Thursday, February 9, 2017

Paddy Graydon: Author Jennifer Bohnhoff Considers a Civil War Ruffian

"A Jurilla" Library of Congress

There aren't too many Civil War characters more colorful Captain James (Paddy) Graydon. He was a hard drinking, disagreeable man who was quick with his fists and short on temper, but his recklessness has earned him a place in American history.

In 1853, when he was 21 years old, James Graydon emigrated to the United States from Ireland to escape the Potato Famine. He joined the army and was posted to the southwest with a unit of dragoons, or mounted light infantry. Already hardened from his difficult youth, the blue eyed, 5' 7" Graydon learned to speak Spanish and Apache during the five years that he fought Indians, bandits, renegades, and claim jumpers in an area that stretched from Santa Fe to the Mexican border.

When he was discharged from the Army in 1858, Graydon opened a saloon near Sonoita, Arizona, where he attracted a rough crowd of patrons. Graydon wasn't suited to a sedentary life. He continued to track horse thieves, rescue captives from the Indians, and guide army patrols in addition to running his saloon.

In 1861, Confederate General Henry H. Sibley threatened to bring the Civil War into New Mexico. Graydon went to Colonel Edward Canby, the highest ranking Union officer in the state, and offered to form an independent company of spies. Many of the mean and nasty men Graydon recruited were former patrons of his saloon. They were an undisciplined lot, but very good at collecting information and doing the kind of sabotage work that regular Army soldiers could not.

There are no pictures of Graydon or of his Company of spies, but the Library of Congress sketch entitled "A Jurilla" is probably a good representation of what a member of the spy company would look like.  They wore no uniforms, rarely bathed, and refused to participate in parades and drills like regular soldiers. The bottom corners of this lithograph, from an April 9, 1863 Harper's Weekly, shows a company of spies taking two sentries prisoners. Graydon's spies did this kind of work. They were also well known for wandering into the Confederate camp and sitting around the campfires, drinking coffee and gathering information.

But the action that Graydon is most famous for happened on a bitterly cold night in February, 1862. Sibley's Confederate Army was encamped about four miles east of Fort Craig, where Canby's Army and a large number of New Mexico Volunteers awaited. Under cover of darkness, Graydon and several volunteers left the fort and crossed the icy Rio Grande. When they got close to the corral that enclosed Sibley's pack train, Graydon lit the fuses on pack boxes filled with explosives that he had put on two old mules, then shooed them towards the Confederate lines.

Graydon's scheme did not go as planned. His mules turned back. As Graydon and his men ran for their lives, the explosives blew up, killing no one but the mules they were attached to. However, the explosion caused Confederate pack mules to stampede down to the Rio Grande, where Union troops rounded them up. The Confederate Army lost over 100 animals, and had to abandon many of the supplies that they desperately needed if they were going to conquer New Mexico and the rich gold fields of Colorado and California.

Jennifer Bohnhoff teaches New Mexico History to 7th grade students in Albuquerque. Paddy Graydon shows up in her next book, Valverde,  a middle grade historical novel about the Civil War in New Mexico which will be published this spring.


  1. Poor old Mules. What an unlovely bunch, to be sure - and what an exciting read for a middle-grader!
    I look forward to finding your book - hearty congratulations, Jennifer.