Benicia Arsenal – Home of the Camel Corps

 

Benicia Barracks, 1850

Benicia Barracks, 1850

Located next to Suisun Bay in Benicia, California, the Benicia Arsenal served as the US Army Ordnance facility for the West Coast of the United States for more than a century.

In 1847 a 252-acre parcel of land adjoining the Benicia city limits on the east was acquired for a military reserve. The post was first occupied on April 9, 1849, when two companies of the 2nd Infantry set up camp to establish Benicia Barracks. In 1851, after the urging of General Percifer F. Smith, the first Ordnance Supply Depot in the West was established and the following year it was designated Benicia Arsenal.

The grounds of the Benicia Arsenal are famous for stabling the Army’s one and only Camel Corps — an idea dreamt up in 1855 by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (later Confederate President). The short-lived Camel Corps was disbanded in 1863, but the remaining Camels were sent here to be housed and auctioned off. The Camel Barns remain and are now the Benicia Historical Museum.

The Benicia Arsenal was a staging area during the Civil War for Union troops from the West, and the installation remained a garrisoned post until 1898 when troops were assigned to duty in the Philippine Islands during the Spanish-American War. During World War I, Benicia Arsenal gave ordnance support to all large Army installations in the Western States as well as supplying Ordnance material to American expeditionary forces in Siberia.

In the 24 hours following the Pearl Harbor bombing, 125 separate truck convoys were loaded and dispatched from the Benicia Arsenal, leaving its stock of ammunition, small arms and high explosives completely exhausted. Throughout the war, the arsenal supplied ports with weapons, artillery, parts, supplies, and tools. In addition, the arsenal overhauled 14,343 pairs of binoculars, manufactured 180,000 small items for tanks and weapons and repaired approximately 70,000 watches. However, the arsenal is most famous for supplying munitions to Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle for the first bombing raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942, launched from the USS Hornet.

Prior to 1940, the arsenal employed 85 civilian employees at Benecia Arsenal. The labor shortage in 1944 forced the arsenal commander to put 250 Italian and 400 German prisoners of war to work, alongside 150 juveniles from the California Youth Authority. Women comprised nearly half the civilian employee force. During the Korean War, the number of civilians reached an all-time high of 6,700 workers.

The Beneicia Historical Museum, courtesy  California Military Museum.

The Benicia Clocktower, used as a munitions depot, courtesy  California Military Museum.

Benicia Arsenal was deactivated in 1963 and the facility was closed in 1964. Today, the arsenal has been redeveloped into an artists community. The art district continues to display a number of historic buildings including the historic Camel Barn, which now houses the Benicia Historical Museum, a gunpowder magazine, the historic Clocktower Building, the barracks hospital, and other buildings, primarily utilized for private purposes.

The Benicia Arsenal is located at Army Point and I-680 in Benicia at 2024 Camel Road.

Contact Information:

Benecia Historical Museum
2060 Camel Road
Benicia, California 94510-2339

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February 2018.

Also See:

Edward Fitzgerald Beale – Blazing the West

Camel Caravans in the American Desert

Ghost Camels in the American Southwest

Primary Source: National Park Service

4 thoughts on “Benicia Arsenal – Home of the Camel Corps”

  1. It wasn’t the Camel Corps. They were pack animals and not military mounts. Lt. Beale of the Beale Wagon Road Fame and Fort Tejon/Tejon Ranch used them when building the Wagon Road and they were at various outposts of the West including Fort Tejon and Fort Davis, Texas. They were strictly pack animules. Hijolly the Camel Wrangler has an obelisk in Quartsite, AZ.

    1. I’ve clarified the paragraph to note that the museum used to house the remaining Camels after the Camel Corps was disbanded. From the museums’ website: “In the 1850’s and 1860’s, the US Army experimented using camels, imported from the Mideast, as pack animals. After the advent of the Civil War the experiment was abandoned. The remaining camels were shipped to the Benicia Arsenal where they were auctioned to the public.”

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