By April, the conflict had escalated on both sides. Victorio and his band had managed to join forces with the Mescalero Apache in the San Andres Mountains east of the Rio Grande. The Mescalero were assigned to the Tularosa Agency in central New Mexico, but as with most Apache, the warriors spent little time on the reservation.
Meanwhile, Colonel Hatch had decided to concentrate a large force on the San Andres in an effort to both disarm the people living at Tularosa, and round up the Apache not at the agency. In addition to the 6th Cavalry contingents under Merritt and Captain Curwen McLellan, Colonel Benjamin Grierson would come in from Texas with five companies of 10th Cavalry, and Captain Henry Carroll would ride out of Fort Stanton with four companies of 9th Cavalry. The plan was to converge on Victorio's camp in Hembrillo Canyon on April 7.
Carroll's command was the first to arrive, but they had run out of water when the water hole they planned to use en route turned out to be alkaline. Knowing that the Apache were camped near a spring, they hoped that the converging columns would be able to make quick work of battle so that they could get a drink. As it turned out, Hatch and McLellan had been delayed for a day and did not arrive as planned. Carroll found his troops in a firefight and nearly out of drinking water. The Apache kept the troops penned down through the night, but just as Victorio moved in on the morning of April 8 to finish them off, McLellan reached the canyon with the 6th Cavalry. Victorio and the Apache broke off the attack and melted away before the soldiers could form up to give chase.
Victorio left three of his men killed in action, having wounded Captain Carroll and seven others. All the troopers drank from the spring, but the Apache had managed to slip through their fingers and back into the Mogollon Mountains to the west.