December 14, 1861 – Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico arrived at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, as part of the plan to conquer the New Mexico Territory.
Sibley’s 3,700 men had left San Antonio in late October, covering nearly 700 miles in a month and a half. The force consisted of the 4th, 5th, and 7th Texas Volunteer Cavalry, and other companies. As his men reached Fort Bliss, Sibley arrived at Fort Fillmore, about 40 miles up the Rio Grande from Bliss. He assumed command of all Confederate forces north of Fort Quitman, which only included Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor’s force.
Baylor had experienced difficulties in New Mexico since proclaiming the region to be the Confederate Territory of Arizona and installing himself as governor. Baylor had initially made Mesilla his territorial capital, but he later withdrew his forces to Fort Bliss upon hearing rumors that a superior Federal force would be approaching shortly.
The withdrawal had prompted the editor of a Mesilla newspaper to write scathing articles about Baylor’s leadership, or lack thereof. The editor called Baylor’s move “a Manassas… without a fight or even a sight of the enemy.” Baylor confronted the man on December 12, and when the editor brandished a knife, Baylor pulled his pistol. The crowd witnessing the scene pleaded with Baylor not to shoot, but he fired into the man’s face. Baylor surrendered to his second-in-command; the editor managed to write more incendiary articles before dying two weeks later.
Sibley took command from Baylor, keeping him as the territorial governor to administer all civil matters. When Sibley arrived, he issued a proclamation to New Mexicans declaring that his soldiers had come as liberators.
Within two weeks of taking command, Sibley dispatched Colonel James Reily to determine if the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora would aid the Confederacy if Federal forces landed on Mexican soil to invade from the south. Reily was also to negotiate with the Sonoran government to use the port of Guaymas on the Pacific for trade. These negotiations, which took place early the following year, bore no significant results for the Confederate cause.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 529; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 149; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 528-29; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 687