Apache Uprising (1861–1865)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Apaches vs. United States and
(separately) Confederate States of America
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Arizona and New Mexico
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The uprising began as a
war of revenge, then became a general Apache resistance
to American occupation when the Civil War depleted the
western troops of the United States; the United States and
the Confederate States of America fought to separately
stop Indian raids.
OUTCOME: The Apaches were defeated, many of them sent
to the Bosque Redondo Reservation, others escaping into
the mountains to continue sporadic raids.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Apache and Yauapai, 2,000 warriors; United States, 4,000
soldiers; Confederate numbers unknown
CASUALTIES: Apache, 1,400-plus killed or wounded, 9,000
captured; United States, 224 soldiers killed or wounded,
142 noncombatants killed or wounded
TREATIES: None, but the United States dictated terms of
surrender in 1865
In 1861 the United States found itself embroiled not only
with Confederate rebels in the American West (see UNITED
STATES CIVIL WAR: TRANS-MISSISSIPPI THEATER), but also in
two major Indian wars, one with the Navajos, the other
with the Apaches (see UNITED STATES’ WAR WITH THE NAVAJOS
AND JICARILLA APACHES). Trouble with the Apaches was
actually the result of a disastrous incident that ignited a
lasting conflict between Americans and Apaches.
Early in the war U.S. forces were withdrawn for service
in the East, and as they departed the West they
burned their military installations. The Indians, not
understanding the “white men’s war,” assumed the evacuation
was due to Indian pressure. That belief led to an
increased aggressiveness on their part. Then in February
1861 the notorious “Bascom Incident” launched open
warfare between the powerful central Chiricahuas and the
Anglos. When U.S. soldiers, led by a second lieutenant
named George N. Bascom, falsely accused Cochise (c.
1810–74), one of the most famous and charismatic of all
Indian leaders, of kidnapping a white boy and tried to
hold the Apache chief hostage until the boy was released,
violence erupted. Casualties followed on both sides, and
hostilities mounted in a pattern of escalating acts of violence
perpetrated by one side against the other—a familiar
scenario in Anglo–American Indian warfare. Now Cochise
vowed to exterminate all Americans in Arizona. The escalation
could not have come at a worse time for the Americans.
With the nation involved in the Civil War and
western garrisons about to be reduced as a result, warfare
with the Apaches was bound to be costly to civilians. As it
turned out, the whites and Apaches would spill one
another’s blood for the next quarter century.
The outbreak of civil war drained the army in the West,
especially its officers. One-third of the army’s officer corps,
313 men, left primarily western commands to take up arms
on the side of the Confederacy. At this time Confederate
Lieutenant Colonel John Robert Baylor (1822–94) took
advantage of the Union army’s weakness to sweep through
the southern New Mexico Territory, from the Rio Grande to
California, and proclaim the Confederate Territory of Arizona,
which encompassed all of present-day Arizona as
well as New Mexico south of the 34th parallel. Baylor
appointed himself governor of this territory. There was not
much the Union could do about it. Colonel Edward R. S.
Canby (1817–73), commander of the Department of New
Mexico, had his hands full with Navajo raids in New Mexico
and unauthorized, highly provocative New Mexican
But the Indians aligned themselves with neither the
North nor the South. During this period Baylor was having
his own Indian problems. While an epidemic of smallpox
ravaged his troops, Chiricahua and Mimbreño
Apaches, convinced that the Union soldiers had permanently
withdrawn from the region, intensified their raids
in the newly proclaimed Confederate territory. Confederate
authorities organized a company of Arizona Rangers to
punish the Indians, and the unit was soon augmented by a
volunteer group calling itself the Arizona Guards. Neither
was very effective, and the raiding continued unabated.
Meanwhile, Cochise had joined forces with an Apache
leader of legendary stature, Mangas Coloradas (c. 1795–
1863) (sometimes called “Red Sleeves” by the Americans),
in war against the United States. There followed many small
skirmishes in which some 150 whites were killed and half a
dozen stage stations burned. The chiefs laid an ambuscade
at Apache Pass to entrap an advance element of the 1,500-
man California Column, en route to the Rio Grande to
engage the Confederates and commanded by Brigadier
General James H. Carleton (1814–73). The Battle of Apache
Pass was a minor affair in which 10 Apache and several U.S.
soldiers were killed; Mangas was wounded. The ambush
was abandoned when light artillery routed the besiegers,
but enmity remained.
In January 1863 Mangas surrendered to civilians who
turned him over to the military. While a prisoner he was
goaded unmercifully, and when he protested he was shot.
An officer reported that he had been killed while trying to
escape. His murder is still resented by Apaches.
Inclined toward extermination on principle, Carleton
sent Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson (1809–69) to Fort
Stanton, New Mexico, with five companies under the
appalling order that he was to kill all the men of the
Mescalero tribe whenever and wherever he could find
them. Carson believed in obeying orders, but he knew this
directive was nonsense and ignored it. Eventually several
hundred Mescaleros were dispatched to Carleton’s ill-conceived
Bosque Redondo Navajo reserve, but they slipped
away to their homeland at their earliest convenience.
In the immediate postwar period in Arizona, the U.S.
military had to deal with numerous small Indian bands,
thieving to survive, and the absence of any central enemy
to fight. Several able military men assigned to the territory
failed to pacify it. George Crook (1828–90), then a lieutenant
colonel, was promised sufficient resources and
authority to confront the problem decisively. He enlisted
Apache scouts and several very able civilian chiefs of
scouts to track down the troublemakers, and he also sent
out numerous single-company columns under junior officers.
Within a year or two he brought the situation under
control. For that success he was promoted to brigadier
general. He then turned his attention to the Apaches.
Meanwhile, Cochise and his Chiricahua retreated to
the mountains, where for years they continued to organize
and launch raids on those they saw, not without reason, as
Further reading: Alan Axelrod, Chronicle of the Indian
Wars: From Colonial Times to Wounded Knee (New York:
Prentice Hall General Reference, 1993); Grenville Goodwin
and Keith Basso, Western Apache Raiding and Warfare
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1971); Alvin M. Josephy,
The Civil War in the American West (New York: Knopf,
1991); Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, Encyclopedia of
the American West (New York: Macmillan Reference USA,
1996); Robert M. Utley, Frontiersmen in Blue: The United
States Army and the Indian, 1848–1865 (Lincoln: University
of Nebraska Press, 1967).