When you say "Oakland" and "war" in the same breath, chances are you're talking about how the shipbuilding demands of World War II brought thousands of workers here from the American South. Or you're talking about anti-Vietnam War protests in the '60s and '70s. It's an unlikely bet that you'd be talking about the Civil War, fought so long ago and far away. Yet "the Civil War played a large part in people's lives here," says Dennis Evanosky, author of several local-history books including East Bay Then and Now, Mountain View Cemetery, and Oakland's Laurel District.
After the war broke out, many men who had settled here "went back east to join regiments in their respective states. So there was a personal connection that few take into account." And just as sparks fly at local political rallies today, Evanosky says the Civil War sparked "many confrontations between people who favored bringing slavery to California — some wanted to divide the state in half, creating a 'South California' whose border would have come as far north as today's Big Sur — and those who were staunch Unionists. Both Northern and Southern sympathizers banded together. Skirmishes and duels were fought" over the issue of slavery all over the country, he says, not just in those states commonly associated with the war. Two military camps were created in Oakland and one in Alameda to turn local men into soldiers, and "Oaklanders formed the Home Guard in 1863. The only action they saw was dumping a man into the estuary when he refused to tell them where he had hidden a small cannon that Southern sympathizers had stolen from the city of Oakland."
Having quit his day job in 2007, Evanosky now devotes himself to studying local history full-time. In addition to guiding tours for the Oakland Heritage Alliance, writing, and lecturing — he'll be one of several local authors discussing their work at Clayton Books (5433D Clayton Rd., Clayton) on August 17 — he is a docent at Oakland's vast Mountain View Cemetery, permanent home of such notables as Bernard Maybeck, Ina Coolbrith, Charles Crocker, Frank Norris, and Julia Morgan. Burial grounds "make a wonderful venue to meet people from the past, famous and not so famous, and learn about the contributions they made to the society we live in today," he muses. He recommends taking visiting out-of-towners to Mountain View, as well as to "house museums like the Camron-Stanford House, the Pardee Home Museum, and the Cohen-Bray House, all in Oakland." And Alameda, he advises, is "a great place to learn about Victorian-era architecture" — either by visiting its history museum, the Meyers House & Garden, or just cruising around. Also appearing at Clayton Books that afternoon are Helen Diane Wilcox, Heather Carter, Al Garrotto, Mary-Elizabeth Martinez, Stephanie McInnis, and Mike Yashar. 2 p.m. ClaytonBookshop.com
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