The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865 [NOOK Book]


Bull Run, Gettysburg, Appomattox. For Americans, these battlegrounds, all located in the eastern United States, will forever be associated with the Civil War. But few realize that the Civil War was also fought far to the west of these sites. The westernmost battle of the war took place in the remote deserts of the future state of Arizona.

In this first book-length account of the Civil War in Arizona, Andrew E. Masich offers both a lively narrative history of the ...

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The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865

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Bull Run, Gettysburg, Appomattox. For Americans, these battlegrounds, all located in the eastern United States, will forever be associated with the Civil War. But few realize that the Civil War was also fought far to the west of these sites. The westernmost battle of the war took place in the remote deserts of the future state of Arizona.

In this first book-length account of the Civil War in Arizona, Andrew E. Masich offers both a lively narrative history of the all-but-forgotten California Column in wartime Arizona and a rare compilation of letters written by the volunteer soldiers who served in the U.S. Army from 1861 to 1866. Enriched by Masich’s meticulous annotation, these letters provide firsthand testimony of the grueling desert conditions the soldiers endured as they fought on many fronts.

Southwest Book Award
Border Regional Library Association

Southwest Book of the Year
Pima County Public Library

NYMAS Civil War Book Award
New York Military Affairs Symposium

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806188461
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 12/4/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 538,768
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Andrew E. Masich is President and CEO of the Smithsonian-affiliated Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, Pennsylvania, and is coauthor of two books, Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: A Ledgerbook History of Coups and Combat and Halfbreed: The Remarkable True Story of George Bent.

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Read an Excerpt

The Civil War in Arizona

The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865

By Andrew E. Masich


Copyright © 2006 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-8846-1


Column from California

In the spring of 1862, a large contingent of U.S. Volunteers from California crossed the Colorado River and entered that portion of New Mexico Territory popularly known as Arizona. During the next four years, the men composing the "Column from California," and other California regiments that followed, endured exhausting marches, brushed aside minor resistance from Confederate troops, restored mail service, built military posts, subdued warring Indian tribes, guarded against foreign invasion, and enabled the establishment and growth of the Arizona Territory. The war in the East largely overshadowed these efforts in the Far West, and the California soldiers never got the chance to test themselves against Rebel armies. Nonetheless, the efficiency, energy, and military successes of the California Volunteers helped secure the Southwest for the Union and profoundly influenced Arizona's early social, economic, and political development.

In July 1861, after the fall of Fort Sumter and the secession of eleven Southern states, the U.S. government called on California for volunteer troops. The army needed soldiers to suppress the rebellion that seemed to be brewing in southern California and protect the transcontinental mail routes from secessionists and Indian raiders. President Abraham Lincoln endorsed the Volunteer Employment Act the day after the Bull Run disaster of July 21. This emergency legislation specified that volunteers would be enlisted for terms of not less than six months and no longer than three years. Later that month Congress amended the law to allow soldiers to enlist for the duration of the war. Following calls in July and August, California enrolled and mustered two regiments of cavalry and five regiments of infantry for Federal service. Two mountain-howitzer batteries, trained in Arizona, composed the California artillery complement. By the end of the war, the state had raised three additional regiments of infantry, a battalion of "Native California Cavalry," and a battalion of mountaineers. When enlistment terms began to expire in 1864, state authorities organized a battalion of "Veteran Volunteers" for continued service in New Mexico and Arizona.

The 15,725 volunteers raised by the state of California from 1861 to 1865 represented a military force as large as the entire U.S. Army at the time the Civil War began. These soldiers replaced the regular troops sent east to the "seat of the rebellion," provided a bulwark against Confederates in the West, and patrolled the territories to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens and overland mail routes. California Volunteer regiments served as far north as Fort Colville, Washington Territory, and as far east as Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. They also garrisoned New Mexico, pursued Rebels in Texas, and made forays from Arizona deep into French-occupied Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico.

While the first regiments of California infantry and cavalry mobilized under the direction of Brigadier General George Wright, news of a Confederate invasion of New Mexico and Arizona reached the San Francisco headquarters of the U.S. Army's Department of the Pacific. Confederate lieutenant colonel John R. Baylor's companies of mounted riflemen, recruited in Texas and the territories, captured Major Isaac Lynde's entire command of regulars as they fled from Fort Fillmore, New Mexico, in July 1861. Even before this humiliating defeat, the Lincoln administration had ordered the abandonment of most of the military posts in the Southwest and the consolidation of forces in New Mexico under Colonel Edward R. S. Canby, an experienced and capable officer.

Unwilling to let supplies and munitions fall into enemy hands, Federal troops in Arizona destroyed all the government property they could not haul away and then marched for New Mexico. On August 1, 1861, Lieutenant Colonel Baylor proclaimed a "Territory of Arizona" for the Confederacy, marking the first time any government recognized the area (then considered western New Mexico Territory) as a separate political unit. In Richmond, Confederate president Jefferson Davis confirmed Baylor's self-appointed governorship. On February 28, 1862, Captain Sherod Hunter arrived in Tucson with about one hundred men of Company A, Second Texas Mounted Volunteers and elements of other Confederate territorial ranger companies. Colonel James Reily, the special envoy of Confederate general Henry Hopkins Sibley, now commanding in New Mexico, accompanied Hunter to Arizona. On March 3, 1862, Reily left Tucson with twenty of Hunter's men under Lieutenant James Tevis for Ures, Sonora, to contact Governor Ignacio Pesqueira and seek Mexican recognition of and supplies for the Confederate government.

Hunter's small but independent command promptly seized the initiative in Arizona. No Union forces opposed the arrival of the Rebel horse soldiers. The settlers, it seemed, even welcomed them as a means of protection from the increasingly aggressive Apaches. Attacks by Chiricahua and other western Apaches, as well as eastern Mimbreño and Mescalero bands, took their toll on civilian miners between Tucson and the Rio Grande. Emboldened by the earlier withdrawal of U.S. troops, Apache war leaders raided with impunity. They even attacked the heavily armed rangers under Hunter's command, making no distinction between Union and Confederate whites. While Baylor and Hunter began the tasks of occupation and control of the natives, the movement of California Volunteer units to Fort Yuma along the Colorado River was already underway.

In August 1861 President Lincoln and senior officers at the War Department debated the practicability of a column from California striking Texas by way of Mexico. Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner, then commanding the Department of the Pacific, began planning such an operation. Civil unrest in southern California, however, diverted the California regiments. December brought news of Confederate victories in New Mexico and a Rebel invasion of Arizona. General Wright, who by then had succeeded Sumner, proposed to invade the territories with a force of California troops that would cross the Colorado River at Yuma and proceed to New Mexico along the Gila River on the old Butterfield Overland Mail route. General in Chief George B. McClellan, in a rare moment of decisiveness, approved the operation.

General Wright selected forty-seven-year-old James Henry Carleton, colonel of the First California Infantry and formerly major of the First U.S. Dragoons, to lead the column into Arizona. Wright wanted an aggressive field commander to find and strike the Confederates as quickly as possible. He knew Carleton to be a tough and efficient officer with many years of frontier experience. After more than twenty years in the saddle, Carleton had earned a reputation as an uncompromising disciplinarian. Lean, sharp-featured, and ramrod straight, he could command obedience with a flash of his steel gray eyes. He was also energetic, articulate, and always demonstrated foresight in both the logistic and strategic aspects of organizing, equipping, and deploying troops. Wright developed the plan for the Arizona expedition only after the War Department rejected as politically inexpedient the idea of attacking the Confederates in Texas by way of the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua. The leadership in Washington had originally intended that Carleton command the soldiers assigned to guard the overland mail on the central route through Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming territories—he had led his dragoons over this country following the Mormon War of 1857—but rescinded these orders when the Confederate threat in the Southwest became apparent.

A thrust from southern California across Arizona and New Mexico to the Rio Grande would serve several purposes. It would block a junction of Texas Rebels and California secessionists, reopen the southern overland mail route, provide garrisons for abandoned posts, and furnish protection to the citizens of the territories. Many of these citizens were miners taking advantage of the tremendous mineral wealth—gold and silver—already evident in Colorado, New Mexico, and most recently Arizona. The Californians would also be in a position to fall upon the flank and rear of Sibley's Texans, who seemed invincible as they pushed up the Rio Grande toward Santa Fe and the Colorado goldfields. Wright advised McClellan that, "under the command of Colonel Carleton, an officer of great experience, indefatigable and active, the expedition must be successful."

Carleton's force included ten companies of his own regiment, the First California Infantry; five companies of the First California Cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel Edward E. Eyre; and Light Battery A, Third U.S. Artillery. First Lieutenant John B. Shinn commanded the battery, which mounted four bronze field pieces (six-pounder guns and twelve-pounder howitzers) manned by regulars. Wright assigned Captain John C. Cremony's Company B, Second California Cavalry to Carleton's contingent before the column set out across the desert. Later Colonel George W. Bowie's ten companies of the Fifth California Infantry and two improvised mountain-howitzer batteries, commanded by Lieutenants Jeremiah Phelan and William A. Thompson, joined Carleton's command, bringing the total force to 2,350 men. Before the war's end some 6,000 additional California soldiers would follow this advance column.

Experienced regular-army officers raised and trained the regiments destined for Arizona. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin F. Davis, formerly captain of Company K, First U.S. Dragoons, drilled the First California Cavalry into a sharp outfit. But by the time the Californians marched for the territory in late 1861, Davis and many of the other regular officers had gone east to fight, and civilian appointees led the volunteers. The men benefited greatly from the training provided by their original cadre of officers, and these professionals agreed that no finer material for soldiers could be found anywhere. Recruits from every part of California flocked to enlistment centers at forts and camps. Nearly half of the state's population comprised men of military age. They were a hardy lot, used to working outdoors in the harshest conditions imaginable. Most of them were laboring in the mines and goldfields of the mother-lode country of northern California when the war broke out. In the 1850s they had rushed to California from every state in the Union and many European countries. They were risk-takers and tended to be bigger and stronger than their stay-at-home eastern counterparts. Intelligent and self-reliant, most had undertaken the difficult journey to California—by land or sea—and then survived the rough-and-ready life of a miner; other occupations appearing on the regimental descriptive lists include laborer, farmer, mechanic, printer, and seaman. The men ranged in age from eighteen to forty-five, and most had some formal education. These volunteer soldiers represented a true cross section of California's male population.

The men enlisted for a variety of reasons, from a patriotic desire to preserve the Union to the lure of three regular meals a day. Others found the pay, eleven dollars a month, an inducement. In the ranks there was little talk of the slavery issue, but occasionally tempers flared between proslavery and antislavery men. Californians generally agreed that whether or not Americans tolerated slavery, the Union must be preserved. Native Californians—"Californios" descended from Spanish and Mexican pioneers—adopted a wait-and-see attitude as the sectional strife escalated. Most felt that this was not their war yet.

In many ways the California Volunteers proved to be superior to the soldiers of the regular army. Although well officered, illiterate immigrants and Americans from the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder filled the regular ranks. Alcoholism, a 33 percent desertion rate, malingering, and a host of social diseases crippled the strength and effectiveness of the standing army. The regulars lacked the diverse talents of the volunteers, who viewed military service as a temporary break from their civilian occupations. The volunteers quickly adapted to new people, environments, and challenges, while the regulars looked to their officers and the security of military routine. All things considered, the Californians seemed ideally suited for the arduous service they would face in Arizona.

Although the California regiments lost most of their regular officers before departing for Arizona, able and experienced volunteer officers quickly took their places. Virtually all of the men awarded a major's commission or higher, including Joseph R. West, Edwin A. Rigg, Clarence E. Bennett, and Edward Eyre, had served in California's large and active militia during the 1850s. Others had seen service in volunteer regiments during the Mexican-American War (1847-48). Oscar M. Brown, William P. Calloway, Charles W. Lewis, John Martin, and Edmond D. Shirland could all claim war experience.

California governor John Downey confirmed commissions for a number of outstanding officer candidates who had served as enlisted men in the regular army before the war. William McCleave served as Carleton's first sergeant in Company K, First U.S. Dragoons, during the decade preceding the Civil War, and Carleton pushed for his old friend's appointment to command Company A, First California Cavalry. McCleave had left the service in 1860 to oversee the army's experimental camel herd at Fort Tejon, California. Now he jumped at the chance to serve as an officer under Carleton. Similarly, Emil Fritz received a commission to lead Company B, First California Cavalry. Fritz had previous military training in Germany before arriving in California in 1849; he succeeded McCleave as first sergeant of Company K, First Dragoons in October 1860. Second Lieutenant James Barrett of Company A, First California Cavalry, served beside McCleave and Fritz as a corporal in the First Dragoons before the war. Chauncey Wellman, a first sergeant in the First U.S. Cavalry before the war, also won a California Volunteer commission. Cavalry commands were the most sought after in the patriotic rush that followed the opening of hostilities. Carleton made certain that these plum commissions went to men of proven ability.

But even the rigid Carleton could be swayed by political favoritism and friendship. Nathaniel J. Pishon, Carleton's brother-in-law and a former sergeant in the First Dragoons, landed the captaincy of Company D, First California Cavalry after the Pacific Department ordered that unit to accompany the Arizona expedition. Carleton kept his relationship quiet but later confided to McCleave that he had secured Pishon's appointment. Although the governor approved all commissions, a military board, established early in the war, reviewed all officer candidates as a safeguard against unqualified appointments. Later in the war many veteran volunteers with demonstrated aptitude were promoted from the ranks. A soldier in the First California Infantry lamented, "there has [sic] been about 15 or 16 sergeants in our column promoted to Second Lieut. Our sergeant went among the rest." The volunteer army, more so than the regular army, recognized and rewarded ability.

U.S. Army regulations made no special provisions for the California Volunteers destined for service in Arizona. The army expected these troops to be organized, uniformed, armed, and equipped the same as the regular regiments they replaced. In practice, however, the availability of matériel, the personal preferences of officers and men, the anticipated enemy, and the desert environment influenced the formation and outfitting of the California regiments. Most of the regular troops returning to the East in 1861 deposited their arms and equipage at government arsenals and forts in California. Ordnance officers inspected and quickly reissued serviceable equipment to the newly formed California regiments. Armorers and artificers at Benicia Arsenal near San Francisco repaired unserviceable equipment as fast as possible, and stocks of unused weapons and accoutrements, some obsolete, were issued in the rush to arm the new soldiers.

Carleton realized that the expedition across miles of uncharted Arizona desert, populated with Rebel and Indian enemies, would only be successful if he could properly equip his men. He understood that the campaign was as much about logistics as fighting. Fortunately his organizational skills and penchant for military minutiae were equal to the task.

The first cavalry volunteers to answer the call received the arms turned over by the regulars. These weapons included .54-caliber Model 1853 and 1859 Sharps breechloading carbines, the heavy 1840 pattern saber, and the cumbersome Model 1847 .44-caliber Colt "Dragoon" revolver. When the supply of carbines ran out, ordnance officers issued "3rd class" common rifles of the 1817 pattern, recently altered from flintlock to the new percussion system. Only the most expert horsemen and noncommissioned officers received sabers when the supply ran low. Anxious about the arms issued to his mounted troops, Carleton knew from experience that uniformity of armament would be critical when it came to supplying ammunition in the field. His ordnance officers would have a hard time keeping track of and supplying ammunition for two different models of Sharps carbines as well as muzzleloading rifle cartridges. After more regulars left for the East and the workers at Benicia repaired unserviceable weapons, all of the horsemen with Carleton's column, and most of the subsequent California cavalry companies serving in Arizona, received the Sharps New Model 1859 carbine.


Excerpted from The Civil War in Arizona by Andrew E. Masich. Copyright © 2006 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Part 1. The California Volunteers in Arizona, 1861-65,
1. Column from California,
2. Arizona,
3. Campaigning,
4. Occupation Duty,
5. Border Patrol and Mustering Out,
Part 2. Dispatches from the California Volunteers, 1862-65,
6. California's Soldier-Correspondents to the San Francisco Daily Alta California,
7. Arizona Dispatches, 1862,
8. Arizona Dispatches, 1863,
9. Arizona Dispatches, 1864,
10. Arizona Dispatches, 1865,

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