Tag Archives: Charles L. Pyron

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