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Sparky’s Quill: Arizona’s Civil War

The reenactment of the Battle of Picacho Pass.  Photo courtesy
The reenactment of the Battle of Picacho Pass. Photo courtesy

Picacho Peak today. Photo courtesy Google Images Picacho Peak today. Photo courtesy Google Images

A lot of people think that the Civil War took place strictly between the mostly northeastern states and The South. Although The South stretched all the way to Louisiana, we don’t normally consider Arizona being a part of that geographic region. Well, believe it or not, the American Civil War made it all the way over to the southwest. Pichacho Peak State Park is located in southern Arizona. During the California Gold Rush, a wagon road was constructed through the mountain and it was deemed “Picacho Pass.” After the Gold Rush settled down, the pass was used by the Butterfield Overland Stage Company to transport people and goods to the west. However, one of the most interesting events that happened there is known as the most western battle of the Civil War.

April 15th, 1862: Tucson had been occupied by Confederates sympathizers. It was even named the capital of the Confederate Arizona Territory. Afraid that they might expand even further west, a group of Union volunteers were sent from California to Tucson to get the Confederates out. Commanded by Lt. James Barrett, a California cavalryman was ordered to make a sweep of the Picacho Pass area for Confederate troops.

The reenactment of the Battle of Picacho Pass.  Photo courtesy The reenactment of the Battle of Picacho Pass. Photo courtesy

He found them, but instead of heeding his orders to not engage the men, he did anyway. Shots were exchanged and a few Union men were wounded and thrown off their horses. Three Confederates surrendered. While talking to a prisoner, Barrett was shot in the neck and killed instantly. There was a small skirmish until the Union troops retreated. The Confederates regrouped and retreated as well. In all, two union men plus Lt. Barrett died in the Battle of Picacho Pass while the Confederate column lost three men as prisoners.

In March, the Picacho Peak State Park holds an annual reenactment of the battle in their “Civil War in the Southwest” event. They reenact the Battle of Picacho Pass as well as the New Mexico battles of Glorieta and Val Verde. Civil War reenactors from across the country wear authentic soldier’s uniforms and use historically accurate guns. The Civil War is the most reenacted war in the United States. Since those of us who live in the west are so far away from major battle sites like Gettysburg or Vicksburg, it’s a rare opportunity to see history come to life right before our eyes.


Want to talk Civil War Battles? Have a burning historical question? Drop us a line at or find us on Twitter @sparkysquill.

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