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Californio Lancers: The 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry in the Far West, 1863–1866, by Tom Prezelski, The Arthur H. Clark Co., Norman, Okla., 2015, $32.95

In Californio Lancers—Vol. 34 of Clark’s Frontier Military series—Tom Prezelski sheds light on the creation of the 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry of the Union Army amid the American Civil War and a little after Brevet Brig. Gen. John S. Mason’s expedition against Chiricahua Apaches in Arizona. This unusual outfit included four companies of Spanish-speaking Californios, or native Californians, as Anglo-Americans called them.

The vast majority of the soldiers were vaqueros and rancheros, trained in the saddle from childhood, who had been ruined economically after the American conquest of California during the 1846–48 Mexican War. Only Company D, recruited mainly from the then small city of Los Angeles, claimed personnel with other professions; it was also the only one that could boast its full strength in privates. The battalion’s main equipment was a service lance manufactured at the federal arsenal in Benicia, based on an Austrian model 2nd Lt. George B. McClellan had brought back from Europe in 1850s. Its secondary weapon was the pistol.

The Army’s first choice for battalion commander was both logical and ironic: Brig. Gen. Andrés Pico, whose California Lancers had humiliated Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny at San Pasqual in December 1846. Pico ultimately declined because of his age, and on December 1863 Major José Manuel Salvador Vallejo—another Californio economically hurt by the American occupation—accepted command of the new unit.

The author describes the battalion’s operations against Hupa Indians in northern California, its clashes with vaqueros under Emperor Maximilian who crossed the border between Sonora and Arizona, the search for deserters in Baja California, brushes with bandits and outlaws in Arizona after April 1865, and postwar campaigns under a new commander, Major John C. Cremony, against the Chiricahuas. Using troopers’ letters to add a firsthand touch to his history—and to prove they were predominantly bilingual—Prezelski’s history also provides a full roster of the battalion’s men as well as its women. Enthusiasts of military history, both of the Civil War and out West, should find something new and edifying in Californio Lancers.

—Thomas Zacharis