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The Second Mass and Its Fighting Californians

A Reference site of images, articles, artifacts of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry including the Cal 100 and the Cal Battalion.

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George Washington Towle

Company A, Second Massachusetts Cavalry

image courtesy of Wayne Sherman


bio from the Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley

George Washington Towle was born 21 June 1843 in Presque Isle, Aroostock Co., Maine.. As a small boy, he and his family came to California by way of Cape Horn and settled in the Santa Clara Valley. He attended the University of the Pacific, at that time located in Santa Clara, and is listed in the catalogue for the years 56 thru 60. Although it is not mentioned in the catalogues, I suspect his field of study was directed toward the law field, as he became a very well known member of the law community after the Civil War.

     As he says in his recollections, “sometime in 1862 I read in the Alta California that Capt  J. Sewall Reed was raising a company of cavalry to go east”.---  “An old school mate, ‘Cheney’ Doane ( who went east with the 100 and served  and after the war went on to greater things, but that’s another story.) was assisting Capt. Reed in raising the Company, and desiring to enlist I wrote him asking whether I would be accepted if I applied.” …”and he replied that they desired older and heavier men. I had thought that such would be the case and so dismissed the matter from consideration.”--- Later I saw a notice that twenty five more men were wanted---the next day I went to the city, signed the roll and passed my physical examination.”

Interestingly enough, Doane failed to pass the physical, but went along to the east with the 100. There he managed to pass the physical and become a member of  Co. I, and later into Co. A. What influence his close friendship with Reed had to do with all this is open to speculation. 

Towle’s recollections span his entire time in the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. At war’s end Towle goes on “While in camp at Fairfax Court House there had been much discussion regarding the disposition that should be made of flags that had been presented to our company; some wishing the flags to be deposited with the California Pioneers, while I advocated their being deposited in the Capitol of the State. My idea finally prevailed, and as I intended returning to California the flags were given into my custody to be so deposited. In the meantime a blue silk banner, on which was shown the names of the different engagements in which the Company had participated, had been prepared and attached to the guidon. While riding in the cars I had unhooked my saber from my belt and placed it in the rack above, and when getting out of the cars At Readville, having the flags to look after, I forgot my saber and left the car without it. I was never able to find it. The loss of my saber has always been a regret; it had its scabbard bearing mute evidence of the service it had seen.” 

He continues---“took passage on a steamer for San Francisco arriving home in the latter part of September 1865. I had shipped the flags from Bangor (he had made a stop at Bangor, Maine after mustering out) by express, and on their arrival took them to Sacramento and their delivered them to the Adjutant General of the State.” 

“There are many many incidents at the time amusing or tragical or important that have not been referred to, and the chronology of the facts stated may not in all cases be accurate; but it may be truthfully said that nothing had been stated as occurring which did not occur.  The wearing character of the service has been but lightly touched upon, but my honest belief has always been that the hardships attending my term of service would result in lopping off from the end of my life not less than ten years.” 

Towle and his wife, Lizzie, came to San Rafael in 1876 and within a short time he was elected to the position of District Attorney of Marin County. Later he served as City Attorney of San Rafael. After his retirement from public office in San Rafael he practiced law in San Francisco and was for many years the legal advisor for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company. (An interesting thought here, but what a moment in history,  if he was serving at the same time that J.S. Mosby was serving as legal advisor to the Southern Pacific Railroad.)  

George Washington Towle died March 23, 1921. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Mt. Tamalpais Cemetery, San Rafael. There is a headstone there for his mother, Mary. His wife had died in 1899. 

His recollections (written sometime between 1906 and 1921, at the behest of his daughter, Kate) came to light in 1932 when his daughter Kate wrote to a Herbert Bolton, History Department University of California asking if he would review the manuscript for possible publishing, and once published provide background for a Civil War story and be salable to a movie studio.  Nothing ever came of it, and the recollections and other papers were left to the Bancroft Library, where they now reside.  Daughter Kate died November 27, 1943.