vegetation.