February 24, 1863 – President Lincoln Signed the Arizona Organic Act

The Arizona Organic Act was a United States federal law introduced as H.R. 357 in the 2d session of the 37th Congress on March 12, 1862, by Rep. James M. Ashley of Ohio. The Act provided for the creation of the Arizona Territory by the division of the New Mexico Territory into two territories, along the current boundary between New Mexico and Arizona. The bill was driven by the desire to ensure that Arizona would not be a pro-slavery territory, as was New Mexico.

White settlers had been petitioning Washington for a separate Arizona Territory since 1856, hoping for U.S. Government protection from Mexicans and Apaches. They were turned down, however. But when the Civil War broke out, Confederate President Jefferson Davis took advantage of the missed opportunity and created the Confederate Territory of Arizona. As Arizona journalist Jana Bommersbach once noted:

That finally got Washington’s attention, and President Abraham Lincoln swept in, creating the Territory of Arizona on Feb. 24, 1863. He established the boundary line that divides it from New Mexico to this day.”

The provisional government established by the bill abolished slavery in the new Arizona Territory, but did not abolish it in the portion that remained the New Mexico Territory.

Arizona’s entry into the Union would have to wait, however. It was still just a territory, whereas Davis moved to bring Arizona officially into the Confederacy on February 14, 1862. Ironically, this was exactly 50 years to the day before Arizona became the last of the 48 contiguous states in the Union.

Invading Confederate troops brought an unknown number of enslaved African Americans into the territory. The Confederate loss at the Battle of Glorieta Pass forced Confederate retreat from the territory. (The Battle of Glorieta Pass, fought from March 26 to 28, 1862 in northern New Mexico Territory, was the decisive battle of the New Mexico Campaign during the American Civil War. Dubbed the “Gettysburg of the West” by some historians, it was intended as the killer blow by Confederate forces to break the Union possession of the West along the base of the Rocky Mountains.)

The following month a small Confederate picket troop north of Tucson fought with an equally small Union cavalry patrol from California in the so-called Battle of Picacho Pass. A Union cavalry patrol of 13 men from California skirmished with 10 Confederate scouts from Texas. Eleven men in all were killed. This marks the westernmost battle of the American Civil War. (Every March, Picacho Peak State Park hosts a re-enactment of the Civil War battles of Arizona and New Mexico, including the battle of Picacho Pass. The re-enactments now have grown so large that many more participants tend to be involved than took part in the actual engagements, and include infantry units and artillery as well as cavalry.)

Picacho Peak, Arizona

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: