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When the Regular Army was ordered to the East in 1861, all arms, equipment, horses, horse equipments and all non essential camp equipage was turned into the appropriate corps, Ordnance and Quartermaster.

At this time Benicia Arsenal refurbished, repaired and fabricated all essential ordnance stores that would be required by the Volunteer forces, then being raised in California.

I will only here write of the troops in the California Column, 1st California Volunteer Infantry (10 companies), 5th California Volunteer Infantry (5 companies), 1st California Volunteer Cavalry (5 companies), 2d California Volunteer Cavalry, Company B, Battery A, 3d United States Artillery, and Thompson's Howitzer Battery, 2,350 officers and men, and also of the Teamsters, horses and mules.  This whole command was under the command of Colonel James H. Carleton, promoted to Brigadier General in early 1862 while on the march. The arms and equipment issued to the California Column were specifically requested by Carleton from Capt. McAllister, commander at Benicia Arsenal, and were issued as described hereafter.  The First California Volunteer Cavalry (5 companies), A, B, C, D, E were armed with the Model 1859 Sharps Carbine, caliber .54.  The Sharps Model 1859 proved to be a very effective and reliable weapon, and was used in dozens of engagements against Apache Indians in Arizona and New Mexico. The Model 1851 Navy Colt Revolver, caliber .36 was issued to the cavalry  as requested by Colonel Carleton.  Carleton wanted the Navy Colt in lieu of the Colt Dragoon Model 1849, caliber .44.  The Navy Colt could be carried on the saber belt, and its weight was considerably less than the Colt Dragoon (4 1/2 lbs.), and had to be carried in pommel holsters.  Also, ammunition weight was a factor.  The Navy Colt was less powerful and had a shorter range than the Dragoon, but weight was the deciding factor, as well as the Navy Colts pointing ability. The Model 1840 Cavalry Saber (old wristbreaker) was also requested by Carleton and it was issued to the cavalry.  Carleton, being the old Dragoon, stated, a razor sharp heavy saber will cut through the clothing of rebel cavalrymen and inflict serious casualties.

All leather goods of the California Cavalry were the same as used by the Dragoons (1st Cavalry) prior to their being turned in.  Leather saber belt, saber slings, carbine sling and hook, pistol holster and cartridge boxes and cap pouches.   This was the issue of arms and associated equipments to the five companies of the First California Volunteer Cavalry.  Company B, Second California Cavalry, being the only company of the 2nd Cavalry to accompany the California Column, was equipped exactly in the same manner as above described for the First California Cavalry. The First California Volunteer Infantry (10 companies) and the Fifth California Volunteer Infantry (5 companies) were issued the Model 1855 Springfield Rifle Musket, Caliber .58.  These rifles were the first true rifle musket made by Springfield Armory that was designed to fire the minie ball. The Model 1855 had all brass mountings, patch box, barrel bands, and used the angular bayonet.  The Model 1859, the only difference being that all of  the mountings were iron instead of brass.  The Model 1859 Rifle used the sword bayonet.  The Model 1855 Springfield was a very accurate weapon, as Indian casualties in Arizona and New Mexico showed.  The standard black leather waist belt was used, and when worn, carried the cap pouch and the bayonet and scabbard.  The cartridge box was worn on a wide black shoulder strap, the cartridge box being worn on the right hip.  In the center of the shoulder strap was a brass round U.S. Coat of Arms.  This was usually removed, as it provided less of a target.  The cartridge box had two tin liners that held 20 rounds of paper cartridges each, the capacity of the box being forty rounds.  If extra rifle ammunition was readily needed, the soldier usually carried extra rounds in his pockets, for easy access, otherwise he carried them in his haversack.  All of the ammunition used for  the above mentioned small arms were paper cartridges, or linen cartridges in the case of the Sharps Carbine.  There were no metallic breech loading rifles or carbines used by the California troops during the Civil War.

Company A, Third United States Artillery, equipped in late 1861 as a light field battery at Benicia Arsenal, where they received their equipment, horses and all horse harness and all required implements, by Capt. McAllister.  This was the only Regular Army unit to accompany the California Column on their march to the Rio Grande.  Their guns as issued were two twelve-pounder howitzers and two six-pounder guns.  These guns, to the knowledge by this writer, were only fired once,  not in anger against an enemy, but as a salute to General Carleton when he entered Tucson (a story of its own) - Carleton had an ego. One thing that Carleton did was to insure that his command was well armed and supplied with a large quantity of small arms ammunition and artillery ammunition, plus all related ordnance equipments and implements. Carleton, planned and equipped his men. One of the major problems not encountered, such as back East, was that all of the ammunition was alike,  and this proved to be a asset, especially when supply routes were in excess of hundreds of miles in length. HORSES  

Horses were a problem at first, when trying to mount the California Volunteer Cavalry.  Carleton wanted "American Horses", at least fifteen and a half hands high, or Morgan Horses.  These were in short supply in California.  The cavalry was regulated to used the much smaller but more durable California horses.  These horses could not carry the weight of the larger horses, but again, you have to use what is readily available.  The large American horses were then given to the artillery and the wagon trains.  This created a slight problem, whereas the California horses being in large supply and demand, had to be trained as cavalry mounts, which was again accomplished in due time.  The use of the smaller California horse caused another problem in getting the cavalry mounted was the saddles.  The Dragoons turned in their Grimsley saddles, and these saddles were too flat for the California horses.  There were some Model 1859 McClellan's available, but not nearly enough.

The Ranger Saddle, used extensively in California was adopted for use by the cavalry.  These saddles had a horn like a stock saddle, as well as leather accessories such as tapaderos and a mochila.  These extra required saddles were produced in San Francisco by Main and Winchester and Charles Mead and other small contractors.  The McClellan was used as an alternate for the Range saddle.  Thus the cavalry was mounted in an in-ordinary manner, but due to war shortages one has to improvise and Carleton and McAllister met the challenge.

As previously stated, the several cavalry companies who had been equipped with the American horses and Grimsley saddles turned them over to the artillery and wagon trains.  In addition the cavalryman was issued one nose bag, one woolen saddle blanket, picket pin, lariats, hobbles or side lines to secure horses, and a set of saddle bags.  One pair of hand forged iron shoes, with nails, issued to each man.  Carleton did not want the steel shoes, as they would take too much time to fit in the field. Thus, we have the best armed and equipped soldiers in the western United States and equal if not better than many eastern regiments of infantry and cavalry.


Carleton was very specific in his requirements of the uniforms to be worn by the troops in the upcoming march.

Shoes were of a particular concern of Carleton's.  He wanted sewn instead of pegged soles.  Wooden pegs would shrink in the hot desert climate.  The pegs would then fall out, and then the sole of the shoe would come off.   In desert heats exceeding 100 degrees in the shade, a soldier could not march across the hot, rocky and thorny ground very long.

The mounted men had their choice of the calf high boot or the bootee.  Infantry and Artillery had only the bootees.  Not all of the shoes had the sewn soles so the soldiers had to take the wooden peg soles.  It was a supply and demand situation, you get what is available.  Hats prescribed for the march were the broad brimmed, high crowned black felt uniform hat.  These hats were to be devoid of all regulation brass trimmings, hat cords and black plumes.

The hats were to be worn with the brim down, so as to better protect the wearer against the hot desert sun.

Fatigue clothing was loose fitting and durable, undergarments and outergarments were of wool.  Some cotton was used, but very little.  Carleton ordered that only the fatigue uniform be brought with them to Arizona.  His interest being only in practical wear and not looks.  The other uniform items were packed in a company wagon and left behind in California.

Carleton was very specific in his wants for his soldiers to wear and carry on their march from California to the Rio Grande, a distance of  almost 1000 miles, Los Angeles, California to Mesilla, New Mexico.

I. Each soldier will carry one greatcoat, one blanket, one forage cap, one woolen shirt, on pair of drawers, one pair stockings, one towel, two handkerchiefs, one fine and one course comb, one sewing kit, one piece of soap, one toothbrush.

II. Each soldier will wear his uniform hat without trimmings, one blouse, one pair trousers, one pair stockings, one woolen shirt, one pair drawers, and may wear a cravat in lieu of the leather stock.

III. Each soldier, whether of cavalry or infantry, will have one canteen, one haversack, one tin cup.  In his haversack he will carry one fork, spoon, and plate.  He will wear a good sheath knife.

IV. Each company, whether of cavalry or infantry, will have only enough mess pans and camp kettles (in nests) for absolute requirements; also a few short-handled frying pans, some large tin pans in which to mix bread, one or two strong coffee-mills, a 6-gallon keg of vinegar, a few pounds of black-grained pepper, four axes, four camp hatchets, six spades, six shovels.

V. Officers will not take mess-chests, or trunks, or mattresses on the march.   It is suggested that each mess of officers of not less than three be provided with to champagne baskets covered with painted canvas for their mess furniture.   These can be packed on a mule.  Their necessary clothing can be carried in a small hand-valise, or pair of saddlebags.

The above was published in General Orders No. 3, Headquarters District of Southern California, dated February 11, 1862. As seen by the above Order, General Carleton was well versed in the hardships that would be encountered in the long hard march over hot dry desert climate.  Carleton had served a number of years in New Mexico as a Dragoon Indian Campaigning.

Both cavalry and infantry regiments carried a "Green River" sheath knife.  Not a regular item of issue, Carleton thought it very necessary.  A sheath knife could be used from countless tasks, from butchering beef to digging holes, which all were done in the course of the march.

Teamsters were all Civilians, hired by the Army to support the troops on their march from California to the Rio Grande.  Teamsters were issued the Model 1849 Colt Dragoon Revolver and the Mississippi Rifles, or the Model 1817 Common Rifle.  All of the rifles having been converted to the percussion system.  This was considered more than adequate for the teamsters as they could be carried in the wagons.  All wagon trains were escorted either by cavalry or infantry, during the early stage of the march. TRANSPORTATION
  Wagon trains were of the utmost importance for the support and supplying of the column.

All supplies were transported from Yuma to Tucson and then to Mesilla on the Rio Grande, a distance of 600 miles.

When one considers the logistics involved in transporting arms, ammunition, rations, forage, water and other essential items to support the march for this distance, must have been a Quartermaster's nightmare.

The means of supplying Yuma was accomplished by water transportation.  Ocean going vessels were dispatched from two main west coast ports, San Francisco and San Pedro, California.  Benicia Arsenal was located across San Francisco Bay, and this Arsenal supplied all of the arms, ammunition, guns, harness for teams, and other related ordnance stores that are required to support an army.

The ships would be loaded at San Francisco, or San Pedro, south of Los Angeles, and then sailed around the southern tip of Baja California and thence up the Gulf of California to a point just off of the mouth of the Colorado River.   Here the transports would be unloaded, their cargoes going aboard shallow draft barges towed by shallow draft stern wheel river boats, up the Colorado River 150 miles and then unloaded on the Arizona side of the river at the Arizona depot.  This operation continued until the departure of the last volunteers in Arizona and New Mexico in 1866.  Unfortunately, no soldiers were transported by these ships, the soldiers having to march from Los Angeles to Yuma, a distance of about 250 miles.

From the Arizona Depot, across the river from Fort Yuma, everything was then transported over land to Tucson.  The route of the march and the supply route followed the old Overland Mail Route, using their now abandoned stations as watering and stopping points.

These wagon trains were operated by civilian Wagon Masters and teamsters, there being hundreds in number.  Each wagon train varied in size from 5 wagons up to 30 wagons.

Size had to be considered due to the scarcity of water, and the trains were planned according to the availability of water along the route.  The wagon trains, once the route was established, constantly went back and forth bringing supplies to Tucson, which was established as a depot for Arizona and New Mexico.

When the column reached Mesilla, New Mexico, more wagons were required to keep the troops supplied along the Rio Grande.  New Mexico's route of supply was overland from St. Louis, Missouri and following the old Santa Fe Train to Santa Fe and then down Mesilla.  Once this route was established the Department of New Mexico was supplied from both ends of the country.

The hot dry desert climate took a telling effect on these wagons.  The dry heat shrunk the wheels of the wagons and then the tires came off.   This disabled a wagon.  Also the wood in the boxes would dry and shrink and warp causing further damage, disabling wagons.

A repair facility for wagons was established in Tucson.  Their sole duty was to keep the wagons, wheels,  and harness in repair, shoe mules, horses and the many other duties required to support the wagons going east and west.  The wagons kept rolling east and west, supplying outlying small military posts such as Fort Bowie, Tubac, Mason, Breckinridge, and all of the points where troops had to be stationed for courier and escort duty. General Carleton, through his foresight and experience as a Dragoon who had campaigned in New Mexico for years against the Apaches, Navajos and plains tribes, put together a plan and executed it in an outstanding manner.  Nothing was overlooked, even the smallest detail was planned and executed forthwith.  Carleton planned, trained, drilled his men in live rifle fire, close order drill in squad, platoon, company and battalion formations, and were in no doubt equal to any regular or eastern regiment or brigade.  In essence, Carleton commanded a brigade, infantry, cavalry and artillery.  He was a hard man, soldier of the old school, but well liked by his officers and men, who referred to him as "Uncle Jimmy".  As an administrator, he was almost impossible to get along with, but as a soldier he was hard to beat.

In summing up, this portion of the article deals with the equipping, arming, clothing and transportation of the California Column, in their March from Southern California, to Fort Yuma, thence to Tucson and onward to Mesilla, New Mexico.  The next part of this article, will deal with the Confederate Invasion of Arizona and their expulsion from Arizona Territory in mid 1862.

Written by Arnold Franks
Copyright © 2000 Arnold Franks

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