previous next

Chapter 18: the desert journey.

  • Resignation accepted.
  • -- impending War. -- a dread alternative. -- cherished Gift. -- surveillance and escape. -- on the road. -- the desert. -- the Comet. -- Tucson. -- the Pimos Indians, anecdote. -- Federal troops. -- running the gantlet. -- an Indian massacre. -- the Rio Grande. -- anecdote. -- escape of Moore and Lord. -- Lynde's surrender. -- through Texas. -- anecdotes. -- the journey summed up. A nation's suspense and joy. Arrival at Richmond.

General Johnston remained at Los Angeles from May 2d to June 16th. His letter to Mrs. Gilpin, already given (page 273), reveals in some measure his feelings at this time. The Administration, which thought the personal indignity put upon him atoned for by an offer of promotion, and the crooked policy of discrediting an upright soldier an act merely “political,” left his reputation to this late vindication. The arbitrary delay, without cause or explanation, in accepting his resignation, as if to embarrass his action, evidently aroused General Johnston's indignation. The acceptance was received at last, however, before he left Los Angeles, thus completely severing the tie that bound him to military service. As has been said, the grievances that wounded his proud spirit, though sufficient to drive him from the army, were not the considerations that impelled him to his final course of action. These were totally different.

When General Johnston resigned, the elements were astir with the strife and evils brewing, but hostilities had not begun; and he still flattered himself with a hope of peace. But he had not been long at Los Angeles before there came the news of actual conflict. The tremendous outburst of resentment in the North at the fall of Sumter made it evident that the contest would be waged within no ordinary bounds; and the soberest minds felt the most concern. A martial people, whose wars for nearly a century had been but the pricking of a spur to their enthusiasm, finding themselves of a sudden arrayed in two hostile camps, would not sheathe their swords without a fierce and protracted struggle. To a man used to study the passions as evinced in warfare, this was plain.

The question was now forced upon General Johnston whether he was to remain neutral in this contest, submissive to the authority he could no longer serve, and alien to the land and people to which his heart called him, or resist the Government he had served so long and so devotedly. To those who have read this biography, it is needless to say that, in this supreme action of his life, General Johnston was guided by the same severe convictions of duty that had always animated him. The powerful passions of his energetic nature, by long subjection, had become the ministers, instead of the counselors, of his reason. Their dictates entered but as a slight element into his motives. Hence his course was consistent. If he would not, in his action, anticipate a painful duty, yet, when it was fully and fairly presented, there was [276] neither hesitation in entering upon it nor vacillation in following it to its remotest consequences.

He soon came to the conclusion that the same reasons that had compelled him to resign for the sake of his State must, at its need, also constrain him to return to its soil and adhere to its fortunes. But, unaware in that isolated community of the martial tread of events or of the fury of the public mind, he had made his arrangements to return by sea to New York, and was about to put his family on the steamer, when he was warned by friends that he would be arrested if he tried to leave; and it soon became clear that, even if he escaped this fate in California, he must submit to it on the Atlantic coast. As events thickened and the news kept pouring in, his ardent nature took fire. If he had been accustomed to ordinary self-appreciation, he might have known all along that a soldier of his temper, reputation, and position, would not be allowed to stand aloof with such interests at stake to be decided by wager of battle. He was a man who, in the piping times of peace, might be left to rust in obscurity; but, when the fate of an empire was at poise, no one on either side believed that the sword of Albert Sidney Johnston would weigh lightly in the scale. There were mighty demands upon him now. In California there were many Southerners, Texans especially; and the low murmur of appeal, even of remonstrance, made itself heard in behalf of the beloved land. “It looks like fate,” he said to his wife; “twice Texas makes me a rebel.”

While General Johnston was at Los Angeles a beautiful set of silver was sent to him, on the salver of which was this inscription, “To General A. Sidney Johnston, from friends in San Francisco.” Coming at such a time, this mark of approbation from valued friends was doubly prized. While in service, he had scrupulously regarded the obligation laid upon public officers alike by a jealous self-respect and by the Mosaic injunction: “Thou shalt take no gift; for the gift blindeth the wise and perverteth the words of the righteous.” But as a private citizen, insulted and proscribed, this proof of esteem was very grateful to him.

There were considerations to hold him back from the fray that might well have weakened the stoutest resolution. A wife and helpless family of little children looked to him for protection and support. He had saved no fortune: fifteen hundred dollars made up his available means. And now, when a great public duty demanded his talents and experience, it seemed that it must yield to the more immediate call of domestic obligations. But the very spot and people to which Providence had led him afforded to his family a retreat unequaled for security, while a generous, affectionate, and vigorous protector was raised up for their care and succor. Dr. John S. Griffin, Mrs. Johnston's brother, had the will and power to relieve General Johnston's embarrassment, by taking charge of his family. To him they were committed, and nobly was the [277] trust redeemed. Freed from this imperious demand, General Johnston made up his mind to sacrifice all private interests for the sake of his State and of the South. Once resolved, he entered upon his line of action without reserve, and took the steps for its successful accomplishment with his accustomed sagacity.

General Johnston's position had now become one of anxiety, difficulty, and danger. The sea, thoroughly in the interest of the North, was closed to him. Soldiers had been sent to Los Angeles to watch his movements, and he was subjected to a most unpleasant surveillance. Note was taken of all his acts, and the eager hand of military power threatened each moment to seize him. He was virtually a prisoner in the department he had lately commanded. The only way of escape, by which he could reach Texas, was across an inhospitable desert, beset with hardships and perils that might well appall even a veteran campaigner. While considering the proper means for such an enterprise, he learned, to his great satisfaction, of the formation of a band of bold and enthusiastic Southerners pledged to the attempt, and he gladly joined them. The writer is largely indebted to Captain Gift, Colonel Ridley, and Colonel Hardcastle, for important details in regard to General Johnston's journey through Arizona; and, assured that the spirited narratives of these faithful companions will be cheerfully accepted in lieu of his own, he has preferred to use their own words, except where, for the sake of conciseness, the account is abridged.

Captain Gift was a Tennesseean, and had resigned a midshipman's warrant in the United States Navy in 1849, to settle in California. He served faithfully through the war, and now resides at Napa, California. Alonso Ridley, though of Northern birth, was deeply impressed with the righteousness of the Southern cause. He will often appear in this narrative. He was captain to General Johnston's body-guard, and afterward major of the Third Arizona Regiment.

The following is Captain Gift's account of the organization and start of the expedition:

Prior to the arrival of General Johnston in Los Angeles, Captain Alonso Ridley 1 and the writer had determined to go South, and waited a favorable opportunity. Ridley favored the journey across the Plains, and I favored the route by sea, being a seaman.

On the arrival of the general from San Francisco, we had an interview, and it was determined to try to raise a party sufficiently strong to cross the Plains without fear of molestation from the Indians, then very hostile and enterprising. It was concluded that the party should consist of at least thirty men. Ridley undertook to collect the party, and to his tact and indomitable energy is due the success of the enterprise. He rode several hundred miles to consult with friends, and spent all the money needed in the outfit of nearly half the party. [278]

The Federal military authorities deemed it necessary to order a force of horse and foot to Los Angeles to observe our movements; and, as the time of departure drew near, we began to suspect that arrests would be made, or attempted. The time of departure was fixed for the 20th of June; but, upon consultation, we determined to give it out that we would not leave until the 25th, and then leave on the 17th or 18th. The general left on the 16th. His outfit consisted of a strong, light, covered ambulance, drawn by two good American mules (American as distinguished from Mexican), a saddle-horse of California breed, and a small, black, Mexican pack-mule, a hardy, untamable beast. The general carried all his provisions, camp-equipage, etc., in the ambulance, and, in crossing the desert, a good quantity of barley for forage. The mule was also packed with barley.

As previously mentioned, it was given out that our starting-day had been postponed to the 25th. The general being all ready on the 16th, he started to the place of rendezvous, Warner's Ranch, or Agua Caliente, in San Diego County, which was more than a hundred miles on the road. He left Los Angeles at daybreak with Captain Ridley and his servant Ran, and went to the Chino Ranch, thirty miles from Los Angeles, whence he was accompanied by Dr. Carman Frazee. Dr. Frazee knew the country well, and acted as guide.2 They rested at Chino during part of the day, and then moved forward, Mr. Carlisle, the proprietor of the Chino, having first picketed the road with some of his saqueros, with orders to ride forward and warn the general should soldiers appear in his rear. In this event, he and Frazee would have made their way to Mexican territory on horseback. The Federals, however, had no knowledge of the general's departure, and did not follow him. About the 25th of June nearly the whole party had arrived at the rendezvous, where we found the general enjoying himself, though the weather was excessively hot. The ranch was owned by John Rains, Esq., whose major-domo had orders to kill several bullocks, and jerk the meat for our use. This necessitated several additional days of delay, and I think it was the 29th of June, or about that time, when we finally moved away, organized under command of Alonso Ridley, to whom we intrusted the order of marching, etc., etc.

The following additional particulars are from a letter of Colonel Ridley. They vary in some unimportant respects from Captain Gift's account:

It gives me great pleasure to learn that you are engaged in so laudable a labor as a memoir of that great and good man, General Albert Sidney Johnston. The simple story of his life is sufficient. It is the proudest memory of my own life to have been associated with him.

I first made the general's acquaintance on his arrival at Los Angeles, after his resignation. I was quietly engaged at the time in raising a party to proceed to Texas. In conversation one day with Dr. Griffin, who knew of my movements, I remarked that if the general desired to go South it would be a good opportunity for him. Griffin thought it would not do; the Indians were bad all along [279] the route, and the general had so many friends that he could easily reach the South by way of New York. A few days after I met the general in the street, and he asked if he could see me a few minutes privately. We walked to the office of Dr. Griffin, and, being alone, he told me that he had been informed of my proposed expedition, and he thought he should like to go along. I told him at once that the party would be glad to escort him. He said, “No;” that he was no longer an officer of the army, and that if he went it would be simply as one of the party. After some further conversation relative to my movements and the proposed time of departure, he decided then and there to accompany us.

We hurried our departure, leaving some days before we intended, having learned that movements were on foot for the arrest of the general and myself, on the charge of treason. Owing to this quite a number who had proposed to accompany us were left behind. The general and I left Los Angeles at a very early hour, accompanied only by his servant Randolph. I left him at Ranch Chino, some thirty-five miles distant, where we arrived the same day, in order to collect our company, and sent Dr. Frazee to guide him to Agua Caliente, our place of rendezvous. There I joined him after a few days.

The following letter, written by General Johnston to his wife from near Warner's Ranch, June 26th, will conclude the account of the preparations:

My dear wife: We arrived this far on our journey on Friday, 22d. I rode on my horse from Chino to this place, except a few miles which I got Ran to do for me. I am now pretty well seasoned, and have no apprehension of fever. I thank you for the veils. I am now well supplied with means of defense against the mosquitoes. How will Ran look with a blue veil on? He is as good a hand with mules as need be; with my backing, Ran is sans peur ... We should not borrow trouble by apprehension of dangers in the future, but nerve ourselves to meet them bravely should they come. I am happy that my family is away from the turmoil and conflicts of civil dissension, and I can, on account of their security under the protecting arm of a brave, kind brother, discharge my duty in whatever position Fortune may assign me, with equanimity and cheerfulness, and with the hope that there is much good in store for us. Can I better testify my love for you and my children than by this journey? Love and hope cheer me on to discharge a great duty. Kiss our dear children. My most ardent hope is that they may love you and each other.

The march was begun from Warner's, June 27th, and a halt made June 30th, at Vallecito. The itinerary at the end of this chapter may be found useful in elucidating the incidents of the journey.

General Johnston wrote as follows to his wife, from Vallecito:

Vallecito, 180 miles to Yuma, Sunday, June 30, 1861.
... I received your letter of June 25th by Major Armistead, who arrived here this morning. Our party is now as large as need be desired for safety or convenience in traveling.3 They are good men and well armed. Late of the [280] army we have Major Armistead, Lieutenants Hardcastle, Brewer, Riley, Shaaf, Mallory, and Wickliffe.4 These young gentlemen, though accustomed to a life of comparative ease, rough it as well as the best of them; wash, cook, pack, and harness animals, etc. The party is well armed, and, by observing a good compact order of march and vigilance in camp, we will be free from any danger of attack from Indians. I think there is no need of apprehension of molestation on the part of the authorities, civil or military, unless orders come from Washington. Should there be such, I will have notice in time.

We find it very hot in some parts of the day; in others, not unpleasant. We have, tell your brother, in our mess, Captain Dillard, Mr. Jordan, and Mr. Frazee; and, with Ran as our cook and driver of my carriage, I could have no better arrangement for the most comfortable traveling the season and route will admit of. I have ridden but a few miles in the carriage since we started ... I have nothing to say to my boys that has not already been said. I have perfect confidence that they will be all that ought to be desired or expected. They must learn that one man by an exhibition of physical power can control but few. It is by moral power alone that numbers of minds are controlled and directed by one mind. By not preserving his equanimity a man throws away his moral power. He who cannot control himself cannot control others.. He should know when to feel and to show resentment; and it is only on grave occasions that this is necessary. Napoleon knew the value of a scene; but his judgment, rather than his passion, dictated it. Be patient; be hopeful ...

I am writing on a barley-sack. We leave here this evening and go to Carrizo, eighteen miles; to-morrow to Indian Wells, thirty-two miles, and so on, traveling from four o'clock till late at night, till we get to a better climate ....

From Yuma General Johnston addressed a third letter on July 5th to Mrs. Johnston, as follows:

We arrived at this place last evening. They were firing the Federal salute of the evening in honor of the day, thirteen guns. We were near enough at 12 o'clock to hear the national salute. We passed the desert without much suffering, either among the men or animals. The heat from the sand, as well as from the direct rays of the sun, was intense, but tempered for us by gentle breezes. We started from Carrizo at 3 P. M., and arrived at Indian Wells, thirty-seven miles, at sunrise. Here the water, if clear, is good; but the well had to be cleaned out, and it was, for us, muddy and unpalatable. At this place the flies --house-flies-swarm in myriads. It was not possible to throw a veil over your face quick enough to exclude them. The scrubby mesquite afforded but little shelter from the burning heat, and on these accounts we concluded to take the route again at 12 M., and go to Alamo Well, twenty-eight miles, where we arrived at 9 P. M., worn out for want of sleep and the long time we had been in the saddle. In going from Carrizo to Indian Wells I rode by the carriage all night. Though Ran is very trustworthy, I found he would go to sleep. He kept wide awake and bright, whistling at times, till about 3 A. M., when nature, not faithful Ran, gave way. Falling fast asleep, he drove square off [281] into the desert. Of course I immediately roused him, and put him on the road again. Our march, Sunday, 80th, was far in the night. When night came on we were astonished to see a huge comet, as large as Venus, with a tail 100° long, stretching far into the milky-way. Its brightness contributed to make our route quite apparent during the march, and also favored us with great additional light during the whole of the following night. In marching through this great desert, although we have only had a cloud of dust by day, we had a pillar of flaming light by night. We regard this comet as a good omen; its tail stood to the southeast, which was our course. It seems to move with inconceivable velocity, and is already fast disappearing. I have been compelled to wait here to-day to have our carriage-tires cut.

General Johnston's letters, written to his wife on the road, do not convey a full conception of the sufferings of this midsummer march. His stoicism and the wish to relieve his wife's solicitude caused him to treat lightly annoyances that in the aggregate amounted to torture; torrid heat, swarms of flies and mosquitoes, clouds of stifling dust, brackish drinking-water, wearing vigils, prolonged night-marches, and exhausting fatigue, are but a part of the ills undergone. The route lay through one of the hottest regions in the world, where the thermometer often marked over 120° in the shade, when shade could be found. The Colorado Desert, through which their route lay, is a depressed basin, treeless, arid, and cut off from moisture and the cooling breath of the sea-breeze. One hundred and thirty miles across, sixty miles of waste stretch away without a drop of water, or a sign of animal or vegetable life. The struggling mules sometimes sank to the knee in its dry sands; and the hot blast of the sirocco lifted the loose, moving soil, in clouds and pillars of dust, that fell like the showers of ashes that buried Pompeii. Captain Gift gives the following vivid description of their passage of the desert:

On the afternoon of July 1st, after the sun had sunk low enough to permit the waters of the spring to cool so that our animals would drink, we commenced our first real desert march of forty-two miles or thereabouts, to Indian Wells. The memory of that weary night-march remains with me like a horrible nightmare. The first few miles was through sand, but the remainder over a beautiful hard road, as level as a floor and as firm as a turnpike. But it was horribly monotonous-sage-brush and barren plains. A companion with whom I rode proposed during the latter part of the night that we fall out and leave the road a hundred yards, and lie down to sleep until daylight, and then mount and gallop on to camp; urging that we would be greatly refreshed, and our horses would also be improved by the opportunity of sleeping. Each of us had begun the march with a bota (leather bottle) of water holding a gallon and a half. We had at no time during the night permitted ourselves to more than moisten our lips, and yet such was the evaporation that, when we lay down, we had scarcely a drink of water left. The solitude of the desert came upon me in all its force, as the rattle of the ambulances (we had four in the whole party) was lost. But [282] the solitude was not so overpowering as the heat or rather the drying, withering breeze that blew from toward the Gulf of California. I had never met the sirocco before, and as I breathed it I felt as one confined in a burning apartment. Weariness brought sleep, and daylight found us resting. The coining sun cast his heat ahead of him, and we saddled and galloped away.

Five or six miles from the “Wells,” we overtook one of our party, whose weak and jaded horses (he had a pack-horse and a saddle animal) were almost ready to fall by the way-side; and our companion had dismounted and was trudging along on foot, driving his beasts before him. He begged us t06go ahead and send him some water, as he was almost famished. Within an hour we rode into camp and reported the matter to our captain, who detailed one of the messmates of the straggler to return and carry water, and otherwise assist him. The young man, who was also weary and his horse exhausted, was loath to go. Some words ensued in regard to it, which attracted the attention of the general, who approached, and desired to know what the difficulty was. Ridley stated the case, when the general begged him not to insist on the return of the young fellow, but permit him (the general) to go in his place and carry succor. This aroused the pride of a dozen, and a messenger was soon galloping away with water. This was our severest trial. Men and animals fairly wilted. The general, Ridley, and myself, stood at the well and drew water from it until it was dry, and still we did not appease the thirst of our famishing cattle. We would permit our animals to drink ten gallons of water, and then have to drag them from the spot. They were so thirsty they would eat but little. At noon we left this place, and at ten o'clock reached the Alamo Mocha Well, thirty miles farther, where the water was better. We got a little rest here, and rolled out at eight o'clock next morning, reaching our next station, Cook's Wells, in the afternoon.

We had now crossed 100 miles of desert, and were near the Colorado and Fort Yuma. It was necessary to approach this place with caution, as a trap might be set for us. A scout was sent forward, and at noon, it being July 4th, we heard the national salute. The scout returned, and reported all the officers of the garrison sick, and that we could cross the river without fear. In the afternoon we camped in sight of the post, at the village on the west bank of the river. We stationed sentinels, and preserved our military appearance. Major Armistead was the first sentinel on post, and was approached by a soldier from the garrison, who was one of the major's old regiment, and who desired a parley. He had come with a proposition from some of the soldiers to desert over to us, and then to seize the place and plunder it. But for the general's coolness on that occasion, we would in all likelihood have left Fort Yuma behind us a heap of smoking ruins. He objected to the procedure, on the ground that we were not in commission, and that an attack would be equivalent to piracy at sea. I think we remained here three days, having tires cut, horses shod, and preparing for the next stage of the journey. No effort was made to molest us.

Ridley says:

Traveling from Vallecito to Carrizo Creek, we observed a luminous appearance in the heavens resembling a comet, extending two-thirds across the heavens, its nucleus near the horizon toward the northwest. The general and I were riding together when we first observed it. He remarked that it was not strange [283] that we should see sights and portents in the heavens, making playful allusion to events in old Rome.5 Its appearance was so sudden that I am sure that there was not a man in the party upon whom it did not make an impression.

Captain Gift says:

At Blue Water we were met by two citizens of Tucson, who came to apprise us of the fact that the Federal forces were evacuating the Territory, and had already burned Fort Breckinridge, and, in passing through Tucson toward Fort Buchanan, had burned the town grist-mill, the only one upon which the people had to depend for their flour. Therefore, much indignation existed, and there was a general wish to join forces with us and punish the vandals. The Federal troops amounted to four companies-two infantry and two dragoon-and with our force of thirty men, the people could combine an equal number, and, by pouncing suddenly on the enemy, it was thought an easy victory could be obtained. Many of our party were eager to burn powder, and try their mettle; but the general restrained them with the same argument he had used at Yuma-we must commit no illegal act. We rested by the pure waters, and grazed our animals on the pastures near Tucson, for two days.

The country through which they passed was uninhabited, except at rare intervals. There were a few villages of Pimos Indians, a peaceable agricultural tribe; but the country was infested by roving bands of Apache and Navajo Indians, tribes very similar to the Comanches, heretofore described in this volume. Timber was scarce; and, on every hand, the distant landscape was broken by rugged ranges, or bald, isolated mountains. Sometimes the road passed through a region of thorns and cacti, of all forms and sizes, prickly and threatening, that pressed their spines against the unwary traveler. Then the road would ascend from these depressed valleys to high, rocky table-lands, threading the most accessible paths around the foot of detached ridges and “lost mountains,” on which grew a scanty herbage of agave, salt grass, and wild-sage.

Captain Gift tells the following anecdote of their stay at Tucson:

Encamped near us was a party of Texas Unionists, bound to California. During the afternoon one of the elders of the party came over to enjoy a little [284] conversation with us. He sat down in the general's camp, and I happened to be present. The general and his visitor soon discovered a mutual acquaintanceship as to various localities, roads, and towns, in Texas. The emigrant described a route between two certain towns; the general disagreed with him as to some minor detail. The old fellow insisted on his point, the general as stoutly resisted, remarking that he had passed over that road daily for several years. “Indeed!” said his visitor; “stage-driving, I presume?” “No,” said the general, “just traveling from home to town.” And so he went on talking for an hour or more, and his guest went away, little thinking that he had mistaken the greatest general of his time for a stage-driver. When I told the joke the general begged that I should be sure and have it appear that he had not undeceived the Texan.

Colonel Hardcastle also mentions this incident as happening in his hearing.

The troops then in that part of the Territory were collected at Fort Buchanan, south of Tucson, but were preparing to evacuate the country and join the forces on the Rio Grande. Hardcastle says:

Lieutenant Lord said to one of the citizens that he would take General Johnston's scalp, if he could catch him. The general told the citizen that we might be called foreigners passing through the country to our homes, and, if molested or hindered, we would cut our way through to the last man.

As General Johnston did not wish to encounter the United States troops, he took the road on the morning of the 22d, at 8 A. M., with the intention of reaching Dragoon Springs, where the Fort Buchanan road came into the trail from Tucson to the Rio Grande, before the United States troops should arrive there. His party marched thirty miles that day, and forty miles the next, camping without water. On the next morning they pushed forward fifteen miles to Dragoon Springs, before breakfast. A vast column of smoke from Fort Buchanan had previously warned them that the enemy had burned his depot, and was on the road. The report of the scouts that the Federal troops were near at hand compelled them, tired as they were, to go on. It was between forty and fifty miles to the next water, at Apache Pass, and it was now nine o'clock in the forenoon. But it would not do to await the advancing column, nine or ten times stronger than their little party, so they pushed on. That their precautions were well-judged is manifest from the following letter, written from El Paso some weeks later:

My dear General: Colonel Canby sent an order to Fort Buchanan to have you intercepted and made prisoner. An officer and twenty-five dragoons were sent from Buchanan to Dragoon Springs to execute the order; but they reached the Springs, it is said, some thirty-six hours after you passed that point. All this I get from --, who came in behind Moore's command. Of its truth there is not a question. I am sorry the dragoons did not intercept you; as, had they done so, they would have been made prisoners by your party.


It is probable that the delay occasioned by a collision with this scout would have brought the main body on them. Captain Gift says:

We saddled and harnessed, and took the road again. It was a long, weary journey. The road to the entrance of the pass lay before us all day, like a line ruled through the immense green meadow (this part of Arizona is very fertile). It was eleven o'clock at night before we reached the spring, and then we found more Texas Unionists to dispute our right to the use of the water. We were too thirsty, tired, and bad-tempered, to argue long. We had the force, and our necessities were great. We took the water. There was more ill-nature expressed here than at any other encampment on the journey. We were very sore, tired, and irritable. A proposition to await the approach of the enemy, surprise him in the pass, cut him off from the water, and force his surrender, was overruled by the general. The plan was very captivating to the younger members of the party; but we moved away during the forenoon, and gave it up. I have neglected to mention that after leaving Fort Yuma we were constantly in the country of hostile Apaches, who no doubt watched our every movement, and would have made an effort to cut us off had our watchful commander neglected any precaution in the way of guards or the order of marching. We moved always in compact order, and no one was permitted to leave the column or camp under any pretext. Between Tucson and Mesilla we saw the wrecks of two stages which had been robbed, and the guards, drivers, and passengers, some fourteen persons, murdered.

Colonel Ridley adds:

Some buzzards, wheeling about a neighboring cliff, gave evidence that one of those sickening tragedies, so common in Arizona before and since, had been enacted here. I was afterward told that the party was attacked by a large band of Indians; but, having succeeded in reaching a hill near by, they maintained themselves for several days, killing many Indians and striking terror to the others. But their gallant defense did not save them. The lost men could not reach the water, and at last succumbed to thirst and many wounds. My informant had this story from Cochise, the chief who said he led the Indians.

This massacre was between Apache Pass and Cook's Spring.

The journey from Cook's Spring to the Rio Grande, some sixty miles, was made without camping. The road led to the river at a point several miles above Mesilla, where was situated the little Mexican village of Picacho, inhabited by poor farmers, whose cornfields lay about the town. Eight miles below Mesilla was Fort Fillmore, with a strong Federal garrison, and it was probable that they would find the road picketed, and troops in the village. There was good ground for apprehension, as a cavalry scout had gone ahead of them one day, and, notwithstanding their celerity, had gained on them. They therefore halted about two miles from Picacho, to make such dispositions as prudence dictated. It was determined that, in case they were assailed by an overpowering force, their little column should amuse the enemy, [286] while General Johnston, accompanied by two picked men, should ride for the Mexican frontier, forty miles distant, and to Chihuahua, if necessary. For this purpose, his riding horse and two of Ridley's had been kept in good condition and unsaddled. He now mounted afresh, and took his place, with Mackenzie and Ryerson, who had been selected to accompany him; Ryerson for his familiarity with the country, Mackenzie for his personal devotion to General Johnston, and for the possession of every quality to fit him for such an enterprise. Gift says:

Dave Mackenzie was one of the best scouts in America, and one of the coolest and bravest men in the world. As a shot he had few equals, if we except Ridley himself, between whom and Dave existed a friendship only found among men of the frontier.

After these arrangements had been made, Ridley and Bowers rode to the village. They could get no answer to repeated calls from any of the mud-huts, and not a soul was visible anywhere. Finally, they captured a Mexican creeping behind a hedge. Ridley says:

He was evidently dodging us, and watching our motions. We could get nothing out of him at first, but, when I told him we were scouts from Lord's command, he replied in Spanish, “The brush is full of Texans, creeping about like cats in every direction.” He also told us that the Texans had captured all the soldiers, and that they would get us also, unless we were careful. We told him we were not afraid, as our whole command would be up shortly. We learned afterward that the rascal went immediately and told the Texans of the good opportunity they. had to catch Lord. But I forgive him. The news was good, though vague, and hardly to be believed. We returned and reported, and the general decided to go to the village.

Captain Gift gives this description of their entrance into the village:

Ridley took the head of the column, with Stonehouse, Bower, and myself riding abreast with him. It was 11 o'clock at night when we entered the village, yet the people were out of bed, and, what was most singular, on the roofs of their flat-topped houses, and peeped down at us furtively and in doubt. Ridley, who spoke Spanish like a native, hailed and inquired the news. The man before answering demanded to know whether we were troops of the line or Texans. Ridley said, troops of the line. Then said the Mexican, “, By all means go north at once, for the Texans only yesterday captured all the troops, and have all the guns, horses, and stores I” While this colloquy was going on the general rode up, and Ridley interpreted the sense of what he had learned. The general doubted the information, as Lynde's regiment was one of the best in the service, and did not believe the story. It proved to be the truth, however.

Ridley continues:

I had just laid down when I heard Hardcastle, who was posted with Poer, cry out, “Captain, I have got a prisoner.” It proved to be a fellow called the [287] “Skinned Pant'er.” He had crawled into camp to take observations, but could not resist his admiration for horse-flesh, and was getting away with Hardcastle's own charger, when Peer stopped him with his shot-gun. He told us he belonged to Captain C--‘s spy company, and that they had all the Federals prisoners. I told Hardcastle to turn him loose, which he did reluctantly. I ordered him to tell his captain, whom I had known in California, that Mackenzie and Ridley, with a party of Californians, had just arrived, and wished to see him. The captain soon came, and we learned that Baylor had, indeed, captured all of Lynde's command.

Some days after, Captain C-- was expatiating on the astuteness of his company, and making rather vainglorious allusions to the “Skinned Pant'er” having got into our camp. The general was present, and said in his quiet way, “ Yes, captain, he got in, and we took very good care of him, thanks to Hardcastle, until we found it convenient to let him go out again.”

General Johnston could hardly believe the good fortune that relieved him from all danger of the United States troops on the Rio Grande. Gift says:

The next morning Colonel Baylor called, and begged to turn over the command of his troops to the general, to give him an opportunity to catch and punish the fellows who had chased us in. This command he accepted for a few days; but a Mexican scout having gone out, notified the advancing enemy of the trap set for him, when he changed his course for Santa Fe.

Ridley says:

The general was anxious to get on, but the Texans desired him to take command of them and capture Lord. Baylor asked him to do so; he complied very reluctantly, and told me privately he did not like the delay; “but that it was like being asked to dance by a lady-he could not refuse.”

Ridley attributes the escape of Moore and Lord, when they burned their camp at Cook's Spring, and turned off to Fort Craig, to the negligence of the scouts, who did not report the movement for some twenty-four hours.

General Johnston's letter, written immediately after these events, gives the dispositions made by him for the capture of Lieutenants Moore and Lord, with their commands. It also contains what may be accepted as a well-weighed report of the capture of Lynde's command by the Texans under Colonel Baylor:

Mesilla, Arizona, August 7, 1861.
My dear wife: We arrived at this place on July 28th, three days after the capture of eleven companies of United States troops by the Texan Confederate troops under the command of Colonel John R. Baylor. These troops, consisting of eight companies of the Seventh Infantry and three companies of the Rifle regiment, had been concentrated at Fort Fillmore, eight miles below this place, with the view of transferring them to the States after the arrival of four companies from Fort Buchanan, viz., two of the Seventh Infantry and two of [288] the First Dragoons, which we preceded on the road. The audacity of the Mesilla people in keeping up a secession flag had excited the ire of the commander of the United States forces at Fort Fillmore, Major Lynde, and, after frequent threats, he resolved to chastise them. The Texan commander, hearing of the condition of affairs at Mesilla, came up, and occupied the place with about 280 Texans. Major Lynde crossed the river, marched to this place, and demanded the surrender of the Texans, who received his proposition with bitter taunts. He then made a feeble attack-perpetrating, however, a great outrage against humanity, in firing into the town filled with women and children, without any notice to have them removed.

In the attack the Mounted Rifles charged on the Texans, who with their rifles knocked a few of them from their saddles, when they turned, running over the infantry and producing great confusion in their flight. The major then withdrew. They were thus, I think, wholly demoralized, and that night commenced a disorderly retreat toward New Mexico. Next day they were overtaken by the Texans, and, without the loss of a man, surrendered themselves prisoners of war; that is, the major surrendered them. They certainly were in no condition to resist, though Captain Potter and one or two others protested, Captain — among them. He commanded the rear-guard. Captain Hardiman, a Texan and a good soldier, says, “--fled from his company with his squadron before he was within 600 yards of him.” Six hundred United States troops, arms, transportation, etc., surrendered to 280 Texans, and are now paroled, officers and men, on their way to the States.

At the request of Colonel Baylor and the Texans I remained here with my party, and took command of the troops, to capture the United States troops from Fort Buchanan, who were coming on. I took every precaution to prevent their obtaining any information of the condition of affairs here, by the employment of experienced scouts, who gave us daily information of their movements. On the night of the 5th these assured us that the troops were coming on, though they much doubted it before. They judged from the disorderly character of their march, and their apparent unconsciousness of danger. The troops were then at Cook's Spring, fifty miles from our camp at the forks of the road to Fort Thorn, fifty miles above here on the river. Our scouts took their position to watch them during the night, and to ascertain in the morning which route they would take. On either there could have been no chance of escape, as, being advised of their taking the route to Thorn, our troops could have reached there first.

During the early part of the night Captain Moore received a dispatch from Fort Craig, notifying him of his danger. They immediately destroyed their cannon, burned their train, all but eight wagons, mounted their infantry upon the mules, and marched or rather took to flight on the route to Fort Craig, 120 miles above this, I judge, a forlorn-looking band. Thus 250 infantry and dragoons-United States soldiers-saved themselves from the terrible Texans by an ignominious flight.

It is due to the Texans to say that they accorded to the prisoners taken in their recent engagement the most honorable terms, and treated them with the greatest consideration, which was acknowledged by their officers in a handsome letter to the commander.

Our party arrived all well and animals in good condition, and the best of [289] feeling prevailing. To-morrow we will resume our journey. Great events are transpiring, and we feel called on to hurry on. I may take the stage at El Paso, though I dread stages overland, especially as they are always crowded. Tell Dr. John that his friend Captain Potter was among the prisoners, and, it is said, would leave managed better if he had been in command.

I have stood the journey well so far, and expect to get to Richmond in good health. May God preserve you, dear wife, and sustain you in your trials Give my love to our dear children.

At Mesilla, the party disbanded, most of them taking the stage for San Antonio, and, on by land, to New Orleans. Ridley says:

There was a stage from Mesilla to San Antonio, and some of our party availed themselves of it at once. The general, after nearly two weeks unavoidable delay, proceeded by the same conveyance, from El Paso. He did this very reluctantly, and would have remained with us, until the last of the party could start for San Antonio, but for our urging upon him the necessity of getting to Richmond as fast as possible. In his entire forgetfulness of self, lie was ever ready to sacrifice himself and his own interests and desires for others.

Among the little incidents retained in the memory of his companions on this journey, Ridley relates this:

At El Paso, a small party were collected, among whom were the general and Major Armistead. The usual topic was being discussed — the Yankees and the war. Some one made the remark, “But they won't stand steel.” The general, who had been a quiet listener, said: “Gentlemen, I think you are mistaken. We are a proud people. Manners and customs in the different sections make about the only difference that really exists. If we are to be successful, what we have to do must be done quickly. The longer we have them to fight, the more difficult they will be to defeat.” His words were prophetic. They made a great impression on me at the time, as much, perhaps, from his manner of saying them as from the words themselves.

Colonel Hardcastle writes:

During our trip, subjected as we were to the oppressive tropical heat, scanty rations for man and beast, and scarcity of water-at one time going seventy miles without any for our stock, and supplying ourselves from canteens and kegs --I could not but remark the patience and endurance of our general, who at all times bore himself with cheerfulness and dignity, and set us an example of fortitude and self-denial. After our seventy miles' ride without water, when we reached the wells entirely spent and dry, we found them foul and noxious with dead rats. We set to work to draw out and clean them; and, after we had finished, the first cup was handed to the general. He drank, and remarked, “This water tastes like the White Sulphur Springs in Virginia.” After that, no man could decline to taste of the waters, and we gladly cooled our parched throats.

On a certain night, wet and stormy, as I sat by the camp-fire of the general, I expressed my dread of water, having nothing but blankets to sleep upon. [290] Whereupon a most cordial invitation was given me to share his water-proof rubbers, which afforded us a most comfortable night's lodging.

The journey from Los Angeles to Mesilla was 800 miles, and thence to San Antonio, the frontier city of Texas, 700 more. It was made under the burning glare of a July sun, through wastes of shifting sand or treeless gravel, often with no fuel, grass, shade, or water. It is strange how well General Johnston, at his age, fifty-nine, bore the toils and hardships of this journey. After the wearisome march, he would lie down to sleep upon the ground, with his saddle for a pillow, and the sky as his only canopy. His abstemious habits made the poor fare a small privation, and his chief concern was a veteran's anxiety for the endurance of his younger or less hardy comrades. It needed bold hearts to seek out, at the summer solstice, the secrets of the desert. It would not be hard to weave, from such a pilgrimage of patriotism, a page of romance; but the plain truth is far better. The heroic spirit, that “scorned delights and lived laborious days,” took but passing note of the dangers and distress that beset him. In the simple but sublime confidence of his creed-“in the great hand of God I stand” --he moved on to his fate.

When General Johnston plunged into the desert and was lost to the sight of men, the relays of the overland express swiftly bore the tidings East. The Washington Government sent its orders to intercept him; and, even in that crisis of a nation's destiny, both sides watched the issue with intense interest. Weeks of suspense passed; and his reappearance on the frontier, at the place and almost at the moment of Baylor's brilliant victory and of the fall of the Federal power in Arizona, linked his coming with auguries of victory. He had safely run the gantlet, in spite of the snares in his path.

A general burst of relief and joy throughout the South greeted General Johnston's safe arrival, and evinced the importance attached to his services. An auxiliary army could not have been welcomed with a more certain assurance of its value, or with more genuine rejoicing. It is in such times that the people are forced to count how priceless may be the services of one man who is equal to the highest command. In his rapid progress to Richmond, General Johnston could not escape a continued ovation. Popular recognition of him as a great leader was suddenly and spontaneously accorded by acclamation. This was due in part to the well-settled opinion of the officers and men of the old army, and to President Davis's frank declaration to that effect, but still more to the strong belief of the Southwest in his ability as a soldier. He had been marked for vengeance, and hunted as an outlaw for months; but he was once again among his own people. He had come to them without communication or understanding with the Confederate Government or any of its leaders, ready to take whatever post of duty might [291] be assigned him, and he found a nation waiting for him and calling him to the front.

The telegraph, of course, had announced him; but President Davis was not aware that he had reached Richmond, when he called at the Executive mansion. The President was sick in bed; but, when he heard the bell and General Johnston's step below, he started up, and exclaimed: “That is Sidney Johnston's step. Bring him up.” He said many times afterward, “I hoped and expected that I had others who would prove generals, but I knew I had one, and that was Sidney Johnston.”

Itinerary. 1861.

June 16.Left Los Angeles — to Rancho Chino, thirty-five miles.
June 22.Arrived at Warner's Ranch. One hundred miles from Los Angeles.
June 27.Left Warner's. To Vallecito.
June 30.Left Vallecito. Sunday night. Eighteen miles to Carrizo Wells. Comet seen.
July 1.Left Carrizo, 3 P. M. Thirty-seven miles to Indian Wells.
July 2.Indian Wells at noon. Twenty-eight miles to Alamo Springs.
July 3.Alamo Springs at 8 A. M. Thirty miles to Cook's Wells.
July 4.Cook's to Yeager's Ferry. (Fort Yuma.)
July 7.Yuma, up the Gila, and thence two hundred and seventy miles to Tucson.
July 18.Arrived at Tucson.
July 22.Left Tucson, 8 A. M. Thirty miles.
July 23.Forty miles to a dry camp.
July 24.Fifteen miles to Dragoon Springs, thence fifty miles to Apache Pass.
July 25.
July 26.
July 27.
From Apache Pass. One hundred and sixty-five miles to the Rio Grande at Picacho, near Mesilla.
July 28.To Mesilla.

1 Captain Ridley is now known as Colonel Ridley.

2 Frazee served as private in Colonel Jefferson Davis's First Mississippi Regiment in the Mexican War.

3 Eight resigned army-officers and twenty-five citizens.

4 Of the eight, four fell in battle-Johnston, Armistead, Mallory, and Brewer,


A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell, ...
(Were) stars with trains of fire and dews of blood ...
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates,
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated,
Unto our climatures and countrymen.

Hamlet, Act I, Scene 1.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Los Angeles (California, United States) (13)
Tucson (Arizona, United States) (11)
Mesilla (New Mexico, United States) (10)
Texas (Texas, United States) (8)
California (California, United States) (7)
Arizona (Arizona, United States) (6)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (5)
Brashear City (Louisiana, United States) (5)
Vallecito (California, United States) (4)
San Antonio (Texas, United States) (4)
Mexico (Mexico) (4)
El Paso, Woodford County, Illinois (Illinois, United States) (4)
Cooks Spring (Wyoming, United States) (4)
Paraje (New Mexico, United States) (3)
Las Cruces (New Mexico, United States) (3)
Vallecito (New Mexico, United States) (2)
San Francisco (California, United States) (2)
Picacho (Arizona, United States) (2)
Federal Point (North Carolina, United States) (2)
Alamo Springs (Nevada, United States) (2)
Whitethorn (California, United States) (1)
Washington (United States) (1)
Virginia (Virginia, United States) (1)
United States (United States) (1)
San Diego County (California, United States) (1)
Providence, R. I. (Rhode Island, United States) (1)
Picacho (New Mexico, United States) (1)
Pala (New Mexico, United States) (1)
New Jersey (New Jersey, United States) (1)
Napa (California, United States) (1)
Hatch (New Mexico, United States) (1)
Fort Grant (Arizona, United States) (1)
Chihuahua (Chihuahua, Mexico) (1)
Charleston (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Apache (Arizona, United States) (1)
America (Illinois, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
July 28th (2)
July 4th (2)
July 3rd (2)
July 1st (2)
June 30th (2)
June 27th (2)
June 25th (2)
June 16th (2)
16th (2)
August 7th, 1861 AD (1)
June 30th, 1861 AD (1)
1861 AD (1)
1849 AD (1)
July 27th (1)
July 26th (1)
July 25th (1)
July 24th (1)
July 23rd (1)
July 22nd (1)
July 18th (1)
July 7th (1)
July 5th (1)
July 2nd (1)
July (1)
June 29th (1)
June 26th (1)
June 22nd (1)
June 20th (1)
May 2nd (1)
22nd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: