There was Civil War Where???? Part One

Confederate General Earl Van Dorn

When most people talk about the “Campaign in the West,” in terms of the American Civil War, Shiloh and Pittsburgh Landing come to mind, or perhaps General Fremont.  There was actually Civil War much farther west—in California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Just as the nation of America was settled east to west and west to east, so the Civil War developed.  The United States Army, all 16,000 or so members of it, was all there was to protect the new state of California, the territories of New Mexico and Arizona and troublesome Texas from the uncivilized world of the Far West.

Texas had made her intentions clear from the beginning—if there was going to be a Confederacy, she was joining!  By the end of January of 1861, Texas officially seceded.  David Twiggs, at 70, was brought out of retirement to become the Commander of Texas for the Union.  His sole responsibility to the lame-duck Buchanan administration was to protect and retain all Federal property in the rebellious area.

Texas did not see it that way.  A Committee of Public Safety was created, which appointed Ben McCullough (who was later killed at the Battle of Pea Ridge) to raise a local army and negotiate the surrender of all Federal properties in the former state of Texas with General Twiggs.

Confederate Major General David "Bengal Tiger" Twiggs

On February 16, McCullough and about 1,000 men of the secessionist San Antonio militia went to Twiggs’s house to demand the immediate surrender of the San Antonio garrison, and the evacuation of all seventeen Texas-based forts.  At first Twiggs refused, but then reconsidered his position.  He had received no guidance at all from Washington, and he did not want to be the man to order the firing of the first shot in a Civil War.  Finally he agreed to surrender San Antonio and evacuate the other forts, on the condition that the troops be allowed to take their weapons and light artillery to the port at Corpus Christi, and return north.

The planned evacuation was never completed for political and logistical reasons.  Fort Bliss, for example, was 550 miles away, and troops would have to close up the fort, march across Texas to San Antonio, and then to Corpus Christi.  Washington, upon hearing of the situation, accused Twiggs of treachery and fired him before any forts were evacuated.  Confederate Earl Van Dorn, now commander of the Department of Texas,  stepped in with an interim solution:  he simply imprisoned all Federal troops at Camp Tyler for the duration of the war.  In this manner, Texas gained the forts, arsenals, and logistical support of an army without firing a shot.

Texas, as a former part of the Union, received a moderate welcome into the Confederacy.  The territories of New Mexico and Arizona were not welcomed at all.  It was part of the Confederate Plan for World Domination to use Texas as a bridge to California, which would give the Confederacy warm-water seaports on the Pacific, the mineral wealth west of the Rockies, and a jumping-off point for conquering Mexico.  The issues that plagued the western part of Texas and the territories mentioned were not part of that plan.

Geographically, west Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona were (are) miserable places in which to maintain an army (or take a vacation).  It is hot, dusty, lacking water, pretty much shade-free, and in general an awful place to be.  At that time, there were no large cities anywhere, no railroads, and the farming was subsistence at best, starvation at worst—and worst was not that uncommon. It was next to impossible to successfully provision and support men and animals in this huge, inhospitable region.

Sociologically, the problems were even greater.  Texas, as a political entity, had done all it could to rid itself of its resident Native Americans.  Differences in ideas between the white settlers and the native population concerning land ownership were insurmountable.  Native people just didn’t “get” the idea of personal property when it came to land, and several Texans had difficulty understanding the virtue of sharing.  Many of those same Texans did not, however, have difficulty with the “virtue” of killing.  A lot of Native Americans died due to these misunderstandings.

Those who did not die were moved to reservations, but they did not stay there very much.  In fact, they only showed up when the weather was too cold to go raiding, of which they did a lot, apparently.  There was killing involved on both sides.

Prior to secession, it was the responsibility of the U. S. government to protect its citizens living in Texas and the western territories.  Afterward, the Confederacy inherited these issues.  It had enough to deal with already, so President Davis informed Texas that the natives were a Texan problem, and should be dealt with as such.  There would be no troops or money forthcoming–in fact, Texas was now expected to contribute men, money, and materiel to the Cause, and thank you very much.

Colonel John Baylor CSA.

The area referred to as the Arizona Territory, today the states of Arizona and New Mexico, was initially sympathetic to the Confederacy.  In August 1861 they voted themselves into the South.  The Confederacy needed them for only one reason: they connected Texas to California, securing a sea-to-sea nation for the South.

Confederate Colonel John Baylor began his “Arizona Campaign” that June, taking 350 Texas Mounted Rifles up the Rio Grande from Fort Bliss to Fort Fillmore, near present-day Las Cruces.  700 members of the 7th U. S. Cavalry garrisoned Fillmore, under the command of Major Isaac Lynde.  Lynde ordered his men to attack, but after losing eleven men (four killed, seven wounded), he withdrew, fired the fort, and retreated.  His dehydrated troops were overtaken by Baylor, captured, and then paroled.  They continued to march to Fort Union, where they rejoined the effort against the Confederacy.  The Mescalero Apaches took over what was left of Fort Fillmore.

Colonel Baylor issued the following proclamation to the people of the Territory of Arizona on August 1, 1861:

The social and political condition of Arizona being little short of general anarchy, and the people being literally destitute of law, order and protection, the said territory, from the date hereof, is hereby declared temporarily organized as a military government until such time as congress shall otherwise provide. I, John Baylor, Lieutenant- Colonel, commanding the Confederate army in the territory of Arizona, hereby take possession of said territory in the name and on behalf of the Confederate States of America. For all purposes herein specified, and until otherwise decreed or provided the Territory of Arizona shall comprise all of that portion of New Mexico lying below the 34th parallel of North latitude.

Recommended Reading:

The Civil War In the Western Territories, by Ray C. Colton

Blood & Treasure, by Donald S. Frazier

The Civil War in Arizona, by Andrew E. Masich

New Mexico and the Civil War, by Dr. Walter Earl Pittman

2 Responses to There was Civil War Where???? Part One

  1. Interesting you use the term ‘world dominationn’ in the beginning of your essay to describe the drive to California. I am more familiar with the term ‘manifest destiny’ . Domination seems a bit much for 1861 Texas/Confederacy. Interesting area of action in the early War. As a Chivington student, I find this area most interesting. Am doing research on him and his family. In New Mexico he becomes a hero by accident. It is here that he begins to show traits of cruelty that will follow him till his death.

  2. Great article! Ben McCulloch was one of the great Texas Rangers of the Early Republic-Mexican War era.
    There is a photo in Michael Collins’ “Texas Devils: Rangers and Regulars on the Lower Rio Grande, 1846-1861” that is thought to be McCulloch’s militia on top of the Veramendi Palace after the capture of San Antonio. Unfortunately, the house is longer standing, all that remains are the front doors which are on display at the Alamo Shrine.

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