Gila River Campaign

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.


Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Apacheria

In his book, Indian Wars, Bill Yenne describes the Gila River campaign.

Having finished the Navajo War, General James Carleton had drafted plans for a major spring offensive against the Apache that was designed along similar lines to Kit Carson's winter campaign. Elements of several regiments-including the 1st New Mexico Infantry, the 1st New Mexico Cavalry, the 1st California Cavalry, and the 1st and 5th California Infantry-would be involved. Because the Apache raiders were difficult to track and almost impossible to catch, the command would conduct the same sort of scorched earth warfare against the Apache infrastructure that had apparently succeeded against the Navajo. Marching north from Fort Bowie in southeastern Arizona, the object was to sweep the Gila River drainage area, destroying Apache encampments as they could be located.

Conducted during late May, the Gila River sweep skirmished with occasional war parties of Apache, but encountered no major resistance. On May 29, Captain Thomas Tidball attacked two large Apache settlements in Mescal Creek Canyon with an eighty-six-man strike force. In the course of destroying Apache homes and supplies, they killed fifty-one Apache and captured sixteen, mainly women and children.

Meanwhile, the 1st New Mexico Cavalry under Captain Julius Shaw was on patrol on the San Carlos River. is troops destroyed a small encampment early on June 7, and late in the day, he encountered a group of Apache who thought the cavalry were traders that they had been waiting for. The two sides camped for the night, with the Apache still thinking that the troopers were traders. The following day, Shaw revealed that he was with the U.S. Army and he Apache claimed that they had never raided settlements in the United States, only in Mexico. They further promised that they would release some of the hostages-who were usually an unwilling encumberment to Apache raiding parties. They rode off, telling Shaw that they would be right back. Of course they were not. The troopers caught up to them, and in the battle, an estimated thirty of seventy-six Apache were killed in action.

Carleton continued his large unit campaign against the Apache through the summer of 1864, with a large force under the 1st California Cavalry's Major Thomas Blakeney conducting a weeklong sweep through the Sierra Pinal beginning on July 28. In this case, Blakeney actually undertook negotiations aimed at inducing the Apache to surrender. However, the talks broke down, the shooting started, and Blakeney went on the offensive. Ten Apache were killed, two were taken into custody, and Apache property was destroyed. Blakeney also left a small detachment behind to wait for Apache that might return after the troops pulled out. This group killed a further five Apache.

Though raiding and skirmishing would continue, Carleton's campaigns during the first half of 1864 marked the last major combat involving the Apache to take place during the Civil War. When that conflict ended, the Apache War continued, albeit without Carleton, who went back to California with his volunteer regiments as the U.S. Army regulars returned to the Southwest.

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