The Controversial Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops

The Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, located east of the Arizona state capitol, includes an impressive array of historical memorials. Among them are memorials about World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, and multiple memorials about World War II. There’s also a conspicuous memorial to the Arizona Confederate troops that fought in the Civil War.

Arizona Confederate memorial
Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops (Jeff Burgess)
The Civil War in Arizona

You might be surprised to learn that Arizona was involved in the Civil War. It began when all Union cavalry units stationed in Arizona were ordered east to fight after the war began in April, 1861. Confederate troops advancing from west Texas subsequently defeated Union forces remaining in southern New Mexico Territory at Mesilla on July 27, 1861. The Confederate commander, Lieutenant Colonel John Baylor, unilaterally proclaimed the existence of the Confederate Territory of Arizona, with Mesilla as its capital. It  was the largest town in Confederate Arizona, which included all of present-day southern New Mexico and Arizona. The boundaries were roughly based upon the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. (The lands acquired in the purchase were often called Arizona by the local white settlers.) Baylor also formed a Confederate cavalry unit by mustering in a local militia, called the Arizona Rangers, that had been organized to fight Apaches.

Baylor’s declaration was welcomed by  the white population, as a local committee of Southern sympathizers had already voted for secession in March. The Confederate Congress, however, didn’t officially create the Confederate Territory of Arizona until early 1862, after which it was officially proclaimed by Confederate President Jefferson Davis on February 14, 1862.

Confederate forces in southern New Mexico, now being led by Brigadier General Henry Sibley, began an invasion of northern New Mexico in February 1862. The Confederates hoped to capture all of New Mexico, and then Colorado, and eventually extend their territory all the way to Pacific Ocean ports in southern California, where there were many Confederate sympathizers. As part of this strategy, Company A of the Confederate Arizona Rangers, commanded by Captain Sherod Hunter, was ordered to occupy Tucson and did so on February 27th, 1862. Most Tucson residents were happy about it, because the Apaches had been on a rampage since the departure of the Union troops, and they hoped the Confederate soldiers would protect them.

The Union, however, wasn’t going to let Confederate ambitions in the Southwest go unchallenged. Confederate sympathizers in southern California were suppressed and a volunteer Union army, called the California Column, was raised in late 1861 to drive Confederate forces out of Arizona and New Mexico. The Californians, commanded by Colonel James Carleton, began their advance from Yuma up the Gila River in February, 1862. They were forced to travel in a series of small groups to get across the Sonoran Desert, and they followed the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail’s stagecoach service, stopping at established stage stations. After they reached the Pima villages along the Gila River south of Phoenix, they turned south to cross the open desert to reach Tucson, going through Picacho Pass, as does present day Interstate 10.

map of civil war in arizona

Captain Hunter’s small force did its best to harass the advance of the numerically superior California Column. They ambushed Union forces at Stanwix Station on March 29, 1862, resulting in one Union soldier being wounded. The Confederate patrol involved in that fight was led by 2nd Lieutenant John “Jack” Swilling, who later founded the city of Phoenix in 1867.

Stanwix Station
Stanwix Station, Arizona, circa 1876 (Sharlot Hall Museum)

Then on April 15, 1862, Union and Confederate patrols clashed at the Battle of Picacho Pass. The Union forces suffered 3 killed and 3 wounded, their dead including the commanding officer Lieutenant James Barrett of the 1st California Cavalry. The Confederates, commanded by Sergeant Henry Holmes, suffered 3 captured.

Captain Hunter’s main force abandoned Tucson on May 14, 1862, because he didn’t have the manpower needed to defend it against the oncoming California Column. Union cavalry took the town on May 20th, almost capturing Hunter’s rear guard. Many of the town’s citizens were glad to see the Union soldiers, and complained that, “Hunter’s command was composed of the most depraved cut-throats and gallows-birds”

On June 6th Carleton arrived in Tucson and received a four-cannon salute from his men. On June 8th he declared martial law and ordered his men to round up local Confederate sympathizers.  He subsequently sent three men, including one of his soldiers, on a mission to contact the Union forces in New Mexico to let them know he’d captured Tucson and was on his way to help them. The messengers were ambushed at Apache Pass on June 18th and two of the three, including the soldier, were killed.

On June 21st Carleton began to move his troops toward the retreating Confederates into southern New Mexico.  A group of cavalry leading the advance encountered hostile Apaches at Apache Pass in southeastern Arizona on June 24th and three soldiers were killed.

Then on July 15th a larger Union force was ambushed by Apaches led by Mangas Coloradas and Cochise at Apache Pass. Artillery was used to drive off the Apaches, but not before the 1st California Infantry suffered two killed and three wounded. The number of Apache losses is disputed. (Previously, on May 5, 1862, a Confederate foraging party roaming the countryside east of Tucson had been ambushed by Cochise’s Apaches. Three Confederate soldiers were killed and buried at  Dragoon Springs Station.)

During the time Hunter’s force was in Arizona the Confederate invasion of New Mexico had been turned back by Union forces from Colorado at the Battle of Glorieta Pass on March 28, 1862. Confederate forces in New Mexico were in full retreat by the time Hunter’s troops arrived back there, and all Confederates were out of New Mexico by early July, 1862. The Arizona Rangers accompanied the other Confederate units in a long retreat to San Antonio, Texas. The Arizona troops continued to fight for the Confederacy in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas until the end of the war. The Union troops of the California Column occupied Arizona and New Mexico and turned their attention to fighting Indians.

Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch, Brooklyn, NY
Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch, Brooklyn, NY, dedicated “To The Defenders of the Union 1861-1865.” (Jeff Burgess)

I find the presence of the Confederate memorial at the Arizona state capitol disturbing, mostly because a memorial dedicated to the Union soldiers that served in Arizona during the Civil War is absent from the plaza. There’s nothing commemorating the nine soldiers killed and the seven wounded who helped secure Arizona for the Union during that 1862 campaign. In fact, there’s no memorial on the plaza that mentions the sacrifices of any Union soldiers during the Civil War. It’s simply unacceptable and Arizonans need to do something about it, especially because the Union Army’s occupation of Arizona in 1862 led directly to the creation of the Territory of Arizona on February 14, 1863.


Since 2015 the local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) has worked to get the Arizona Legislature to authorize the construction of a Union soldier memorial on the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, without success.

During late 2018 the Arizona Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) began a fund raising project to pay for repairs to the Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops. The Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA), which manages the plaza, had informed them that the monument needed to be maintained or it would be removed. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) had erected the monument in 1961, and as per A.R.S. 41-1363, they were legally obligated to maintain it. But the Arizona chapter of the UDC disbanded many years ago, so the ADOA presumed the Arizona SCV group would want to take over the responsibility of its maintenance.


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