Apache Activities During the Civil War

The Civil War began April 12, 1861, with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, and ended April 9, 1865, with Lee’s surrender to Grant. As has been set forth in the preceding chapter, the Apache War broke out in dead earnest a few weeks previous to the fall of Fort Sumter, as a result of the dash between Lieutenant Bascom and Cochise. A fiery whirlwind, leaving death and destruction in its wake, tore through the white settlements of Arizona.

There were only two military posts in the Gadsden Purchase at this time–Fort Buchanan on the Sonoita. River, and Fort Breckenridge at the junction of Arivaipa Canyon and the San Pedro River. However, neither of these establishments could properly be called a fort. They were unfortified and it was as much as the soldiers stationed there could do to look after their own safety when the Indians grew hostile. Raphael Pumpelly, a man of keen observation and preeminent courage and ability, who was in the Gadsden Purchase at the time, writes: “Fort Buchanan consisted simply of a few adobe houses, scattered in a straggling manner over a considerable area, and without a stockade defense. The Apaches could, and frequently did, prowl about the very doors of the different houses. No officer thought of going from one house to another at night without holding himself in readiness with a cocked pistol. During the subsequent troubles with the Indians when the scattered white population of the country was being massacred on all sides for want of protection the Government was bound to give, the Commandant needed the whole force of 150 or 200 men to defend the United States property. . . . But now,” as Pumpelly points out, “orders came from the abandonment of the territory by the soldiers. The country was thrown into consternation. The Apaches began to ride through it roughshod, succeeding in all their attacks. The settlers, mostly farmers, abandoned their crops, and with their families concentrated for mutual protection at Tucson, Tubac, and at one or two ranches.” 1

During the Civil War there was very little actual fighting between the Union and Confederate forces in Arizona and New Mexico; yet the troops of both armies were operating in these territories; and, in consequence, the Apaches were now and then caught between the upper and the nether millstone, though never without cost to soldier and white settler. As a matter of fact, both Federal and Confederate troops would have been glad to let the Apaches alone for the time being, for they had their hands full looking after each other. But the Apaches never remained idle long. They had to make their living; and, being no respecters of persons, they robbed and killed Rebel and Unionist indiscriminately.

Colonel E. R. S. Canby was appointed Commander of the Department of New Mexico, June 11, 1861. In July he reported that Apache depredations were frequent in Arizona. Two or three weeks later, in August, he wrote that the southern part of the Territory was in a very disturbed condition on account of Apache hostilities; and again on December 1, he reported “increasing Indian hostilities . . . Mescalero Apaches becoming more daring in their moods.” As for Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor, Confederate Governor of Arizona and Commander of Mounted Rifles, C.S.A., his situation was still more annoying. Reporting to his commanding general from Fort Bliss, August 25, 1861, he wrote: “I regret to inform you that Lieutenant Mays, with a party of 14 men from Fort Davis, went in pursuit of Indians and attacked a village of Apaches, and after a desperate fight all were killed except a Mexican, who came in bringing the intelligence.” September 24, 1861, Baylor reports that the Indians were very troublesome and that he had not enough troops to protect the citizens. However, on the tenth of October in response to a desperate call from unarmed miners at Pinos Altos in danger of extermination from the persistent attacks of the Gila Apaches, he sent a detachment of one hundred men under Major E. Waller to relieve the miners and protect the rich mines.

Each commanding officer, whether Union or Confederate, had his policy for suppressing the savages. In December, 1861, Colonel Canby wrote as follows to the Assistant AdjutantGeneral of the United States Army: “I have the honor to report that our relations with the Indians in this department are daily becoming more unsatisfactory. . . . The policy of settling them on reserves, removed from the Mexican population, protecting and assisting them until they are able to sustain themselves as heretofore–repeatedly recommended by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs and commanders of this department–is, in my judgment, the only policy that gives any assurance of success. It is recommended by considerations of humanity, economy, and experience.”

Colonel Baylor’s method was more direct. Writing from Mesilla, March 20, 1862, to Captain Helm, in command of the Arizona Guards, he issued this order: “I learn from Lieutenant J. J. Jackson that Indians have been in your post for the purpose of making a treaty. The Congress of the Confederate States has passed a law declaring extermination to all hostile Indians. You will therefore use all means to persuade the Apaches or any tribe to come in for the purpose of making peace, and when you get them together kill all the grown Indians and take the children prisoners and sell them to defray the expense of killing the Indians. Buy whisky and such other goods as may be necessary for the Indians and I will order vouchers given to cover the amount expended. Leave nothing undone to insure success, and have a sufficient number of men around to allow no Indian to escape.”

Be it said to the honor of G. W. Randolph and President Jefferson Davis that when this order came to their attention, Baylor’s career, both as military commander and Governor of Arizona, went to smash. On November 7, 1862, G. W. Randolph, Secretary of War, C.S.A., wrote as follows to Baylor’s Commanding General, J. B. Magruder: “I have the honor to invite your attention to the inclosed copies of papers filed in this office, and request you to communicate with Colonel Baylor, and inform him in consequence of his order with regard to the Indians, that the authority to raise troops granted by the Department is revoked. The authority was to raise troops in Arizona Territory, and if deemed necessary it may be conferred on some other person. You will proceed as soon as practicable to take such steps as may be necessary to recover the Territory of Arizona. You will also inform Colonel Baylor that the President desires a report from him in reference to the inclosed order.”

Brigadier General H. H. Sibley, in command of the Confederate Army in New Mexico, in a report to Adjutant and Inspector-General S. Cooper is less brutal and bloodthirsty than Colonel Baylor, but is favorable to the enslavement of the Indians. “During the last year, and pending the recent operations, hundreds of thousands of sheep have been driven off by the Navajos. Indeed, such were the complaints of the people in this respect that I had determined as good policy, to encourage private enterprises against that tribe and the Apaches, and to legalize the enslaving of them.”

The policy of General James H. Carleton, Commanding the Department of New Mexico, is best stated in an order to Colonel Kit Carson, of October 12, 1862: “All Indian men of that tribe are to be killed whenever and wherever you can find them; the women and children will not be harmed, but you will take them prisoners and feed them at Fort Stanton until you receive other instructions about them. If the Indians send in a flag and desire to treat for peace, say to the bearer that when the people of New Mexico were attacked by the Texans, the Mescaleros broke their treaty of peace and murdered innocent people and ran off their stock; that now our hands are untied and you have been sent to punish them for their treachery and their crimes; that you have no power to make peace; that you are there to kill them whenever you find them; that if any beg for peace their chiefs and twenty of their principal men must come to Santa Fe to have a talk here; but tell them fairly and frankly that you will keep after their people and continue to slay them until you receive orders to desist from these headquarters; that this making of treaties for them to break whenever they have an interest in breaking them will not be done any more; that that time has passed by; that we have no faith in their promises; that we believe if we kill some of their men in fair open war, they will be apt to remember that it will be better for them to remain at peace than to be at war. I trust that this severity, in the long run, will be the most humane course that could be pursued toward these Indians.”

May 15, 1862, the California Column was organized under command of Colonel James H. Carleton, and was ordered to make an expedition into Arizona and New Mexico for the purpose of recapturing all Federal forts in these Territories, of driving out or capturing the Rebel forces in that country, and of reopening the southern mail route. During the entire war this fine body of volunteers from California had only one engagement with the Confederate troops and that a very minor one.

However, the California Column from 1860 to 1865 became a scourge and a terror to the hostile Indians of Arizona and New Mexico. But the California soldiers did not go unscathed. June 15, 1862, General Carleton sent three couriers with dispatches for General Canby in New Mexico. On the eighteenth these messengers were attacked by Apaches, and two of them were killed. The third, John Jones, made an amazing escape and reached the Rio Grande. June 16, 1862, Colonel Edward E. Eyre was ordered by Carleton to make a reconnaissance in force toward the Rio Grande in advance of the main column. The command was unmolested by the Indians until it reached Apache Pass. Here about one hundred Indians appeared, but their leader declared they were friendly to the Americans. Later in the day, however, three soldiers, who had imprudently detached themselves from the main command, were found dead, stripped of their clothing and scalped. At one o’clock this same day, June 25, while Eyre was encamped two miles east of the pass, six or eight shots were fired into the camp by the savages, wounding Assistant-Surgeon Kittridge and killing one horse on the picket line.

July 8, 1862, General Carleton gave orders for Captain Thomas L. Roberts, of the First Infantry California Volunteers, to proceed eastward from Tucson to the San Simon accompanied by a wagon train with thirty days’ rations for Colonel Eyre’s men. The troops were to entrench themselves near the San Simon Mail Station and guard the train until the main column overtook them on its march to the Rio Grande. Captain John C. Cremony, of the Second California Cavalry, with thirty-nine men was ordered to escort the Government train of twenty-one wagons, and to guard this train on its return trip to Tucson. During the next two weeks Roberts and Cremony and their troops saw service of the most dangerous and grilling kind, and gave proof of great bravery and skill in battle.

At Dragoon Springs the soldiers were deluged with torrential rains; but starting at five P.M. July 14, Captain Roberts’ troops, who were in advance of Cremony and the train, marched all night and until twelve o’clock the next day and reached Apache Pass–a distance of forty miles. At Apache Pass, Mangas Coloradas with about two hundred warriors had joined forces with more than that number of Chiricahuas under Cochise. Roberts with proper precautions entered the pass with his almost exhausted troops, who had had only a cup of coffee during their nineteen-hour march. When they were about two-thirds through, the Apaches opened fire on them from behind rocks and trees and tufts of bear grass. The soldiers fought bravely, but to no avail, for their ammunition was wasted against the invisible foe. Roberts very wisely fell back to the entrance of the pass and reformed his men. He sent skirmishers into the hills so that they could command the road, and loaded and brought up his two howitzers. It was absolutely necessary for the troops to reach the springs, for both men and animals were almost famishing for water after their forty-mile march through July heat. Under a galling fire from the savages, they advanced steadily through the pass until they came to the abandoned stone station house of the Overland Mail. They were now within six hundred yards of the springs. They found shelter in the station house, but they could not pause them; they must reach the water. On two commanding heights above the springs the Apaches had made crude redoubts with loose stones. Through the openings between the rocks that formed their breastwork they kept up a hot fire on the soldiers below. Under such circumstances the guns of the troops were of little avail. But when the howitzers were gotten into position, the foe was treated to an effective and devastating fire such as they had never known before. The exact range was found and the shells burst among the rocks, doing terrible execution. Unable to stand in the face of these strange engines of destruction, the Apaches hastily abandoned their positions. Later, in speaking of this battle, one of the Indians said: “We were getting along well enough until you began firing wagons at us.” Indeed, their loss was great. Three were killed by musketfire and sixty-three by exploding shells. How many were wounded, it was impossible to estimate. Strange to say, Roberts’ loss during the entire six-hour battle under conditions so unfavorable was only two men killed and three wounded.

But the hardships of this sturdy band of soldiers were not yet over. After drinking and reenforcing themselves with a hasty supper, Roberts, with one-half of his men, started back to Ewell’s station, fifteen miles east of the pass, to make sure of the safety of the wagon train, which Cremony was bringing along under guard of a comparatively small detachment. Several of Cremony’s cavalrymen had been detailed to act with Roberts’ advance company of infantry as couriers. At the earliest possible moment, Roberts had dispatched these cavalrymen under Sergeant Mitchell to inform Cremony how matters stood and to assure him that as soon as he and his men could get a cup of coffee he would come to Cremony’s relief with a body of his infantry.

Upon reaching Cremony’s encampment, the Sergeant hastily related what had happened to him and his comrades after leaving Roberts. No sooner had they gotten out of the pass than a company of mounted, well-armed Apaches appeared in pursuit. Three of their horses were killed under them and a rifle shot fractured the arm of Maynard, one of the cavalrymen, at the elbow. Worse yet, it was believed that John Teal, another private, had been cut off from his companions by fifteen of the enemy and killed. This last item of the report proved to be untrue, for at one o’clock in the night, bringing his saddle, saber, pistols, and blanket with him, Teal appeared at Cremony’s camp.

What happened to this doughty warrior can best be related in his own words as set down in Captain Cremony’s report. Said Teal: “Soon after we left the pass, we opened up upon a sort of hollow plain or vale, about a mile wide, across which we dashed with speed. I was about two hundred yards in the rear, and presently a body of about fifteen Indians got between me and my companions. I turned my horse’s head southward and coursed along the plain, lengthwise, in the hope of outrunning them, but my horse had been too sorely tested and could not get away. They came up and commenced firing; one ball passed through the body of my horse. It was then about dark and I immediately dismounted, determined to fight it out to the bitter end. My horse fell, and as I approached him he began to lick my hands. I then swore to kill at least one Apache. Lying down behind the body of my dying horse, I opened fire upon them with my carbine, which being a breechloader enabled me to keep up a lively fusillade. This repeated fire seemed to confuse the savages and instead of advancing with a rush, they commenced to circle around me, firing occasionally in my direction. They knew that I also had a six-shooter and a sabre and seemed unwilling to try close quarters. In this way the fight continued for over an hour, when I got a good chance at a prominent Indian and slipped a carbine ball into his heart. He must have been a man of some note, because soon after that they seemed to get away from me, and I could hear their voices growing fainter in the distance. I thought this a good time to make tracks and I have walked eight miles since.”

It was later learned that the Indian whom Teal shot was the famous Mangas Coloradas. He was severely wounded but later recovered.

About two o’clock in the night, Roberts and his detachment reached Cremony’s camp. After a three-hour rest, and without breakfast, for there was no wood to cook with, Roberts and Cremony proceeded with the wagon train to Apache Pass. Roberts and his men, in a period of less than forty-eight hours, had marched seventy miles and taken part in two battles, almost without food and sleep. It would seem that human endurance and resolution could scarcely go further than this. Roberts and Cremony reached the pass about noon, July 16. After a good dinner, the soldiers again fought off the Apaches from the spring. Careful guards kept watch throughout the night, and at eight in the morning, skirmishing with the Indians as they went, they marched out of the pass into the open country to the east. In his report to his superior officer, Roberts wrote: “Very few of us had ever been under fire before, but I do not know a case of flinching. When we got through and out into the open country, I called in my skirmishers, saying that all who could not walk might step to the front, and I would provide a place for them to ride. Of the entire company only two stepped to the front.”

Because of the wily and deadly hostility of the Chiricahua Apaches, General Carleton found it absolutely necessary to establish a post in sinister Apache Pass. It was impossible to move troops either eastward or westward with safety unless they could have assured access to the springs in this canyon. For years it had been the practice of the Apaches to lie in ambush here and kill travelers who came to drink and to water their animals. Colonel Eyre, with the advance column, had lost three men here. As has just been stated, Captain Roberts, following with the wagon train, had fought for six hours to gain possession of the spring and had succeeded only after losing four men killed and wounded. Accordingly, July 27, as General Carleton was on the march from Tucson to the Rio Grande, he issued orders to establish Fort Bowie and garrison it with one hundred men under command of Major T. A. Coult, Fifth Infantry, California Volunteers. The fort was supplied from time to time by passing troops with tents, ammunition, and rations. The Commander of Fort Bowie was instructed to attack the Apaches whenever he found them near his post, to escort all trains and couriers through the pass and well out into the mesa, and to take the liberty of sending out detachments strong enough to give protection to soldiers and settlers when he deemed it wise to do so.

The defenses were completed by August 4; and in a dispatch to Carleton dated August 17, 1862, Coult gives interesting details concerning the erection of this fortification. The defenses were four in number. “Alcatraz (I give the names applied to them by the men who built them) is on the left flank of the camp, 150 feet in length, and commands every point within musket-range in the Canyon toward the road and camping ground of trains. Fort Point, on a slight elevation, covers the rear of the camp and the wagon road up the hill. It is 95 feet in length. Bule Battery overlooks the country and the approaches to the hill on the southwest, or right flank, of the camp. It is 97 feet long, and effectively covers and protects the cattle corral and picket rope of the cavalry detachment. Spring Garden (guarding) overlooks the spring and commands the ravine in which it is situated and every point within musket-range around the spring. This wall is 70 feet long. The total length of wall around the post is 412 feet, the height 4 to 4½ feet, and thickness from 2½ to 3 feet at bottom tapering to 18 inches to 2 feet at top, and built of stones weighing from 25 to 500 pounds. The works are not of any regular form, my only object being to build defenses which could be speedily completed, and at the same time possess the requisites of sheltering their defenders, commanding every aproach to the hill, and protecting each other by flank fires along the faces.”

Captain E. D. Shirland, Company C, California Volunteer Cavalry, reported a sharp engagement with a large band of Apaches late in August, 1862. He was returning from an expedition to Fort Davis when six mounted Indians approached him with a white flag. They seemed to have nothing particular to say for themselves when he talked with them, and as twenty-five other mounted men had appeared, and behind them a large body on foot, Shirland became convinced that the enemy was trying to get him into a trap. He began a running fight, hoping in this way to outdistance the Indians, supposing that the mounted Apaches would, of course, pursue him. They did so for a time, but the soldiers made it too hot for them and they dropped back. The Indians left four dead on the field, and Shirland believed that twenty more were wounded. There were two soldiers wounded.

No important conflicts with the Apaches are reported during the remainder of 1862. General Carleton’s grim order concerning the extermination of all Apache warriors issued to Kit Carson, October 12, and also to Captains N. J. Pishon and William McCleave, did not result in much bloodshed. McCleave and Pishon made diligent efforts to catch and kill the troublesome Mescaleros but without success. These Apaches did not approve of the policy of extermination except as applied to the white. There was, however, another aspect of Carleton’s policy toward hostile Indians which he had also stated dearly–namely, concentration upon reservations. This ultimatum became effective as a result of the vigorous campaign he had ordered. In a report to the Adjutant-General of February 1, 1863, he writes: “The Mescalero Apaches have been completely subdued. I now have 350 of that tribe at Fort Sumner and en route thither. These comprise all that are left of these Indians, except a few who have either run off into Mexico or joined the Gila Apaches. I shall try to settle what have come in on a reservation near Fort Stanton and have them plant fields for their subsistence the coming year.”

The activity of the Army against hostile Indians during 1863 was almost unremitting; yet the results were disappointing. General Carleton states that “not over one scout in four which was made against the Indians” in 1863 was at all successful. To describe in detail the many petty combats and futile expeditions of 1863 would make very dull and barren reading. However, there were a few thrilling events of lasting historic importance during this year, and these I now proceed to relate.

In a letter to the Adjutant-General of the Army, dated January 2, 1863, General Carleton announced his intention of organizing an expedition to send against the constantly hostile band of Apaches around the headwaters of the Gila River, in the region of the famous Copper Mines. Mangas Coloradas was their chief. Carleton stated that it was his intention after whipping this murderous band to establish a fort near Pinos Altos gold mines (in this same locality), both to furnish protection to the miners and for its moral and restraining effect upon the Apaches. January 11 General J. R. West, commanding the District of Arizona, issued an order for four companies of the California Volunteers under Captain William McCleave to take the field against these Gila Apaches, and so important was this expedition considered that the General himself accompanied it.

January 14 Captain E. D. Shirland was detached from the main command, with twenty men, and sent to capture Mangas Coloradas, if possible, who was known to be in the vicinity. In four days Shirland returned with the captive chief. Mangas Coloradas in his talks with Shirland asserted that he was supreme in the region of the Copper Mines and had authority over all of this tribe. But when a member of the band was brought before him red-handed for punishment, the chief declared that he himself was innocent and could not be held responsible for the deeds of another. It was made dear to him that no subterfuge would now avail; that his plea for peaceful intention was only an attempt to escape the punishment that he now saw about to be inflicted upon his band. As he had voluntarily placed himself in Shirland’s hands, West felt that he would not be justified in executing him, but decided at once that he should not be allowed to go free to continue his atrocities. He was told that he would be held a prisoner the rest of his life; that his family would be allowed to join him; and that, if he made any attempt to escape, he would instantly be killed. He was then turned over to a military guard.Citations:

  1. Pumpelly Raphael. Across Americans and Asia. New York, Leypoldt & Holt, 1870.[]


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