Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Desert Tiger: Captain Paddy Graydon and the Civil War in the Far Southwest"

If he's recognized at all by Civil War readers, James "Paddy" Graydon is known for his flawed scheme to attack a Confederate camp in New Mexico by forwarding mules laden with lit fused howitzer shells. Regardless of which version of the story is to be believed, it was a fiasco, fatal only to the poor mules. But there is more to Capt. Graydon's Civil War service, a subject ably recounted by Jerry Thompson in his study Desert Tiger: Captain Paddy Graydon and the Civil War in the Far Southwest (Texas Western Press, 1992).

Born in Ireland, Graydon immigrated to America at age 21, enlisting almost immediately in the 1st Dragoons in 1853. The dragoons ranged across the New Mexico Territory and the Gadsden Purchase, gaining its officers and men valuable experience fighting Indians, particularly the Apache. Discharged in 1858, Graydon stayed in the area and became a prosperous businessman, and a bit of a frontier enforcer. When Civil War broke out, he formed an "Independent Spy Company", recruited from a cross section of New Mexican society. Attached to E.R.S. Canby's army at Fort Craig, Graydon's company vigorously gathered intelligence about the approaching Confederates under Henry H. Sibley. While appreciating the Irishman's success in maintaining discipline, Thompson notes that the information obtained by Graydon was sometimes seriously inaccurate. Even so, he was well regarded by many in the Union army. After Sibley's retreat back to Texas, Graydon remained in New Mexico, scouting the mountains and trails surrounding Fort Stanton. There, an alleged ambush and massacre of Apaches at Gallinas Springs indirectly led to Graydon's demise, as he was mortally wounded in a dispute over the event with ex-army surgeon John Whitlock at Fort Stanton in November 1862.

At only 63 pages of text, Thompson's monograph is a brief, albeit well researched and even handed treatment of James Graydon's army service, both before and during the Civil War. While it is fully annotated and several useful maps supplement the narrative, the book suffers from the lack of a bibliography and index. Nevertheless, in addition to its biographical features, Desert Tiger provides important insights into lesser known events of the Civil War in the desert southwest.

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