California State Military Department
The California Military Museum
Preserving California's Military Heritage
California and the Civil War
The California Column
by Lieutenant George H. Pettis
Commander, Company K, 1st Regiment of Infantry, California Volunteers
 

Immediately after the first battle of Bull Run on July 24, 1861, Governor John G. Downey received from the Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, a communication which said: "The War Department accepts, for three years, one regiment of infantry and five com panies of cavalry to guard the Overland Mail Route from Carson Valley to Salt Lake City and Fort Laramie." This was the first official action towards organizing troops in California, and it required but a short time to raise the required number of men, and as fast as the companies were mustered in at the Presidio, near San Francisco they were transported across the bay to Camp Downey (in present day Oakland).

The First California Volunteer Infantry and five companies of the First Cavalry were being well drilled and disciplined at Camp Downey when the news was received at Department Headquarters that Secessionists in the southern part of the state were becoming turbulent and more outspoken, and on September 17th General Sumner ordered Colonel Carleton's command to Southern California.

The First Infantry, under Colonel James H. Carleton since July 26, 1861, and the First Cavalry, under Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin F. Davis, arrived at San Pedro and marched some eighteen miles north to lay out a camp for fifteen companies near a small creek (Ballona Creek in present Culver City). They named it "Camp Latham" in honor of one of the California senators. When the order came for regular Army troops to transfer to the East Coast, Major Edwin A. Riggs of the First California Infantry was sent with several companies to replace those leaving Fort Yuma. Other regulars from Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego were soon assembled at San Pedro for shipment to New York.

On the 20th of October, 1861, General Sumner was replaced as commander of the Department of California by Colonel George Wright of the Twelfth U.S. Infantry. Colonel Sumner, shortly thereafter, was drowned on his way to take command of the Department of Oregon when the steamer "Brother Jonathan" sank off the mouth of the Columbia River. (Note: Lieutenant Pettis appears to have mistaken which commander went down on the "Brother Jonathan". In fact is was Brigadier General Wright who drowned) On November 20th, Colonel Carleton was called to San Francisco to take command of California troops heading east by the overland route through Salt Lake City. But these orders were superseded when news was received of the successful invasion of New Mexico and Arizona by a force of Texans under Confederate General H.H. Sibley. Within a few days, Wright and Carleton developed a plan to proceed with a command through Arizona and attack Sibley on his flank and rear. General Wright submitted this plan to the War Department on December 9, 1861, and received immediate approval from General McClellan.

It was decided that Fort Yuma, on the California side of the Colorado River, should be the jumping off point for the expedition, and advance units were sent with all promptitude to prepare for the increased activity which would take place in a few months, and to strengthen its defenses in case Confederates arrived there before the main force of California Volunteers. A small camp at Warner's Ranch (near present Warner's Springs), named Camp Wright, was enlarged to serve as an intermediate supply and staging point halfway between Wilmington and Fort Yuma. Supplies started moving forward, both by Phineas Banning's teams across the desert and by steamship to the head of the Gulf of California and then up the Colorado by river steamboats of the Colorado River Navigation Company.

The "California Column" originally consisted of ten companies of the First California Infantry, five companies of the First California Cavalry, one company of the Second California Cavalry and Light Battery A of the Third U.S. Artillery. This command contained 1500 men, well drilled, well disciplined, and eager to show what stuff they were made of. Later on, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Bowie's Fifth California was added, bringing the total strength to 2350 rank and file. It should be pointed out here that never did the entire column move as one unit. Advance parties, some quite large, were sent ahead to scout, to strengthen fortifications at camping points, and to collect what food and forage was available for the large groups to follow. Another reason for breaking the column into smaller units was to conserve the water supply at springs and water holes, many of which only had enough water for a few hundred men with their mounts and mule teams at one time.

Before these advance movements and training of the California troops were being made, Union forces in New Mexico under the command of General Canby had not fared well. Confederate Colonel John R. Baylor had arrived in New Mexico, proclaimed him self Provisional Governor of New Mexico and Arizona, and started up the Rio Grande on July 1, 1861. On July 25th, Major Isaac Lynde, 7th U.S. Infantry, in command of Fort Fillmore, about three miles east of Mesilla, proceeded to attack Baylor's

"Second Texas Rifles", a partial regiment of less than 300 poorly armed men. After a weak assault with his more than 500 well equipped and armed troops headed by capable officers, Lynde ordered a retreat to the adobe walls of Fort Fillmore with three men killed and four wounded. On the 27th, Lynde attempted to start a march to Fort Stanton, some one hundred miles to the northeast to escape the "superior" Rebel army. He was overtaken by the Texans before he had gone fifteen miles and surrendered without firing a shot.

Further Union setbacks followed Lynde's surrender. A major battle at Valverde on February 21, 1862, between General Canby's 2500 New Mexico volunteers and a force of 3000 Confederates under General H.H. Sibley, who had replaced Colonel Baylor, resulted in a victory for the Texans. After the Union troops retreated behind the thick adobe walls of Fort Craig, Sibley continued his march north. Albuquerque and Santa Fe surrendered with little resistance, marking the high water mark of Confederate operations.

A Union force made up of Colorado volunteers under Colonel J.P. Slough, with some regular U.S. troops from Fort Lyon and Fort Union won a major victory at Apache Canyon and Glorieta, a few miles east of Santa Fe. In three days of fighting, the Union forces had 25 killed, 64 wounded and 30 missing; Confederate losses were 82 killed, 155 hounded and 96 taken prisoner. (this fight, from March 25th to 28th, was the last major combat in New Mexico).

Sibley started his long retreat back to Texas, aware that any delay would find him trapped between the Colorado troops to the north, General Canby with a still effective force at Fort Craig and the Californians approaching from the west. Sibley reached Fort Bliss at Franklin (now El Paso) late in April.

About this time, General Sibley ordered a Confederate company under Captain Sherod Hunter to proceed west through Tucson and then along the Gila River as far as Yuma if possible, the same route which would be used by the California Column on their way to the Rio Grande. At White's Mills, near the Pima Villages,about twenty miles south of present Phoenix, Captain Hunter met and captured a scouting party under Captain William McCleave and nine men of his A Company. When this news got back to Fort Yuma, a larger party under Captain William Calloway was dispatched along the same route with orders to find and free Captain McCleave and his men. Calloway reached the Pima Villages, the main supply point between Fort Yuma and Tucson, with no sign of the rebels other than a number of burned haystacks, and after a short rest , set out for Tucson. As they approached Picacho Pass, Indian scouts brought in information that Confederate pickets were just ahead. Lieutenant James Barrett and a small group of his Company A, First Infantry were ordered to make a wide detour to strike them on the flank, while Calloway would make a front al attack with the main party. After traveling several miles, Calloway heard firing on his front and soon came upon a bloody scene. Barrett had found and attacked the rebel pickets, and in the short encounter, had been killed along with Privates George Johnson and William Leonard. Two other Union soldiers were wounded. One Confederate was killed, four were wounded, three were taken prisoner and one of the nine pickets escaped. This "battle" between fewer than a dozen troops on each side was the only time that members of the "California Column" engaged Confederate troops in combat. The graves of Lieutenant Barrett and his men may be seen within twenty feet of the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad as it goes through Picacho Pass. (Just off U.S. 10 below Picacho, a monument erected by the Arizona Pioneers marks the graves.)

Captain Calloway returned to Pima Villages and started work on a permanent camp, throwing up earth works around the flour mill of Ammi White, who had been taken away by the rebels a few weeks before. This earth work was named "Fort Barrett" in honor of their comrade. It required several weeks for the main elements of the "Column" to get to Pima Villages, as only detachments of less than four companies could move over the desert routes within twenty four hours of each other because of the scarcity of water. On the 15th of May, Colonel West and his advance detachment moved out of the Pima Villages for Tucson, going through the "Casa Grandes" and Rattlesnake Springs to old Fort Breckenridge (later named Fort Grant), where the American flag was run up again on the flagstaff of the fort amid the hurrahs of the men and the field music playing "The Star Spangled Banner".

The command camped that night in the "Canon de Oro". The next day, May 19th, a short march of fifteen miles was made, and the party encamped within ten miles of Tucson. An early reveille on the morning of the 20th, and the command moved forward with a light step. When it had arrived within two miles of the town, Captain Emil Fritz, Company B, 1st Cavalry, was ordered take his first platoon to make a detour and come in on the east side of the town; the second platoon, under Juan Francisco Guirado, was to charge in on the north side, while the four companies

of infantry were to come in on the road from the west. The three parties arrived at the plaza at the same moment, the cavalry at the charge and the infantry at the double quick, but found no enemy. The rebels, before they left, had publicly announced that the "Abs" (abolitionists ?) would soon take the fair city, which would then be given over to the ravages of a brutal soldiery, and the population, mostly Mexican, had started southward for the Sonora line.

Good quarters were found for the troops, who would be in Tucson for the next two months, until July 20th, while the "Column" was being assembled here, with food and forage enough to start on the final leg to the Rio Grande, still almost 250 miles away. Everything, except for a small quantity of wheat which was purchased from the Pima Indians,was brought by Banning's teams from Southern California. Military equipment and supplies came from the Wilmington Depot after arriving there by ship. No forage or food could be had in or about Tucson, and the hearty appetites of the thousands of young Californians consumed the rations nearly as fast as the wagon trains arrived.

No news had been received from the Rio Grande since the column had commenced its march from California. Several express parties had been sent forward to open communications with General Canby, but none had ever returned. On June 15, 1862, Sergeant William Wheeling of Company F of the 1st Infantry, expressman John Jones, and a Mexican guide named Chaves left Tucson with dispatches for General Canby. It was afterwards learned that this party was attacked by Apache Indians at Apache Pass, about seventy five miles east of Tucson, on June 18th. Chaves was killed by the first exchange of shots and Sergeant Wheeling was seriously wounded, falling off his horse and being dispatched. Both bodies were found badly mutilated later. Jones escaped by a miracle, and after a ride of over 200 miles, he reached the Rio Grande at a point five miles above Mesilla. He was taken prisoner by the rebels, who still held Mesilla. He was taken before Colonel Steele, the Confederate commander, who questioned him, took his dispatches, and threw him in jail. But he managed to get word to General Canby that he was there, and that the "California Column" was really coming. How he did it is still not clear.

On the 21st of June, a strong reconnoitering party of cavalry under Lieutenant Colonel Eyre left Tucson. After a hard march, they arrived at Fort Thorn on the Rio Grande about seventy miles above present El Paso, on July 4th. It had been abandoned by the rebels. Eyre was reinforced by a squadron of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry, and would have attacked the rebels at Mesilla, but was forced to forego that pleasure by peremptory orders from Colonel Chivington of the 1st Colorado Volunteers at Fort Craig, who under General Canby's orders was in command of the southern military district of New Mexico. Meanwhile, Colonel Steele greatly feared he would be overtaken by the California troops, and in his hurried retreat burned a number of his wagons and destroyed a large amount of ammunition. The rebel forces were so disheartened by their defeats upriver and weakened by loss of supplies that had they been attacked by even a small force, they would have surrendered at once.

On July 9th Captain Thomas L. Roberts with his Company E of the 1st Infantry and Captain Cremoney's Company B of the 2nd Cavalry and with two mountain howitzers under the command of Lieutenant William A. Thompson,left Tucson for the Rio de Sauze (probably today's San Simeon River), where they were to establish a camp, having rations
and forage for Colonel Eyre's command in case they were forced back by the Texans. When this command reached Apache Pass (now Fort Bowie), they were attacked by a large force of Apache warriors under the leadership of "Cochise". After a stubborn contest, the Indians were forced to retire with a loss of nine killed, while the troops suffered a loss of two killed and two wounded.

On July 20th, Colonel West left Tucson for the Rio Grande with five companies of infantry. On the 21st, Captain Edward P. Willis left with two companies of infantry and Battery A of the 3rd U.S. Artillery. On the 23rd, Lieutenant Colonel Edwin A. Rigg, with a third command consisting of five companies of the 1st Infantry followed. Each of these detachments had subsistence for thirty days, with a full supply of entrenching tools. Up to the time of arrival of the troops at Tucson, the infantry had carried their full fifty pound packs the entire march, a notable achievement considering the nature of the country through which they had marched in woolen uniforms, and the fearful heat and thirst they had encountered.
General Orders, No. 10, "Headquarters of the Column from California, dated Tucson, July 17th, 1862", contained the following paragraph: "l0.That every soldier may move forward with a light, free step, now that we approach the enemy; he will no longer be required to carry his knapsack" (There must have been a sigh of relief from 2000 throats, and a simultaneous murmur "General, it's about time!") (Though a respected commander, Carleton did not have the best of relations with at least one of his officers, Lieutenant George H. Pettis, the author of this story, who inserted the following statement in the middle of what was otherwise an objective and factual report:)

"I have always believed that General Carleton wanted me killed, for he put this detachment under my command to escort them ( a group of Tucson desperados) to the Pima Villages, a distance of nearly two hundred miles, and gave me a cavalry detachment of ten men, the worst disciplined ones I have ever met. The first night out, when I was encamped at the "Point of Rocks", an express arrived from Colonel West, then in command at Tucson, in which I was informed that my prisoners had stated before we left that point, that they would never be taken through alive, and cautioning me to be ever on the alert, or I would not get through. Carleton did not send me for the honor. He was much surprised when I returned safe, but not as much as I was. (signed) G.H.P.

General Carleton, with headquarters of the "California Column" arrived at Fort Thorn on August 7th, 1862, and immediately communicated with General Canby. The balance of the column arrived on the Rio Grande in detachments as they had left Tucson, one day apart, and by the 15th, Mesilla was made the headquarters of the district of Arizona. The Southern Overland Mail Route had been opened and the and the United States military posts in Arizona, New Mexico and Northwestern Texas had been reoccupied by troops composing the "California Column".

On the 18th of September, 1862, General Carleton assumed command of the Department of New Mexico, General Canby having been ordered east by the War Department. The "Column" was soon distributed throughout the Department, and active operations commenced against the hostile Indians, the Apaches and the Navajos. Three days after his appointment, Carleton issued the following order:


Headquarters of the Department of New Mexico,

Santa Fe, N.M., Sept. 21st, 1862

 

Gen. Orders No. 85

In entering upon the duties that remove him from immediate association with the troops constituting the "Column from California", the Commanding General desires to express his grateful acknowledgement of the conduct and services of the officers and men of that command. Traversing a desert country that had heretofore been regarded as impracticable for the operations of large bodies of troops, they have reached their destination and accomplished the object assigned them, not only with out loss of any kind, but improved in discipline, in morale, and in every other element of efficiency. That patient and cheerful endurance of hardships, the zeal and alacrity which they have grappled with, and overcome obstacles that would have been insurmountable to any but troops of the highest physical and moral energy, the complete abregation of self and subordination of every personal consideration to the great object of our hopes and efforts give the most absolute assurance of success in any field or against any enemy.
 
California has reason to be proud of the sons she has sent across the continent to assist in the great struggle in which our country is now engaged. The Commanding General is requested by the officer who preceded him in the command of this department, to express for him the gratification felt by every officer and soldier of his command at the fact that troops from the Atlantic and Pacific slope, from the mountains of California and Colorado, acting in the same cause, inspired by the same duties, and animated by the same hopes, have met and shaken hands in the center of this great continent.
                                (signed)
                                JAMES H. CARLETON
                                Brigadier General U.S. Volunteers
                                Commanding Department

 

 
During the years of 1863 and 1864, troops of the column were kept busy against the Apaches. Skirmishes were numerous and the duty very hard on account of the long distances between water. Among the memorable events of 1863 was the taking of the celebrated Apache chief "Mangas Coloradas" (The Red Sleeve), who was killed in an escape attempt. Members of the column, including Lieutenant Pettis, fought Apaches and Navajos, escorted immigrant and government wagon trains as far east as Fort Dodge, Kansas, and in general, maintained peace in the region for the remainder of their three year enlistments. During this time, twenty four California soldiers, including four officers, were killed, while fifty, including six officers, were wounded.
 
Nine companies of the 1st California Volunteer Infantry and the five original companies of the 1st California Volunteer Cavalry were discharged in August and September of 1864, their three years of service having expired. On February 15th, 1865, Lieutenant George H. Pettis was mustered out at Santa Fe, New Mexico, officially closing the record of the "California Column". When Lieutenant Pettis wrote this story in 1907 at age 73, he was working as an inspector of weights and measures for the State of Rhode Island.
 


[WELCOME] [LOCATION AND HOURS] [CURRENT EXHIBITS] [MG WALTER P. STORY LIBRARY] [SATELLITE AND PARTNER MUSEUMS]
[HOW CAN I HELP?] [WHAT'S NEW?] [UPCOMING EVENTS] [CALIFORNIA MILITARY HISTORY] [HERALDRY & INSIGNIA] [ONLINE BOOKSTORE]
[CALIFORNIA CENTER FOR MILITARY HISTORY] [LINKS]

FastCounter by LinkExchange
Questions and comments concerning this site should be directed to the Webmaster