Tag Archives: John M. Chivington

Massacre at Sand Creek

November 29, 1864 – U.S. troops slaughtered peaceful Native Americans on their reservation, which paved the way toward permanently banishing Indians from Colorado.

In 1851, U.S. officials signed a treaty with various Indian tribes allowing for white settlement west of Kansas in what later became Colorado. Both parties agreed “to maintain good faith and friendship in all their mutual intercourse, and to make an effective and lasting peace.”

White settlement exploded during the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858, leading to the establishment of Denver City and other villages. The U.S. Indian commissioner admitted, “We have substantially taken possession of the country and deprived the Indians of their accustomed means of support.”

This vast encroachment led to another treaty in early 1861, in which Indians agreed to live on a reservation as long as they retained the freedom of movement needed to hunt for food. Movement held special importance because the reservation held little game and the land was too poor to farm.

The Territory of Colorado was established less than a month after the treaty was signed, and the Civil War broke out soon afterwards. The war caused both an influx of settlers and a drop in military presence in Colorado. This resulted in heightened tensions that included Indian attacks on the incoming farmers and miners, and settlers’ reprisals. Consequently, the Federal troops still stationed in Colorado began gradually restricting Indian movement.

To ease tensions, U.S. officials invited Cheyenne Chiefs Mo’ohtavetoo’o (Black Kettle) and Awoninahku (Lean Bear) to Washington, where President Abraham Lincoln received them in March 1863. They received medals, a U.S. flag, and assurances that as long as they held the flag, no troops would attack them. Lean Bear was hailed by his tribe as “a big friend of the whites.”

But by 1864, Territorial Governor John Evans had determined that Indians were impeding Colorado’s development, so he began working to remove them from the territory. Federal troops attacked an Indian band and killed Chief Lean Bear before he could show them proof of his loyalty to the U.S. The troops were part of the 3rd Colorado Cavalry, which consisted of “street toughs, claim jumpers, and assorted riffraff.” They were commanded by Colonel John M. Chivington, who ordered them to “kill Cheyennes whenever and wherever found,” regardless of whether they were peaceful.

Evans then ordered all “Friendly Indians of the Plains” to prove their friendship by reporting to military posts within the territory. Black Kettle accepted a deal in which the Southern Cheyennes would move to the Sand Creek Reservation in exchange for Federal protection at Fort Lyon, 40 miles northeast of Sand Creek. Black Kettle said:

“All we ask is that we have peace with the whites. We want to hold you by the hand. You are our father. We have been traveling through a cloud. The sky has been dark ever since the war began. We want to take good tidings home to our people, that they may sleep in peace. I want you to give all these chiefs of the soldiers here to understand that we are for peace, and that we have made peace, that we may not be mistaken by them for enemies. I have not come here with a little wolf bark, but have come to talk plain with you.”

Soon afterward, the commander was removed for “letting the Indians run things at Fort Lyon” and replaced by Major Scott J. Anthony, an officer of Chivington’s Colorado Volunteers. Black Kettle considered leaving Colorado, but Anthony’s assurances that they would continue receiving protection convinced him and his band to stay at Sand Creek.

Meanwhile, Anthony worked to disarm and disband the Arapaho tribes, and he called for military reinforcements to attack hostiles. Before his 100-day enlistments expired, Chivington led them in an attack on Black Kettle’s camp. Some men, including interpreter John Smith, protested that such an attack would violate pledges given to Black Kettle’s tribe, but Chivington replied, “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians.”

On the morning of the 29th, 700 Federal troops under Chivington and Anthony attacked Black Kettle’s tribe at Sand Creek. Most of the Indian men were out hunting buffalo when the troops descended on their camp. The Federals slaughtered the Indians’ ponies first to prevent escape. Then, as they entered the camp from three sides, hundreds of women and children huddled under Black Kettle’s flagpole, which held both his U.S. flag and a white flag of surrender. White Antelope, a 75-year old chief, was shot dead while calling for the troops to stop.

The Sand Creek Massacre | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The troops rode through the camp and indiscriminately killed men, women, and children. Many victims were scalped or otherwise mutilated, and the encampment was burned down. Only lack of discipline and drunkenness from the night before prevented more carnage. Chivington’s men left 28 men and 105 women and children dead. Federal losses were minimal, mostly caused by troops accidentally shooting each other.

Chivington officially claimed to have killed up to 500 Indians. He reported, “It may perhaps be unnecessary for me to state that I captured no prisoners.” Many western settlers who feared Indian attacks applauded the action, but news of the massacre horrified easterners, including army officials in Washington. Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck called for Chivington’s court-martial, but by that time Chivington had resigned from the army.

Members of Congress demanded an investigation of “the condition of the Indian tribes and their treatment by the civil and military authorities of the United States.” In May 1865, the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War concluded that Sand Creek was “the scene of murder and barbarity,” with Chivington’s conduct disgracing “the veriest savage” and Governor Evans’s testimony consisting of “prevarications and shuffling.” President Andrew Johnson demanded and got Evans’s resignation as territorial governor.

Despite this massacre, Black Kettle continued calling for peace, if only because the Indians could not hope to win a war against the U.S. But he acknowledged, “Although wrongs have been done me, I live in hopes. I have not got two hearts… I once thought that I was the only man that persevered to be the friend of the white man, but since they have come and cleaned out our lodges, horses, and everything else, it is hard for me to believe white men any more.”

The Southern Cheyenne chiefs disagreed with Black Kettle and joined with the Kiowas and Arapahos to go on the warpath. This ensured that more anguish and bloodshed would follow. In October 1865, the remaining Cheyennes and Arapahos signed yet another treaty with U.S. officials, under which the Indians would “relinquish all claims or rights” to the Colorado Territory in exchange for “perpetual peace.” Thus, the Sand Creek massacre began a process that ended with Indians forever losing their land in Colorado.



Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1970), p. 68-71, 73-74, 84, 86-87, 89, 91-94, 101-02; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 494; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 655; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 15209-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 525-26; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 127-31; LegendsofAmerica.com/BlackKettle; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 602-03; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 93; Richardson, Heather Cox, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), p. 36-37; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 408; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 139-40

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.”



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.



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.



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