“Success is not in my hands: to do my duty is.”
Rear Adm. Samuel F. Du Pont
The Battle Of Picacho Peak
On April 15th, in the spring of 1862, The Confederates of the southwest embarked in a small skirmish with the Union Army from the Pacific on the flanks of Picacho Peak, a rocky volcanic spire situated 50 miles northwest of a small Sonoran town named Tucson, a strong hold for the Confederate Army. This engagement is commonly called the “Westernmost Battle of the Civil War” or “The Battle of Picacho Pass”. With the advantage of Picacho Peak as a lookout for the Confederates, this became a common route for travelers of the time. It also was a matter of life and death because, in those days natural rock tanks here were filled with water while other water holes were bone dry. With the Peak being visible for miles, this was also a common route used for the mail carrier, & the Butterfield Overland Stage. It became a very important route. Other historical facts include the Mormon Battalion which camped here on December 17th, 1846. The first Picacho station was also in the Pass, this was a place were immigrants and travelers could change horses, rest under the shade of a palo verde tree, and take water.
In 1862, the nation’s bloodiest battle between brothers of the North and the South carried on. But, in the Sonoran desert the scene was virtually desertion due to its natural desolation, and the fact that all the US Army troops had departed during the previous year. This left the local towns people and settlers, along with the natives to do as they wished. Before marching off to join the Union Army being assembled in the East, the local garrison troops had opened their supply depots to the nearby civilians, telling them “take what you need, and get out.” Not all heeded this advice. Many of the settlers and towns people staked their lives and fortunes on the Southwest and decided to remain, strengthening the local militia units that already populated this secessionist area. For their part, the local Indian tribes, mostly Apache, believed that it was through their own efforts which had finally chased away the ”Bluecoats” and naturally, they were determined to make the most of the situation.
Into this volatile scene marched the newly formed Confederate Army, whose leaders had declared the entire New Mexico Territory for the Confederacy on August 1st, 1861. After securing the Rio Grande Valley, the local Confederate commander dispatched Captain Sherrod Hunter to Tucson, which he occupied on February 28th 1862, after a cold winter march. With its new garrison of 75 Confederates, Tucson was now the furthest point west in the Confederate Empire.
The Confederacy enjoyed the earnest support of the local civilians, as long as they and their brethren helped to keep the Indians suppressed, a task that drew considerable manpower away from the tiny force. With news of the Sonoran town under command of the Confederacy, the Union reacted quickly to the seizure of the Southwestern Territory. These events turned out to represent the most complete takeover of Union territory that the Confederacy managed during its existence. Once the Confederate threat in California subsided, a small force of roughly 1,400 Union troops under the command of Brigadier General James H. Carleton was dispatched from Fort Yuma to march on to Tucson, hundreds of miles across the Sonoran desert. Hearing word of this “California Column,” Captain Sherrod Hunter pushed north to the Gila River, encountering his first Union troops, when a leading detachment of Union cavalry blundered into Captain Sherrod Hunter’s men as they captured a flour mill. After interring the Union cavalry and giving the flour to the local Indians, Captain Sherrod Hunter and his men returned to Tucson, first dispatching a small party of Confederate cavalry to ride west along the stage road, burning hay that had been left piled for the approaching Union troops. The rebels rode to within 80 miles of Fort Yuma, finally stopping when they encountered the first Union pickets, whom they drove off, wounding one. This would be, of course the first westernmost fight of the Civil War, of which some will disagree to this day.
By early April, the California Column had reached an area near present day Casa Grande, Arizona. From there, they dispatched a group of scouts to reconnect the remainder of the route into Tucson. It was this detachment of the First California Cavalry that ran into Hunter’s men at the Picacho Pass on April 15th. Hunter’s strong detachment of pickets had occupied ambush positions up on the rocky slopes of Picacho Peak, from which they commanded a wide view of the stage road. Contrary to popular belief, the two sides did not stumble upon each other by accident. The Confederates were waiting in ambush, and only part of the Union cavalry troopers entered the pass via the stage road. Sensing the position itself was obviously an ambush point, the approaching Union Calvary had split in two, sending part of their force to circle the dangerous position as a precaution.
These precautions were justified, because at 2 p.m., Hunter’s waiting men fired upon the Union cavalrymen entering the pass. Two Union troopers were injured, and the rest went to the ground in disorder. At this time, the other Union force came up on the flank of the Confederate skirmish line, capturing three of Hunter’s men. Encouraged by this victory, Union Lieutenant James Barrett gave the commanding order to advance forward against the remaining Confederate cavalry troopers, who laid down a heavy volley of fire, killing and wounding four more Union soldiers, including Lieutenant James Barrett . After withdrawing and regrouping, the Union cavalry continued trading shots with the Confederates until late afternoon, when they withdrew and slowly returned to the main body to the north.
It soon became clear, however, that local Confederate successes could not change the strategic realities of the situation. Captain Sherrod Hunter’s Confederates continued to be outnumbered, and they were too far from the main Confederate army of the Rio Grande to receive regular supply or reinforcements. Brigadier General James H. Carleton’s California troops finally arrived in Tucson, only to discover that Hunter had evacuated. The retreat itself became well known in western lore, and Apaches based in the Chiricahua Mountains attacked Hunter’s eastbound troops repeatedly. The Confederates even armed their Union prisoners, as the march became a fight for survival against the Indians. The tired Confederates arrived on the Rio Grande River on May 27, 1862, bringing the Confederate invasion of the Arizona Territory to an end. To this day the remains of the Union troopers lay to rest at the Picacho Peak. The men that fought that great battle shall never be erased or forgotten from the pages of history.
God Bless the Union and the United States of America.
Created by Bryan Bender Copyright © 2005 by 1st US Co. D All rights reserved.