The California Column

  • Print

In 1862, the California Column commanded by Colonel Carlton was ordered to send over 2,000 men to the Rio Grande River in New Mexico – over 900 miles away – to drive invading Texan rebels out of Arizona Territory. These men traveled by foot, from April to August, through the desert – with 120 degree temperature in full wool uniforms. They traveled in groups of 400 to conserve water for the men and horses, and stayed in a series of forts spread out between the Drum Barracks and the Rio Grande.

The journey consisted of about 2,350 men and was done largely on foot, in summer, wearing wool uniforms and carrying heavy rifles and knapsacks. In a very hot and dry environment, not one man was lost due to non-battle causes. The hike from Wilmington, California to El Paso, Texas has been reported to be the longest infantry march in infantry history.

By the time they arrived at the Rio Grande, the Confederates had already retreated, but they fought two small battles on their way: Picacho Pass and Apache Pass. Union scouts ran into Confederate pickets at Picacho Pass. As a result of this skirmish, three Union soldiers were killed and two were wounded. One Confederate soldier was killed, four were wounded, three were taken prisoner and one escaped. This was the only time members of the California Column engaged Confederate troops, and is considered the westernmost battle during the War.

On July 9th, 140 men of Co. E, 1st California Infantry and Co. B, California Infantry left Tucson with supplies for the Rio Grande. When they reached the Apache Pass they were ambushed by a strong force under Indian Chief Cochise. The outnumbered Californians used two mountain howitzers (small canons) and survived the two-day battle with only two dead. 63 Apaches also died during this battle.