Battle of Picacho Pass - Westernmost Battle of the Civil War

 Picacho Pass, Arizona Skirmish, April 15, 1862 Action Summary

The skirmish took place on a slight rise overlooking Picacho Pass, a narrowing of the historic desert road along the Overland Stage route. This is a transportation corridor still channeling the transcontinental railroad and an interstate highway between a volcanic peak and the nearby Picacho mountain range. On April 15, 1862 (some authorities indicate April 16) a cavalry detachment of 14 troops rode into an ambush laid by 10 Confederate scouts from Captain Sherod Hunter’s company of Rangers recently posted at Tucson, 14 miles to the south. Two Union troops were killed on site and one mortally wounded. Three others were also wounded. The Confederates lost three scouts captured. This action marks the farthest west clash of arms in the Civil War, and the only site in the State of Arizona. Setting Soon after the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, the U.S. Government recalled the majority of its army stationed in the West. The officers of these forces soon made their choices on which side to join. One officer, Henry Sibley, proposed to Jefferson Davis that an expedition from Texas invade the New Mexico Territory, of which the present State of Arizona was a part. The objectives included establishing control of a land route to California, and to gain access to the mineral wealth of Colorado, Nevada and California. Sibley was commissioned as a general and authorized to raise the “Confederate Army of New Mexico.” Early actions in the West centered on the Rio Grande River valley running north to south through the present state of New Mexico. Actions at Valverde, Apache Canyon, and Glorieta Pass, and were of note in the early months of 1862, after which the Confederates, with their supply train destroyed, turned back for a grueling march back to Texas. During those same months, Confederate captain Sherod Hunter was ordered to establish a Confederate post in Tucson, Arizona, and proceeded to that town. His presence that far west caused concern to the Union garrison in California. The nearest post was at Fort Yuma, on the Colorado River border of the territory. In March soldiers were dispatched eastward from there up the Gila River in search of information. Several pickets at Stanwix Station, along the river, were captured by Hunter and a patrol coming from Tucson. Union Captain William Calloway marched infantry to join the cavalry in search of Hunter’s patrol. His men worked their way along the road and toward the pass at the base of Picacho Peak, where Hunter had stationed a group of scouts before returning to Tucson. Warned by his own scout, Calloway sent two detachments of cavalry to each side of the pass. Lt. Ephraim Baldwin approached around the peak which is located to the west of the pass while Lt. James Barrett rounded the Picacho Range, to approach from the east. Reports vary as to whether Baldwin’s men first detained Hunter’s scouts at the stage station from where they escaped to the slope to the west to regroup and set up their ambush, or whether the ambush was first contact. Regardless, the fight lasted about an hour and a half, resulting in the casualties noted above. Apparently Lt Baldwin’s small troop was not near enough to help Barrett. The Confederates withdrew toward Tucson and Calloway’s main force approached the pass. After burying his dead, Calloway retreated north the next day to the Pima Villages at the Gila River. After the action at Picacho Pass, the Union forces began to reoccupy Arizona, building new forts and reestablishing some prior posts. In mid-May, Hunter made the decision to leave Tucson for the Rio Grande valley, and later to serve in battles in the east.

Sources Engagement at Picacho Pass, by Craig Ringer, 1996 Arizona State Parks information materials Picacho State Park – Text of the memorials and interpretation displays.

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