How Arizona Seceded From the Union

The United States acquired a vast area of the Southwest with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (May 30, 1848), which included all or part of the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, Texas and Utah. As part of the treaty, Mexico agreed to sell the land (more than 1,000,000 square miles) to the United States for $15 million. The U.S. also agreed to pay any indemnities. The southern border of said lands was 34 degrees north latitude. Then-President Franklin Pierce had achieved a railroad right-of-way through the southern part of what is now Arizona.

But it wasn’t until 1853 that a clear border existed between the United States and Mexico. After five years of wrangling, the two countries agreed on a southern border for the territory of 31 degrees latitude with the Gadsden Purchase[1] The transaction was named for the Southern railroad man, James Gadsden. Mexican President Santa Ana signed the agreement, in which Mexico surrendered 29,640 square miles for $10 million. The purchase completed manifest destiny. President Polk had added more territory to the United States than any president other than Thomas Jefferson with his Louisiana Purchase.

However, the purchase failed to include coastline on the shores of the Gulf of California. There were three points of value with the purchase: 1) The potential for vast mineral wealth, 2) the securing of supply lines and routes, and 3) the West was important for establishing the economic futures of both North and South.[2]

The treaty, article XI, required the United States to restrain Indians from making incursions into Mexico under penalty of paying all claims against Mexican citizens resulting from such Indian activity. But it was too much rough country and too expensive for the young American government to protect, so President Pierce included in Article II a provision stating the United States responsibilities in that regard were abrogated.

Secretary of War Jefferson Davis established Fort Yuma and Fort Defiance, located in what is now Arizona, but the installations were hundreds of miles apart, preventing the Army from doing much of anything on the Mexican-American border. Finally, in 1856 significant numbers of troops were sent to Arizona to protect citizens from Indians and lawless whites.[3] Two more forts were established by the Army of the Department of New Mexico, but by comparison to other regions of the country, Arizona had few troops because it was thought more important priorities lay elsewhere. The few troops located in New Mexico territory were stationed in Northern Arizona and eastern New Mexico to deal with Navajos. Most of the U.S. Army, Department of New Mexico, was needed in concentrated numbers on the northeast plains because of Comanche troubles in Texas.

As early as 1856, Arizona residents agitated for territorial status. People even signed a petition at a convention in Tucson. Nathan P. Cook was chosen as the representative to Washington, D.C., but he was a denied a seat. A second petition was sent the next year and also rejected. They sought recognition separate from New Mexico, so a constitutional convention was held in Tucson to organize a government to operate as long as Arizona was unorganized by Congress. Some officers were elected, others were appointed, but there is no evidence the government ever functioned, according to Yoder.

Yoder said Washington, D.C., was indifferent to Arizona’s plight because of perceived Confederate sympathies in the population. Perceptions in Washington proved true.

In the summer of 1861, Arizona residents ran up the Confederate flag and conducted yet another convention. This time their intent was for secession. The proclamation said in part:

ARIZONA ORDINANCE OF SECESSION

Passed by the People of Arizona in Convention Assembled at La Mesilla, Arizona Territory, March 16, 1861

“WHEREAS, a sectional party of the North has disregarded the Constitution of the United States, violated the rights of the Southern States,   failed to give us adequate protection against the savages within our midst and has denied us an administration of the laws, and that security for life, liberty, and property WHEREAS, it is an inherent, inalienable right in all people to modify, alter, or abolish their form of government WHEREAS, in a government of federated, sovereign States, each State has a right to withdraw from the confederacy whenever the treaty by which the league is formed, is broken; and WHEREAS, Arizona naturally belongs to the Confederate States of America (who have rightfully and lawfully withdrawn from said league), both geographically and politically, by ties of a common interest and a common cause; and WHEREAS we, the citizens of that part of New Mexico called Arizona; therefore be it RESOLVED, That our feelings and interests are with the Southern States, and that although we deplore the division of the Union, yet we cordially indorse the course pursued by the seceded Southern States RESOLVED, That we will not recognize the present Black Republican Administration, and that we will resist any officers appointed to this Territory by said Administration with whatever means in our power.[4]

The same 68 voters at the convention chose territory businessman Granville Oury as delegate to the Confederate Congress in Richmond.[5]

 When war broke out in the East in April, 1861, orders had already been issued by Union Gen. David Twiggs to surrender all Union posts in Texas (February) and New Mexico had already been declared a Confederate territory (March 16). Orders were given by Gen. Edward R.S. Canby for troops to destroy all forts and supplies in the New Mexico Territory and head for the Grande Valley in Texas in support of U.S. forces there.[6]

Union officers in the Department of New Mexico resigned their commissions in droves. Most of them joined the Confederate States of America. However, most of the enlisted men remained loyal to the Union.[7]

To capture and control the Intermountain West for the confederacy, Union officers turned-Confederates hoped for assistance from their own enlisted men and from Indians. Author Colton claimed U.S. Secretary of War John B. Floyd intentionally sent Col. William W. Loring of North Carolina, a secessionist, to command the Department of New Mexico. Colton asserted in The Civil War in the Western Territories that Loring and his subordinate, Lt. Col. George B. Crittenden of Kentucky, also a secessionist, systematically corrupted their subordinates to lead their men to Texas to support the rebellion.

They were not the only ones to do so. Maj. Henry Hopkins Sibley, after leaving his command for Texas, wrote to Loring, “We are at last under the glorious banner of the Confederate States of America … I regret more than ever the sickly sentimentality … by which I was overruled in my desire to bring the whole command with me.” Sibley returned to New Mexico several months later as a brigadier general in charge of Confederate troops.[8] Sibley started with 3,000 troopers, but lost nearly 400 due to smallpox, pneumonia and other diseases.

Maj. Isaac Lynde ordered posts at Breckenridge, Mojave and Buchanan in the region called Arizona abandoned and burned in June 1861. Robinson wrote that Unionists expected a Confederate government and army to be formed in the area. Therefore, cannons were spiked and buried, and other supplies were destroyed or burned. The troops were then moved to Ft. Craig, N.M. The troops were said to be bitter at their officers’ cowardice.[9]

Apaches filled the vacuum left by vacating Union soldiers. Cochise and his Chiricahua warriors began attacking settlers. Near Tubac, Mexican banditos moved into the area from the Mexican state of Sonora. But American civilians armed themselves, gathered together and fought off Indians and bandits alike. Grant Oury led one of the citizen bands before joining the Confederacy.

Maj. Lynde, with 500 disciplined troops, had removed east to Ft. Fillmore. But he had bad intelligence on the strength of Confederate troops, which had wrongly been estimated to be double their actual numbers. He surrendered to Lt. Col. John Baylor’s Texas riflemen without firing a shot. Lynde was soon dismissed from the Union Army for cowardice.[10]

 Baylor organized the Territory of Arizona of the Confederate States of America Aug. 1, 1861, which proclamation said in part,

“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 may otherwise provide.

I, John R. Baylor, lieutenant-colonel, commanding the Confederate Army in the Territory of Arizona, hereby take possession of said Territory in the name and behalf of the Confederate States of America.”[11]

He located his headquarters in Mesilla and declared himself military governor. But he did not have legal standing yet until the government said so.

The CSA passed an enabling act, which President Jefferson Davis signed into Confederate law Jan. 18, 1862, making Arizona a territory separate from the United States. Davis issued a formal proclamation Feb. 14, 1862. Hummel, in Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, compared the CSA’s proclamation of Arizona, and subsequent secession, to the Union’s creation of West Virginia from Virginia.[12] But the two situations weren’t the same. West Virginia was a state created from another state without the majority vote of the existing state legislature. In contrast, the C.S.A. Territory of Arizona was created by vote of existing citizens who had no government of any kind. Slavery was protected in the new territory of Arizona, but not in West Virginia.

Also at Mesilla, the Arizona Guards was formed to protect settlers from Indians. Baylor wrote a note to a certain Capt. Helm saying the Confederate States of America congress had passed a law requiring extermination of all Indians. This wasn’t true. The order went on to say all Indians should be tricked into coming in for peace talks. Then the men should all be killed when drunk, and the women and children kept as prisoners. Baylor is said to have poisoned a sack of flour and killed 50-60 Indians. When President Davis heard of the order, he rightly fired Baylor and stripped him of all military and civilian authority.[13]

On Feb. 21, 1862, Sibley’s troops fought Gen. Edward R.S. Canby’s Union troops at Val Verde, near Ft. Craig, N.M., in the first major southwestern battle. The fighting was fierce. At first, New Mexico volunteers under the leadership of Christopher “Kit” Carson held the center of the line against the yelling Rebels. But a second rebel charge carried the battle. Sibley moved his men north past Ft. Craig in an attempt to capture Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Union troops numbering about 1,300 men left Fort Union and cut off Sibley’s men at Glorietta Pass in a tough battle nicknamed the “Gettysburg of the West.” Union Maj. J.M. Chivington outflanked the Confederates, burning their supply train and bayoneting several hundred rebel horses and mules. Some sources describe the battle as hand-to-hand combat with bayonets and fists.

Sibley, suffering devastating losses injured and killed, retreated back toward Texas with 1,900 survivors. Chivington allowed him to withdraw, choosing not to follow up his victory.

The Confederates abandoned all, including sick and wounded men, except what could be carried by the soldiers. To make matters worse, Dog Canyon Apaches attacked those men left behind, killing and scalping them. The Confederate invasion force staggered back to Ft. Bliss, Texas, with about 1,000 men, suffering from one-half to one-third killed, wounded and captured.[14]

Sibley’s enlisted men didn’t like him and thought him an incompetent drunk, according to several secondary sources. But DeWitt proves through Confederate communiqués and personal letters that Sibley was actually very sick and using alcohol for purposes of pain relief.

Interestingly, there were two Gen. Sibleys in the West. Union Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley served in Indian Territory, but never saw Confederates in uniform except as prisoners of war. Then there was Confederate Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley, formerly a Union officer, who led the invasion of New Mexico. It is said his men would tease him with pictures of his namesake in blue.[15]

Meanwhile, in early 1862, Capt. Sherod Hunter led his 100 mounted Texas troopers into western Arizona and arrived Feb. 28 in Tucson to a welcome citizenry. The welcome atmosphere was ostensibly because there was no other law “west of the Pecos.” Actually, there wasn’t a sheriff, court or civil government between Texas and Los Angeles.

Confederate diplomat (or agent if you will) Col. James O’Reily stopped by Tucson to visit Hunter and enjoy the victory festivities while traveling from Chihuahua to Sonora. O’Reily had a letter of introduction from Confederate Gen. Sibley to Mexican Gov. Don Ignacio Pesquiero with the intent of opening international negotiations between the C.S.A. and Mexico. O’Reily only succeeded in obtaining permission to pay cash (gold or silver) when purchasing supplies. Confederate currency would not be accepted. It was actually rather humiliating, but he passed the whole thing off to his superiors as a victory.

But unknown to O’Reily, a Tucson reporter stole copies of O’Reily’s letter of introduction and other papers, and secreted them to Gen. George Wright, commander of the Union Army of the Pacific, who in turn sent a gunboat to the Mexican port of Guaymas. Pesquiero was “persuaded” to consider the presence of any Confederate troops in his state to be a foreign invasion. Confederate diplomacy in Mexico had failed.

The same day O’Reily left for Sonora (March 3), Col. Hunter went north from Tucson to the Pima Villages to arrest Ammi White, a miller who had stockpiled 1,500 sacks of wheat in preparation for a Union advance from California.

Ahead of the California Column, moving east from the coast, Union Capt. William McCleave led a small force toward the Pima Villages, with the intent of continuing on to Tucson to capture Col. Hunter. But Hunter’s pickets, detailed to burn stockpiles of hay prepared for the Union advance, saw McCleave first and a trap was set. Hunter sent miller White away to Tucson under guard. Hunter then dressed as White, and when McCleave knocked on the door, Hunter answered pretending to be the miller and captured McCleave’s force.[16] McCleave was also sent to Tucson.

Another Union force of 272 men was sent under Capt. William P. Calloway to Arizona to find out what happened to McCleave. North of Tucson, Calloway was informed by his Indian scout that Confederates were nearby. Calloway sent Lt. Barrett to flank the rebels. But Barrett got in a hurry and attacked at Picacho Pass before the support element could catch up. Barrett was shot in the neck and died. The Union troops retreated to Stanwix Station, west of Tucson; and the Rebels retreated to Tucson.

Hunter was greatly outnumbered by the California column and saw no value in staying in Arizona. He evacuated May 4, 1862, barely more than two months after capturing Tucson. Hunter’s force was ambushed east of Benson by Apaches at Dragoon Spring, at a cost of several men and animals.

Col. Carleton and his 1,800-strong California Column arrived in Tucson in mid May, capturing the town without a shot. Carleton declared martial law and designated himself military governor, citing the lack of civil government to protect life, liberty and property. All citizens were compelled to take an oath of loyalty to the United States. No unpatriotic words or actions were tolerated. All men were required to have a legitimate means of livelihood. Trials of any kind were held before a military commission. Income taxes were levied upon all businesses and designated for the hospital fund for the care of all sick and wounded in the California Column.[17]

Carleton arrested a prosperous local businessman named Sylvester Mowry and confiscated his mine for allegedly writing letters to well-known secessionists such as Jefferson Davis, Gen. Sibley and Col. Hunter. Mowry was sent to Ft. Yuma for several months’ imprisonment. But after six months he was released by Gen. Wright, commander of the Union Army, Department of the Pacific.[18] Meanwhile, Carleton sold the mine at public auction.

By mid-July, all Confederate troops were out of the Arizona Territory and back in Texas. They were defeated in the end, but had actually accomplished quite a lot. In little less than two months the two small forces had captured more than 30,000 square miles.

“Sibley’s courageous brigade was successful in battle, but eventually lost the campaign due to an accumulation of logistical deficiencies,” according to DeWitt.[19] And Hunter’s force was just too small for any holding of land or engaging in large-scale battle. In the end, Hunter and his force made it to Texas. He continued to serve the Confederacy in the East throughout the war.

In June, following a promotion to brigadier general, Carleton sent five companies of infantry toward new Mexico, followed two days later by two more companies of the same and an artillery battery, and four more companies two days later, Company E acting as vanguard for the entire group was attacked by Chiracahuas at Apache Pass. Seven hundred Apaches – 500 Chiracahuas and 200 Mimbres – under the leadership of Cochise and Mangas Coloradas, had joined forces to drive out the whites (soldiers, miners, etc.).

As the soldiers of Company E passed through the pass they were attacked from the rocks above on both sides of the road. The troops retreated and reformed. They had just marched 40 miles through the desert in the hottest part of the year, temperatures averaging 110 degrees F, and needed water from the spring in the heart of the pass. Using their howitzers, the troops drove out the Indians and got to the water. Capt. Thomas Roberts lost two men killed and three wounded. The Apaches lost 66 men – three by rifle fire and 63 by cannon fire.[20]

Carleton later established Ft. Bowie on the site of the Apache Pass battle. He was subsequently promoted to commander of the Department of New Mexico, succeeding Gen. Canby. The union Army was now solidly in charge of the Southwest, having driven the Confederates out of Arizona and New Mexico. Their job for the next four years was to suppress the Indians and protect the settlers, even though the Civil War was still far from over. But not all of the Confederates were out of business.


[1] Yoder, Phillip D. The History of Fort Whipple. Thesis. University of Ariz., 1951, pg. 1.

[2] Colton, Ray C. The Civil War in the Western Territories. University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma, 1959, pg. 4.

[3] Yoder, pg. 2.

[4] Arizona Proclamation of Secession.

[5] Yoder, pg. 3.

[6] DeWitt, Ron. March to Glorietta: An Analysis of Combat Logistics. Thesis. American Military University, 2011, pg. 7.

[7] Robinson, Will H. The Story of Arizona. The Berryhill Company, Phoenix, 1919, pg. 140.

[8] Colton, pg. 6.

[9] Robinson, pg. 140-141.

[10] Ibid, pg. 141.

[11] Baylor’s Proclamation of C.S.A. Territory of Arizona.

[12] Hummel, Jeffrey Rogers. Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. Open court Publishing Company, Chicago, 1998, pg. 147.

[13] Robinson, pg. 144.

[14] Wagoner, Jay J. Arizona Territory 1863-1912: A Political History. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1970, pg. 9.

[15] Garrison, Webb. Civil War Curiosities, Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, 1994, pg. 192.

[16] Wagoner, pg. 11.

[17] Wagoner, pg. 17.

[18] Robinson, pg. 147-148.

[19] DeWitt, pg. 5.

[20] Robinson, pg. 151.

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