Book Review: Californio Lancers: The 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry in the Far West, 1863-1866


by Tom Prezelski

Norman: Arthur H. Clark / University of Oklahoma Press, 2015. Pp. 248. Illus., maps, table, appends., notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 0870624369

Lincoln’s Other Lancers

While the story of “Rush’s Lancers” in the Civil War is rather well known, in this interesting volume Prezelski, a former California state representative, blogger, and independent historian, reminds us that the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry was not the only the only lancer unit in the Union Army.

Prezelski gives us what is the first account of one of the most unique units to ever serve in the U.S. Army, a battalion of lancers that served in California and Arizona. Composed largely of Californios, that is Mexican-American (therefore “native”) Californians, plus a surprising seasoning of men from across Latin America and a few European adventurers, who fought Native Americans, most notably Apaches, and chased bandits, while helping keep Confederate sympathizers in California under control, and securing the boundary with Imperial Mexico.

In telling the story of this unique unit, Prezelski delves into the history of American rule in California, including the unsavory racism of the times, and the state’s largely overlooked role in the Civil War. He also gives us profiles of some interesting people, most of whom are now long forgotten, notably former Mexican Spanish general Andrés Pico, who came to head the California state militia, as well as his older brother, sometime Mexican governor of California, a couple of other family members, and many of the other men who served.

In addition to military operations, Prezelski touches upon matters such as the organization and logistics of the lancers. So we get a look at recruiting policies, the procurement of horses, even the design and composition of the lances used, which were supplemented by pistols, as well as desertion rates in the battalion, and much more.

Californio Lancers, a volume in the University of Oklahoma “Frontier Military Series.” is an interesting book about an unusual aspect of the Civil War.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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