Tag Archives: Fort Bliss

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

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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

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