Fourth of July, 1862: A Closer Look

by Woody LaBounty

A closer look at an OpenSFHistory image.

The lantern slide image below has been identified in different places with different descriptions. Some notations say Greenwich Street. Another calls it a mourning procession after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination (I suspect the top-hatted gentleman in the lower center may have sparked this idea, as the silhouette looks very Lincolnian.) Yet a third says it’s a Fourth of July parade. All that was certain was we were in North Beach with Russian Hill behind.

Filbert Street between Powell and Stockton, 1862.
Looking west on Filbert Street across Powell Street, July 4, 1862. Washington Square on the left (wnp13.010, lantern slide courtesy of a private collector)

With the help of a couple of other images, I know the where, the when, and the why. This is definitely Filbert Street looking west up across Powell Street on Independence Day, 1862. Today, St. Peter and Paul’s Church would be on one’s right with the green of the square on the left. Let’s take a closer look at the crowd:

Detail of wnp13.010
Detail of wnp13.010.

Plenty of flags and a regiment of marching men kicking up a cloud of dust. Two riders are entering the gate of Washington Square on the left, leading the parade. The Carleton Watkins stereoview image below pivots the view to the left as soldiers muster in the square. Watkins faced the corner of Union and Powell Streets with more of Russian Hill behind. The diagonal cut of Columbus Avenue that snips off the southwest corner of Washington Square is yet to come. Soldiers muster in Washington Square, July 4, 1862, and a crowd gathers outside the fence.

View of Washington Square on July 4, 1862. South summit of Russian Hill behind.
View of Washington Square on July 4, 1862. Union Street on left. South summit of Russian Hill behind. (Scan of a stereoview card, courtesy of a private collector.)

The celebration of the United States of America’s independence started early on July 4, 1862, as the San Francisco Bulletin reported:

“The booming of cannon and the ringing of pretty nigh all the bells in town, awoke the 80,000 denizens of the city from their sleep and told them that the sun, that was to shine so hotly on the Fourth, had arisen. These were joyful sounds to many, but ‘death’ to late sleepers.”

The Civil War raged in the east and San Francisco determined to show its loyalty to the Union. An estimated 36,000 flags hung out windows from the homes, apartments, mercantile houses, banks, and hotels across the city. The British Consulate flew the Union Jack, which the Bulletin called a “compliment to the day upon which, near upon 100 years ago, it was summarily ejected from so vast a domain.”

The city also wanted to show it was willing and ready to fight. At 9:00 a.m., Brigadier General George S. Wright, in command of the Department of the Pacific, reviewed companies of regular and volunteer soldiers—infantry, artillery, and cavalry—in Washington Square. Wright rode a white charger and entered with Major General Allen. In our image, could the two men entering the square, one on a white horse, be the generals?

After exercises, review, and some rifle salutes, the soldiers led the parade out of the square at 11:00 a.m. and through the city, looping around Mission Street and returning to festivities at the Metropolitan Theater on Montgomery Street.

The parade wasn’t just for the military. Marching bands, drum corps, school children, fire engine companies, Sons of the Emerald Island, Garibaldians, the Scandinavian Society, stevedores, riggers, teamsters, and draymen all turned out with floats, wagons, and even a replica of the Union iron-clad steamship, the Monitor.

The Butchers Association stole the show. As the Daily Alta described them: “First came one hundred on horseback, in uniform—that is, white aprons and check sleeves—and followed by six yoke of fat cattle attended by seven vaqueros in full costume. Then came the slaughterers, sixteen strong on foot, armed with axes and cleavers…”

Forty carts laden with pork joints, mutton, and sides of beef on display came behind. One of the carts had emblazoned on its side: “Pure Beef for friends of the Union—the points of our knives for its foes.”


1. “Fourth of July,” San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, July 5, 1862, pg. 1.
2. “Celebration of the Fourth,” Daly Alta California, July 6, 1862, pg. 1.

Another view of Washington Square, July 4, 1862
Another view of the day across Washington Square to Union Street and Nob Hill behind. (Scan from a copy print, courtesy of a private collector.)