150 Years Later–The Battle of Picacho Pass, part 3

Part three in a series.

Burial site of Lt. Barrett

Lieut. Jas. Barrett
1st Cav. Cal. Vols
Killed in action April 15th 1862
aged 28 years

 Geo. Johnson, Co. A
1st Cav. Cal. Vols
Killed April 15th 1862 aged 25 years

 W. S. Leonard, Co. D
1st Cav. Cal. Vols
died of wounds April 16th, 1862

. . . and that is all there is, now.

Lieutenant Barrett was buried on the site of the battle, but time and the desert took his crackerbox headboard somewhere else, and his body could never be found for reburial at Fort Lowell, in Tucson. Privates Johnson and Leonard were laid to rest at Fort Lowell, until 1892. At that point, the fort was deactivated. Johnson and Leonard were moved to the Presidio, in San Francisco. They rest there today, in Section WS, at sites 1366 (Johnson) and 1291 (Leonard). They are not far away from each other, and the National Cemetery is beautiful and peaceful. Their stones are in good shape, and I left Easter lilies for them. I hope, somehow, that they know I tried. I will go back in July, with flags.Lieutenant Barrett was not so lucky. In July 1862 Colonel Carleton and Lieutenant John B. Shinn attempted to describe the location of the three graves. They were “on the left of the road to Tucson near a mesquite thicket and a dry chalcos (a water hole) on the right of the road, 13.9 miles from Blue Water Station, south of the Pima villages and one mile from Picacho Station.” This was the location of the graves of Leonard and Johnson, but Barrett had apparently been buried elsewhere, and soon all traces of his grave were lost.

In 1928, the Arizona Historical Society and the Southern Pacific Railroad erected a fifteen-foot stone obelisk on the spot believed to be the burial site. In 1975, when the bronze memorial plaque was stolen, the Arizona State Parks Department decided to move the monument closer to the entrance to Picacho Peak State Park. Barrett’s marker currently stands in the small parking lot on park grounds.

George Johnson grave.

Three young soldiers died at the small skirmish of Picacho Pass. What then? Colonel Carleton ordered that: “Until the end of the War, the names of Johnson and Leonard be called at every stated roll-call of their respective companies, and a comrade shall always respond, ‘He died for his country!'” A depot, built between Yuma and Tucson and the only source of supplies in the area, was named Camp Barrett, in honor of the fallen lieutenant.

Earlier, on March 26 1862 the Confederates had lost the Battle of Glorietta Pass to Major E. R. S. Canby’s forces, and as that battle was being fought, Major John Chivington’s Colorado men were burning the entire Confederate supply train on its way to Fort Union.

On May 20, 1862, Captain Emil Fritz’s Company B of the First California Cavalry took Tucson without any opposition, except for the Mexican-style water drains that hung out over the street from the flat roofs of the buildings downtown. They were initially thought to be gun muzzles . . . (Hey! Have you seen those things? Anybody could have made the same mistake!)

By June 21, the Californians were moving forward to control the Rio Grande, and that about wrapped it up for the Confederate Plan for World Domination. August 1862 saw the California Column reach the Rio Grande, where Carleton succeeded Canby as Commander of the Department of New Mexico.  By September, the District of Arizona was defined as stretching from the Colorado River to the Rio Grande.  There was no serious opposition from Sibley’s beaten Confederates for the rest of the war.

W. S. Leonard grave.

Unfortunately, the Native Americans were not so easily convinced of Union might or Union right.  The Chiricahua Apaches, under the “command” of Cochise, murdered three Union soldiers and four Confederates in Apache Pass.  On July 16, the Apaches, reinforced by Mangas Coloradas’s Mimbreño Apaches, fought Captain Thomas L. Roberts’s California Column in the “largest armed conflict ever to take place between U. S. troops and the Apaches in Arizona.”  The support of a two-mountain howitzer artillery unit under Lieutenant William A. Thompson saved the battle.  Native attacks on both soldiers and civilians continued to be an issue for years afterward.

On October 13, 1862, General Halleck, Lincoln’s General in Chief, wrote from Washington that the trek of the California Column was: “one of the most creditable marches on record.  I only wish our Army here had the mobility and endurance of the California troops.”

Ultimately, Sibley was defeated as much by his inability to resupply his troops in the inhospitable southwestern desert as he was by Canby’s men from the north, and the relentless pressure applied by Carleton’s command from the west–the California Column.

Recommended Reading:

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

Blood & Treasure, by Donald S. Frazier

The Civil War In the American West, by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.

The Civil War in Arizona, by Andrew E. Masich

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

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