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Shadows of Blue and Gray: California Stories of the Civil War


                                                            Saturday and Sunday, November 1 & 2, 2008



Mountain View Cemetery

2400 Fair Oaks Avenue, Altadena


The Cast:

Thomas Foulds Ellsworth......Richard Hilton

Eliza Griffin Johnston......Kathy Ralston

Thaddeus S.C. Lowe......Chance Dean

Bridget "Biddy" Mason......Carla Valentine

Ruth Brown Thomson......Connie Ventress

Host......Nick Smith

Director......Richard Hilton

Producer......Brad Macneil, Pasadena Museum of History


 Image: The shadowy figure of "Biddy" Mason posed

 in front of the exquisite stained glass window that

 served as the background for Shadows of Blue and Gray

 Photo by Terry Miller.


The dramatic presentations featured the personal stories of five indelible Civil War-era personalities now interred in Southern California graveyards:

thaddeusloweThaddeus S.C. Lowe (1832-1913) After the outbreak of the War in 1861, the 29 year old scientist and inventor offered his services to President Abraham Lincoln. He was convinced that his experience in aeronautics could help the Union cause. He served as a civilian but reported to Lincoln and his top generals in his position as Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps. His efforts as a balloonist gave the Union Army significant advantages of aerial observation and even photographic reconnaissance during battles. He made over 3,000 ascensions.  He has been credited as being the first prisoner captured (and then released) by the South in the War. Poet Carl Sandberg described him as “the single most shot at man in the war.” After the war, Professor Lowe made a fortune with his numerous inventions in gas heating, lighting and refrigeration. In 1890, he moved to Pasadena with a plan to retire but and instead became famous for building the Mt. Lowe Railway in Altadena.   Buried at Mountain View

biddymasonBridget “Biddy” Mason (1818-1891) Though she did not personally participate in the Civil War, the story of this slave who was freed in a famous California court case in 1856 ties well into important issues leading up to the conflict. Emancipated in Los Angeles at the age of 38, Biddy faced an uncertain future. Starting with few material goods and no formal education, she went to work as a midwife for a local doctor and well known Southern sympathizer Dr. John S.Griffin. Biddy saved her earnings and eventually became a very successful investor in real estate. In her later years she became one of the wealthiest women of her time in Los Angeles County. . She also became a beloved figure in the community, known for her philanthropy to the poor. Her daughter Ellen married Charles Owen, the son of early African American resident and entrepreneur Robert Owen.  Grandma Mason and her son-in-law Charles founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1872. The Church is still active in Los Angeles today.

Buried in the Evergreen Cemetery, Los Angeles




Eliza Griffin Johnston (1821- 1896) lived a life filled with both accomplishments and tragedy.  Born in Virginia to a well-to-do family, she was sadly orphaned at a young age and brought up by her grandmother. She later moved to Kentucky to live with her uncle’s family and there she met her future husband, Albert Sidney Johnston. Johnston, a graduate of West Point, went on to have a highly respected career in the military. He served in the Texas Army during the Texas War of Independence, and then the U.S. Army during the Mexican American War and the Utah War in Mormon territory. Eliza moved with her husband during many of his assignments throughout the Western frontier. During her travels, she developed skills as an accomplished artist and diarist. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Albert Johnston was commander of the U.S. Army Department of the Pacific. Eliza had relocated to California to be with him. Johnston resigned his commission with the U.S. Army and traveled to Virginia where he was appointed by his friend Jefferson Davis as a full general in the Confederate Army.  He was killed at the Battle of Shiloh the next year, 1862.  Eliza stayed in California and, after the death of her husband, bought the Fair Oaks Ranch near what is today Pasadena.  Tragedy struck again when her beloved son was killed in an explosion of the steamship Ada Hancock at Wilmington Harbor. Heartbroken, she sold the Fair Oaks Ranch, which later became the home of Benjamin Eaton

ruththompsonRuth Brown Thompson   (d. 1/15/1904) Daughter of abolitionist John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame, Ruth Brown Thompson was brought up to detest the practice of slavery. One of the twenty children of John Brown, her life was intertwined with her father and his legacy. She married Henry Thompson who was a close associate to her father and active with the anti slavery cause in Kansas. Henry was a key figure along with Brown in what became known as the as the Pottawatomie Massacre. In 1859, Ruth suffered from the news about the loss of her father and two brothers as a result of the famous raid on Harpers Ferry.  After the war, Ruth and her husband relocated to California and led a relatively peaceful life in Pasadena. They were joined by two of her brothers, Owen and Jason Brown, who homesteaded land in Altadena. The family became reluctant celebrities in the quickly growing community of Pasadena.  When Ruth’s brother Owen died in 1889 it was reported that over 2, 000 people attended the funeral service.  Buried at Mountain View

ellsworthThomas Foulds Ellsworth (1840 – 1911) Thomas Ellsworth was awarded one of our country’s top honors for saving the life of his commanding officer in the battle of Honey Hill in 1864. Under heavy fire, and at great risk to his own life, he carried his wounded commanding officer from the field of battle. Ellsworth had joined the Union Army’s Second Massachusetts Volunteers as a private while still in his early twenties and went on to see action in numerous battles including Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.  He was promoted to an officer due to his reputation for bravery under fire. Ellsworth faced a major challenge when he was selected to serve as an officer of a company in one of the first regiments made up of “colored soldiers” in the Union Army, the Massachusetts 55. This regiment struggled to get the respect and support that they deserved, but went on to gain distinction for their valiant actions in battle in South Carolina. After the war, Ellsworth worked for many years as an officer of the Boston Custom House. In the 1890s, he moved to burgeoning city of Pasadena where he and his son ran a successful contracting business. Buried at Mountain View



More Civil War veterans (500 Union and 14 Confederate soldiers) are interred at Mountain View Cemetery than in any cemetery of its size in California. “For most Americans, the words California and the Civil War have nothing to do with each other,” says Major Robert McGrath of the California Center for Military History.  “Yet California played a surprisingly important role in that epic conflict.  It is a well known fact that California gold financed the war, but it is less well-known that more then 17,000 Californians enlisted to fight.  California had more volunteers per capita in the Union Army than any other state. At the dawn of the War, the State’s population was divided in their loyalties and many Southern California residents were Southern sympathizers. Tensions grew high as neighbors were drawn into the conflict and repercussions of the long struggle profoundly affected families in the Golden State. After the war ended, a large number of veterans from both sides returned home to California or relocated here from other areas of the country. Over 1,000 veterans settled in the Pasadena area. The stories of these men and their families are a fascinating part of California history.  


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