Presidio of San Francisco


Mexican Period: 1822-1846

In 1810, growing dissatisfaction with the government in the southern regions of New Spain turned violent. The conflict escalated over the next decade before climaxing in 1821, when revolution led to formation of the Mexican Republic. As war waged in the south, however, life was largely unchanged at the Presidio. After the revolution, its soldiers simply switched allegiance to Mexico, under whose flag they guarded the Presidio for the next thirteen years. Regardless of its commanding nation, the Presidio was still a poorly-supplied outpost far from the central government in Mexico City.

During this time, supply ships from San Blas continued to be erratic and the missions—with their native laborers—were strained to provide for the population. When the native groups began to resist the increased demands, they were placed under stricter military supervision. Furthermore, additional tribes (including Coast Miwok, Yokuts, Pomo, Sierra Miwok, Salinan) were gathered, mixed, and consolidated into dense communities in order to serve the settlement. Under these conditions, new diseases quickly spread and native cultures were further disrupted.

What little economic opportunity did exist in Alta California was based on seal and sea otter furs as well as cattle hides and tallow. To develop foreign trade in these goods, Mexico opened its ports in 1821. Before long, the Russian American Company, Hudson's Bay Company, traders from Boston, and others arrived for business. Additionally, the Mexican government divided mission lands and distributed them as land grants. Many former Presidio soldiers and other Mexican citizens established cattle and horse ranches on this property; such citizens generally maintained a high quality of life. Conversely, the distribution of mission lands prevented native people from returning to their former homes and many found work as cowboys and servants on the Mexican ranches or in towns.

By the 1820's, the Presidio community had expanded outside the original walled plaza built by the Spanish. Farmsteads were constructed to the south, in a small spring-fed creek valley by the trail to the mission. Here, near El Polin Spring, Marcos Briones and the Miramontes family constructed homes. It is also said that Russian sailors constructed a timber house nearby for Juana Briones, who was a successful landowner, businesswoman, rancher and healer during the Mexican and early American periods. Then, in 1835, the Presidio was temporarily abandoned when General Mariano Vallejo transferred his military headquarters north to Sonoma. Over time, the Presidio's adobe walls slowly dissolved in the winter rains.

During the Mexican American War, United States forces landed in San Francisco and occupied the Presidio in 1846. Two years later, California was transferred by treaty from Mexico to the United States.

History & Culture

The Presidio has a rich cultural history spanning back to the time of the native Ohlone people. The Spanish arrived in 1776 to establish the northernmost outpost of their empire in western North America. The Presidio then fell under Mexican rule for 24 years before the U.S. Army took control of it in 1846. Over 148 years, the U.S. Army transformed the Presidio grounds from mostly empty windswept dunes and scrub to a verdant, preeminent military post. Since 1994, the Presidio has been a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Dana Crissy

In the early 1900's, Presidio coast artilleryman Dana H. Crissy was full of ambition and fascinated by the new invention of human flight. At the time, air travel was a very new concept; it was cutting edge, and, like many new technologies, it was seriously doubted. Crissy's dream was to fly airplanes and, in the process, convince the world that air travel was an effective, reliable, and safe mode of transportation.

By 1917, Dana Crissy had transferred from the coast artillery to serve in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. Before long, he rose through the ranks to became a Major and the Commander of the Mather Air Field in Sacramento. This put Crissy in an excellent position to participate in the Army's most important long-distance demonstration flight to date, which would challenge the equipment, the skills and endurance of the pilots, and the uncertainty of the public. In October 1919, a fledgling airfield at the Presidio hosted the Army's first Transcontinental Reliability and Endurance Test across North America. Sixty-one aircraft participated; 46 flying westbound from Long Island, New York and 15 flying eastbound from the new airfield. The goal was to see who could land on the opposite coast first and the opportunity complimented Major Crissy's dream. He adopted the challenge and became one of the pilots racing east.

After twenty-four grueling hours over three days in an open cockpit, the first westbound plane arrived in California. To finish the race proved an accomplishment in itself; of the sixty-one aircraft participating, only nine actually completed the transcontinental flight. Most planes forfeited the race somewhere along the route due to mechanical difficulties, poor flying conditions, or minor accidents. Major Dana H. Crissy was not so lucky. He and his observer, Sgt. 1st Class V. Thomas, were killed the first day out of San Francisco while trying to land their De Havilland DH-4 airplane near Salt Lake City, Utah. Air officer and friend Colonel "Hap" Arnold was moved by the sacrifice Major Crissy made in the development of air transportation and requested that the new Presidio airfield be neamed in his honor. Over the course of the next eighty years, the airplanes were replaced by park visitors, joggers, and sailboarders, but the name Crissy Field remains. The next time you look up into the skies, you may catch a glimpse of where Major Crissy's dream has taken us…almost anywhere in the world in less than twenty-four hours.

Major Dana Crissy is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.

His grave is in the Officers' Section, number 98-5.

Styles, Margaret, "To Die for a Dream", National Park Service, 2001.

Irvin McDowell

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Irvin McDowell (1818-1885) initially attended the College de Troyes in France before graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1838. After completing his education, McDowell served as a tactics instructor at the Academy before joining John E. Wool's staff in the Mexican War. By the outbreak of the Civil War, McDowell was a brigadier general and was given command of the Army of Northeastern Virginia despite a complete lack of experience commanding troops in the field.

Troops under McDowell's command were defeated at the First Battle of Bull Run, resulting in the transfer of the leadership of the new Union army in Virginia, the Army of the Potomac, to General George McClellan. When the Army of the Potomac was divided into corps, McDowell oversaw I Corps, which defended Washington before serving valiantly at Cedar Mountain in 1862, an accomplishment that earned McDowell the regular army brevet of major general in 1865. As fate would have it, McDowell returned to lead his troops at the Second Battle of Bull Run later in 1862 and was held partially responsible for the disastrous Union defeat that ensued. Second Bull Run was the last combat command McDowell held in the Civil War.

In July 1864, following a two-year hiatus, McDowell was chosen to lead the Department of the Pacific. In later years, he commanded the Department of California, the Fourth Military District (the military government for Arkansas and Louisiana during Reconstruction), and the Department of the West. In 1872, McDowell was promoted to permanent major general of Regulars in 1872. Following his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1882, McDowell served as Park Commissioner of San Francisco before his death in 1885. He is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.

McDowell is buried in the Officer's Section, Section 1, Grave 1.

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History of San Francisco National Cemetery

What Is a National Cemetery?

Based on the principles articulated by President Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address--"that these dead shall not have died in vain," the U.S. Congress passed the National Cemeteries Act in 1863. The law established thirteen cemeteries to inter veterans of the Armed Forces and their families, and made stipulations for veterans of the Civil War as well as subsequent armed conflicts. Originally managed by the War Department, the National Cemetery system now includes 114 cemeteries, managed since 1973 by the Department of Veteran's Affairs.

The Growth of San Francisco National Cemetery

The first cemetery at the Presidio, used by the governments of Spain and Mexico, was located to the east of the National Cemetery, adjacent to today's Parade Ground (see sign just north of the Visitor Center). Although this cemetery was never used to inter American dead, not long after the United States assumed control of the military post, the Army established a post cemetery on the current site of the National Cemetery. The first known American burial at this location occurred in 1854. In 1873, marble and other durable stone materials replaced the wooden headstones previously used by the military. After a petition to the War Department by Presidio commander Lt. Col. George P. Andrews, in 1884 General Orders 133 established "a part of the reservation at the Presidio, including the post cemetery be known as the San Francisco National Cemetery." Originally only 9.5 acres, it was placed under the control of the Quartermaster General's office. It was the first National Cemetery placed on the West Coast.

The cemetery experienced a great increase in both interments and acreage over the next fifty years. It also sported a number of architectural changes. In 1915, a concrete rostrum was built to hold official services, and in 1921 the Quartermaster Department built a mortuary chapel on the premises (currently the cemetery office--see map). During a five-year improvement plan, finished in 1929, the Army remodeled the lodge (the building just beyond the office) to conform to the Mission Revival type prevalent throughout the Presidio. The Army also constructed a concrete garage and tool house in the same architectural style.

One of the later additions led, in 1928, to a repositioning of the cemetery walls and the resetting of the old main entrance, which had existed since the establishment of the National Cemetery, to the west entrance. The current main entrance dates back to 1931. The final expansion to the cemetery occurred in 1932, giving it the current size of 28.34 acres. There was a serious effort to again increase the cemetery in 1961, but the outcry over possible environmental damage was so great that the Army decided against the plan, and in 1973 the cemetery officially closed to new interments, except in reserved gravesites.

The Cemetery Landscape

Situated in the northern center of the Presidio, the San Francisco National Cemetery offers a breathtaking final resting place for the nation's military veterans and their families. Framed by monumental trees, particularly Monterey Cypress, the cemetery combines the elements of the natural and the built environment. It rests on a slope overlooking the San Francisco Bay, and the rolling terrain accentuates the splendid views of Angel Island and the Marin Headlands directly across the bay, Alcatraz Island to the right and the Golden Gate Bridge to the left.

The Department of Veteran's Affairs attends to all of the gardening at the cemetery as well as the cleaning of tombstones.

Points of Interest

The G.A.R. Memorial--Erected in 1893, this granite obelisk commemorates the men and women who died during the Civil War. The local chapter of the veterans' group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, George H. Thomas Post No. 2, placed the monument. It is located in George H. Thomas Plot, to the east of the midway point of Officers' Circle.

Pacific Garrison Memorial --Honors the dead of the Regular Army and Navy Union. The Pacific Coast Garrison placed the large statue in the cemetery in 1897, and it depicts a young soldier standing on a granite pedestal, holding a battle flag. It stands to the northeast of Officer's Circle

American War Mothers' Monument--Located on a small grassy island on Main Drive heading south from Officer's Circle, this reminder of the effect of war on families was erected by the San Francisco Chapter in 1934.

Unknown Dead Monument
--Situated on an island on the western driveway of the cemetery, this roughhewn stone depicts a saddened American eagle with the words "TO THE UNKNOWN DEAD" and contains the remains of 517 unknowns regrouped from areas throughout the cemetery. Erected in 1934, this plot also contains the remains of the original, pre-American cemetery which was located to the east of the current cemetery.

Notable Americans Buried at S.F. National Cemetery

Maj. Gen. Irwin McDowell - Commanding general at the First Battle of Bull Run, one of the "best planned and worst fought" Union forays of the Civil War, McDowell's Potomac troops were bested by the Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. He later commanded I Corps, charged with defending Washington, D.C. from Confederate advances. Later absorbed in Gen. John Pope's Army of Virginia, he again came under criticism for his performance in the Second Battle of Bull Run. McDowell headed the Department of the Pacific from 1864-1868 and again from 1876-1882, where he earned praise for his efficient administration. Buried in Officer's Section, Section 1, Grave 1.

Maj. Gen . Frederick Funston - A Medal of Honor recipient, Funston fought as a captain in the Cuban Revolutionary Junta in 1896. When the United States declared war on Spain in 1898, he again went to Cuba, where he advanced to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the US Army. Sent to the Philippines to suppress an insurrection against US military presence, he first earned the Medal of Honor and later captured the guerrilla leader Emilio Aguinaldo in 1901, a controversial feat which became the focus on Mark Twain's sarcasm. Funston is locally renowned for leading the army's relief effort immediately after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. In 1915, he led US forces along the Mexican border and supervised Gen. Pershing's raids against Pancho Villa. Evidence shows that President Woodrow Wilson picked him to lead American forces should the nation enter World War I, but Funston died just months before the United States declared war, paving the way for Gen. Pershing's ascension to high command. Buried in Officer's Section, Section 68, Grave 3.

Mrs. Pauline Cushman-Fryer - The army awarded Cushman-Fryer the brevet rank of major for her heroic actions as a highly successful Union spy during the Civil War. Trained as an actress, she willingly proposed a toast to Jefferson Davis during a performance in Louisville, Kentucky at the behest of Union officers (in the script, the toast was supposed to go to President Lincoln). Impressed by her "loyalty," Confederate officers took her into their confidence. Months later, a curious Confederate sentry arrested her with information on the whereabouts of the Army of Tennessee, and she was sent to Gen. Bragg's headquarters and sentenced to be hanged. Shortly thereafter, Union forces overwhelmed the town of Shelbyville, and the Confederates quickly retreated, leaving Cushman-Fryer behind. She died in San Francisco in 1893 and is interred in Officer's Section.

Pvt. William H. Thompkins - A soldier from the famed African- American 10th Cavalry, known as "Buffalo Soldiers," Thompkins earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroic actions during the Spanish-American War. He and three others from his outfit made a daring rescue of wounded Americans at Tayabacoe, Cuba. After three failed attempts by members of other units, Thompkins and his comrades rowed a boat ashore, where they faced heavy Spanish fire. They returned to their transport ship, and none of the rescuers nor the wounded lost their lives. Native Americans named members of the 9th and 10th Cavalries (as well as the 24th and 25th Infantry)--comprised exclusively of African-Americans--"Buffalo Soldiers" during the Indian Wars. Formed after the Civil War, these regiments saw battle from Kansas to Texas and New Mexico, and were known for their fighting tenacity. The most famous of the 10th Cavalry commanders, Gen. John Pershing, called them "among the finest soldiers I have ever commanded." Thompkins is buried in West Side, Grave 1036A.

Maj. Gen. William J. Shafter - As a first lieutenant in the 7th Michigan Infantry, he participated in the battle at Ball's Bluff, Virginia, and earned a Medal of Honor for his conduct at the battle at Fair Oaks in 1862. Commander of the 24th Infantry ( of the "Buffalo Soldiers") in 1869-1879, Shafter was appointed major general of volunteers after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War and led the US troops in Cuba. After the war, he was named commander of the Department of California and the Columbia, a post he held until his retirement in 1901. Shafter died in 1906, and his large grave marker is located in Officer's Section, Section 30, Grave 2.

Col. Charles A. Varnum - An officer in Lt. Col. Custer's 7th Cavalry detachment during the Battle of Little Big Horn (although not fighting under his direct unit), Varnum survived to become a Medal of Honor recipient during the famous Ghost Dance scare of 1890, during the Sioux tribes' last stand against the US Army. Despite being ordered to retreat near White Clay Creek, South Dakota, Varnum, seeing the perilous position of other troops, he disobeyed orders and descended the ridge under a barrage of gunfire. He assembled the troops of both detachments and led them out of the ravine. Varnum was one of the few soldiers decorated in the aftermath of the Battle of Wounded Knee, a tragic engagement that marked the end of the Indian Wars. Later, he served as post commander at Camp Malabang in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, during the Philippine Insurrection. He is buried in Officer's Section, Section 3, Grave 3A.

For more information about the San Francisco National Cemetery, or to get help locating gravesites, visit the office within the cemetery grounds, or call the director at (650) 589-7737 or write;

US Department Of Veterans Affairs
1300 Sneath Lane
San Bruno, Ca. 94066.

Charles Young - Buffalo Soldier

A leader among the legendary "Buffalo Soldiers", Charles Young (1864-1922) served in the segregated U-S Army of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Young was one of few black military officers. These African Americans served in an era when racism was rampant and many ... if not most ... white soldiers resented taking orders from black officers or non-commissioned officers.

Nevertheless, Young carried out a wide variety of assignments throughout the United States, Philippines, Haiti, Liberia, and Mexico over the course of his thirty-seven year military career.

In 1903, Captain Young served as a Company commander at the Presidio of San Francisco. His duties that year included leading an escort of troops for President Theodore Roosevelt and serving as Acting Superintendent of Sequoia National Park.

There were four black regiments in the United States army at that time: the 24th Infantry, 25th Infantry, 9th Cavalry, and 10th Cavalry.

During the nineteenth century, these so-called "Buffalo Soldiers" served mostly in the Plains region of the Western Frontier.

Second Lieutenant Young served first with the 25th Infantry at Fort Custer, Montana, and later with the 9th Cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, and Fort Duchesne, Utah.

After five years out west, Lieutenant Young was appointed Professor of Military Science and Tactics at Wilberforce University, an African American college in Ohio.

Wilberforce President Samuel T. Mitchell described Young as "enthusiastic, energetic," and "eminently qualified for the position he occupies, teaching not only Military Science courses, but also French and mathematics."

A talented musician, Charles Young also directed the college band and played and composed music for piano, violin, and guitar. Young's closest acquaintance on the faculty was Professor W.E.B. DuBois; the two became lifelong friends.

Spanish Artillery: San Francisco

Cast in 1679 in Lima, Peru, the 8-pound San Francisco bears the coat of arms of Don Baltasar de la Cueva Henriquez y Saaverdra, 24th Viceroy of Peru. Originally emplaced at the Castillo de San Joaquin to guard the San Francisco Bay, the cannon was subsequently moved to Sonoma at the request of the Mexican Governor of Alta California. On July 20, 1846, Captain Montgomery of the U.S.S. Portsmouth sent a military detachment to retrieve the cannon and return it to the Presidio.

The San Francisco is located near the flag pole in Pershing Square.

Presidio Fire Station

By the turn of the twentieth century, several old wooden buildings at the Presidio had burned to the ground. The flammable roofs and open, coal-burning fireplaces found in many of these structures made them particularly susceptible to fire; the lack of professionally trained firefighters at the post made such fires difficult to contain. Then, in 1915, a tragic fire broke out at the home of Presidio commander General John Pershing when coal from an unattended dining room fireplace fell to the floor. The ensuing blaze quickly consumed the house and claimed the lives of Mrs. Pershing as well as three of the four Pershing children.

When the Presidio became a national park in 1994, the Presidio Fire Department became the only National Park Service fire department trained to fight both wildland and structural fires to be staffed 24 hours a day. Since then, the National Park Service has focused on a new role for the modern firefighter—that of a well-trained emergency paramedic. The importance of this expanded role for firefighters is evident in that 90 percent of emergency calls are for paramedic units, making the Presidio Fire Department a vital "first response" station for the Presidio community.

The Presidio Fire Station was recently rehabilitated to meet earthquake code standards and enlarged to accommodate modern fire fighting equipment. Many original features of the historic 1917 structure were restored and a new wing compatible with the original architecture was added.

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Fort Scott

Situated near the gun batteries of the coastal bluffs, Fort Scott was established in 1912 to serve as headquarters for the Coastal Artillery Corps of the San Francisco Bay area. Spanish Revival style buildings, the first of this style to be built on the Presidio, characterize the post, and the U-shaped parade ground breaks from traditional quadrangular design. With the advent of missiles and long-range bombers after World War II, Fort Scott lost its strategic position and became part of the Presidio in 1956. The post was eventually converted to an Army Education Center.

Cavalry Stables and Pet Cemetery

Built in 1914, the five brick cavalry stables could each house 102 horses--enough for a cavalry company. A paddock stood between the stables and the cavalry barracks on the hill to the rear; a blacksmith shop was located in front. After the cavalry left the stables they were adapted to other uses including a K-9 Corps facility and a veterinary hospital; the Pet Cemetery was started near the veterinary hospital. Today, one stable houses U.S. Park Police horses.

Charles Young - Leader of Men

A leader among the legendary "Buffalo Soldiers", Charles Young (1864-1922) was an African American who served in the segregated U-S Army of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

With the outbreak

of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Charles Young was temporarily advanced to the rank of Major and given command of an African American National Guard battalion. Young and his troops spent the entire war stationed in the United States. Young's first overseas assignment came in 1899, when he returned to the Regular U.S. Army with an assignment to the 9th Cavalry in the Philippines. For three years, the 9th Cavalry fought against Filipino nationalists. Upon their return to the United States in the fall of 1902, the regiment was split with companies assigned to Fort Walla Walla, Washington; the Presidio of Monterey, California; and the Presidio of San Francisco.

Companies "I", "K", "L", and "M" of the 9th Cavalry were based at the Presidio. While here, detachments were assigned duty at Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant (now King's Canyon) National Parks, and Companies "I" and "M" escorted President Theodore Roosevelt through the streets of San Francisco in May 1903. This was the first time African American soldiers had served as a guard of honor for the President of the United States. Charles Young was a Captain at the time and commanding officer of Company "I".

During the summer of 1903, Capt. Young became Acting Superintendent of Sequoia National Park. His responsibilities included protecting the park and its wildlife. As Superintendent, Young also oversaw the construction and maintenance of roads and hosted official visitors to the park. He concluded his tour of duty with a large outdoor feast for the road crew and special guests.

Another significant event took place in Charles Young's life in 1903--his marriage to Aida Barr at Wilberforce, Ohio. Together, they raised two children: Charles Noel, born in 1907, and Marie, born in 1909. Whenever Young's duties involved a line assignment with the troops, Aida remained at home in Ohio.

Golden Gate Club

The Golden Gate Club, with its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival-style exterior, was originally dedicated in 1949 as a first-class service club for enlisted men and women and was the site of several historic treaty signings during the early days of the Korean War. Stylishly remodeled, the club is now a full-service conference and events center.

World War I and the Buffalo Soldiers

During the First World War, the size of the United States army expanded to its greatest numbers since the Civil War.

Many African Americans felt the Buffalo Soldiers would form the nucleus of an all-Black division, and that Lieutenant Colonel Charles Young would command them in the ensuing onslaught. Racism within the army and the Woodrow Wilson administration blocked any hope of that happening.

In Colonel Young's case, illness also became an obstacle. While taking a required annual medical exam, Charles Young was diagnosed with high blood pressure and chronic kidney inflammation (Bright's Disease) and was forced to retire from active service.

Returning to Wilberforce University, Charles Young waged a spirited campaign for reinstatement to active duty. At the end of the 1918 school term, he made a 497-mile horseback ride from Wilberforce, Ohio, to Washington, D.C., to appeal his retirement and to show the War Department he was still fit for duty. He would not be reinstated for active duty until the last five days of the war.

The veteran Buffalo Soldier regiments of the Regular Army were also denied the opportunity to go into battle on the Western Front. The 24th Infantry had been on the Mexican border since 1916 and remained there. The 10th Cavalry was also assigned to patrol along the border. The military justified this action by saying that the country needed a dependable force on the border with Mexico.

The 9th Cavalry spent the war years in the Philippines (39). The 25th Infantry was garrisoned in Hawaii.

In contrast, several African American National Guard regiments and battalions were called to active duty and sent to fight in the European war. Thousands of African Americans either enlisted or responded to the draft during the war.

An officers training camp for Blacks was established at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, in the June of 1917. Several hundred men attended, including veteran non-commissioned officers from the regular army and National Guard. They were commissioned as Reserve Captains and Lieutenants. One African American National Guard regiment, the 8th Illinois (later renumbered the 370th) was entirely Black including its commander, Colonel Franklin A. Dennison.

President Wilson, in his book History of American People, wrote that after the Civil War, "congressional leaders were determined to put the white south under the heal of the black south (and) white men were roused by the mere instinct of self-preservation."(40) Wilson strongly felt that Blacks should not hold high positions of authority in the army, particularly in combat. In a short time, all African American field grade officers in the regiment, including Colonel Dennison, were sent home and replaced by Caucasian officers. (41)

Most African American troops in the Expeditionary Forces were segregated and consolidated into two Divisions, the 92nd and the 93rd. The men of the 92nd Division were used primarily as support troops. The 93rd Division was placed under the direct command and control of the French army. These men distinguished themselves in battle, but casualties were high with dead or wounded men totaling almost 50% of the division. The men of the 93rd were recognized with 68 Croix de Guerre's and 24 Distinguished Service Crosses. (42)

Fort Scott: Battery Lancaster (1898-1918)

General Information

Built to provide seaward defenses against enemy ships, this Endicott-era battery was armed with three 12-inch guns mounted on disappearing carriages. These guns had a range of about six miles and could fire at the rate of one round per minute. Battery Lancaster was unique in that it was the only major Endicott-era battery on the south shore of the Golden Gate that aimed directly at the narrowest part of the strait.

Two of the three 12-inch guns were dismounted and shipped to the Watervliet Arsenal for use elsewhere during World War I. The third gun was transferred to Battery Chester at Fort Miley.

Origin of Name

Battery Lancaster was named in honor of Lieutenant Colonel James Lancaster of the Third Artillery, a West Point graduate and Civil War veteran who died in 1900.

Access and Current Condition

Battery Lancaster is adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza. Emplacement #1 is partially incorporated into the pedestrian walkway to the bridge and the Visitor Gift Center. Emplacement #3 was partially demolished to accommodate the Golden Gate Bridge's roadbed; however, the left side of the battery remains visible. The interior magazines are used for storage and access is prohibited.

The battery can be reached via Lincoln Boulevard and parking is available in the toll plaza parking lot. The remaining emplacement is well maintained but has been modified to accommodate foot traffic. The battery's gun platform has been filled in with dirt and gravel.

Officers club

This extensively remodeled structure was part of the original adobe fort erected by the Spanish. Adobe walls dating back to the early 1790s are incorporated into the front wings of what evolved into the Officers' Club of the early 1900s. In the 1930s the building was remodeled into a graceful Spanish Colonial Revival style structure with rustic Spanish-tile gable roofs, heavy, rough timber lintels and beams, and decorative ironwork. Today the Officers' Club temporarily houses the Natioanl Park Service visitor center and hosts traveling cultural exhibits. The Presidio Trust also rents rooms for special events.

History of the Officers Club

Extensively remodeled and expanded in 1933-1934, the front wings of the Presidio Officers' Club incorporate portions of the Spanish presidio's adobe walls that may date as far back as 1791. When U.S. troops occupied the post in 1847, they rebuilt the roof of the Spanish-Mexican-era adobe (the popular belief that this adobe was the "Comandancia" or headquarters of the Spanish-Mexican Post has not been substantiated). In 1884-1885 a projecting central pavilion-like "assembly room" of wood construction was added to the structure. The next proposals to "restore" the building appear to have been formulated in the early 1930s, when a prototypical work relief-type project was instigated under the planning and supervision of Quartermaster Capt. Barney L. Meeden. The form and significance of the existing Officers Club pertains most directly to this remodeling and to the 1930s-era development of the Main Post. The 1933-1934 remodel removed some additions and transformed the building into a "Spanish Colonial Revival" edifice. Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds became available for additional improvements in 1936 and 1939, though none of these improvements seems to have directly involved the old adobe walls fronting the structure. The building stands today as a complex series of interconnected adobe, concrete, wood-frame, and steel frame partitions measuring 188' x 119' in plan. The appearance of the existing building, with its rustic Spanish-tile gable roofs, heavy rough timber lintels and beams, and decorative iron work, was determined in the remodel by Captain Meeden's perceptions of the possible appearance of the Spanish-era adobe building; In the course of the 1930s construction, substantial remnants of early adobe walls were enclosed in metal lath and plaster and still form much of the front portion of the building. The integrity of the whole has been compromised considerably by a massive 1970s rear addition that towers over the historic building.

Fort Scott: Battery Slaughter (1900-1917)

General Information

Built to protect the inner harbor, this Endicott-era battery was completed in 1900 and armed with three 8-inch guns mounted on disappearing carriages. These guns had a range of about seven miles. When the submarine mines were moved outside the Golden Gate, Battery Slaughter was abandoned and the Fort Scott boundary was redrawn to place the battery within the Presidio. In 1917, the three guns were dismounted and sent to the Watervlient Arsenal in New York State for use in World War I. The magazines were used for storage.

Origin of Name

Battery Slaughter was named in honor of Lieutenant William A. Slaughter, Fourth Infantry, a West Point graduate who was killed by White River Indians at Brannons Prairie, Washington Territory, in 1855.

Access and Current Condition

Battery Slaughter is located near the San Francisco National Cemetery and the cavalry stables. However, the battery was largely buried during construction of the Gold Gate Bridge approach and only small parts of the parapet and observation station are now visible. It can be reached via a foot trail extending several hundred yards east from a parking area under the Golden Gate Bridge approach near the intersection of Crissy Field Avenue and Incinerator Road. Parking along the road is available but limited. Access to the interior magazines is not permitted.

Presidio Garrison

The 9th Cavalry Regiment consisted of three squadrons, each of which was assigned to a different post on the West Coast. The 3rd Squadron, consisting of four troops or companies, were garrisoned at the Presidio of San Francisco. Commanded by Major Joseph Garrard, the 3rd Squadron arrived in San Francisco in October 1902.

The commander of "I" Troop was Captain Charles Young, the only African American troop commander in the regular army. A man of many talents, Young was the only Black graduate of West Point still serving in the army.

Garrison life at the Presidio was uneventful for Captain Young and his troops. Most soldiers occupied their time with the usual mundane military activities of work details and guard mount.

Off duty enlisted men who stayed on post participated in various sports. Each company fielded its own team, with baseball being a particularly popular sport in the army at the time. The soldiers also socialized with San Francisco's small but closely knit African American community.

The Buffalo Soldiers

The legacy of African-American participation in the armed forces dates back to our first war: The Revolution. During the Civil War nearly 180,000 black men fought for the Union Army in volunteer regiments.

But it was not until after the Civil War that African Americans could enlist in the Regular Army. In 1866, Congress created several six segregated regiments which were soon consolidated into four black regiments. They were the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. They were to become known as The Buffalo Soldiers.

There are lots of theories as to its origin, but the nickname may have started with the Cheyenne on the Western Frontier who thought the hair of the Black soldiers resembled the fur of the buffalo. Buffalo were revered by tribal leaders so any comparison between men and buffalo was considered high praise. African Americans became feared and worthy opponents.

The Native American description was first mentioned in a letter from a frontier army wife to a popular magazine in 1873. Referring to the 10th Cavalry, Mrs. Frances M.A. Roe wrote, "The officers say that the Negroes make good soldiers and fight like fiends … the Indians call them 'buffalo soldiers' because their woolly heads are so much like the matted cushion that is between the horns of the buffalo."

The soldiers seldom used the name amongst themselves, but they did accept the name as complimentary. The symbol of the buffalo was eventually incorporated into the crest of the 10th Cavalry Regiment.

Service for the Buffalo Soldiers took them from the American Plains and Southwest to duty in Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii, Mexico. The troops weren't always in combat. The Buffalo Soldiers were our first park rangers in the Sierra Nevada.

Troops of all four regiments assigned to Pacific commands departed and returned through San Francisco.

At the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, soldiers of the 24th Infantry and 9th Cavalry were garrisoned at the Presidio of San Francisco.

Over 400 Buffalo Soldiers never left the Presidio. They're buried here.

No matter where their duty station was located, the Buffalo Soldier regiments remained segregated, and with only a few exceptions, the officers in charge were Caucasian.

The courage of the men of these Black units meant not only valor in the face of physical danger, but also the spirit to stand in service to the United States despite discrimination, segregation, and repressive Jim Crow laws.

Discrimination played a role in diminishing the Buffalo Soldiers' involvement in World War I.

Eventually, segregation ended and these legendary units were disbanded.

Main Post

The historical heart of the Presidio, the Main Post marks the site of the original Spanish presidio established in 1776. This site served as a Spanish military base for 45 years, was under Mexican control for 25 years and, starting in 1846, was an important U.S. Army post for over 140 years. The Presidio's oldest existing buildings are found on the Main Post.

Fort Scott: Battery Dynamite (1895-1904)

General Information

Over the objection of the army, Congress appropriated $400,000 for the purchase of "pneumatic dynamite guns" in 1888. In non-technical terms, these were guns that fired charges of dynamite by means of compressed air. Subsequently, the army set up two experimental dynamite batteries of three guns each, one at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and the other at Fort Scott.

The guns at "Battery Dynamite" could fire a variety of charges--from a 50 pound dynamite shell for up to 5000 yards (2.8 miles) to a 500 pound shell for up to 2000 yards (1.1 miles). Test-firings were conducted in December 1895; however, the army never adopted the weapons because of advances in conventional artillery. Consequentially, the dynamite guns were declared obsolete and scrapped by 1901.

The battery complex underwent was put to a variety of uses after its disarmament. The power plant built for the air compressors that propelled the projectiles was used to supply power to Fort Scott. During World Wars I and II, the complex served as the harbor defense command post and was used by Army Engineers for communications and storage until the army garrison was deactivated in 1994.

Origin of Name

Dynamite Battery was named unofficially for the type of gun it held.

Access and Current Condition

Battery Dynamite is located on the coastal bluffs north of Baker Beach. It can be reached either by driving along Ralston Avenue to Fort Scott--where the rear of the battery and its supporting powerhouse are visible--or by driving along Lincoln Boulevard to view the front of the battery. Two lookout ports associated with the harbor defense command post also can be seen from Lincoln Boulevard. Parking along the road is available but limited. There is no access to the interior magazines or galleries.

Winfield Scott

Winfield Scott (June 13, 1786 – May 29, 1866) was the longest-serving general in American history. In the course of his nearly fifty-year career, General Scott commanded forces during the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and several Indian conflicts and was head of the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. Aware that he was too old to lead troops in the field, General Scott offered command of the U.S. Army to his friend and protégé, Robert E. Lee. When Lee resigned from the Army following the succession of Virginia, leadership of the Army passed to Irvin McDowell. Though Scott did not lead an army in the Civil War, he is recognized for conceptualizing the Union’s “Anaconda Plan”, which included the occupation of key terrain to the west of the Confederacy and major ports to the east.

The Barracks

The barracks in which the 9th Cavalry soldiers lived during their stay in 1903-04 is unknown. The best clue we have as to where the lived comes from the following letter written by Colonel Nobel in May 1904, explaining why the troops rotating through the Infantry Cantonment had such a high desertion rate.

"Contributing were the poor accommodations and deplorable surroundings. The men could see the Artillery and the 9th Cavalry troops over at the Presidio's main post with their good barracks, reading room, gymnasium, and so forth. The contrast with the cantonment's humble barracks caused discontent."
     - From Erwin N. Thompson, Defender of the Gate: The Presidio of San Francisco, A History from 1846 to 1995, (Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California, National Park Service, 1995).

Based on this letter, it appears the 9th Cavalry men lived on the Main Post in either the brick barracks along Montgomery Street (shown above), which were new and very near the gymnasium, or in the older Civil War-Era wood barracks known as the Cavalry Barracks (shown below) at that time. These buildings are all located close to where the horses were stabled just below the Main Post on the edge of Crissy Field today.


Pauline Cushman-Fryer

Though trained as an actress, Pauline Cushman-Fryer's legacy is her service as a spy for the Union during the Civil War. During a stage performance in Louisville, Kentucky, Cushman-Fryer boldly proposed a toast to Jefferson Davis at the behest of Union officers (in the script, the toast was supposed to go to President Lincoln). Impressed by her "loyalty," Confederate officers took her into their confidence. Months later, a curious Confederate sentry arrested her with information on the whereabouts of the Army of Tennessee and she was sent to Gen. Bragg's headquarters. When her identity as a spy was confirmed, Pauline Cushman-Fryer was sentenced to be hanged.

Before the sentence could be carried out, however, Union forces captured the town of Shelbyville and the Confederates quickly retreated--leaving Cushman-Fryer behind. Following her brush with death, the army awarded Pauline Cushman-Fryer the brevet rank of major for her heroic service as a spy. She died in San Francisco in 1893 and is interred in the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio.

Pauline Cushman-Fryer is buried in the Officers' Section.


Fort Scott: Battery Crosby (1900-1943)

General Information

Built to protect underwater minefields laid outside the Golden Gate, this Endicott-era battery was completed and armed in 1900. Armed with two 6-inch guns mounted on disappearing carriages, Battery Crosby's artillery had a range of eight miles and could fire at the rate of two rounds per minute. During World War II, these guns were assigned to the "Mine Groupment" designed to concentrate fire on the harbor entrance and minefields. Throughout this period, Battery Crosby was manned by the Sixth Coast Artillery Regiment, Battery "B". In 1943, the War Department officially closed the battery and its guns were scrapped.

Origin of Name

Battery Crosby was named in honor of Lieutenant Franklin B. Crosby, Fourth Artillery, who was killed in the Civil War battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia in May 1863.

Access and Current Condition

Battery Crosby is located on the coastal bluffs just north of Baker Beach. It can be reached via a foot trail extending several hundred yards west from the Coastal Trail and Lincoln Boulevard. Parking along Lincoln is limited. The interior magazines are not open to the public.

Encroaching vegetation was recently removed from around the battery and preservation work to stabilize the battery's condition is ongoing.

The Rodman Process

For hundreds of years, artillery material was patterned in a complexity of curved, angular, and linear shapes, along with moldings and rings of various widths, knobs, and handles. Although these features supposedly contributing to the overall strength of the cannon, they were in large part purely ornamental. Some of this adornment gradually disappeared over the centuries, but it was only in the 1850s that experiments with sound indicated that such ornamentation increased the likelihood of cannon failure.

One of the men involved in these studies was Thomas J. Rodman, an Army Ordinance officer who was to become famous for several important contributions in the fields of armament design, metallurgy, and explosives. Since the 1840s Rodman had been involved in studying gun strengthening factors, one of which proved to be his greatest contribution to the advancement of heavy armament in the United States. It had been determined that in the casting of large iron cannon, the sequence of cooling and hardening, which began at the outer surface and progressed toward the interior, left the finished gun under a pattern of stress directed to the exterior. Since the pressures associated with firing were also directed radially outward from the bore, the total stress at the moment of firing sometimes exceeded the gun's limit of strain and caused the weapon to burst.

Rodman's solution was to reverse the pattern of stresses accumulated in the course of cooling by solidifying his castings in the opposite direction; by circulating cold water through the hallow core of a casting while keeping the exterior heated, so that the hardening sequence was from the bore toward the outside. The net effect was that the firing of guns cooled in this manner actually reduced rather than increased the total stress on their metal. This method of casting iron had negligible effect with regard to smaller weapons, such as those used in field artillery, but its effectiveness increased in direct proportion with the mass of iron involved in the cannon. Under Rodman's system of casting it became possible to produce one-piece iron guns in calibers as large as 15 and 20 inches.

Rodman cannons are currently on display at Fort Point, Fort Mason and the Presidio.


Lewis, Emanuel R. Seacoast Fortifications of the United States: An Introductory History. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1990.

1906 Earthquake: Chinese Displacement

The 1906 earthquake displaced hundreds of thousands of people throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. However, the Chinese occupants of San Francisco faced the particular threat of permanent displacement. San Francisco had attracted an Chinese labor community as a result of the 1848 Gold Rush and western expansion of the railroads. By 1870, over thirty thousand Chinese laborers had established their own San Francisco Chinese-American community - Chinatown. Their presence, however, was not particularly welcomed, as Chingwah Lee, a Chinatown historian, explains, "At the time there was no work for white men, never mind the Chinese. But the Chinese would take any work at any pay. This just increased their unpopularity." Unfortunately, the 1906 earthquake and fire afforded a convenient excuse by city officials to claim Chinatown for profitable commercial development and they attempted to drive the Chinese out of the city.

Even before the earthquake, some city officials wanted to move the Chinese to Hunters Point and to obtain Chinatown's valuable land. Now they had the perfect opportunity. The estimated 15,000 Chinese living in San Francisco's Chinatown lost nearly everything in the earthquake and fire. Following the disaster, most Chinese left for Oakland and only about 400 remained in the city. Sadly, despite a military presence in the vacated Chinatown, there was extensive looting by city residents and even National Guard troops.

The Army gathered the Chinese remaining in the city and moved them to segregated camps farther and farther from Chinatown; they finally ended up in a remote, cold and windy corner of the Presidio near Fort Point. Hugh Kwong Liang, fifteen at the time, recalled, "I turned away from my dear old Chinatown for the last time... city ofï¬Âcials directing the refugees approached us and told us to proceed toward the open grounds at the Presidio Army Post."

The plan to relocate Chinatown ultimately failed after city officials realized the city would lose tax revenues and profitable Oriental trade. After the long drawn out and failed manipulative efforts by the Committee on the Location of Chinatown, the Chinese were allowed back to rebuild Chinatown, one of the icons of San Francisco.


Barker, Malcolm E. Three Fearful Days, (San Francisco: Londonborn Publications, 1998).

"Chinese Colony at Foot of Van Ness." San Francisco Chronicle, 27 April 1906. Museum of the City of San Francisco.

"Chinese Make Strong Protest." San Francisco Chronicle, 30 April 1906. Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Hansen, Gladys and Emmet Condon. Denial of Disaster, (San Francisco: Cameron and Company, 1989).

Hansen,Gladys. "Relocation of the Chinese." Museum of the City of San Francisco, 1 June 1996.

Letter from E.S. Benton, Capt. Arty. Corps. To Military Secretary of California. "Chinese Camp." National Archives, 28 April 1906.

"New Chinatown Near Fort Point." San Francisco Chronicle, 28 April 1906. Museum of the City of San Francisco.

Thomas, Gordon and Max Morgan Witts, The San Francisco Earthquake, (New York: Stein and Day, 1971).

Fort Scott: Battery Cranston (1897-1943)

General Information

This Endicott-era battery was built to provide seaward defenses against capital and moderate-sized warships.Completed and armed in 1897, Battery Cranston's arsenal included two 10-inch guns mounted on disappearing carriages. The guns had a range of about ten miles.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Battery "E", Third Artillery was responsible for these guns. During the early years of World War II, Battery Cranston was manned by the Sixth Coast Artillery Regiment, Battery "B". In 1943, the War Department ordered this battery--along with twelve additional Endicott-era batteries near San Francisco--salvaged because they were no longer needed. By the time of its retirement, Battery Cranston was one of the oldest operational batteries in the San Francisco Bay.

Origin of Name

Battery Cranston was named in honor of Lieutenant Arthur Cranston, Fourth Artillery, who was killed at the Lava Beds during the Modoc War in 1873. Cranston had been stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco when the Modoc War began.

Access and Current Condition

Battery Cranston is located on coastal bluffs adjacent to the Golden Gate toll plaza. It can be reached via Lincoln Boulevard to Merchant Road. Parking is available along Merchant Road in the gravel parking area. The Coastal Trail runs adjacent to the gun battery.

The three gun positions have been converted into maintenance offices and work shops for the Golden Gate Bridge District. Interior access is not available to the public.

1906 Earthquake: Fire Fighting

The greatest damage of the 1906 earthquake occurred when many of San Francisco's water and gas mains were ruptured. Leaking gas was the catalyst for fires that quickly spread throughout the city and the lack of water made fire fighting a challenge. Approximately one hour after the earthquake, the San Francisco Fire Department sent a messenger to the Presidio to request an artillery division to assist with the containment of fires. Several hours later, artillery troops from Fort Miley arrived in San Francisco and unsuccessfully attempted to control the fires by dynamiting strategic buildings. By noon, the financial district was engulfed in flames and when evening fell the city center had also been incinerated.

Captain Le Vert Coleman of the Presidio Artillery Corps reported, "During the first day of the fire, and until the evening of the second day, the city authorities withheld their permission to blow up buildings except those in immediate contact with those already ablaze."

Such caution hampered Coleman's progress until Wednesday night, when General Funston met with the Citizen's Committee—the Mayor's appointed relief and recovery organization. With a situation map at hand, Funston outlined his plan to stop the fires through the use of dynamite. Though the strategy was risky, the Committee had few other options and eventually agreed to demolish some buildings in order to save others. Following civilian evacuation of the condemned city blocks, the dangerous task began. Captain Coleman described the complicated and hazardous work of the dynamiting party: "The charges often had to be laid in buildings already on fire; the dynamite had to be carried by hand through showers of sparks; the wires constantly shortened by repeated explosions, could be replaced only by climbing poles in the burning district and cutting down street wires."

By the evening of April 19, the army began preparations to create the firebreak at an east-west division of the city along Van Ness Avenue with its affluent mansions. Funston and his officers, as well as the Mayor and members of the Citizen's Committee, watched in silence as three blocks of expensive houses fell every twenty minutes. The next day, winds blew the fire northward in the direction of Fort Mason, where Army troops hastily pumped bay water to the few fire engines outside the firestorm. Meanwhile, the fire's southward progression to the Mission District was fought by fire department members and volunteers. Then, on April 21, the fire simply stopped in the center of a block filled with wooden frame houses, ending three days of destruction that had consumed nearly five square miles (over five hundred city blocks) of homes, businesses, and warehouses.

Two days later explosions again echoed in the destroyed city as the weakened remains of structures were felled by military blasts. "The walls, some of them seven stories high, being in a tottering condition, the civilian riggers would not tackle them," reported Captain Coleman.

Coleman was absolute in his assessment of the dynamite demolitions, insisting that "The fire would unquestionably have destroyed the unburnt portion of the city" without them. Not all agreed, however, and the debate over whether dynamiting caused or prevented significant damage continues today.


Cole, Tom. A Short History of San Francisco, (San Francisco: Don't Call It Frisco Press, 1980).

Coleman, Le Vert (Letter from). Captain Artillery Corps to The Adjutant, Presidio of San Francisco 2 May 1906,

Dillion, Richard. "San Francisco's Occupying Army, 1906" San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle 14 April 1985.

Halsey, Jr., Col. Milton B. Point Paper U.S. Army Activities in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, Presidio Ranger files.

Hansen, Gladys and Emmet Condon. Denial of Disaster, (San Francisco: Cameron and Company, 1989).

"Lieutenant Charles C. Pulis Fatally Wounded as Army Fights Raging Fires with Dynamite," Presidial Weekly Clarion, (Presidio of San Francisco) 27 April 1906, 1.

Thomas, Gordon and Max Morgan Witts. The San Francisco Earthquake, (New York: Stein and Day, 1971).

Spanish Period: 1776 to 1822

In 1769, as European nations continued to compete for territory in North America, Spain began the colonization of the West Coast north of Nueva Espana. That year, Don Gaspar de Portola led a Spanish expedition overland to Alta California, and its members became the first Europeans to see el brazo del mar [“the arm of the sea”], now known as San Francisco Bay.

Seven years later, Juan Bautista de Anza led a Franciscan priest, 193 colonists and soldiers, and 1,000 head of livestock from Sonora, Mexico to the San Francisco Bay. Most of the settlers were Mestizaje rather than pure-blooded Spanish—the product of over 250 years of racial mixing following the 16th-century conquest of Mexico. They arrived on June 27, 1776, and established a presidio (military garrison) at the bay's entrance. The Franciscan Mission San Francisco de Assisi (now know as Mission Dolores) was constructed a few miles inland.

El Presidio de San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Assisi constituted the northernmost bastion of a network of presidios, missions, and pueblos that extended south into Mexico. In its earliest years, the Spanish presidio was responsible for the control of native people, the development of civilian communities, and the protection of the frontier.

With an average population of two hundred to four hundred residents, Presidio de San Francisco usually had a smaller population than the three other California presidios. Moreover, women and children often outnumbered the men, who were frequently assigned sentry duty at nearby Hispanic communities. Though the dune scrub, harsh coastal winds, and thin soil made the land inhospitable to agriculture, the Spanish managed to appropriate coastal lands to grow imported food crops and graze cattle. However, grazing depleted the Presidio's native perennial bunchgrasses and caused soil erosion; moreover, the arrival of livestock also brought the seeds of invasive plant species, which were carried on the animals or were imported with livestock feed. Spanish settlers also cut the few trees near the Presidio for use as building materials and fuel.

Given its position on the northernmost edge of the North American Spanish frontier, the Presidio was always poorly supplied and received, at best, one supply ship a year. Then, in 1792, Captain George Vancouver of the British Frigate H.M.S. Discovery visited the Presidio and reported it poorly supplied and fortified. When Spanish officials learned of the report, two additional forts were ordered built. The new installations—Castillo de San Joaquin (near Fort Point) and Bateria de Yerba Buena (at Fort Mason)—were constructed in 1794 and armed with 17th-century bronze cannons cast in Lima, Peru. Six of these guns remain at the Presidio today.

Batteries East and West

During the Civil War, advances in artillery proved that masonry forts in the style of Fort Point were unable to withstand bombardment by heavy ordinance. Consequentially, the period following the war was marked by innovative revisions in seacoast defense. In this era, brick and mortar forts were gradually replaced by earthwork batteries.

In 1872, work began on several new gun positions on the coastal bluffs behind Fort Point. By 1873, the first emplacement—called West Battery—was completed and armed with twelve 15-inch Rodman cannon. That same year, construction began on Battery East and a covered path was soon built to connect batteries East and West. During the Spanish-American War of 1898, 8-inch rifled Rodman cannon were emplaced at Battery East.

When the Endicott-period batteries were constructed at the Presidio during the 1890’s, Battery West was almost completely destroyed. At Battery East, however, the earthen works built to protect the large Rodman guns are still visible, as are the brick-lined magazines used to store ammunition. The site commands beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and downtown.

Indigenous Period

For over 10,000 years, Native Americans have called the San Francisco Bay region home. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the San Francisco Peninsula was occupied by a people known as the Ohlone or Costanoan. Archeological evidence indicates an Ohlone/Costanoan presence at the site of the Presidio by about 740 A.D.

Ohlone/Costanoan people were organized into over fifty societal tribes. Ethnohistory suggests that small villages were maintained along the marshlands and in locations that include today's Fort Mason, Crissy Field, and Sutro Baths. Tribes moved between temporary and permanent village sites in a seasonal round of hunting, fishing, and gathering. Periodic burning of the landscape was conducted to promote the growth of native grasses for seed gathering and to create forage for deer and elk.

Life dramatically changed for the native people of the San Francisco region in 1776, when Spanish military and civilian settlers arrived to establish military garrisons (presidios), missions, and settlements. By 1810, disease, forced labor, and religious and cultural indoctrination led to the decline of the Ohlone/Costanoan way of life.

Today, descendants of the Ohlone/Costanoan people live throughout the San Francisco Bay area and many are organized into distinct tribal groups. While participating in contemporary society, they are actively involved in the preservation and revitalization of their native culture. Restoration of native language; protection of ancestral sites; and knowledge of traditional plant uses, story telling, dance, song, and basket weaving are all aspects of these efforts. The National Park Service works alongside Ohlone/Costanoan groups in the preservation and interpretation of their ancestral sites in the Presidio.

Letterman Complex

Letterman General Hospital, the U.S. Army's oldest named general hospital, was established in 1898 to care for sick and wounded soldiers returning from the Philippine Islands during the Spanish American War. During World War II, Letterman became the largest Army hospital in the country, treating over 76,000 patients in 1945 alone. Until its closure in 1992, Letterman Hospital provided medical care for soldiers in every major U.S. conflict of the 20th Century. Today, the new Letterman Digital Arts Center has replaced the high-rise part of Letterman Hospital built in 1969.

1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition

For nine months in 1915, the Presidio's bayfront and much of today's Marina District was the site of a grand celebration of human spirit and ingenuity. Hosted to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition reflected the ascendancy of the United States to the world stage and was a milestone in San Francisco history.

Though San Francisco was the largest and wealthiest city on the west coast by the turn of the twentieth century, the disastrous 1906 earthquake and ensuing fire destroyed most of the city. Less than ten years later, however, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition was an ambitious endeavor designed to showcase the new city to the world. Selected by Congress over several other aspirant cities, San Francisco filled 630 acres of bayfront tidal marsh—extending three miles from Fort Mason through the Presidio waterfront to just east of the Golden Gate—to build the grand fair. On this new land, thirty-one nations and many U.S. states built exhibit halls connected by forty-seven miles of walkways. It was said it would take an individual years to visit all the attractions.

Visitors to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition could stroll through California's "Big Trees" inside the Southern Pacific Railroad exhibit or see the replica of the Greek Parthenon with columns made of redwood trunks. They could spend the night in a full-scale replica of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park or meet Blackfoot Indians at the Glacier National Park exhibit. For a taste of internationalism, they could view a working model of the Panama Canal, experience Samoan dancing and Sumo wrestling, or visit the Persian and Siamese exhibits. The French exhibit hall was a replica of the Hotel de Salm in Paris, where Napoleon's Order of the Legion of Honor was headquartered.

Though its structures were designed to be temporary, architecture at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was impressive nonetheless. The Palace of Machinery, the largest structure in the world at the time, was the first building to have a plane fly through it. The Horticulture Palace had a glass dome larger than Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome and the forty-story Tower of Jewels held 102,000 pieces of multicolored cut glass that were illuminated by electric light at night. When the fog came in, forty-eight spotlights of seven different colors illuminated the sky to resemble the northern lights.

Beyond impressive buildings, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was intended to showcase new technologies—including cars, airplanes, telephones, and motion pictures—that were in their infancy in the early twentieth century. New farming and agricultural technologies were also introduced; Luther Burbank, creator of many new kinds of plants including the Burbank potato, Santa Rosa plum, Shasta daisy, and the fire poppy was in charge of the Horticulture Palace. Author Laura Ingalls Wilder was particularly impressed with new dairy techniques—as she wrote, "I saw…cows being milked with a milk machine…it milked them clean and the cows did not object in the least." Other famous attendees included Henry Ford—who built a working Model T assembly line at the fair—and Lincoln Beachy, one of the best-known pilots of the day. Sadly, Beachy crashed an experimental monoplane during one of his shows and died.

The Panama Pacific International Exposition closed in November 1915, just nine months after it opened. In its short lifespan, the fair succeeded in buoying the spirits and economy of San Francisco and also resulted in effective trade relationships between the United States and other nations of the world. Though its legacy was enduring, the fair's physical structures were built to be temporary and most were torn down shortly after the fair closed. A stroll from Fort Mason to Fort Point takes you through the most lasting physical legacy of the fair, the land created for the fair from bay wetlands including the beautiful Marina District and Crissy Field which was a 1920s grass airfield created from the fair's automobile race track. Along the way you will also see the last structure from the the fair, the Palace of Fine Arts, a San Francisco landmark that was spared demolition and restored in the 1960s.

Fort Scott: Battery Marcus Miller (1897-1920)

General Information

Construction of Battery Marcus Miller--the first in the Endicott-era Harbor Defense of San Francisco--began in 1891. To accommodate the new battery, ten platforms for 15-inch Rodman cannons were removed from Battery West. Construction of the battery was put on hold pending determination of which type of "disappearing carriage" the government would adopt; consequentially, the battery was not armed until 1897, when three 10-inch guns were mounted. Designed to protect the San Francisco Bay from seaward attack, they had a range of seven miles.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Battery "E", Third Artillery was assigned to the battery. For several years, the fortification was managed as part of Battery Cranston and was sometimes called "Battery Cranston 2." However, such terminology was deemed unsatisfactory and the three emplacements were redesignated Battery Marcus Miller in 1907. The guns were removed in 1920.

Origin of Name

Battery Marcus Miller was named in honor of Brigadier General Marcus Miller of the U.S. Artillery. A West Point graduate and veteran of the Civil War, the Modoc War, and the Nez Perce War, General Miller was the commanding officer of the Presidio of San Francisco in 1898.

Access and Current Condition

The battery is located on the coastal bluffs adjacent to the Golden Gate toll plaza. It can be reached via Lincoln Boulevard to Merchant Road. Parking is available along Merchant road in the gravel parking area. The Coastal Trail runs adjacent to the gun battery. Access to the interior magazines is not allowed.

Encroaching vegetation was recently removed from around the battery and preservation work to stabilize it is in progress.

Concepcion Arguello & Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov: A Presidio Love Story

In the late eighteenth century, a young Spanish girl and a Russian explorer fell in love at the Presidio. Though challenged by differences of language and culture, the romance of Maria de la Concepcion Marcela Arguello and Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov spawned a legend that continues to capture the hearts of people today.

across Siberia On February 19, 1791, Maria de la Concepcion was born to Spanish Presidio Comandante Don Jose Dario Arguello and his wife Maria Ygnacia Moraga. Raised near the modern-day Officers' Club, Concepcion was only a teenager when the Russian ship Juno arrived in the San Francisco Bay in April 1806. Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov—Chamberlain of Tsar Alexander I of Russia—had brought the Juno to San Francisco from the struggling fur-trading settlement at Sitka, Alaska, where the Russians were in desperate need of supplies. Rezanov's intention was to establish a barter system with the Spanish in order to secure provisions for Sitka.

At the time of the Juno's arrival, Comandante Arguello was away and his son, Don Luis, was in temporary command. The language barrier was broken by Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff, the Juno's doctor, and the Presidio's Franciscan Father Uria, who were able to converse in Latin. Though communication remained rather shaky, Don Luis welcomed the Russian soldiers to the Presidio. Unfortunately for the Russians, the Spanish Comandante would not allow trade with Sitka. However, the journey was not a complete failure as Rezanov soon caught the eye of fifteen-year-old Concepcion.

Doctor von Langsdorff wrote of Concepcion's beauty in his journal: "She was distinguished for her vivacity and cheerfulness, her love-inspiring and brilliant eyes and exceedingly beautiful teeth, her expressive and pleasing features, shapeliness of figure, and for a thousand other charms besides an artless natural demeanor." Von Langsdorff went on to detail Rezanov's interest in Concepcion: "The bright sparkling eyes of Dona Concepcion had made upon him a deep impression, and pierced his inmost soul."

The infatuation was mutual, as Concepcion quickly grew enamored with Rezanov as well. The two spent the weeks they had together exploring the Presidio and planning their future lives in Russia. Before his departure, Rezanov asked for Concepcion's hand in marriage. Though the proposal initially shocked Concepcion's parents—who were concerned with the young lovers' religious differences as well as the distance between California and Russia—the Arguellos eventually warmed up to the idea. It was agreed that Rezanov would return to St. Petersburg to gain consent for a mixed Russian Orthodox-Roman Catholic wedding.

On May 21, 1806, the Juno departed San Francisco for Sitka. Rosanov soon attemted to ride across Siberia to reach St. Petersburg. On the way he caught pneumonia three times; each time he failed to heal completely before beginning his journey again. During his third relapse on March 1, 1807, Rezanov fell from his horse and died near Krasnoyarsk. Concepcion, however, waited patiently for her true love to return. She struggled with thoughts of tragedy or disloyalty for five years before learning from an officer of Rezanov's, "He is dead…His last words were of you." The young officer then returned the locket Concepcion had given to Rezanov prior to his journey.

After the death of her beloved, Concepcion turned to the care of others for consolation. She looked after her parents and became involved in charity work throughout California and even as far as Guadalajara, Mexico. Though her family encouraged Concepcion to marry—and it is rumored she had many suitors—she chose instead to dedicate herself to God. Concepcion joined the Dominican sisterhood in Benicia, California, with which she remained until her death in 1857.

Though doctor von Langsdorff's journal documented the infatuation between Concepcion and Rezanov, it also acknowledged the possibility of ulterior motives for the union. Indeed, the romance occurred at a time when Russia and Spain were competing for control of the northern Pacific coast. As von Langsdorff wrote, the marriage would ensure "A close bond would be formed for future business intercourse between the Russian American Company and the provincia of Nueva California. [Rezanov] therefore decided to sacrifice himself, by wedding Dona Concepcion, to the welfare of his country and to bind in friendly alliance Spain and Russia."

Though von Langsdorff was not the only person to interpret the romance of Concepcion and Rezanov with a bit of cynicism, their story has nevertheless captured the imaginations of authors, painters, and historians through the centuries. It also inspired a famous Russian rock opera, Juno and Avos, as well as countless visitors to the Presidio today.

Montgomery Street Barracks

The enlisted soldiers’ barracks on Montgomery Street—colloquially known as "Infantry Row"—were constructed to accommodate the influx of troops at the Presidio during the 1890’s, when many frontier forts were closed. Constructed in the Colonial Revival style, these were among the first brick barracks constructed in the western United States and, as such, were a demonstration of the Presidio’s stature as a permanent and significant army post. The barracks—each of which housed a company of 110 soldiers—were all built according to the same floor plan; the first floor contained a recreation room, mess hall, and kitchen and the men slept on the upper two floors.

Fort Winfield Scott

Situated near the gun batteries of the coastal bluffs,

Fort Scott

was established in 1912 to serve as headquarters for the Coastal Artillery Corps of the San Francisco Bay area. Mission Revival style buildings--the first of this style to be built on the Presidio--characterize the post, and the U-shaped parade ground breaks from traditional quadrangular design. With the advent of missiles and long-range bombers after World War II, Fort Scott lost its strategic significance and became part of the Presidio in 1956. The post was eventually converted to an Army Education Center.

William Shafter

As a Union officer, William Shafter saw action at several fierce battles of the Civil War. He served as a first lieutenant in the 7th Michigan Infantry at Ball's Bluff, Virginia, before receiving a Medal of Honor for his conduct at Fair Oaks in 1862. Following the war, Shafter became commander of the 24th Infantry "Buffalo Soldier" regiment from 1869 until 1879.

With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Shafter was promoted to major general of volunteers and commanded the U.S. troops in Cuba. Upon his return to the United States, Shafter was named commander of the Department of California and the Columbia, a post he held until his retirement in 1901. Shafter died in 1906 and is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.

Shafter's grave is in the Officers' Section, Section 30, Grave 2.

Post to Park Transition

When the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was formed in 1972, the Presidio was designated to be part of the system if the military ever closed the base. This foresight became a reality in 1989, when Congress decided to close the post as part of a military base reduction program. On October 1, 1994, the Presidio officially ended over two hundred-years of military service to three nations and was transferred to the United States National Park Service. At the time of its closure, the Presidio was the oldest continuously operating military base in the country and contained a National Historic Landmark District with hundreds of historically significant buildings. Following the transfer of the post, the National Park Service engaged the local community in a planning process that culminated in the General Management Plan for the Presidio. The plan calls for the preservation and protection of the park’s resources as well as the unification of organizations that focus on finding solutions to environmental, cultural and social issues within the Presidio.

The Presidio Trust

Two years after control of the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service, an act of Congress established the Presidio Trust to guide the park into financially self-sufficiency by the year 2013. Though an anomaly in National Park management, the Presidio Trust is an integral part of the Presidio's continued survival. On July 1, 1998, management of the non-coastal areas of the Presidio was transferred to the Trust, which may lease the property in a manner supportive of the objectives of the General Management Plan in order to financially support the Presidio. Thus, the Presidio enters the 21st century as a new kind of National Park—one dedicated not only to preserving the past but also to shaping the future.

John Pershing - The Early Years

The foremost military leader of his time, John J. "Black Jack" Pershing (1860-1948) served the United States in the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippines, the Mexican Intervention, and the First World War. Pershing's leadership, organizational skills, and dedication to his missions, his men, and his country led to exceptional success in a wide variety of conflicts.

Pershing was born *September 13, 1860, in Laclede, Missouri, where his pro-Union father managed a general store.

The family survived the Civil War but was financially ruined in the depression of 1873. Young John worked on the family farm and, at age seventeen, began teaching at the local African American school.

He enrolled in the State Normal School in Kirksville, Missouri in 1879 and received his degree in Scientific Didactics.

Pershing initially wanted to be a lawyer, but he passed the United States Military Academy's comptetive admission exam. Though Pershing had never considered military life prior to his admission, he was attracted by the prospect of getting a first-rate education. Pershing entered West Point in 1882. Though Cadet Pershing's grades were average, his age and experience made him a natural leader.

Following his graduation in 1886, Pershing was assigned to the Sixth Cavalry Regiment on the Great Plains, where he fought in a series of Indian campaigns in New Mexico, Nebraska, and South Dakota and quickly gained recognition as a tough, competent officer.

In 1891, Lieutenant Pershing accepted a position at the University of Nebraska as Professor of Military Science and Tactics. Over the course of four years, he revitalized the once-deficient military department.

Pershing’s next assignment was in Montana, where he led the Buffalo Soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry. Around this time, Pershing acquired the nickname "Black Jack”. 

Pershing was back teaching at West Point in when the Spanish-American War erupted in 1898. Lieutenant Pershing returned to the 10th Cavalry. The unit was sent to Cuba, where Pershing led his troops in the assault on San Juan Hill. Though the troopers of the 10th took heavy casualties, they served with distinction alongside Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt's "Rough Riders".  Pershing received the Silver Star for heroism under fire.

Following the war, Pershing returned to Washington as Chief of Customs and Insular Affairs for Cuba and Puerto Rico.

He was then transferred to the Philippines and assigned to the Eighth Corps and later the Fifteenth Cavalry, where he worked to pacify uprisings of the indigenous Muslims, the Moros. During this time, Pershing studied Moro dialects and culture, read the Koran, and formed close relationships with Moro chieftains. His success with the Moros led to permanent promotion to captain in 1901.

Pershing directed the campaign at Lake Lanao in which he led troops through the jungle to an isolated location to disarm the Maciu Moros. For this success Pershing was hailed as an American hero upon his return to the States in 1903. President Roosevelt mentioned Pershing by name in an address to Congress advocating promotion of military officers by merit.

*Note: Some authors contend that Pershing was actually born on January 13, 1860 and that he changed his birthdate to September 13 in order to meet the 22 year-old cutoff age to qualify for entry into West Point Academy.

1906 Earthquake and the Army

In the early dawn light of April 18, 1906—at 5:12 a.m.—the ground under San Francisco shook violently for a less than a minute. Though damage from the earthquake was severe, the ensuing fires were truly catastrophic. Thirty broke out almost immediately, burned for three days, and destroyed over five hundred blocks in the heart of the city. Because San Francisco's water pipes were shattered by the quake, little could be done to stop the inferno from incinerating everything in its path. Over half of the city's 400,000 citizens lost their homes and virtually all were paralyzed by shock, confusion, and desperation. Though the number killed by the earthquake remains a subject of historical debate, the figure probably lies in the several thousands rather than the less than 600 estimate found in the official reports on the disaster.

Within hours of the earthquake, U. S. Army troops stationed at the Presidio and other nearby posts responded to help city authorities maintain order and fight fires. The Army also established communications, gave medical treatment, distributed supplies, and provided food, water, shelter, and sanitation in the following days and weeks. Some San Franciscans felt fear and others reassurance at seeing armed soldiers in the streets. This is a story of heroism and valor, order and organization, but also controversy as much of the initial Army response was improvised due to the lack of clear guidelines.

1906 Earthquake: Signal Corps

The 1906 earthquake severed all telephone and telegraph lines within San Francisco as well as those connecting the city to the outside world. Therefore, organization of virtually all relief efforts depended on the implementation of temporary communication lines. It was the responsibility of the Army’s Signal Corps to reestablish communications in the city as quickly as possible.

When the earthquake struck early on the morning of April 18, the U.S. Army Signal Corps at the Presidio consisted of Captain Leonard D. Wildman, three officers, and several privates. Wildman—an electrical engineer—and his men soon began the arduous process of stringing communication cables through a burning city filled with a desperate populace.

Despite the challenges, the Signal Corps successfully established a telegraph line between the Presidio and the city by ten o'clock in the morning. Additionally, they managed to keep the single line at the Postal Telegraph building open to Washington until it fell to the flames at three o'clock in the afternoon. The Signal Corps then ran a line from the headquarters at Fort Mason to the Ferry Building, where Western Union had access to an Oakland cable. In order to piece together a connection, electrical wires were cut from city light poles. Within one day, this line established direct communication between Army headquarters and the Secretary of War.

The Signal Corps' role in the aftermath of the earthquake was far from over. In addition to mending lines cut during telephone and electric repair efforts, they also constantly reconnected telegraph lines disrupted by the dynamite squads. As the fire moved over Telegraph Hill, the Signal Corps quickly ran a line down scorched California Street. Despite the danger, it was necessary to stuff insulated wires into cable slots still hot from the blaze. Because of such daring efforts, the crucial communication channel in San Francisco was never broken for more than thirty minutes at a time.

Though additional men eventually arrived to relieve the Signal Corps, wire and supplies remained desperately short. Nevertheless, when the city was divided into military districts on April 22, the Signal Corps was able to connect the individual district headquarters with the Fort Mason department headquarters in just three hours. Eventually, the Signal Corps division grew to over 170 men stringing the lines that handled nearly two thousand messages per day. Over forty telegraph offices and seventy-nine phone offices were launched, providing communication between the seven relief districts and the mayor's office, the federal offices, and transportation points.

General Greely, who himself had been a highly decorated member of the Signal Corps, noted, "For three days, the only electrical communication in the downtown section was over the wires that Captain Wildman's men strung over the ruined walls through the heart of the burning district." The city remained dependent solely upon military telegraph lines until May 10th.

Crissy Airfield

Originally a coastal wetlands occupied seasonally by the Ohlone people, the

Crissy Field

area has seen more changes in use than any other site in the Presidio. After being allocated for stables, warehouses, and a refuse site in the late 1800's, the tidal sloughs were filled for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. During World War I, barracks for 6,000 soldiers covered the area prior to construction of the airfield in 1919.

From 1921 to 1936 Crissy Army Airfield was the center of West Coast military aviation. During these years of explosive advances in air power, pilots from Crissy performed maneuvers and mock battles, flew endurance flights, surveyed the west by air, and scouted for forest fires.

A major restoration of the airfield area was completed in 2001.

Charles Varnum

As an officer in Lieutenant Colonel George Custer's 7th Cavalry, West Point graduate Charles Varnum (1849-1936) served in the most famous engagement of the Indian Wars, the Battle of Little Big Horn. Varnum survived the notorious U.S. defeat and, went on to be decorated in 1890 for actions he took in the aftermath of the Battle of Wounded Knee, a tragic engagement that marked the end of the Indian Wars. On December 30—the day following Wounded Knee—Varnum helped ensure a safe withdrawal for his troops while fighting the Sioux near White Clay Creek, South Dakota, where Varnum was ordered to retreat from his position. Seeing the perilous position this placed other troops in, he disobeyed orders and descended the ridge under a barrage of gunfire. Varnum then assembled the troops of both detachments and led them out of the ravine; for this feat he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Varnum later served as post commander at Camp Malabang during the Philippine American War that followed the Spanish American War. When he died at Letterman Hospital at the age of 86, Varnum was the last veteran officer of Little Big Horn. He is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.

Varnum is buried in the Officers' Section, Section 3, Grave 3A.

1906 Earthquake: Medical Care and Sanitation

On April 19th, Lieutenant Colonel George H. Torney, commanding officer of the Presidio's Army General Hospital, telegrammed Washington, D.C. with the alarming news, "Medical Supply Depot was destroyed totally." He requested immediate shipment of first aid supplies. The Army General Hospital fared better than those in the city and opened its doors to civilians. An Army Field Hospital sent from the East and 26 medical dispensaries also provided free medical care to thousands of civilians throughout the city.

Army nurses and doctors at fourteen tent wards of Field Hospital No. 1 set up in Golden Gate Park treated over 5,000 patients, the majority of whom were women and children. As the numbers swelled, Captain Gilchrist requested the services of White Cross Society female nurses to assist the medical corps men at the temporary hospital. Gilchrist estimated that in the operating tent "an average of 50 dressings were made daily, most of which were burns, fractures and wounds in general." By early June, "the health conditions in the city and refugee camps became greatly improved," and Field Hospital No. 1 was gradually dismantled.

Though treating the injured was a priority, the Army was very concerned about the possible outbreak of epidemic disease. This fear was compounded as temporary shelters sprang up across San Francisco in the aftermath of the earthquake. Though an Army medical officer was assigned to each of the military-based camps, enforcement of sanitation standards in the unofficial encampments fell to Lieutenant-Colonel Torney. Torney eventually became the Chief Sanitary Inspector in both the official and unofficial refugee camps and was later appointed Surgeon General of the United States Army.

Torney's district inspectors combed the city to investigate garbage, cisterns, latrines, and other sanitary concerns. Their reports paint a poignant picture of San Francisco in the aftermath of the earthquake. On April 22, for example, Officer Charles Clark, M.D., reported: "(On) Gavin Street there are two children with sore throats which appear suspicious of diphtheria. There are about 100 families here with no shelter and no bedding whatsoever." Clark noted a variety of informal camps; including a camp at the foot of Hyde Street "composed of about 45 people" and one at Stewart and Folsom held about 60 people. At another, Clark found "About 500 people. No bedding or tentage observable."

As Chief Sanitary Inspector, Torney strictly enforced regulations and expelled those refugees who did not maintain sanitary standards. As a result of the Army's sanitation efforts, there were no epidemics or outbreaks of disease to compound the damage of the earthquake. Indeed, the Army had the supplies, manpower, expertise, and authority to confront the medical emergencies caused by the earthquake and its aftermath.

U.S. Military Period: 1846-1994

Within one year of the United States’ occupation of the Presidio in 1846, its crumbling buildings were repaired by the Army’s New York Volunteers. Upon the discovery of gold in California in 1849, the sudden growth of San Francisco in size and significance prompted the U.S. government to establish a permanent military reservation on the bay. By executive order of President Fillmore, the United States reserved the Presidio for military use in November 1850.

During the 1850's, the Army Corps of Engineers built Fort Point—a four-tiered brick and granite fort designed to hold 126 cannon—at the mouth of the bay. In 1861, the outbreak of the Civil War reemphasized the economic and military significance of California and, one year later, the first major expansion at the Presidio since its acquisition by the United States began. Following the Civil War, Presidio soldiers fought the Modoc Indians in the Lava Beds of northern California and the Apache Indians in the southwest during the Indian Wars of the 1870's and 1880's. Also in the 1880's, a large-scale tree planting and post beautification program was initiated. By the 1890's, the Presidio had evolved from a modest frontier outpost to a major military installation and a base for American expansion into the Pacific.

Beginning in the 1890's, U.S. Cavalry stationed at the Presidio patrolled three newly-created National Parks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California—Sequoia, General Grant and Yosemite—before the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. During the 1898 Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War, thousands of troops camped on the Presidio while awaiting deployment to the Philippines—including all four African-American "Buffalo Soldier" regiments. Upon their return to the United States, many sick and wounded soldiers were treated in the Army's first permanent general hospital, Presidio (later Letterman) Hospital.

By 1905, twelve reinforced-concrete artillery batteries were built along the San Francisco headlands to supplement bay defenses. Presidio coast artillery units were stationed at Fort Scott, while cavalry and infantry troops were garrisoned on the Main Post.

Following the cataclysmic 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire, the U.S. Army provided food, clothing, shelter, and protection to the city of San Francisco from the Presidio. In 1914, troops under the command of legendary General John Pershing were dispatched from the Presidio to pursue Pancho Villa south of the Mexican border. During the expedition, Pershing's wife and three of his four children perished when the family home on the main post was consumed by fire. The Presidio further expanded in the 1920's, when Crissy Airfield was established along the bayfront. In 1924, the first "dawn to dusk" transcontinental flight landed at Crissy Field.

Following the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when many felt a mainland invasion of California was imminent, Presidio soldiers dug foxholes along nearby beaches. Soon after, Fourth Army Commander General John L. DeWitt—stationed at the Presidio—conducted the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans while, simultaneously, U.S. soldiers of Japanese decent were trained to read and speak Japanese at the first Military Intelligence Service language school at Crissy Field. As World War II progressed, the Presidio became headquarters of the Western Defense Command and the nearby Fort Mason Port of Embarkation shipped 1,750,000 American servicemen to fight in the Pacific theater. Meanwhile, Letterman Hospital became the largest debarkation hospital in the country—peaking at 72,000 patients in one year. During the 1950's, the Presidio was headquarters for the Nike missile defense system located around the Golden Gate as well as headquarters for the famed Sixth U.S. Army.

With over 350 historically significant buildings, the Presidio of San Francisco was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. In 1989, Congress decided to close the Presidio and it was transferred to the National Park Service in October of 1994.

Adelbert von Chamisso

French-born explorer and naturalist Adelbert von Chamisso (full name: Louis Charles Adélaïde de Chamisso de Boncourt) (1781-1838) visited the San Francisco Bay area in the early nineteenth century. During his time in California, Chamisso studied a number of indigenous plant and animal species and his inventory is considered a valuable ecological record to this day.

On October 2, 1816, a two-masted brig flying the colors of the Russian Imperial Navy arrived in the San Francisco Bay. Named the Rurik for a Viking explorer of Russia, the ship had rounded Cape Horn and explored islands in the South Pacific during its fifteen months at sea. On board were four scientists--including Adelbert von Chamisso, a naturalist, linguist, botanist, and romantic writer. Throughout the month of October, Adelbert von Chamisso compiled an inventory of many plant and animal species in the bay area. Chamisso is best known locally for giving a latin name to the California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica, which he discribed based on specimens found at the Presidio. He named the poppy in honor of his friend Johann Friedrich Eschscholtz, the Rurik's young surgeon and also a botanist. Eschscholtz returned the compliment by naming a local lupine species for Chamisso, Lupinus chamissonis.

Following her time in the San Francisco Bay, the Rurik returned to St. Petersburg in 1818--having long since been given up for lost. Later that year, Adelbert von Chamisso was named custodian of the botanical gardens in Berlin. He remained active in science for the remainder of his life, pursuing investigations in fields as diverse as zoology and Australasian languages. To this day, Chamisso's Gesammelte Werke (Gathered Works) is esteemed for its distinctive record of California natural history. On December 12, 1890, the California State Floral Society selected Eschscholzia californica the state flower.

Chambers, Kenton L. "Adelbert von Chamisso and Botanical Orthography"

Lewis, Oscar. "A sojourn at San Francisco Bay 1816, from the diary of Adelbert von Chamisso", 1936.

"Russia's Great Voyages to America," Archived exhibit from California Academy of Sciences.

Fort Scott: Battery McKinnon-Stotsenberg (1898-1943)

General Information

This Endicott-era battery was built to provide seaward defenses against enemy warships. Completed in 1898, the fortification was initially named Battery Stotsenburg and included four pits, each of which contained four 12-inch mortars. These guns had a range of eight miles as well as a 360-degree field of fire that could target beaches and land in addition to water.

In 1906, the battery was divided into two batteries of eight mortars each. The two pits to the east retained the name Battery Stotsenburg while the two western pits were renamed Battery William McKinnon. In 1917, four mortars were transferred from here to Battery Howe at Fort Funston. In 1943, the War Department ordered this and twelve other batteries salvaged because they were no longer needed.

Origin of Name

Battery Stotsenburg was named in honor of Captain Stotsenburg, Sixth Cavalry, who was killed in action at Timgua, Island of Luzon, Philippine Islands, in 1898.

Battery McKinnon was named in honor of Captain McKinnon, Third Cavalry, who served with distinction in the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection. He died on active duty in 1902.

Access and Current Condition

Battery Stotsenburg-McKinnon is located near Rob Hill at the Presidio, adjacent to the intersection of Washington and Compton Roads. Though access to the batteries and interior magazines is not allowed, the battery may be viewed through a chain-link fence.

Spanish American War - A Splendid Little War

On April 21, 1898, the United States declared war against Spain. It would be the first overseas conflict fought by the U.S. It involved major campaigns in both Cuba and the Philippine Islands.
The reasons for war were many, but there were two immediate ones: America's support the ongoing struggle by Cubans and Filipinos against Spanish rule, and the mysterious explosion of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor.
Half a world away and only 11 days after the war began, the Spanish Pacific fleet in Manila Bay was defeated by the U.S. Navy in swift strike made by Commodore George Dewey.
Unaware of Dewey’s quick success, President McKinley ordered troops to mount a campaign against the capital of Manila.
The military base best suited to stage this campaign was the Presidio of San Francisco. Volunteer soldiers from all over the United States gathered and trained at the Presidio before the long sea voyage to the Philippines.
Their quest was described as a "splendid little war" by Secretary of State John Hay.

The Presidio’s Role

The Presidio was a natural choice because it is next to the finest harbor on the West Coast. The post also had enough land to house and train large numbers of troops.

The first overseas units left the Presidio in May 1898. They were the 1st California Infantry and the 2nd Oregon Infantry Regiments. Soon volunteer units from Washington State, Montana, Iowa, Wyoming, Kansas, Tennessee and Utah would be stationed at the Presidio. From the beginning of the war to 1900, some 80,000 men passed through the post on their way to and from the Philippines.

At the turn of the century, San Francisco offered many attractions, but army life at the Presidio was cramped, and sickness often flared up in the temporary tent camps. This situation prompted the military to improve troop facilities and helped change the face of the Presidio over the ensuing years.

Fighting Continues in the Philippines

Philippine rebels had been waging guerrilla warfare against Spanish colonialism long before the U.S. became involved. Their exiled leader, Emilio Aquinaldo, communicated with the U.S. Army already on its way to the Philippines. He believed the United States would help the "Insurrectos" gain independence from Spain.

But the U-S government had another idea. After the signing the peace treaty with Spain in late 1898, the U.S. gave Cuba its independence but kept the Philippines. The Philippine nationalists were outraged and it sparked a bitter and controversial conflict called the Philippine War. 

Impact of the Spanish American War on the Presidio

The mark of the brief war with Spain and the longer conflict with the Philippines is evident throughout the Presidio. The arrival of large numbers of troops spurred its transition from a frontier military outpost to a modern army base. Buildings like the Montgomery St. Barracks and the Letterman Hospital complex are now an important part of the historic scene.


Public Health Service Hospital

Built in 1875 and originally called the U.S. Marine Hospital, the Public Health Service Hospital initially tended the needs of merchant seamen. Eventually the hospital also cared for members of the U.S. Coast Guard and other governmental agencies, Native Americans and Vietnam refugees. In addition, important research on plague diseases was conducted here. A new hospital replaced the old in 1932, and two wings were added in the 1950s. After the hospital's closure in 1981, the Military Language Institute used part of the facility from 1982 to 1988.

John Pershing - Success and Tragedy

The foremost military leader of his time, General John "Black Jack" Pershing (1860-1948) served in the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippines, the Mexican Intervention and World War I.

During his next assignment in Washington, Captain Pershing met Helen Frances Warren, a recent graduate of Wellesley College and daughter of United States Senator Francis E. Warren of Wyoming.

Though twenty years her senior, Pershing charmed Miss Warren. In describing a social gathering, she wrote, "Danced every dance but one, and have lost my heart to Captain Pershing irretrievably."

The courtship lasted a year, sustained by traditional wooing and love letters. The two were married in a wedding attended by President Theodore Roosevelt just days before Pershing shipped out to Tokyo, Japan, where he served as a military attaché and observer of the Russo-Japanese War.

Captain Pershing's brilliance continued to be recognized. In 1906, he was promoted to Brigadier General, skipping over 862 senior officers.

After Japan, Brigadier General Pershing was sent back to the Philippines to command Fort McKinley. During this time, Pershing once again worked with the Moros in their development of a constitution and organization of a local government.

In 1913, Pershing successfully led troops to overtake outlaw Moros in the Mount Bagsak campaign, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

On January 13, 1914, General Pershing took command of the 8th Infantry Brigade at the Presidio of San Francisco.

It wasn't long, however, before tensions along the Mexican border forced the 8th Infantry to be transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas. While her husband was away, Mrs. Pershing and the four children remained at the family's two-story Victorian house at the Presidio.

Tragedy struck on Friday, August 27, 1915, when hot coals spilled from the hearth of the Pershing home and onto the highly waxed floor. The house was quickly consumed by flames; Frances and her three daughters—aged eight, seven, and three—perished in the blaze.

Only five year-old Warren survived after being rescued by Pershing's long-time black orderly. Visiting the site, Pershing could only comment, "They had no chance."

After the funeral, General Pershing returned to Texas. Filled with grief, he turned all of his attention to his work.

Around this time, the Mexican bandit Francisco "Pancho" Villa was leading raids along the border. In March 1916, Villa led a cavalry raid on Columbus, New Mexico, that left soldiers and civilians dead.

In response, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the Army to pursue Villa in Mexico. General Pershing organized 10,000 men for the expedition—including his old 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers.

Pershing led several expeditions deep into Mexico. Though Villa was never caught, talks with Mexican President Venustiano Carranza resulted in an agreement to deter outlaws like Villa from entering the United States.

1906 Earthquake: Relief Efforts

The U.S. Army's relief efforts during the 1906 earthquake and fire not only answered the needs of the immediate tragedy but also left a legacy for future domestic emergencies. Based on the army's experience in the 1906 disaster, clear and formal policies were developed regarding civil relief and the Army's relationship with the Red Cross was formally defined.

When news of the earthquake reached the War Department in Washington, army headquarters across the nation were asked to contribute to the relief effort. Soon, trains loaded with military supplies arrived in San Francisco. Quartermaster Major Carroll A. Devol noted the massive distribution of supplies at the Presidio was "without any authority, but when reported was promptly approved by the Secretary of War." Devol was placed in charge of transportation, receipt and distribution of both military and civil supplies. According to army reports, over 30,000 refugees were solely dependent on the army for food and shelter - 16,000 at the Presidio alone.

Food donations began arriving in San Francisco almost immediately. However, prohibitions against fires forbade people from cooking. By April 23rd, less than one week after the earthquake, the Citizen's Relief Committee was overcome by the food distribution efforts and the mayor asked the army to take over. General Greely, now back in San Francisco, initially refused Mayor Schmitz's request to manage food distribution. It was only after prodding by members of the Committee of Fifty that Greely agreed to set up nine food depots. Each civilian was fed the equivalent of three-quarters of an Army enlisted man's rations. On April 30th more than 300,000 people were fed at these commissary food stations. The Army commissary later assisted in organizing and opening relief restaurants.

Though services provided by the Army in the aftermath of the earthquake were crucial, General Greely was sensitive to the fact that the military was responsible for Federal property only. On April 29, General Orders No. 18 outlined the role of the Army in the relief efforts and appointed Army officers to work with the mayor's committee and the Red Cross. General Funston's wife, Eda, worked with Dr. Edward T. Devine—head of the fledgling Red Cross—in establishing a relief distribution system. It was eventually agreed the Army would pass out civilian-donated clothing to the refugees. In addition, the Army established twenty-one official refugee camps. Organized and maintained in military fashion, these camps were among the safest and cleanest shelters available for earthquake refugees.

1906 Earthquake: Refugee Camps

In the aftermath of the earthquake, an estimated 75,000 citizens simply left San Francisco. The remaining homeless population of 250,000 established makeshift camps in park areas and amidst the burnt-out ruins of city buildings. As fires burned across the eastern side of the city, refugees migrated west towards Golden Gate Park and the Presidio seeking food and shelter. Eventually, the Army would house 20,000 refugees in military-style tent camps—including 16,000 at the Presidio.

The Army managed 21 of the city's 26 official refugee camps. Four camps were located on the Presidio, including an isolated camp for refugees from Chinatown. At the Presidio camps 3,000 tents were arranged in orderly street-grid formation complete with numbers and corner directories.

Soon, the refugee camps became small and highly-organized tent towns, where, according to the some reports, "The people are well cared for and are taking things as happily and philosophically as if they were out on a summer's camping trip." Despite their recent hardships, refugees in the camps quickly established routines of regular life. Children formed playgroups in the camps and dining halls became a center of social gatherings. These camps emptied as the city was rebuilt. The Presidio camps were dismantled first, closing in June, 1906.

As winter approached, the city built 5,300 small wooden cottages for those still in need of housing. These "earthquake shacks" were a joint effort of the San Francisco Relief Corporation, the San Francisco Parks Commission, and the Army. Union carpenters built the structures, which are said to be based on a design provided by General Greely, who had personal experience in building Arctic shelters with few supplies.

Mayor Schmitz vocalized his concern about the clean conditions and desirable locations of the new cottage camps with the statement, "I'm only afraid these people will never want to leave their new homes here." At peak occupancy the cottages housed 16,448 refugees. Tenants paid $2 a month toward the $50 price of the cottage. After paying off their new home, the owners were required to move their cottages from the camps. The last camp closed in June 1908, leaving earthquake cottages scattered throughout San Francisco. Today, the Presidio houses two of these earthquake cottages.


Bronson, William. The Earth Shook, the Sky Burned, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1997).

Clements, Jr., Robert M. "Reminders of 1906," San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle, 11 December 1977.

"Engineers Build New Dwellings for Refugees," Presidial Weekly Clarion, (Presidio of San Francisco), 27 April 1906.

Halsey, Jr., Col. Milton B., USA (Ret). Point Paper U.S. Army Activities in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, Presidio Ranger files.

Richards, Rand. Historic San Francisco: A Concise History and Guide, (San Francisco: Heritage House Publishers, 1991).

Russell Sage Foundation, San Francisco Relief Survey: The Organization and Methods of Relief Used After the Earthquake and Fire of April 18, 1906, (New York: Survey Associates, Inc., 1913).

William Thompkins

A member of the African-American 10th Cavalry commonly known as the "Buffalo Soldiers," Private William Thompkins served in the Spanish-American War. On June 30, 1898, he and three other black soldiers participated in a daring rescue of wounded troops near Tayabacoe, Cuba. After three failed attempts by other units, Thompkins and his comrades voluntarily rowed a boat ashore under heavy enemy fire, retrieved the American and Cuban soldiers, and returned to their transport ship without taking any losses. All four privates were awarded the Medal of Honor. He is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.

Thompkins is buried in West Side, Grave 1036A.

Housing Areas

The housing areas of the Presidio were built from the turn-of-the-century through the 1950s. They provided housing for both officers' and enlisted men and their families. Today, the housing areas are largely surrounded by mature forest giving an isolated and serene feeling to this largely urban area. Historic El Polin Spring and Lovers' Lane are found in the East Housing area.

Infantry row

Commonly known as "Infantry Row," Buildings 101 through 105 were constructed on Montgomery Street to accommodate troops consolidated at the Presidio after the Indian Wars, when many frontier forts were closed. Built in the Colonial Revival style during the 1890's, these were some of the first brick barracks in the western United States and demonstrated the Presidio's military significance. Each side of the barracks housed a company of 110 soldiers.

Though the barracks' interiors have been extensively modified through the years, the exteriors largely retain their original appearance. Many of thes barracks became administrative offices after World War II and now serve a variety of purposes.