Confederates Look to Conquer New Mexico

July 8, 1861 – Henry Hopkins Sibley received a promotion to Confederate brigadier general and “entrusted” to command the Department of New Mexico due to his “recent service in New Mexico and knowledge of that country and the people.”

Brig Gen H.H. Sibley | Image Credit:
Brig Gen H.H. Sibley | Image Credit:

Sibley had traveled to Richmond to convince President Jefferson Davis that he could conquer southern New Mexico, or the unofficial Confederate Territory of Arizona. Such a conquest could help give the Confederacy access to the valuable gold mines of California. In fact, Confederate Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor had recruited a force in Texas to conduct a “buffalo hunt” that was really a smaller effort to gain the Southwest for the Confederacy.

Not only did Davis approve Sibley’s plan and promote him, but he also authorized Sibley to set up a military government once the territory was secured. Brigadier General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Department of Texas, and Texas Governor Edward Clark were notified of Sibley’s mission.

While Sibley began the long journey back to Texas, Colonel Baylor’s “buffalo hunt” proceeded. Baylor had been given the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles, 1,000 men strong, by General Van Dorn back in May. But by this month Baylor had only 258 men left, the rest having deserted.

Meanwhile, Federals deserted Forts McLane, Breckinridge, and Buchanan this month. Colonel E.R.S. Canby, commanding Federals in New Mexico, learned that Baylor sought to conquer the territory and ordered a concentration of 500 troops at Fort Fillmore, near Mesilla and the Texas border.

Baylor and his depleted force crossed the Rio Grande at San Tomas on July 23 and camped 600 yards from Fillmore. This marked the first Confederate invasion of a U.S. territory in the war.


Sources; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 294; Faust, Patricia L, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 48; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 41, 44, 50; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 90, 92-93, 100


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