The Battle of Picacho Pass, Arizona

The following photos/text courtesy of Luke Lemke, Grand Lake, Colorado and Lee Hohenstein, Omaha, NE
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1. Westernmost Battle of the Civil War
2. War Times Journal: The Battle of Picacho Pass
3. Battle of Picacho Pass - Wikipedia
4. Battle of Picacho Pass
5. Battle of Picacho Peak

(April 2008) Enlarge Battle of Picacho Pass Interpretive Marker. Photo by Lee Hohenstein
The battle site is located about midway between Phoenix and Tucson along Interstate-10 which connects the two cities and runs through the Pass which lies between two rock ridges. Picacho Peak State Park is on the west side of the highway and the Picacho Mountains where the battle took place lie on the east side.
The bodies of Union privates George Johnson and William Leonard were buried on the battlefield and later re-interred at the Presidio in San Francisco. Union Lt. James Barrett was buried on the battlefield in an unmarked grave.
A reenactment is conducted every March on the north side of Picacho Peak in the State Park.
This sacred and historic ground is in great jeopardy of being destroyed as there is a move on at present to allow Union Pacific to build a railroad yard at the foot of Picacho Peak stretching for 6 miles along I-10.


Picacho Pass, Arizona
Skirmish, April 15, 1862
Action Summary
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 River.

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.


Battle of Picacho Commemoration Enlarge
The Battle of Picacho, April 15, 1862
Between the Confederate and Union forces in the War Between the States
Dedicated to Sherod Hunter’s “Arizona Rangers – Arizona Volunteers” CSA
By Captain Hunters Arizona Rangers
Camp No 1202 Sons of Confederate Veterans
Photo by Luke Lemke


Picacho Peak Battlefield Enlarge
Near this site on April 15, 1862, Confederate and Union scouts fought a sharp skirmish. Three Union dead were buried on the battlefield. The approach of a strong Union force from California hastened the Confederate withdrawal from Arizona to the Rio Grande
Photo by Luke Lemke

(April 2008) Enlarge Entrance to Picacho Peak State Park
Photo by Lee Hohenstein

Historic Site marker Enlarge
Battle at Picacho
April 15, 1862
Dedicated to those Confederate frontiersmen who occupied Arizona Territory, CSA., created by President Jefferson Davis, February 14, 1862. Just two months later ten of Capt. Sherod Hunters Confederate cavalrymen successfully defended Picacho Pass against thirteen Union soldiers who suffered three killed and three wounded, but did manage to capture Confederate Sgt Henry Holmes and Pvts. William Dwyer and John W. Hill before retreating. This “Western most battle of the Civil War” delayed for a month the advance of a 2300-man Union column and hastened the establishment of Arizona Territory, USA, on February 24, 1863
Photo by Luke Lemke

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