Tag Archives: Fort Craig

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 When Canby learned that the Confederates had withdrawn from Glorieta, he planned a campaign to expel them from Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and the territory altogether.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

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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

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

The New Mexico Territory: October 1861

October 25, 1861 – Colonel John Baylor, commanding the proclaimed Confederate Territory of Arizona at Mesilla, expressed concern that Federals were working to drive him out of the region.

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

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

Baylor wrote to General Henry Hopkins Sibley at San Antonio that Federal Colonel E.R.S. Canby was planning to assault Fort Fillmore and Mesilla in early November. Since July, Baylor had driven the Federals 100 miles back to Fort Craig near Valverde and battled nearby Natives. Sibley had assembled a 2,700-man brigade known as the Confederate Army of New Mexico to seize the Santa Fe Trail, Albuquerque, and all routes to California. The army began its march from San Antonio three days ago while Sibley temporarily remained behind.

A spy had informed Baylor of Canby’s plan, and Baylor had responded by withdrawing his forces south to Fort Quitman. Baylor notified Sibley that if he did not receive reinforcements, he would have to abandon Mesilla, the capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona.

Baylor also complained to the commander of the Department of Texas that he had “petitioned time and again for re-enforcements to prevent this disaster, to all of which a deaf ear has been turned.” Baylor angrily stated that if it was “the wish of the colonel commanding the department that Arizona should be abandoned, and I presume it is, he can congratulate himself upon the consummation of that event.” He concluded by writing that it was “unnecessary to ask for re-enforcements, as I presume they are not to be had. I shall therefore fall back, and await the arrival of Brigadier-General Sibley.”

Sibley’s forces would not cover the 700 miles from San Antonio to Fort Fillmore for another month and a half.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (October 25); Frazier, Donal S., Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest; Hall, Martin Hardwick, Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 4, p. 129, 132-33