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
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
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
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
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
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
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