Category Archives: New Mexico

The Confederate New Mexico Campaign Ends

May 14, 1862 – Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s dream of making the New Mexico Territory part of the Confederacy ended as the remnants of his broken army finally made it back to El Paso and his detachment abandoned Tucson.

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

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

The Confederate detachment of Sibley’s army under Captain Sherod Hunter had held Tucson and operated in western New Mexico (present-day Arizona) since February. 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 were approaching.

A couple weeks later, a Federal detachment under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph West entered Tucson and found that both the Confederates and their secessionist allies were gone. The Federals quickly prepared to continue pushing east, reopening the overland mail route all the way to Mesilla and controlling the territory once more.

Meanwhile, the survivors of Sibley’s Army of New Mexico straggled into El Paso. Since their victory at Glorieta, the Confederates had endured terrible hardships due to lack of food and water, having retreated hundreds of miles through the unforgiving desert while being pursued by Brigadier General Edward R.S. Canby’s Federals. Sibley reported:

“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.”

Sibley’s remaining troops assembled on the parade ground at Fort Bliss, Texas, 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,” then continued his withdrawal to San Antonio. This ended Confederate aspirations to create a Territory of Arizona and effectively ended the war in the Southwest.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (20 May 1862); Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 529; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 304-05; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 146-47, 155; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 207, 214; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 687

Confederates Retreat in New Mexico

April 13, 1862 – Colonel Edward R.S. Canby sought to unite all Federal forces in New Mexico, while Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico began a long withdrawal due to lack of supplies.

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

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

Sibley reunited his Confederate army in early April, after the Battle of Glorieta. The Confederates had driven the Federals back to Fort Union, but they lost nearly all their supplies in the process, leaving them in a barren territory with little to eat and no means of resupply. Even raiding the territorial treasury did little to solve the growing shortage, and dissension soon spread among the ranks.

To make matters worse, Canby, the overall Federal commander in the territory, hurried his Federals out of Fort Craig to confront the Confederates at Albuquerque and ultimately join forces with Colonel John P. Slough’s men at Fort Union. When Canby learned that the Confederates had withdrawn from Glorieta, he planned a campaign to expel them from Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and the territory altogether.

At Fort Union, Slough turned his command over to Colonel Gabriel Paul, a much more experienced officer, and tendered his resignation from the army. Paul reorganized the force and led it out of the fort to Bernal Springs, 45 miles southwest, to meet up with Canby.

Canby’s men reached the outskirts of Albuquerque on the afternoon of the 8th, having marched 120 miles in a week. By that time, Sibley’s Confederates were withdrawing from both Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The small Confederate rear guard exchanged artillery fire with the Federals, but neither side inflicted damage.

Edward R.S. Canby | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Edward R.S. Canby | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The next day, Sibley began hurrying his men back to Albuquerque to take on Canby’s Federals before they could link with Paul. Both sides resumed trading artillery fire, again without damage. During the night, Canby directed his men to light campfires and the drummer boys and buglers to play music. He then led his troops on a sidestep to the east to bypass Sibley and move closer to Paul.

When Sibley’s Confederates began returning to Albuquerque around 10 p.m., they expected a fight the next day based on the sight of the Federal campfires and the sound of their music south of town. But Sibley quickly learned that he had arrived too late to prevent the Federals from joining forces. With his ammunition and supplies nearly gone in the face of a superior enemy, Sibley began evacuating Albuquerque on the 12th. This was the first leg of a long southward withdrawal to Mesilla and Fort Fillmore for resupply.

The Confederates burned anything they could not carry, but they took three howitzers plus two other cannon captured at Valverde in February. Sibley split the army in two columns, with each heading southward along either side of the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, Paul pushed his men on a 40-mile march to Tijeras, about 15 miles east of Albuquerque, to join forces with Canby. Once joined, Canby planned to destroy Sibley’s army before it could get away.

On the 15th, a Federal detachment captured the last seven Confederate wagons as they brought up the rear of Sibley’s retreat. That same day, the bulk of Canby’s force closed in on Colonel Tom Green’s 550-man portion of Sibley’s army at Peralta, about 20 miles southeast of Albuquerque. Canby hoped to seize the nearby ford on the Rio Grande and isolate each of Sibley’s columns on either side of the river.

The Federals tried maneuvering into position, but Confederate artillery held them in check. The Federals also had difficulty negotiating the irrigation canals and adobe walls throughout the town, which the Confederates used as a natural defense. Green hurriedly called for Sibley to bring the rest of his army across the ford before the Federals could take it.

Sibley’s men crossed to reinforce Green, and Canby halted to regroup and feed his hungry men. He planned to renew the assault later that day, but heavy dust winds prevented any action. That night, the Confederates forded the Rio Grande and reassembled at Los Lunas. Sibley quickly resumed his retreat along the river, with Canby pursuing along the opposite bank.

The dwindling Confederate army, now numbering just 1,800 men, came under threat not only from Canby to the north but a Federal detachment of 800 men under Christopher “Kit” Carson 100 miles south at Fort Craig. Sibley held a council of war and decided to bypass Fort Craig by marching away from the vital Rio Grande and into the Magdalena Mountains. The Confederates left all unnecessary supplies behind, along with their wagons carrying the sick and wounded.

Hunger and thirst ravaged the men and destroyed any semblance of army organization or morale. By the 21st, the army was spread out over 50 miles, with deserters surrendering to Canby just to survive. Canby stopped his pursuit at Fort Craig, confident that Sibley’s decimated force no longer posed a threat. Sibley’s dream of securing the land from Texas to the Pacific for the Confederacy ended in failure.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 302-03; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 135, 138-39; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 34-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 196-97, 199

The Battle of Glorieta

March 28, 1862 – The resumption of fighting around Apache Canyon marked a turning point in the New Mexico theater of the war.

Following the previous day’s engagement at Apache Canyon, Lieutenant Colonel William R. Scurry’s Confederates from the 4th Texas arrived in the predawn hours of March 27 to reinforce Major Charles L. Pyron at Johnson’s ranch. This brought the force to about 1,100 men.

Scurry, now the ranking commander, deployed a defense line across the Santa Fe Trail and awaited a renewed Federal advance that never came. Impatient for a fight, Scurry resolved to advance through La Glorieta Pass and confront the enemy. He left his 73 supply wagons at Johnson’s ranch under a guard of 200 convalescing soldiers, teamsters, and cooks.

Meanwhile, Chivington’s 400 Colorado volunteers and regulars had retired five miles east and their overall commander, Colonel John P. Slough, prepared to join them. Colonel Edward R.S. Canby, the overall Federal commander in the New Mexico Territory, had ordered Slough to remain at Fort Union, but Slough had violated the order by venturing out to confront the enemy.

Slough’s Federals reached Kozlowski’s ranch around 2 a.m. on the 28th, where he joined forces with Chivington’s Coloradans. Resolving to attack the Confederates, Slough advanced on the Santa Fe Trail toward Pigeon’s ranch around 8:30 a.m. He directed Chivington to lead his men south of the trail, where they were to scale the Glorieta Mesa, move around La Glorieta Pass, and attack the Confederates from the west. At the same time, Slough’s 900 remaining men would attack from the east.

Battle of Glorieta | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Battle of Glorieta | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Slough arrived within a mile of Pigeon’s ranch at 10:30 a.m. and stopped to rest. Confederate scouts looking down on Pigeon’s ranch and Glorieta Canyon spotted Slough’s advance and informed Scurry. Slough sighted the Confederates within 800 yards, and fighting began around 11 a.m.

The deep gorge prevented movement on either side. Federal artillery silenced the Confederate guns and helped repel five Confederate charges, killing or wounding all enemy field officers. The guns finally drove the Confederates back, but Texas sharpshooters repulsed a Federal countercharge. The outnumbered Federals slowly fell back, retreating to Pigeon’s ranch around 5 p.m. and ending the engagement. Scurry later reported:

“Our brave soldiers, heedless of the storm, pressed on, determined if possible to take their battery. A heavy body of infantry, twice our number, interposed to save their guns. Here the conflict was terrible. Our men and officers, alike inspired with the unalterable determination to overcome every obstacle to the attainment of their object, dashed among them. The right and center had united on the left. The intrepid Ragnet and the cool, calm, courageous Pyron had pushed forward among the rocks until the muzzles of the guns of the opposing forces passed each other. Inch by inch was the ground disputed, until the artillery of the enemy had time to escape with a number of their wagons. The infantry also broke ranks and fled from the field.”

Scurry also withdrew, believing he had won a victory similar to that at Valverde Ford in February. Both sides sustained high casualty percentages, with the Federals losing over 8 percent (31 killed, 50 wounded, and 30 missing out of 1,342 men) and the Confederates losing 11 percent (36 killed, 60 wounded, and 25 missing out of about 1,100).

During a truce to collect the dead and wounded, Scurry learned that Chivington’s men had attacked his wagon train at Johnson’s ranch. The Coloradans destroyed all the wagons (which contained their food, clothing, and blankets), killed as many as 600 horses and mules, and took 17 prisoners. The cold, hungry Confederates had to sleep without shelter under a snowfall that night.

Without supplies, Scurry had to return to Santa Fe. He submitted a report to Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, commanding the Confederate Army of New Mexico, proclaiming victory at La Glorieta and downplaying the loss of his supply train. Sibley, headquartered at Albuquerque, read that “another victory was added to the long list of Confederate triumphs.”

However, the destruction of the supply train wiped out that list of Confederate triumphs. Not only was Scurry forced to return to Santa Fe, but Sibley had to stop his effort to conquer the territory. With no supplies in the unforgiving desert, Sibley’s helpless Confederates had to return to Texas or starve. The engagement at La Glorieta Pass marked a major turning point in the New Mexico campaign and was later called the “Gettysburg of the West.”

Meanwhile, Slough was in trouble of his own. Having disobeyed Canby’s order not to leave Fort Union, his official report referred to the engagement at La Glorieta as merely a “reconnaissance.” He also bypassed the chain of command by submitting his report directly to Washington since Canby was allegedly “beyond the line of the enemy” at Fort Craig. Slough asserted that he had left Fort Union intent on “annoying and harassing the enemy,” not giving battle. He also stated that he had acted “under orders from Colonel Canby, commanding department.”

Canby was infuriated when he read the report on the engagement at Apache Canyon, having not yet even receiving word about the fight at La Glorieta. Canby resolved to lead his 1,100 Federals out of Fort Craig and march on Albuquerque, 100 miles north.

As Slough’s Federals returned to Fort Union, residents of Santa Fe tended to Federal prisoners and Confederate wounded. The residents included the wife of Colonel Canby, who treated the Confederates with such kindness that they took out an ad in the local Gazette thanking her and other ladies “for the delicate kindness which has been shown to many of us in suffering and sickness, and the attention and courtesy which has been extended to all.” A Texan noted that Mrs. Canby “captured more hearts of Confederate soldiers than the old general (Canby) ever captured Confederate bodies.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 422-23; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 302; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 128; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 189-90; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 111, 528-29, 686-87; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 687

The Battle of Apache Canyon

March 26, 1862 – Detachments of the Federal and Confederate armies in the New Mexico Territory clashed east of Santa Fe.

Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, heading the Confederate Army of New Mexico, had established headquarters at Albuquerque after his troops captured that town and the territorial capital of Santa Fe. Toward the end of March, Sibley planned to destroy the Federal garrison at Fort Union, 60 miles northeast of Santa Fe. This would isolate the Federals at Fort Craig, 225 miles south of Fort Union, and accomplish the mission that President Jefferson Davis had assigned Sibley to drive “the Federal troops from that department, at the same time securing all the arms, supplies, and materials of war.”

Federal Colonel John P. Slough, commanding at Fort Union, planned to take his 1,400-man garrison out to attack Sibley. But Colonel Edward R.S. Canby, the overall Federal commander now at Fort Craig, sent orders stressing that “all other points are of no importance” besides Fort Union. Canby would lead his garrison out to join forces with Slough, but until then, “Do not move from Fort Union to meet me until I advise you of the route and point of junction.”

Slough, a politician with no military experience, interpreted Canby’s order to mean that he could go take on the Confederates as long as he covered Fort Union. Colonel Gabriel Paul, the second in command, a West Pointer and veteran of the Seminole and Mexican wars, argued that Canby wanted the Federals to stay put.

Paul was right, but Slough pulled rank and ordered the Federals to move out. Paul warned him, “With due deference to your superior judgment, I must insist that your plans… must inevitably result in disaster to us all.” Paul lodged an official protest, arguing that he “believed it in direct disobedience of the orders of Colonel Canby.” Slough ignored Paul, leaving him behind with “a feeble garrison and no suitable artillery for the defense of the principal and most important post in the Territory.”

The Federals marched out and camped at Loma on the night of the 22nd, where the soldiers spent the evening “carousing with the Mexican women and fighting with the Mexican men.” Three days later, Major Charles L. Pyron, heading one of Sibley’s three columns poised to close in on Fort Union, received word that a Federal force was approaching him on the Santa Fe Trail.

Pyron responded by leading his Confederates eastward out of Santa Fe to Johnson’s ranch (near present-day Canoncito), at the far end of La Glorieta Pass. The pass was located at the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, about 20 miles southeast of Santa Fe, and was also known as Apache Canyon. The old Santa Fe Trail ran through this narrow, seven-mile-long pass.

Apache Canyon | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Apache Canyon | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By that time, Slough’s Federals had reached Bernal Springs. From there, Slough dispatched a 418-man raiding party from Major John M. Chivington’s 1st Colorado Volunteers to capture Santa Fe. Chivington set up camp at Kozlowski’s ranch, about five miles southeast of La Glorieta. Federal pickets captured several Confederate scouts and learned that Pyron’s force was nearby. This prompted Chivington to change his plans from capturing Santa Fe to attacking Pyron.

Early next morning, Pyron moved his Confederates into the western mouth of Apache Canyon, on the Santa Fe Trail, mainly to shelter them from the freezing winds. Meanwhile, Chivington, knowing Pyron’s position from the captured Confederates, entered the canyon to confront him.

Chivington’s troops captured a 30-man Confederate advance force around 2 p.m. as they reached the summit of the pass. A Federal scout hurried back to Slough’s main force shouting, “We’ve got them corralled this time! Give them hell, boys! Hurrah for Pike’s Peakers!” This prompted the troops to rush into Apache Canyon to take on the enemy.

The Coloradans attacked Pyron’s main force about a mile and a half west of Pigeon’s ranch, or six miles northeast of Johnson’s ranch. The Federal advance surprised Pyron, but he quickly deployed skirmishers to meet the threat. Confederate artillerists also unlimbered their two six-pound howitzers and began firing grapeshot.

The Confederate fire halted the Federals, many of whom had never been shot at before. But Chivington regrouped them and sent infantry columns up each side of the canyon. They were shielded by rocks, cottonwoods, and pines while the cavalry awaited the signal to charge. The advancing Federals caught the Confederates in a crossfire, prompting them to fall back.

Pyron withdrew about a mile and a half to a narrower section of the pass that could be better defended. As the Confederates fell back, they destroyed a bridge spanning a 15-foot arroyo. The Federals advanced nonetheless, with units working their way into the Confederate rear. Pyron adjusted his line to meet the threat, but another Federal unit soon enveloped his right flank.

The Federals enfiladed Pyron’s line, forcing him to fall back once more. As the withdrawal began, Chivington’s cavalry charged, leaping over the arroyo and sending the Confederates into a panic. They fled to a bend in the road, where they could hold off the Federals and prevent a complete rout. Chivington decided that they were too far to risk another attack and fell back to Kozlowski’s ranch.

The Federals sustained 27 casualties (19 killed, five wounded, and three missing), and the Confederates lost 125 (16 killed, 30 wounded, and 79 captured or missing). This small engagement marked the first Federal victory in the New Mexico Territory.

Pyron, having lost about a third of his command, sent a messenger to Lieutenant Colonel William R. Scurry’s column at Galisteo, about 16 miles south, urgently requesting reinforcements. Pyron then fell back to his original camp at the western mouth of Apache Canyon. Scurry immediately began heading Pyron’s way, scaling steep hills and arriving at Pyron’s camp around 3:30 a.m. on the 27th. This enlarged Confederate force awaited the next Federal attack.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 422-23; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 127; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 17, 28-29; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 189

Confederates Drive in New Mexico

March 1, 1862 – Federal troops abandoned Albuquerque in the face of Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s advancing Confederate Army of New Mexico.

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

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

With the Confederates were running low on provisions, Sibley gambled by marching them northward, farther from their supply base, in hopes of seizing Federal provisions at Albuquerque. However, town residents learned of the Confederate advance and burned the supplies on the morning of March 1. When Sibley’s men arrived the next day, they found nothing but an abandoned, empty town.

Fortunately for the Confederates, a group of secessionists seized the village of Cubero, 60 miles west of Albuquerque, along with the military supplies there used to defend against Native Americans. Sibley received word of this capture and sent a detachment to collect the bounty, which included arms, ammunition, medical supplies, and camp provisions. This helped enable the Confederates to continue moving northward to the territorial capital of Santa Fé.

Federals stationed at Santa Fé learned of Sibley’s advance and fell back to Fort Union, about 60 miles northeast in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This isolated the overall Federal commander in the New Mexico Territory, Colonel Edward R.S. Canby, at Fort Craig, about 250 miles south of Fort Union.

Edward R.S. Canby | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Edward R.S. Canby | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Although Sibley had the run of the New Mexico Territory, there were still 3,500 Federals under Canby in his rear and another 1,300 Federals at Fort Union, one of the strongest fortifications in North America. Sibley opted to ignore both forces, thus leaving the Federals with the strength to take the territory back later. Meanwhile, Federal forces quickly mobilized in California, Kansas, and the Colorado Territory upon learning of Sibley’s offensive.

While Sibley set up headquarters at Albuquerque, a portion of his army occupied Santa Fé soon after it was abandoned. They gathered any supplies that had not been destroyed and used a printing press to distribute a proclamation from their commander. Recounting his victory at Valverde and conquest of both Albuquerque and Santa Fé, Sibley offered amnesty to any Federal soldiers who would “lay aside their arms and return to their homes and avocations” within 10 days.

Colonel Gabriel Paul, commanding the Federals at Fort Union, reported that the situation was “daily growing from bad to worse. All the militia and a large number of the volunteers who were called into the service of the United States have deserted and taken to the mountains.” His communications with Canby at Fort Craig had been cut off for two weeks.

As Paul planned to leave Fort Union to try somehow meeting up with Canby, a message finally arrived: “Do not trust the Mexican troops.” This referred to native Mexicans who had volunteered for Federal service but did not much care for the Federal cause. The message continued: “If the Colorado or Kansas or California troops have not joined you, do not risk an engagement until they do.”

Soon about 900 Colorado troops arrived at Fort Union, along with Colonel John P. Slough, who outranked Paul and became the new fort commander. Slough, a politician with no military experience, had been commissioned colonel just days before Paul, a West Pointer and veteran of the Seminole and Mexican wars. This played a significant role in upcoming operations.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 776; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 116-17; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 27; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 177-78; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 288-89; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 687

The Battle of Valverde

February 21, 1862 – Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico began its mission to conquer the New Mexico Territory, culminating in a fight at a ford on the Rio Grande.

As the year began, Sibley began his drive into the territory by advancing from El Paso, Texas, to Fort Thorn at present-day Hatch, New Mexico. His force consisted of three infantry regiments and the 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers, which totaled about 2,600 men.

Edward R.S. Canby | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Edward R.S. Canby | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Sibley planned to destroy Colonel Edward R.S. Canby’s 3,800-man Federal garrison at Fort Craig, 80 miles up the Rio Grande. From there, Sibley sought to capture Albuquerque and the territorial capital at Santa Fe, and then move into either the Colorado Territory or California (he had already put this plan in motion by dispatching 60 Confederates to capture Tucson).

The Confederates advanced northward out of Fort Thorn, with the Texans in the lead. Canby, aware of Sibley’s plan, deployed scouts and bolstered defenses while awaiting his arrival. The Confederates moved to within about a mile south of the fort on February 16. Unwilling to attack Canby’s strong defenses, the Confederates hoped to lure the Federals out to fight them in the open floodplains. Canby would not oblige.

With Sibley out due to recurring kidney disease, Colonel Tom Green met with his fellow Confederate officers to discuss their options. They could not wait Canby out because their supplies were dwindling. Thus they decided to cross to the east side of the Rio Grande, move north past Fort Craig, and seize Valverde Ford, a key point on Canby’s supply line five miles above the fort. If the Confederates could control the ford, they could live off the Federal supplies coming along that route and force Canby to come out and try taking it back.

The Confederates moved out on the 19th, crossing the Rio Grande and camping for the night at Paraje de Fra Cristobal. Federal scouts reported the move, leading Canby to conclude that Sibley aimed to occupy the bluff overlooking Fort Craig. He dispatched two regiments under Colonels Miguel Pino and Christopher “Kit” Carson to block them.

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

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

The Confederate march resumed the next morning, with Sibley in an ambulance due to either illness or drunkenness. The men struggled forward in deep sand until they ascended the bluff and saw a large Federal force awaiting them at Valverde Ford. Sibley (or Green) trained artillery fire on the Federals, who responded with cannon of their own. The 5th Texas then charged the Federal line and sent the enemy rushing back to Fort Craig as night fell.

The fighting intensified on the 21st, as a large Federal force met the Confederate advance toward Valverde Ford. The Confederates fell back, and the Federals crossed the river in pursuit, pushing the outnumbered Texans into a ravine where they made a defensive stand. A brief lull ensued around 2 p.m. while the Federals brought their artillery across to the east side of the river.

Canby arrived on the scene and, determining that the Confederate line was too strong to attack frontally, directed his men to attack the enemy’s left flank. The Federals fended off a reckless cavalry charge as they prepared their assault. But then Green sent nearly his entire force forward in a full-scale frontal attack that the Federals had not expected.

The Confederates soon approached a six-gun artillery battery led by Captain Alexander McRae. Canby reported: “Armed with double barreled fowling pieces and revolvers, and converging as they approached, a rapid and destructive fire was poured into the battery.” The Confederates captured the guns and killed McRae after desperate fighting, a remarkable feat considering that most of the men were armed with just shotguns, muskets, and revolvers.

The Confederates then turned the cannon on the Federals, compelling many of the unseasoned volunteers to run back to Fort Craig. Canby initially believed that he could still win before acknowledging “that to prolong the contest would only add to the number of our casualties without changing the result.” He ordered a retreat, leaving his dead, wounded, and artillery on the east side of the Rio Grande.

A Confederate pursuit ended when Green accepted Canby’s flag of truce to collect the dead and wounded; both sides spent the next several days tending to the casualties. The Federals lost 263 men (68 killed, 160 wounded, and 35 missing) while Sibley lost 187 (36 killed, 150 wounded, and one missing). Most of the Federal casualties occurred during the Confederates’ full-scale frontal attack, which had turned the tide of the battle.

The nine-hour fight ended with the Federals falling back to Fort Craig, just as Sibley had hoped. But holding Valverde Ford proved untenable because the Confederates had just three days’ rations and not enough firepower to blow Canby into submission. Sibley therefore resolved to continue northward to Albuquerque, where the Federals had $250,000 worth of supplies. Although Sibley did not destroy Canby as planned, he now hoped to starve Canby out by cutting his northern supply routes at Albuquerque and Santa Fe. However, Canby’s Federals remained a threat to Confederate communication lines.

News of this Confederate victory, which did not reach the eastern states until weeks later, boosted flagging southern morale after a series of defeats in the East. Meanwhile, Sibley continued his northward advance.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 776; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 296; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 103, 110-13; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 23-27; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 173; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 287-88; 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

Sibley Reaches the New Mexico Territory

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.

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

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

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.

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References

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