|Battle of Picacho Peak|
|Part of the American Civil War|
|22x20px United States||22x20px Confederate States|
|James Barrett||Henry Holmes|
|13 cavalry||10 cavalry|
|Casualties and losses|
|3 killed, 3 wounded||3 captured, 2 wounded (disputed)|
The Battle of Picacho Peak or the Battle of Picacho Pass 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.
Due to years of neglect by the federal government, Confederate sympathies were high in Tucson, which had been proclaimed 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. Ultimately, 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 in California as a base of operations.
Most of the Civil War era engagements in Arizona; Dragoon Springs, Stanwix Station, Picacho Pass, and Apache Pass, occurred near remount stations along the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach route, which dated to the 1850s and which the Confederates tried to keep open with limited success.
Twelve Union cavalry troopers and one scout, 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 rebels 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, their patrol surprised and captured three Confederate pickets. It failed to see seven other Confederate soldiers before they opened fire. During the bloody skirmish that followed, Barrett and two of his men were killed and three others wounded. Aside from the mistake of not waiting for the main force under Captain William P. Calloway to arrive, Barrett erred in ordering a cavalry charge on the Confederates, who had taken cover in a thicket. The Union cavalrymen thus made easy targets. After a brisk engagement that lasted about ninety minutes, the Confederates watched the California cavalry retreat, then the rebels fell back to Tucson themselves, to finish their picket mission by warning Tucson's garrison of the approaching Union army. Rebel reinforcements failed to be sent to Tucson so the commanding Confederate officer, Sherod Hunter and his garrison retreated without fighting, leaving the Union army to capture the desert town.
The remains of the two Union privates buried at Picacho were later removed to the presidio in San Francisco, California, but Lieutenant Barrett's grave, near the present railroad tracks, remains unmarked and undisturbed. Union reports indicate two Confederates may have been wounded, but there is no confirmation of this.
The Confederate participants reported the engagement to Capt. Sherod Hunter, commander at Tucson, who in his official report made no mention of any Confederate casualties aside from the three men captured.
Confederate patrols had reached the California border, where they burned hay at the stage stations to delay the Union advance from California. However, the goal of expanding Confederate influence into southern California and to the Pacific Ocean was never realized. Around the same time as the skirmish at Picacho, a far larger force of Confederates was thwarted in its attempt to advance northward from Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the Battle of Glorieta Pass, and by July the main force of Confederates had retreated to Texas though remnants of rebel militia's still occupied 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. Although the skirmish at Picacho Pass itself may have been only a small factor in these events, it can be considered the high-water mark of the Confederate West.
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.
- New Mexico Campaign
- Apache Wars
- Ellen Bilbrey, (2004) "EXPERIENCE THE BATTLE OF PICACHO PASS AT PICACHO PEAK STATE PARK: Site of the Civil War in the Southwest" Arizona State Parks Press Release
- Arizona State Parks Southern Region (2007) "Picacho Peak State Park"
- Battle of Picacho Pass (Arnold Franks, MilitaryHistoryOnline.com)
- The Battle of Picacho Pass (The War Times Journal wtj.com)
- Arizona State Parks press release
- Arizona State Parks Southern Region Park Description)
- Masich, Andrew E., The Civil War in Arizona; the Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-65; University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, 2006).