The California Column
In April of 1862, the California Column marched from Fort Yuma on the Colorado River, across the southern New Mexico Territory to the Rio Grande River. From there, they crossed into western Texas. Their trek was a total of 900 miles and it is the longest march across desert terrain ever attempted by the U.S. military.
The California Column was commanded by Colonel James Henry Carleton who was promoted to brigadier general while the column was en route. It originally consisted of ten companies of the 1st California Infantry, five companies of the 1st Regiment California Volunteer Cavalry, Company B, 2nd Regiment California Volunteer Cavalry and Light Battery A of the Third U.S. Artillery. This command contained 1500 well drilled and disciplined men. Later on, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Bowie‘s 5th California Infantry was added, bringing the total strength of the Column to 2350 men.
Their main objective was to drive Confederate troops out of New Mexico. They traveled in groups of 400 at intervals of several days apart across the desert in order to conserve the water at springs and wells along the route. The followed the former route of the Butterfield Overland Mail, which had ceased operation the previous year. Union spies had stocked the vacant stage posts with food and grain for the California Column.
The Arizona Rangers were a pro-Confederate force and they managed to destroy some supplies that were stockpiled along the route. Along the way they fought two small engagements with Confederate troops. The first was at Stanwix Station on March 30, 1862, where the columns vanguard came upon a small 10-man detachment that was burning hay at a stage post. After a brief exchange of fire the Confederates retreated to Tucson.
The next engagement was a fight between patrols from the opposing forces at Picacho Pass on April 15, 1862. It was another engagement that took place near a stage post. Less than a total of 2 dozen men were involved from both sides with several casualties on both sides. The Union patrol retreated having lost 3 killed.
The California Column had driven off most of the Confederates in the vicinity and on May 20th they marched into Tucson unopposed. The city had been occupied by the Confederates for a brief 80 days.
After the capture of Tucson, the California Column fought a number of engagements with several different Indian tribes, including the Apaches of Mangas Colorados and Cochise, and the Navajos. The rest of their service during the war was against the native American tribes of the Southwest.
The California Column had accomplished its objective of helping to drive the Confederates out of the Arizona and New Mexico Territories. The territorial government relocated to El Paso, while some Confederate Arizona military units relocated to San Antonio. The government in exile remained in Texas for the duration of the war, it continued to be represented in the First and Second Confederate Congresses. Resistance in Arizona continued at the partisan level, and Confederate units under the banner of Arizona fought until the end of the war in May 1865.