Monday, March 11, 2013

Civil War In The Superstitions

March 4, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Union Cavalry soldiers mounting near Fremont Saddle, Superstition Wilderness Area c.1984 re-enactment.
Several years ago I heard a couple talking about an American Civil War skirmish they witnessed in the Superstition Wilderness between Union and Confederate soldiers. As I listened to their story, it sounded quite bizarre. The couple said they were hiking between Peralta Trail Head and First Water Trail Head when they came across two Civil War military detachments near Brush Corral. Members of the detachment didn’t speak or look at them. Actually the soldiers were like ghostly images in military uniforms. Some of the men were mounted cavalry and others were marching infantry.

Their story fired my curiosity and I started to investigate their story. They assured me they were not telling a tall tale, yet I couldn’t find any account of a civil war military action in the Superstition Mountain area.

The next thing I did was try and contact some of the local Civil War re-enactment groups for information. I was absolutely certain there were no Civil War battles in the Superstition Wilderness Area and the nearest skirmish was fought at Picacho Peak between forces of the Union Army and Confederate Army in April of 1864. I did find information about a skirmish fought near Pinyon Camp in the Superstition in 1866 by the Arizona 1st Volunteers led by Brevet Lt. John D. Walker against the Apaches. This battle was fought after the Civil War ended. As I continued my research a story began to emerge.

Yes, a civil war skirmish had occurred in the Superstition Wilderness. Actually there were two skirmishes, one at Pinyon Camp along the Peralta Trail FS 102 and at Brush Corral in Boulder Basin between West Boulder and East Boulder Canyons. The engagement at Brush Corral was between two cavalry units and two infantry units. The skirmish at Pinyon Canyon was between an infantry company and a cavalry unit. An infantry company had ambushed the cavalry unit at Pinyon Camp. Re-enactment groups from Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa recreated these skirmishes on November 14, 1984. The circumstances and details of these skirmishes are now available after almost thirty years.

Several re-enactment groups made these skirmishes possible. These units were from the 7th Confederate Cavalry, Mesa, Arizona, the 6th U.S. Cavalry, Tucson, Arizona, the 7th Georgia Infantry Regiment and the 1st U.S. Infantry, both units from Phoenix, Arizona. The infantry units entered the mountains from First Water Trail Head and Peralta Trail Head on November 14, 1984 at 7 a.m. and the cavalry units entered the mountains from First Water and Peralta Trail Heads at 8 a.m. An ambush was staged at Pinyon Camp between an infantry unit and a cavalry unit. All units met at Brush Corral for the battle between Union and Confederate forces in the Superstition Mountains.

The 7th Confederate Cavalry Re-enactment group was responsible for organizing the annual Picacho State Park re-enactment of the only American Civil War battle in Arizona. Several thousand people drove to Picacho State Park each year between 1979-1993 on the second weekend in March to witness the outstanding portrayal of the "War Between The States" skirmish in Arizona.

The 7th Confederate Cavalry also participated in the Inaugural Parade for Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1985. They served as the Honor Guard at the Capitol Rotunda during the Inaugural Event and marched in the Inaugural Parade for George W.H. Bush. The group also recreated the Battle of Gettysburg at Apacheland on July 3 and 4, 1979 for Arizona to witness. The battle drew several hundred people.

An old friend of mine, Dan Hopper, was at Parker Pass on the Dutchman Trail when he witnessed an infantry unit pass him and his partner. He said they were all in uniform carrying what appeared to be cap and ball rifles of the Civil War period. He said none of the soldiers talked or look at them. He also said they were like ghostly figures marching into the mountains. Dan just recently told me this story.

The legendary 7th Confederate Cavalry Unit has been disbanded for several years. Lt. Larry Hedrick organized and commanded this unit. The unit was cited many times for community service and historical preservation in Arizona.

If you were a witness to this re-enactment in the Superstition Wilderness Area in 1984, you now know the whole story.