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BATTLE OF PICACHO PASS
April 15, 1862
 
 

Captain William P. Calloway, 1st California Volunteer Infantry, with his battalion, consisting of his own Company I, 1st California Volunteer Infantry, Company A, 1st California Volunteer Cavalry, First Lieutenant Benjamin F. Harvey, (Capt. William McCleave, Prisoner at Tucson), Company B. 1st California Volunteer Cavalry, Captain Emil Fritz, Company D, 1st California Volunteer Cavalry, Captain Nathaniel J. Pishon, the Jackass Battery, with two 12-pounder mountain howitzers on pack mules, a total of 276 rank and file.
 
Captain Calloway continued the march unmolested by Confederate Troops or Indians from Stanwix Station to the Pima Villages, (also referred to as the Casa Blanca (White House) the headquarters of Ammi White. Previous to this Mr. Ammi White, Captain William McCleave along along with ten men of Company A, 1st California Volunteer Cavalry had been captured by Captain Sherod Hunter, Company A, Baylor's Regiment of Texas Mounted Rifles.
 
Upon his arrival at the Pima Villages, Captain Calloway determined that there was a picket guard at the Picacho Pass Stage Station of the Overland Mail Line (discontinued at the outbreak of the war) consisting of 10 men. This information had been gathered from the Pima Indians who were loyal to the Federal Government.
 
Captain Calloway, with his battalion, continued their march to the south and east, passing through Sacaton Station, Oneida Station and then onward to Blue Water Station. A total of 43 miles.
 
At Blue Water Station, 14.9 miles from the Picacho Station, Captain Calloway planned his next move, the vital move which if properly conducted by two of his subordinates, would cut off the line of retreat of the Confederate pickets posted at the Picacho Pass Station, capturing the pickets by surprise, thus being able to march to Tucson surprise the Confederate Garrison there and capture them intact. Picacho Station was located 14.9 miles south and west from Blue Water Station.
 
Captain Calloway outlined his plan for encircling the enemy at Picacho Pass Station, as follows. Second Lieutenant James Barrett, Company A, 1st California Cavalry commanding a detachment of 12 men, selected from among the three cavalry companies present, to go on an easterly route through a low point on the eastern end of the Picacho Mountains. Lieutenant Ephriam Baldwin, Company D, 1st California Cavalry, commanding a detachment of 10 men, selected also from the three cavalry companies present, leading them in a westerly route.
 
The plan called for Barrett, coming from the east, and Baldwin, coming from the west to gain the rear of the Confederate pickets at Picacho Pass. These two forces were to unite on the main road south of the station, that lead to Tucson. Captain Calloway with the remainder of the Battalion was to march along the main road toward Picacho Pass Station, surrounding the Confederates and cutting off their line of retreat, would be compelled to surrender as they would be facing a combined force of 276 men, their line of retreat effectively cut off. It was a very good plan, if it would have worked. But in planning and executing a plan of this nature, something can go wrong, as it did, and resulting in unwarranted deaths. 
 
Upon leaving Blue Water Station going in a southerly direction to the low point of the Picacho Pass, Lieutenant Barrett rode and was eight miles in advance of Lieutenant Baldwin who was circling from the west. Barrett arrived well in advance of the other two units. Lieutenant Barrett had a guide with him, Mr. John W. Jones who was a resident of Yuma, Arizona. 
 
When in proximity and the south of the Picacho Pass Station, guide Jones dismounted crawling in close proximity of the Confederate pickets who were in a relaxed posture not expecting any Union troops to be close at hand. Sergeant Holmes had earlier posted a man on a high point forward and to the west with a glass to keep vigilance, but when nothing was seen he returned to the station. One guise used on the advance by the Union troops, was to remove the white covers from their wagons so that they could not be distinguished at a distance. This obviously worked very well. Mr. Jones then returned to Lieutenant Barrett and advised him to dismount and engaged the enemy from the rear, which would have been a total surprise, as the Confederate Pickets, under command of Sergeant Holmes could be taken and in all probability captured without a shot being fired. Barrett disregarded Jones advise to dismount, but Jones again asked Barrett to dismount his men and fight on foot. Again Barrett refused, then led a charge, his men in single file, firing as they advanced. The Confederates reacted and returned fire, and at this point several saddles were emptied. The shots being fired, and maybe at this point one or two were wounded, but also the fact that the California Horses, unused to being around shots and in a mad rush, excited some of the horses, possibly threw a rider or two. This will never be ascertained, as there are no reports or records of any known source at the present to ascertain exactly what transpired. 
 
The Confederates scattered and a general skirmish ensued, lasting between one hour and one hour and half. The Union men mounted and dismounted fought over a general area in thick underbrush, thickets of mesquite, greasewood, cresote brush, cactus and other desert growth, which was heavy and thick in many places along the arroyos and washes. This offered very good concealment and cover for the dismounted Confederates as they have been cut off from their horses which were picketed in the corral of the station. As the fight developed, the pickets retired in a northern direction, firing and keeping concealed in the heavy undergrowth.
 
At a distance of about 1 mile, 13.9 miles from the Blue Water Station, three Confederates surrendered, 4th Sergeant Henry Holmes, detachment commander, Private William Dwyer and Private John W. Hill Lieutenant Barrett dismounted assisting in tying up the prisoners, and when this was accomplished, remounted, at this time another shot rang out, the ball striking Lieutenant Barrett in the neck and killing him instantly. The fight then continued and at the end of the approximately 1 1/2 hours the fight was over. 
 
The Confederates were completely cut off from their horses, which were picketed at the Picacho Pass Station, a mile to the rear, made their way back to the station to their horses. Barrett had not left anyone to guard the horses, mounted and rode for Tucson to warn Captain Hunter of the skirmish and the advancement of the Union troops.
 
Lieutenant Baldwin arrived after the fight had ceased, and shortly thereafter Captain Calloway arrived with the remainder of the battalion, to find his plan had not gone as he had hoped.  If the Confederate picket would have surrendered as predicted, then Captain Hunter in Tucson would have been taken by surprise as he was unaware that the Union Forces had advanced this far, only 45 miles north and west of Tucson.
 
The casualties of the fight, Lieutenant Barrett, Company A, 1st California Cavalry, shot in the neck, breaking his neck and dying instantly, Private George Johnson, Company A, 1st California, shot in the region of the heart, died within a few minutes, were killed on the site (referred to as the Battle Site) and their bodies were lying where they fell. Private William S. Leonard, (in Reports spelled Denerd) , Company D, 1st California Cavalry was mortally wounded, shot in the back, the ball passing upwards and exited his mouth. He died early the next morning. The wounded of Lieutenant Barrett's Detachment were as follows, Private William C. Tobin, Company D, 1st California Cavalry, was shot in the forehead, but the brasses of his hat deflected the bullet and left an ugly but not fatal wound, Corporal James Botsford, Co,pany A, wounded, and Private Peter Glenn, Company, were shot in the arm and shoulder, but either wounds were fatal. Reports does state which man was shot in the arm or the shoulder. 
 
Captain Calloway informed of the circumstances, and now knowing that the Confederate troops in Tucson were aware of their advance, set up a defensive position for the night. He deployed his Infantry and Cavalry, unlimbered (unpacked) his two mountain howitzers and set them up in a defensive line ready to meet any enemy advancement.
 
The troops were then rested and permitted to eat their dinner, to await the enemy. Private Leonard who was mortally wounded suffered, moaning in pain during the night keeping most of the men awake. Private Johnson in the early hours of the morning died, and all men we turned out to dig graves for their three fallen comrades who had perished in battle.
 
Graves were dug side by side and the three, Lieutenant James Barrett, Company A, 1st California Cavalry, Private Johnson, Company A, 1st California Cavalry, and Private Leonard, Company D, 1st California Cavalry were laid to rest. The graves were hastily dug, not very deep as the ground was very hard in the area. The graves were then covered and on top was laid cactus so as to keep the wolves from digging them up. The wolves were a word used for the coyote.
 
At this point, Captain Calloway, decided to retire back to the Pima Villages, his point of origin in this narrative. The reasons given by Captain Calloway was that he had only three days rations remaining, and uncertain of the number of Confederate troops in Tucson, his information was that there were some five hundred Confederate Troops in Tucson, and the Pima Villages, which offered a much better place for defense again the enemy.
 
General Carleton ordered Colonel West to have an inquiry about the actions of the officers concerning the fight at Picacho Pass. After due examination of the facts, Colonel West came to the conclusion that Captain Calloway was not guilty of any misdoings, and from all evidence presented, Lieutenant Barrett, far exceeding his orders, well in front of the other two forces, acted in a rash manner and thus was responsible for the loss and death of the men and the fight.
 
The Confederate Pickets, 7 in number who retreated from the skirmish, reported to Captain Hunter of the fight. Hunter then dispatched Lieutenant James Tevis, with a detachment to proceed to the Picacho Pass Station to see what had happened to the three men who had not returned. Tevis arrived in the morning and found the Union troops retiring to the Pima Villages to the north and west. 
 
The three Confederate Prisoners were sent to Fort Yuma under escort and on their way, met Lieut. Col. James R. West, with the next advancing force. Being informed of the Battle, West proceeded to the Pima Villages and set up a well fortified position along with Calloway's Battalion, to await further developments.
 
The above narrative are all of the known facts of the fight gathered from Official Records, Newspaper Articles, and files contained in the Library of the Arizona Historical Society at Tucson, Arizona. From all evidence gathered, Barrett overstepped the bounds of his orders in not awaiting the arrival of Lieutenant Baldwin with his detachment of 10 men before commencing the fight. In so doing, Barrett's rash actions resulted in the escape of the remaining pickets, and Captain Hunter being fore warned of the Union advancement, which eliminated Carleton's and Calloway's plans of capturing the Confederate forces in Tucson. Also this caused the needless death and wounding of his comrades. Lieutenant James Barrett exceeded his orders, acted in a rash manner without proper support is the conclusion and findings of this writer. Although Barrett was a veteran Dragoon Private and Acting Corporal with five years experience, I can only surmise that Barrett may have wanted this fight and victory on his record, for future advancement. There seems to be no other explainable reason for his actions on April 15, 1862.

Written by Arnold Franks
Copyright © 2000 Arnold Franks

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