Union men against rebels and Indians in the South West
The story of the California Column is one of the most remarkable of the American Civil War. Whilst the war was one of a nation divided, each side was not a geographical whole. Much of the war was fought in the east but the vastness of the continent meant that both sides held territory far to the West, separated from their principal forces and seats of government by the American wilderness. In 1862 a force of Union volunteers marched some 900 miles from California to take the war to the Confederacy in New Mexico and western Texas. At the time it was the longest march ever attempted through desert by the U.S Army. Inevitably this incursion into the wild lands of the frontier brought the force into contact and collision with another enemy—the fierce warriors of the Indians of the south western plains. The author of this book was a serving officer of the California Column and he left three separate pieces about his experiences, which have been gathered together in this single volume special Leonaur edition. Of special note is the detailed account of the action now known as the First Battle of Adobe Walls. Near the site of the epic siege by buffalo hunters against Quanah Parker after the war, California Column troops under the command of the legendary Kit Carson held off a vastly numerically superior force of Comanches and Kiowas. Pettis was in command of the units howitzers and it is considered that his actions and the influence of artillery probably saved the Union force from annihilation. Available in softcover and hardcover with dustjacket.
A permanent camp was established at the Pima villages and an earth work was thrown lip about the flour mill of Ammi White, who had been carried away, a prisoner,, by the rebels a few weeks before. This earth work was named Fort Barrett, in honour of the lieutenant who had been killed in the skirmish at the Picacho Pass. It required several weeks for the “Column” to get to this point, as only detachments of not over four companies could move over the route through Southern California and through the entire length of Arizona, within twenty-four hours of each other, on account of the scarcity of water. <br>
On the 15th of May. Colonel West and his advance detachment moved out of the Pima villages for Tucson. They left the overland route at the Sacatone Station, going via White’s Ranch, through the Casas Grandes, Rattlesnake Springs, and arrived at old Fort Breckenridge, near the confluence of the Gila and San Pedro Rivers, where the American flag was run up again, on the flag staff of the fort, amid the hurrahs of the men, and the field music playing the “Star Spangled Banner.”<br>
At this point the Pima Indian herders, who had been employed to drive along the live stock of the command, and some others who had been employed as scouts, refused to go any further, and demanded their pay of the quartermaster. They asserted that the command was too small to take Tucson; that they were greatly outnumbered by the rebels, and besides, there were rifle pits fully manned, more than a mile in length to be overcome. They were allowed to return home.<br>
The command encamped that night in the Cañon 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 sent for ward, the first platoon to make a detour and come in on the east side of the town; the second platoon, under Lieutenant Juan Francisco Guirado, afterwards aide-de-camp on the staff of Brigadier General Joseph R. West, in New Mexico, and later in Arkansas and Missouri, since deceased, was to charge in on the north side, while the four companies of infantry were to move directly on the road, and come in at the west side of the town.<br>
The programme was completely carried out, as the three parties came on to the plaza of Tucson at the same moment, the cavalry at a charge, and the infantry on the double quick, but found no enemy. In fact, there was no enemy, nor were there any people, the only living things found within the limits of the town, were an unsuspected number of dogs and cats. The rebels, before they had hurriedly left, had publicly announced that the “Abs” would soon take the fair city, which would then be given over to the ravages of a brutal soldiery.<br>
The rebels retreated to the Rio Grande accompanied by a number of desperadoes, amongst whom was the notorious Judge(?) Ed. McGowan, of San Francisco, of “Vigilante Days” fame, who were also rebels at heart, while the Mexican population, men, women and children, started southward for the Sonora line. Good quarters were found here for the troops, and it required two months time, or until July 20th, to get the “Column” assembled here, with food and forage enough to make another start. Everything, except a small amount of wheat, which was purchased of the Pima Indians, was brought by teams from Southern California, via Fort Yuma, a distance of several hundred miles.<br>
No forage or food could be had in or about Tucson, and the men could eat nearly as much as the few trains could bring up. 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 15th, a party of three persons, consisting of Sergeant William Wheeling, Company F, 1st Infantry, expressman John Jones, and a Mexican guide named Chaves, left Tucson with dispatches for General Canby, written on tissue paper.<br>
It was afterwards learned that this party was attacked by Apache Indians as they were emerging out of the Apache Pass, on the 18th; Chaves was killed at the first fire and Sergeant Wheeling was seriously wounded, he soon fell from his horse, and was immediately dispatched. Their bodies were afterwards found horribly mutilated, disembowelled and “spread-eagled”—fires having been built over them, and were filled with arrows, after the manner of “John Apache.”<br>
Years afterwards the same fate fell to Jones. Jones escaped almost by a miracle, and getting through the Indians, who followed him for a long distance, he succeeded after a ride of over two hundred miles, in reaching the Rio Grande, at Picacho, a small village about five miles above Mesilla. Here he was taken prisoner by the rebels, who brought him before Colonel William Steele, who examined him, took his dispatches, and threw him into jail. He managed, however, to get word to General Canby that he was there, and that the “California Column” was really coming, an achievement that was considered absolutely impracticable.