James Henry Carleton

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James Henry Carleton
Carleton, James Henry.jpg
James Henry Carleton
Born (1814-12-27)December 27, 1814
Lubec, Maine
Died January 7, 1873(1873-01-07) (aged 58)
San Antonio, Texas
Place of burial Mount Auburn Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch Union Army
Years of service 1839 - 1873
Rank Union army lt col rank insignia.jpg Lieutenant Colonel, USA
Union army brig gen rank insignia.jpg Brigadier General, USV
Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major General, USA
Unit 1st U.S. Dragoons
Commands held 1st California Infantry
District of Southern California
California Column
Department of New Mexico

Aroostook War
Mexican-American War

Indian Wars

American Civil War

James Henry Carleton (December 27, 1814 – January 7, 1873) was an officer in the U.S. Army and a Union general during the American Civil War. Carleton is best known as an Indian fighter in the southwestern United States.


Carleton was born in Lubec, Maine. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1839, during the Aroostook War, and took part in the Mexican-American War. He served in the 1st U.S. Dragoons in the American West, participating as a lieutenant in an 1844 expedition to the Pawnee and the Oto.[1] One of Carleton's children, Henry Guy Carleton (1852–1910) was a journalist, playwright, and inventor.

Mountain Meadows Massacre[edit]

In May 1859, Maj. Carleton and K Company of the 1st Dragoons out of Fort Tejon, California, were detailed to escort Maj. Henry Prince, a paymaster with government funds, to the Southern Utah Territory. Arriving at Mountain Meadows, the command rendezvoused with the Santa Clara Expedition of the Department of Utah from Camp Floyd under the command of Capt. Ruben Campbell[2] who had arrived the previous week. With orders from Gen. Newman S. Clarke, commander of the Department of California, to bury the victims of the September 1857 massacre,[3] the dragoons gathered and buried the remains of 34 in a mass grave.[4] A crude monument was constructed of rocks, with a cedar cross and an engraved marker. Assistant Surgeon Charles Brewer of the Santa Clara Expedition was in charge of a burial detail that had interred the remains of 39 in three mass graves a few days before the arrival of K Company.[5]

After investigating the incident, Carleton felt his findings were significant enough to deliver as a special report[6] to Maj. W. W. Mackall, Assistant Adjutant-General, U.S.A., San Francisco, California. Carleton concluded that Mormons, some dressed as Indians, and assisted by Paiute tribesmen, had murdered and plundered the possessions of 120 men, women, and children of a California-bound emigrant train. In 1860 Carleton, with a reinforced 1st Dragoons, Company K, attacked suspected Paiute raiders along the Mojave Road.

Civil War service[edit]

In 1861 Carleton raised and was appointed colonel of the 1st California Volunteer Infantry Regiment. In October 1861, Col. Carleton replaced Brigadier Gen. George Wright as commander of the District of Southern California. In 1862 he commanded the so-called California Column during its advance across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and into Texas. Along the way the Californians fought the Battle of Picacho Pass and, afterward, the Battle of Apache Pass.

Carleton was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on April 28, during the march from California to Arizona. He also established Fort Bowie near Apache Pass. Carleton finally linked up with Union forces under Gen. Edward R. S. Canby in New Mexico. After the Confederate threat to New Mexico seemed eliminated, Canby and many of the Union forces were sent to the east, so in late August, Carleton was placed in command of the Department of New Mexico. Although a strict disciplinarian, he remained popular with his men.[7]

Uncertain whether the Confederates would re-invade, Carleton took measures such as maintaining spies along the New Mexico-Texas border and retaining the services of volunteer units from Colorado which had played a prominent role in expelling the Confederates from New Mexico in winter and spring 1862. In fall 1862 Carleton also decreed several security measures including internal passports, curfews, and martial law.[8]

Near the end of the Civil War in 1865, Carleton was breveted major general in the regular army. He retained command of his volunteer troops until 1866 when U.S. Regulars took over in the West. After the war, Carleton became a companion of the New York Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.

After his discharge from the Volunteer Army, Carleton was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 4th U.S. Cavalry in July 1866.

Navajo Campaign[edit]

While New Mexico department commander, Carleton concentrated on the threat posed by Navajo raiders. His campaign against the Navajos was relentless, with his primary field commander being Col. Christopher "Kit" Carson.

In October 1862, Carleton established Fort Sumner to house the Navajos, despite warnings of its unsuitability for a large human presence.[8] Against the "great evil" of Navajo raiders he began scorched earth tactics, stating they "must be whipped and fear us before they will cease killing and robbing the people."[8] After the Navajo surrender at Canyon de Chelly, the entire nation was forced on the Long Walk to Fort Sumner. Carleton found "severity would be the most humane course" and felt expropriating the Navajo was in their best interests.[8] After the journey 2,000 Navajos remained unaccounted for, with official records stating 336 died along the way.[9]

Carleton next sent Carson on an expedition to rid the southwest of raids by other tribes, which resulted in the Battle of Adobe Walls. One notorious quote by Carleton on the Mescalero Apache:

"All Indian men of that tribe are to be killed whenever and wherever you can find them…. If the Indians send in a flag of truce say to the bearer ... that you have been sent to punish them for their treachery and their crimes. That you have no power to make peace, that you are there to kill them wherever you can find them."[10]

Literary efforts and death[edit]

Carleton wrote several books on the military: The Battle of Buena Vista (1848), Diary of an Excursion to the Ruins of Abo, Quarra, and the Grand Quivira in New Mexico in 1853 (1855) and The Prairie Log Books (posthumous, 1944). Partly on the strength of The Battle of Buena Vista Carleton received an appointment from Secretary of War Jefferson Davis in 1856 to make a study of European cavalry tactics. Carleton did not make the trip abroad himself, but based his report on the observations of Capt. George B. McClellan, recently returned from Europe.

Carleton died January 7, 1873, aged 59, in San Antonio, Texas, serving with the 4th Cavalry Regiment in his permanent rank of lieutenant colonel. He was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts; his son Henry was later buried beside him.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carleton, James Henry (1983), The Prairie Logbooks, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, pp. 3–152, ISBN 0-8032-6314-7 
  2. ^ Thompson, Jacob. Message of the President of the United States: communicating, in compliance with a resolution of the Senate, information in relation to the massacre at Mountain Meadows, and other massacres in Utah Territory, 36th Congress, 1st Session, Exec. Doc. No. 42, Washington D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1860 p. 14
  3. ^ Carleton, James Henry. Special Report on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902, p. 1
  4. ^ Carleton, 1902, p. 15
  5. ^ Thompson, pp. 16-17
  6. ^ Carleton, 1902, p. 17
  7. ^ Balance, Jim. Major General James Henry Carleton Accessed August 21 2014
  8. ^ a b c d Sides, Hampton, Blood and Thunder, New York City: Doubleday, 2006, pp. 516-517. ISBN 0-385-50777-1.
  9. ^ Dunlay, Tom. Kit Carson and the Indians, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000, pp. 304-305, ISBN 978-0803266421
  10. ^ Eigen's Political & Historical Quotations -- http://politicalquotes.org


  • Eicher, John H., & Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Hunt, Aurora, James H. Carleton, 1814–1873, Western Frontier Dragoon, Frontier Military Series II, Glendale, California: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1958.
  • Pettis, George Henry, The California column. Its campaigns and services in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, during the Civil War, with sketches of Brigadier General James H. Carleton, its commander, and other officers and soldiers, Santa Fe: New Mexican Printing Co., 1908 [1]

Research resources[edit]