Western Civil War Trips

In regards to the American Civil War there are several historic and unique travel stops for those planning a trip through the western U.S. If you’re looking for a unique trip idea in the West then trips to western Civil War sites might be just the thing.

civil war in new mexico

Civil War troops exhibition at Santa Fe's New Mexico History Museum

Western Civil War trips allow one to gain a different perspective of the overall strategy of the opposing sides and learn about some of the key engagements that occurred far away from the much publicized battlefields of Gettysburg and Shiloh.

Confederate activity in the West was primarily found in the Southwest. Why? The answer is that the American southwest had a good many Confederate sympathizers who had moved there from both Texas and other southern states and reaching a Pacific port such as San Diego could aid the Confederate cause greatly.

Below is a description of several of the sites which you may want to consider adding to your vacation trip planner. As with most historic sites they are either free or inexpensive to visit and provide both a fun and educational experience for the entire family. You’ll be able to take a trip back into history with great photo opportunities.

battle of picacho pass

Battle of Picacho Pass Monument

The Westernmost Battle / Battle of Picacho Pass

What was recognized as the westernmost battle of the Civil War occurred on April 15th, 1862 at Picacho Pass in present day Arizona, 50 miles northwest of Tucson and just to the south of Interstate 10.

That extreme southwest corner of the continent, while far removed from Dixie, was a Confederate sympathizer stronghold. The majority of the people who had migrated there were from the Old South and from Texas. The area was fairly neglected by the federal government and for the most part lawless so there were few reasons for strong allegiance to the Union.

John Robert Bayler was a key Confederate military figure in the New Mexico Territory. In 1861 he organized troops to fight southwest Union forces and after some success overtaking Union outposts declared himself military governor of the”new” Arizona Territory, which represented the southern part of present day New Mexico and Arizona.

plaza mesilla new mexico

Along the plaza in historic Mesilla New Mexico

Baylor appointed a cabinet and the Confederate Congress confirmed his position. He referred to Tucson as the western capitol of the Arizona Territory and Mesilla (present day Mesilla NM) the eastern capitol. .

The initial Confederate successes in Arizona turned against them due to the efforts of a Union general by the name of  James H. Carleton, pictured right. In 1862 Carleton marched the 1st California Volunteers from Fort Yuma eastward toward Texas. He linked up with Union General Canby in New Mexico and the Confederate threat in the territory was largely eliminated.

It was during this expedition that the Battle of Picacho Pass took place. On April 15th, 1862 twelve troopers and a scout of the 1st California Volunteer Cavalry led by a Lt. James Barrett was scouting the pass looking for rebels. They came across three Confederate pickets and, against his orders to wait for the main Union column to join him, attacked the pickets. Barrett failed to see seven other Confederates hiding nearby and when they opened fire Barrett and two of his men were killed.

Barrett made the same mistake that George Armstrong Custer made 14 years later but on a much smaller scale. After the ninety minute fight both the Union cavalry and the rebels retreated. The rebels retreated east to Tucson and warned of the advancing Union forces. Rather than stay and fight, the Confederates retreated eastward and left the strategic town of Tucson wide open for Union occupation.

fort craig new mexico

Ruins at Fort Craig NM across the Rio Grande from the site of the Battle of Valverde

The Battle of Valverde and Fort Craig

The Battle of Valverde took place on February 21, 1862 and lasted the entire day. This represented a big victory for the Confederates and they did move northward from there to capture both Albuquerque and Santa Fe. After the Battle of Valverde the Union troops involved retreated back to Fort Craig which was not attacked. The Battle of Valverde is considered the largest Civil War battle in the southwest. The battle site is about seven miles north northeast of the fort and on the east side of the Rio Grande.

Eventually, Sibley and his forces were defeated further north at the historic Battle of Glorieta Pass located just to the east of Santa Fe along the old Santa Fe Trail. The ultimate goal of the Confederates was to attempt to capture Fort Union further north and the Colorado gold fields further north yet. Stopping this Confederate advance was why the Battle of Glorieta Pass was so significant for the Union.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Confederates Who Fled to Mexico

New Mexico Fort Ruins

People of the Civil War

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Map showing position of Fort Craig NM and the Battle of Valverde

Mesilla New Mexico / Confederate Stronghold

For years during the late 1850’s there were several efforts by people in the southern part of the territory to carve out their own government as the “Arizona Territory“.  This actually occurred when the Confederates invaded and took temporary control of southern New Mexico Territory naming Mesilla it’s capital. A good many civilians who occupied the Mesilla Valley were Confederate sympathizers. The local Mesilla newspaper ran editorial after editorial supporting the southern cause as well as a push for a new Arizona Territory.

This all went on while the Apache Wars were in full swing. If anything, the Civil War and the temporary withdrawal of U.S. troops made the Apache matter much worse for Mesilla Valley residents. It seems that the Confederates had no better luck, and probably worse luck, than that of the Union forces in trying to quell the Apache raids.

church mesilla new mexico

San Albino Church, Mesilla NM

Historic Mesilla NM
When you drive to old Mesilla, one of the first things you’ll notice is the beautiful cathedral on the north end of the plaza.This is the Basilica of San Albino.The church was originally built of adobe in 1855 and the current structure was erected in 1906. The church was designated a basilica in 2008.

Another very interesting and historic structure is the old home of Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain. Colonel Fountain moved to Mesilla in 1873 and practiced law. He served as a member of the territorial legislature, a judge, a special prosecutor, a district attorney and a deputy court clerk. Fountain was a staunch Republican. The old Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain family home was located two blocks northwest of the Mesilla plaza. The restored and renovated home is now privately owned.

Both New Mexico and Arizona are filled with historic sites that tell the story of the Civil War in the Southwest. In addition to being able to learn more about this period of American history, the scenery is spectacular and you’ll have plenty of great photo opportunities.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Trips Into History. Photo of Picacho Pass Monument in the public domain)


Historic Dining Cars of the Santa Fe Railroad

In the course of thirty years or less since the first tracks were laid, dining cars appeared on the western frontier railroads.. Thirty years is not necessarily a short time span but the changes that occurred in the American West and it’s railroads during this period were absolutely astounding.

santa fe railroad dining car

Santa Fe Railroad's famous Cochiti Dining Car

The period from about 1850 and the end of the nineteenth century saw some of the most dramatic changes in railroad travel, particularly travel in the western United States. One of those changes was the introduction of the dining car. People today are still able to enjoy railroad dining whether on Amtrak cross country trains or scenic tourist railroads with their one day adventures.  It’s a way to experience a piece of American history from the days of great national expansion when the railroad meant everything for a town to grow and prosper.

The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Dining Cars

Fred Harvey and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad were legendary for their top quality service. Fred Harvey was so successful in managing the AT & SF rail side eateries and hotels that the railroad asked him to put his magic to work on their planned dining cars. To Fred Harvey, this was not ideal. Harvey initially didn’t feel that the same level of quality could be served up on a moving train car.

santa fe railroad dining car kitchen

Santa Fe Railroad Cochiti Dining Car kitchen

Since the 1880’s, dining cars became standard offerings on cross country trains heading west from Chicago. The AT& SF relied on the string of Harvey Houses along it’s route. In fact, these Harvey Houses were strategically located to accommodate passengers during meal hours.

To put this in some perspective, railroads without the Fred Harvey eateries along their route put their passengers through quite an ordeal. At a stop, railroad passengers might have had up to one hour to find the nearest roadhouse to the train tracks and hope for the best. Unfortunately, the best sometimes wasn’t good. The fact that there was enormous room for improvement  is what gave Fred Harvey his early inspiration.

The Fred Harvey customers usually were aware of one trademark of the Harvey dining rooms. Harvey’s meals were served in sumptuous portions that provided a good value for the traveling public. All of a sudden railroad dining reached a new higher level. Top quality food and service and the AT& SF naturally scenic train routes were a winning combination.

santa fe railroad dining car china

AT & SF Railroad dining car china and place settings

Those wanting to get a hold of some of the old Harvey House recipes might look for the book, The Harvey House Cookbook by George H. Foster. The book includes vintage recipes from the various Harvey Houses and the AT & SF railway cars. The book includes over 200 recipes.

Pictured in this article is the 36 seat “Cochiti” dining car of the Achison Topeka& Santa Fe Railroad.

This rail car was a new streamlined stainless steel car that was part of the railroad’s famous “Super Chief” train that offered once a week service between Chicago Illinois and Los Angeles California.

This dining car and seven others were ordered by the railroad in 1936. All of the AT&SF cars were named after Native Indian tribes. The Cochiti was named after the Indian pueblo of Cochiti about thirty miles southwest of Santa Fe New Mexico. This is also a good destination to add to your New Mexico vacation planner.

santa fe railroad mimbres salt and pepper shaker

Mimbres designed salt and pepper shaker from Santa Fe Railroad. Exhibit at frisco Texas Heritage Museum

The Cochiti Dining Car On Display

The Cochiti dining car has been preserved and is on display at the famous California State Railroad Museum located in Old Town Sacramento California. When you explore the interior of this dining car you can view the kitchen area and all the tables have been set with china and silverware. This is one of the most authentic rail car displays you’ll come across. This particular dining car has been set to it’s mid 1940’s condition. If your travels take you to Sacramento California you’ll want to add a stop at Old Town and the California State Railroad Museum to your trip planner.

Railroad dining cars today are quite different than the earlier cars in basic design. The Cochiti dining car was a one level rail car where the kitchen area was on one end of the car with the dining tables occupying the remainder. You might have a kitchen area with bar stools and then the table beyond. On today’s Amtrak bi-level rail cars, you have the dining booths taking up most of the upper level with the kitchen area being on the lower level. Food is sent up via a dumbwaiter.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Legendary Union Pacific Big Boy Locomotive

Historic Steam Locomotive Exhibits

Also, see our Western Trips article and visit to a restored Pullman Rail Car…

The Pullman Car and What It Did For Travel

at & sf railroad mimbres china

Mimbres design cup and saucer at and sf railroad dining car

View Santa Fe Railroad Dining Car Fine China

If your travels take you to the Dallas/Fort Worth Texas region you’ll find an excellent railroad museum with terrific exhibits in Frisco Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas.

The founding of Frisco Texas, it’s strong connection with the Misouiri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, the MKT, and life in an early frontier environment is all presented in fine detail at the Frisco Heritage Museum. You’ll also see a good collection of railroad dining car china including china from the Santa Fe Railroad. The original railroad china was made available to the public in two sales held in 1971.

Among their collections is china that was used on the Santa Fe Railroad’s “Super Chief ” dining cars. During railroad’s golden years, most railroads had their own distinctive designs used on everything from plates, cups, towels, playing cards and just about anything the passenger would regularly use. The Pullman cars which usually operated as a franchise managed by the Pullman Palace Car Company also had their names and logos on many items.

pullman car dinner plate

Original Pullman Car Dinner Plate

The Santa Fe Railroad adopted the southwest and Indian cultures as a major way the rest of the country would view their railroad. This was also included on the designs for their dining car china.

This type of china was used on AT & SF Railroad dining cars right up until passenger service was discontinued in 1971.The china featured in this article was produced exclusively for the AT & SF Railroad from 1936 to 1970 by the Onandaga Pottery Company. Today, authentic pieces like the ones displayed here are considered quite rare.

Original railroad dining car china is a popular artifact for collectors. Today, reproductions which claim the same high quality are offered by several companies. Collectors would want to verify production methods, etc before purchasing any reproduction china.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

Visiting the Southwest / The Roots of the Long Apache War

Fort Apache located in the foothills of the White Mountains of Arizona offers a very interesting travel stop. The fort was established in 1870 at the confluence of the east and north forks of the White River. This was a very important military outpost in the center of the White Mountain Apache homeland and today is within an Apache Arizona Indian Reservation.

One of the most interesting aspect of Fort Apache is what was established there in the latter years of the fort’s existence. This was the Theodore Roosevelt School, established in 1923 by an act of Congress.

fort apache arizona

One of the surviving structures from old Fort Apache

There were many ways to start an Indian war in 1800’s America. One way was to take land from the Native Americans and force them to live on reservations. Another way was to hunt the buffalo to near extinction thus taking away the most important source of their sustenance. Still another was to make a treaty and then break it. In the 1861 Arizona Territory a new way was found. That was to kidnap a chiefs family and hold it for ransom.

The Story Begins

This story starts in 1861 when a Tonto Apache Indian party raided a ranch in far southern Arizona Territory. The raiders stole livestock and ended up kidnapping a twelve year old boy, a stepson of the rancher’s Mexican wife.  The rancher told his story to the local military at nearby Fort Buchanan (the remains of which are pictured below right). The commander, a Colonel Morrison, ordered a Lieutenant George Bascom to take a large contingent of troops and locate the boy. It’s thought that while the army (Morrison) wanted to make a concerted effort to find the boy and have the ranchers livestock returned, his main concerns were the raging Civil War back east. He may not have been involved as much as he should have been in the unfolding drama.

fort buchanan arizona

Ruins of Fort Buchanan

Lieutenant Bascom

A bit also needs to be said regarding Bascom’s background and experience. A Kentuckian and recent graduate from West Point, he had just recently arrived in the Arizona Territory about three months prior. He was unfamiliar with the area and likewise unfamiliar with the Apaches. In other words, he was inexperienced on the ground. Likewise, the troopers assigned to accompany him were a new contingent of troops also inexperienced. Not a good combination to deal with a delicate kidnapping situation as future actions would reveal.

The Story Unfolds

Bascom was unable to locate the tribe or the boy. Bascom’s opinion however was that the raid and kidnapping was done by the Chiricahua Apaches which is what the rancher claimed.

His commander then ordered him to go after the Chiricahua’s and do anything necessary to free the boy. That’s a  fairly open order and a lot of responsibility for a relatively new Lieutenant.

apache pass arizona

Apache Pass in today’s Cochise County Arizona

Bascom along with 54 troopers traveled to a location known as Apache Pass where a Butterfield Stage station was located. In fact, the two station attendants were familiar with Cochise who had a winter camp in the nearby rugged mountains.

There Bascom sent word that he wanted to have a meeting with Cochise. Bascom and his men set up tents about a mile away from the stage station and awaited Cochise. Apparently Cochise, who had a reputation for honesty, was suspicious of the meeting and as a precaution took along several family members.

What happened next was probably not a good move by the army. When Cochise and his family arrived at the meeting site pictured to the left, Bascom arrested him. Cochise managed to escape from the troopers and in retaliation Bascom took captive five members of Cochise’s family. This appeared to be the tipping point.

The Conflict with Cochise Grows

A short time later Cochise sent a message to Bascom pleading for the release of his family members. Lt. Bascom refused the request and simply sent word back to Cochise that his family would be released when he twelve year old boy was released. When Cochise received Bascom’s reply, he went out with some braves and attacked and kidnapped three Americans. Cochise planned to trade the Americans for the release of his family. Bascom refused to negotiate with Cochise. Cochise was in a corner.

cochise stronghold in arizona

The Dragoon Mountains in southern Arizona and the Cochise Stronghold

The situation just continued to escalate. Cochise, pictured to the right, decided to flee to nearby Sonora Mexico and on the way he killed the three American captives. Not a wise thing to do. This intensified the conflict.

A short time later Cochise sent a message to Bascom pleading for the release of his family members. Lt. Bascom refused the request and simply sent word back to Cochise that his family would be released when he twelve year old boy was released. When Cochise received Bascom’s reply, he went out with some braves and attacked and kidnapped three Americans. Cochise planned to trade the Americans for the release of his family. Bascom refused to negotiate with Cochise. Cochise was in a corner.

The situation just continued to escalate. Cochise, pictured to the right, decided to flee to nearby Sonora Mexico and on the way he killed the three American captives. Not a wise thing to do. This intensified the conflict.

fort apache arizona structures

Commanding Officers residence at Fort Apache

Escalation Continues

When Bascom came upon the remains of the murdered Americans he hung all five of Cochise’s family members in retaliation. It’s not entirely clear who exactly made that decision.

The moment Cochise learned of the killing of his family is commonly recognized as the start of the 25 year long Apache War. An interesting fact is that the Apaches from Arizona looked upon the Mexicans as there enemies, not the Americans. The antagonism toward the Mexicans was an offshoot of the years of Spanish rule. It was the Spaniards who originally explored the American southwest and it was the Spaniards who first changed the Apache way of life. This was the situation in the entire southwest, all the way from Texas to California.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Sioux War and the Army’s First Victory After Custer’s Defeat

American Frontier Doctors

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

Could Be The best Hiking Trail in Sedona Arizona

A Situation Out of Control

The act of the kidnappings and the escalation that followed went out of control. The killings of the kidnapped victims turned into a catastrophe that in all respects could have been avoided. When you consider what occurred, you almost have to ask if the higher authorities were involved or was the kidnapping of Cochise’s family by Lt. Bascom a decision made by him alone. If it was a spur of the moment decision by an inexperienced young officer then the 25 year long Apache War may have been avoided.

apache chief geronimo

Apache leader Geronimo

It should also be noted that the period from 1862 to 1886 when Geronimo (pictured left) finally surrendered was not the only period of conflict with the Apaches.

Skirmishes took place as far back as the 1840’s and even after Geronimo’s surrender there were small skirmishes up to about 1900. Most of the latter skirmishes resulted from the army trying to put wayward Apaches back on their reservation land.

Small fights also resulted between Apaches and miners and ranchers over suspected theft of livestock and property.

The question really is would there have been conflicts with the Apaches regardless of the Bascom Affair? With settlers heading into the territory in large numbers there certainly would have been problems. Would the warfare go on as long as it did without the Bascom Affair? You be the judge. Nobody knows for certain.

Visit Fort Apache

For those wishing to visit Fort Apache Historic Park, the site is located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation about a 170 mile drive east/northeast of Phoenix Arizona, about a 190 mile drive north of Tucson and a 29 mile drive south of Pinetop-Lakeside Arizona.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos of Fort Apache from Trips Into History collection. Remaining photos and images in the public domain)

A Visit To San Francisco’s Unique Fort Point

If you’re visiting the San Francisco California area you’ll make a good choice by adding a stop at Fort Point to your itinerary.

fort point california

Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge

Fort Point is one of the most unique historical sites the the United States. The Fort has been called “the pride of the Pacific,” “the Gibraltar of the West Coast,” and “one of the most perfect models of masonry in America.”

A big reason why this fort is so unique has to do in where it’s located. The site of Fort Point is directly under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge and in the Golden Gate National Parks area. Stand inside or outside the fort gate, look up and you’ll see the bottom of the bridge. There’s nothing else like it.

In 1959, a group of retired military officers and civilian engineers created the Fort Point Museum Association and lobbied for its creation as a National Historic Site. On October 16, 1970, Fort Point became a National Historic Site. Today, Fort Point is a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service.

fort point under golden gate bridge

Fort Point with the Golden Gate Bridge towering overhead

Fort Point of course was at the mouth of San Francisco Bay well before the Golden Gate Bridge. This fort represents the story of the beginnings of California as well as US Army history. The fort stands as a historical site showcasing the American military from the time of the California Gold Rush and into the 1900’s.

A Strategic Location

There may not have been a better positioned fort to protect the bay entrance. The Spaniards, the first Europeans to arrive in present day San Francisco, built the famous San Francisco Presidio as well as fortifying the cliffs where Fort Point is now located. This was all on the south side of the bay entrance. The Spaniards were concerned with encroachment from the north by both the Russians and the British and having a defense facing the Golden gate opening was preferred

The Russians and their trading operations actually had reached all the way south to around present day Bodega Bay, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. As it turned out, the Russian colony was engaged in trading as opposed to any type of colonization. The Russians were never involved in armed skirmishes with either the Spaniards or the Mexicans after them.

fort point san francisco during golden gate bridge construction

Fort Point during construction of Golden Gate Bridge in 1934

Construction in the 1850’s

Fort Point was constructed by the Americans between 1853 and 1861 as a base to protect the bay. This was during the Gold Rush era of California and during the first decade of American rule.

The final decision to build the fort came in 1850 when California became a state. At that time a series of fortifications were planned to protect the very important and busy bay. The Gold Rush changed San Francisco’s economy virtually overnight and the bay became one of the most important parts of the U.S.

The work in building Fort Point was done by some 200 workers, many unemployed miners. At it’s completion, the U.S. was in a Civil War and the fort was manned to protect against any possible Confederate attack. Military officials stated that the fort’s position and sophistication with large brick walls (seven feet thick) at the San Francisco Bay mouth was the key to the whole Pacific coast.

While Fort Point saw no action during the Civil War the possibility was always there.

fort point pre civil war masonry

Pre Civil War masonry construction at Fort Point California

The One Time Fort Winfield Scott

Another interesting fact according to the National Park Service was that the fort was actually renamed Fort Winfield Scott in 1882 but for whatever reason the name didn’t stick. Eventually the name Winfield Scott was placed on an artillery post at the nearby Presidio. Winfield Scott was a national hero of the Mexican American War.

Turn of the Century Changes

As the years went by, many technological weapon changes took place. In 1892, the army started to construct new concrete and steel fortifications that would contain breech loading rifled guns. The era of the cannon was coming to an end. The 1906 Earthquake was obviously devastating to San Francisco and the fort wasn’t entirely spared. Fortunately it was only moderately damaged. After the earthquake, Fort Point was mostly used for training and for barracks space although the members of the 6th Artillery Coast Guard were stationed there during World War two.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Last Days of the California Stagecoach

San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill

A Six Month Voyage Chasing for Gold

A Visit to the Gatekeeper’s Museum / Tahoe City CA

fort point cannon exhibits

One of the several cannon exhibits at Fort Point

Building the Golden Gate Bridge

When you visit Fort Point today you’ll first notice how the fort is constructed directly beneath the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fort Point was actually scheduled to be demolished to make way for the 1930’s bridge building. When the bridge building plans were finalized the fort was spared and construction plans called for building around the historic fort. This was a big win for historic preservation and as a result we have a fascinating site to visit taking us back to the last half of the 1800’s.

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Cannon powder exhibit at Fort Point National Historic Site

Visiting Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point is located at the end of Marine Drive on the Presidio of San Francisco. Getting there can be a bit tricky. If you’re coming from San Francisco proper or points south of the Golden Gate Bridge, take Highway 101 north and exit right at the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza but before getting on bridge. Turn right at end of exit ramp and then left onto Lincoln Boulevard. Take the first left onto Long Avenue and follow onto Marine Drive and Fort Point at its end. There is parking available before getting to the fort itself.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)