The humiliation that Volney Howard was subjected to by the vigilantes was not so much that he had become a general without an army, but more due to the bluster and threats he used in an attempt to cow the vigilance committee. He then went to Sacramento where he attempted to give a speech to justify his cause, but when he mentioned his great friend David Terry the crowd became unsettled and questioned why a Supreme Court justice should be involved in a street fight. The hoots and catcalls continued until Howard was forced to leave the stand. He then gave a report to Governor Johnson where he reasserted his opinion that the Committee of Vigilance “aim at nothing less than an entire overthrow of the state government and secession from the federal union.”
The Committee of Vigilance had not taken Howard’s earlier threats of interference by the federal government seriously. On the same day of March 31st when Governor Johnson and the then General Sherman had asked General Wool of the Benicia Arsenal for arms and were refused, they also called upon Captain, and later Admiral David G. Farragut, at the Mare Island Navel Yard. Farragut, citing the same reasons as Wool had, that only the President of the United States had the authority to issue the arms they demanded, also refused them. Johnson, still determined to bring about a conflict with the committee even after the collapse of the law and order forces, now wrote to President Franklin Pierce in which he made misrepresentations of the vigilantes and charged them with attempting to destroy the government. He also made statements in bad taste regarding General Wool. The letter was sent on June 19th. One month later President Pierce officially refused Johnson’s demands for arms.
John Putnam is the author of Hangtown Creek, a thrilling saga of the early California gold rush available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.