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Coordinates: 32°37′52″N 111°24′56″W / 32.63111°N 111.41556°W / 32.63111; -111.41556

Battle of Picacho Pass
Part of the American Civil War
Picacho Peak.JPG
Picacho Peak
DateApril 15, 1862
LocationPicacho Peak, New Mexico Territory (USA), Arizona Territory (CSA)
Modern Day: Picacho Peak,
Pinal County, Arizona
Result Confederate victory, Union cavalry retreats
United States United States Confederate States of America Confederate States
Commanders and leaders
James Barrett Henry Holmes (POW)
13 cavalry 10 cavalry
Casualties and losses
3 killed, 3 wounded 3 captured, 2 wounded (disputed)

Side view of the monument

2007 re-enactment of the Picacho Pass battle

The Battle of Picacho Pass or the Battle of Picacho Peak was an engagement of the American Civil War on April 15, 1862. The action occurred all around Picacho Peak, 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Tucson, Arizona. It was fought between a Union cavalry patrol from California and a party of Confederate pickets from Tucson, and marks the westernmost battle of the American Civil War.

Background[edit | edit source]

Due to perceived neglect by the Federal government, Confederate sympathies were high in Tucson among the southern-born Anglo-American population. The Confederates proclaimed Tucson the capital of the western district of the Confederate Arizona Territory, which comprised what is now southern Arizona and southern New Mexico. Mesilla, near Las Cruces, was both the territorial capital and seat of the eastern district of the territory. Confederate dreams included influencing sympathizers in southern California to join them and give the Confederacy an outlet on the Pacific Ocean. The Federal government was anxious to prevent this, and Union volunteers from California, known as the California Column and led by Colonel James Henry Carleton, moved east to occupy Arizona, using Fort Yuma, California, as a base of operations.[1]

Like most of the Civil War era engagements in Arizona (Dragoon Springs, Stanwix Station, and Apache Pass) Picacho Pass occurred near remount stations along the former Butterfield Overland Stagecoach route, which opened in 1859 and ceased operations when the war began. This skirmish occurred about one mile northwest of Pichaco Pass Station.

Battle[edit | edit source]

Twelve Union cavalry troopers and one scout (reported to be mountain man Pauline Weaver but in reality Tucson resident John W. Jones), commanded by Lieutenant James Barrett of the 1st California Cavalry, were conducting a sweep of the Picacho Peak area, looking for Confederates reported to be nearby. The Arizona Confederates were commanded by Sergeant Henry Holmes. Barrett was under orders not to engage them, but to wait for the main column to come up. However, "Lt. Barrett acting alone rather than in concert, surprised the Rebels and should have captured them without firing a shot, if the thing had been conducted properly." Instead, in mid-afternoon the lieutenant "led his men into the thicket single file without dismounting them. The first fire from the enemy emptied four saddles, when the enemy retired farther into the dense thicket and had time to reload ... Barrrett followed them, calling on his men to follow him." Three of the Confederates surrendered. Barrett secured one of the prisoners and had just remounted his horse when a bullet struck him in the neck, killing him instantly. Fierce and confused fighting continued among the mesquite and arroyos for 90 minutes, with two more Union fatalities and three troopers wounded. Exhausted and leaderless, the Californians broke off the fight and the Arizona Rangers, minus three who surrendered, mounted and carried warning of the approaching Union army to Tucson. Barrett's disobedience of orders had cost him his life and lost any chance of a Union surprise attack on Tucson.

The Union troops retreated to the Pima Indian Villages and hastily built Fort Barrett (named for the fallen officer) at White's Mill, waiting to gather resources to continue the advance. However, with no Confederate reinforcements available, Captain Sherod Hunter and his men withdrew as soon as the Column again advanced. The Union troops entered Tucson without any opposition.

The bodies of the two Union enlisted men killed at Picacho {George Johnson and William S Leonard} were later removed to the presidio in San Francisco, California. However, Lieutenant Barrett's grave, near the present railroad tracks, remains undisturbed and unmarked. Union reports claimed that two Confederates were wounded in the fight, but Captain Hunter in his official report mentioned no Confederate casualties other than the three men captured.

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

A Confederate patrol had actually reached the California border during the foray to burn hay at the stage stations in order to delay the Union advance from California. However, the goal of expanding Confederate influence to the Pacific Ocean never materialized. About the same time as the skirmish at Picacho, a larger force of Confederates was thwarted in its attempt to advance northward from Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the Battle of Glorieta Pass. By July the Confederates had retreated to Texas, though pro-Confederate militia units operated in some areas until mid-1863. The following year, the Union organized its own territory of Arizona, dividing New Mexico along the state's current north-south border, extending control southwards from the provisional capital of Prescott. The encounter at Picacho Pass may have been only a minor event in the Civil War, but it can be considered the high-water mark of the Confederate West.

Re-enactment[edit | edit source]

Every March, Picacho Peak State Park hosts a re-enactment of the Civil War battles of Arizona and New Mexico, including the battle of Picacho Pass. The re-enactments now have grown so large that many more participants tend to be involved than took part in the actual engagements, and include infantry units and artillery as well as cavalry.

Gallery of Monuments and Markers[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. *Hart, Herbert M. "The Civil War in the West". California and the Civil War. The California State Military Museum. http://www.militarymuseum.org/HistoryCW.html. Retrieved 20 December 2011. 

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