Picacho Pass, Arizona
Skirmish, April 15, 1862
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.
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
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.
Engagement at Picacho Pass, by Craig Ringer, 1996
Arizona State Parks information materials
Picacho State Park – Text of the memorials and interpretation displays.