The California Column, a force of Union volunteers, marched from April to August 1862 over 900 miles from California, across the southern New Mexico Territory to the Rio Grande and then into western Texas during the American Civil War. At the time, this was the longest trek through desert terrain ever attempted by the U.S. military.
The "California Column" originally consisted of ten companies of the 1st California Infantry, five companies of the 1st Regiment California Volunteer Cavalry, Company B, 2nd Regiment California Volunteer Cavalry and Light Battery A of the Third U.S. Artillery. This command contained 1500 well drilled and disciplined men. Later on, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Bowie's 5th California Infantry was added, bringing the total strength of the Column to 2350 men.
The objective of their commander, Colonel James Henry Carleton (promoted to brigadier general while the column was en route) was to drive Confederate troops out of New Mexico, which they had occupied the previous year. The soldiers of the California Column, both infantry and cavalry, often traveled by foot wearing woolen uniforms in the desert heat. They started out from Fort Yuma along the Colorado River. Much like the Confederate Army of New Mexico (also known as the Sibley Brigade), which had entered New Mexico from Texas in December 1861, they traveled in small groups at intervals of a few days so men and horses would not exhaust the springs and wells along the way. They followed the established route of the Butterfield Overland Mail, which had ceased operation the year before. The mail posts were filled with food and grain which Union spies had stockpiled there before the invasion.
Arizona Confederate volunteers, the Company A, Arizona Rangers, managed to destroy supplies along the Column's route, making its progress extremely slow. Most of Carleton's attempts to send messages to General E. R. S. Canby, the Union's beleaguered departmental commander of New Mexico, were intercepted, and one entire patrol was captured by Confederates at White's Mill at the Pima Indian villages.
The Column engaged the Confederates in two small skirmishes, first at Stanwix Station near the end of March 1862, and then in mid-April at Picacho Pass. Their subsequent rapid approach to Tucson nearly trapped the Confederate rearguard.
After the occupation of Arizona pioneer Sylvester Mowry was arrested at his mine in Mowry, Arizona by the Californians. General Carleton, coincidentally an old enemy of Mowry, charged him with selling lead for musket balls to Confederates. Mowry was imprisoned for six months at Fort Yuma before being released due to the lack of evidence, and as a result his mine was destroyed and he was forced to leave Arizona where he had intended to settle.
It was not until late June that a scout named John W. Jones was able to outrun pursuing Apaches and get a message to Canby: "The Column from California is really coming." On the march to the Rio Grande, 140 men of Company E, 1st California Infantry, and Company B, 2nd California Infantry, fought the famous Apache leader Cochise at Apache Pass in July. By the time the California Column reached the Rio Grande, the Confederates had already retreated to Texas.
- The California Military Museum; The California Column
- Andrew Edward Masich (2006). The Civil War in Arizona: the story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 368. ISBN 0-8061-3747-9. pages 38–39
- The California Column.
- Hunt, Aurora, James Henry Carleton, 1814–1873, Western Frontier Dragoon, Western Military Series II, Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1958.
- Masich, Andrew E., The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-65, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, 2006).
- Orton, Richards H. Brig.-Gen., Records of California Men in the War of the Rebellion, 1861 to 1867, State of California, 1890.
- Hart, Herbert M. "The Civil War in the West". California and the Civil War. The California State Military Museum. Retrieved 20 December 2011.