Results: Apache victory
The First Battle of Dragoon Springs was a minor skirmish between a small troop of Confederate dragoons, of Governor John R. Baylor’s Company A, Arizona Rangers, and a band of Apache warriors during the American Civil War. It was fought on May 5, 1862, near the present-day town of Benson, Arizona, in the Confederate Arizona Territory.
Creation of a separate Arizona Territory in the late 1850s was thwarted over disagreement in Congress on the new territory’s boundary-Northern representatives argued for a north-south division along the present Arizona-New Mexico boundary, whereas Southern representatives pushed for an east-west division along the 34th parallel. With the coming of the Civil War, the new Confederate government was free to establish the boundary as it saw fit. Shortly after the arrival of Confederate forces from Texas, secessionists met at Mesilla to adopt an Ordinance of Secession March 16, 1861. This aim became a reality following the Confederate victory at the First Battle of Mesilla on July 25, 1861. On August 1, 1861, Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor, commanding the victorious Confederate troops at Mesilla, issued a proclamation declaring the creation of a provisional Confederate Territory of Arizona, to include all of the former United States Territory of New Mexico south of the 34th parallel north. He named himself as governor and set up a territorial government that would continue in operation until the Confederates were forced out of New Mexico in July 1862.
This Territory of Arizona was officially declared by Confederate President Jefferson Davis on February 14, 1862, and shortly thereafter Confederate forces were deployed on the ambitious New Mexico Campaign to gain control of the Southwest.
In order to make good the Confederacy’s claim to the western portion of their new Arizona Territory, Confederate soldiers, commanded by Captain Sherod Hunter were ordered to occupy Tucson, arriving there on February 28, 1862. They occupied the town until May 14, 1862, and it was a detachment of these troops which were involved in the fight at Dragoon Springs on May 5.
On May 5, 1862, a small mounted Confederate foraging party was gathering stray cattle in the area around an abandoned Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach station and spring in the Dragoon Mountains, about sixteen miles from the present-day town of Benson and near Dragoon, Arizona. A force of about 100 Chiricahua Apache warriors, commanded by the war chiefs Cochise and Francisco, ambushed the party. Three Confederate soldiers and a young Mexican stock herder were killed, while the rest escaped from the ambush. The Apaches succeeded in capturing a large number of livestock and horses. This minor skirmish is noted for causing the Confederacy’s westernmost battle deaths, and is the only known engagement in which Confederate soldiers were killed within the modern confines of Arizona. It can be seen as related to the Apache Wars fought between Apaches and the Americans between 1851 and 1900.
A few days later, on May 9, 1862, after hearing of the attack, Captain Sherod Hunter ordered his men to take back the captured herd of cattle and horses, as well as to avenge the death of their fellow soldiers. The Confederates succeeded, recapturing the stolen animals and killing five Apaches with no loss of their own. The four casualties were buried near the Dragoon Springs stage station, where they remain today near its well preserved remains.