In early May, the survivors of Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico began straggling into El Paso after their grueling retreat from the New Mexico Territory. Since their victory at Glorieta, the Confederates had endured terrible hardships due to lack of food and water, having covered hundreds of miles through the unforgiving desert while being pursued by Brigadier General Edward R.S. Canby’s Federals. They passed the convent of the Loretto Academy on their march, where Mother Magdalen Hayden noted, “All were in a most needy and destitute condition.”
The Confederate column stretched 50 miles, and it took nine days for the whole army to finally reach El Paso. Sibley assembled the ragged remnants of his broken army at Fort Bliss on May 14. Of the 3,700 men who had begun the New Mexico campaign, less than 2,000 remained.
Sibley thanked the troops for their sacrifice during “this more than difficult campaign,” as well as for the “successes which have crowned their arms in the many encounters with the enemy during the short but brilliant campaign which has just terminated.” He asserted that the attempt to conquer the New Mexico Territory would be “duly chronicled, and form one of the brightest pages in the history of the Second American Revolution.”
His men were not impressed. Sibley hurried off to San Antonio, leaving the army to fend for itself at Fort Bliss. Many accused him of cowardice, with one officer stating that “bad management has been the cause of our ruin.” Most of the men refuted Sibley’s claim that the campaign would be remembered, with one predicting that “our operations out here will all be lost in history.” They also refused to acknowledge defeat by maintaining they had been “starved out, not run out.”
In his official report, Sibley offered a bitter opinion of the territory that he had tried to conquer:
“Except for its geographical position, the Territory of New Mexico is not worth a quarter of the blood and treasure expended in its conquest. As a field for military operations it possesses not a single element, except in the multiplicity of its defensible positions. The indispensible element, food, cannot be relied on. I cannot speak encouragingly for the future, my troops having manifested a dogged, irreconcilable detestation of the country and the people.”
Meanwhile, a Confederate detachment of Sibley’s army had been operating around Tucson and western New Mexico (present-day Arizona) since February, led by Captain Sherod Hunter. During that time, Federal forces had been mobilized from various forts in California and concentrated at Fort Yuma to drive Hunter out. In early May, Hunter, having less than 100 men, evacuated Tucson upon learning that Colonel James H. Carleton’s “California Column” of about 1,800 troops was approaching.
In late May, a Federal detachment under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph West entered Tucson and found that both the Confederates and their secessionist allies were gone. The Federals had regained control of western New Mexico. They quickly prepared to continue pushing east in hopes of reopening the overland mail route all the way to Mesilla and controlling the territory once more.
This ended Confederate aspirations to create a Territory of Arizona and effectively ended the war in the Southwest.
- Cutrer, Thomas W., Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River. The University of North Carolina Press, (Kindle Edition), 2017.
- Davis, William C. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- Stanchak, John E. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.