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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The Gettysburg of the West

[Refer to Map 1 to locate places mentioned in the following account of the battle.]

The trans-Mississippi West, New Mexico Territory in particular, was far removed from many of the passions and issues that defined the Civil War for people east of the Mississippi River. For large areas of the West that were recently won from Mexico or still organized under territorial government--where people were still struggling to survive in hostile environments--arguments over secession and states rights may have seemed rarified. Nonetheless, men answered the call to join eastern armies, so the frontier armies were drastically reduced. Indian raids began to increase as some tribes seized the chance to regain lost territory while others turned to raiding for subsistence, their U.S. treaty allotments having been disrupted by the war. Yet, the Civil War was not strictly an eastern war, and in 1862 Confederate forces invaded New Mexico Territory.

Henry Sibley, who resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to join the Confederate Army, realized that the void created in the West could be an opportunity for the South. After raising a brigade of mounted Texas riflemen during the summer of 1861, Sibley led his 2,500 men to Fort Bliss and launched a winter invasion up the Rio Grande Valley.

Colonel Edward Canby, who had been appointed the Union Commander of the Department of New Mexico in June 1861, anticipated the invasion and had already begun to consolidate his 2,500 regular army troops. By early 1862, Canby had almost 4,000 soldiers he could put into the field.

Sibley's Brigade approached Canby's Union forces near Fort Craig in south-central New Mexico. Threatening to cut off the fort by controlling a nearby ford, Sibley drew Canby's soldiers out from the fort and engaged them in a closely contested battle at Valverde on February 21, 1862. The smaller Confederate force prevailed against Canby's troops, who retreated to the security of nearby Fort Craig. Sibley believed the U.S. forces had been defeated too soundly to present a rear-guard threat, so he advanced north. The Confederates occupied Albuquerque on March 2. Sibley then sent the Fifth Texas Regiment, commanded by Major Charles Pyron, to the unprotected territorial capital of Santa Fe. The few Union troops retreated to Fort Union, destroying ammunition and supplies.

The only thing that appeared to be standing between Sibley's Confederate Brigade and Colorado was Fort Union, the major army depot on the Santa Fe Trail. By seizing the supplies and weapons kept at Fort Union, the Confederates would be able to continue their march north through Raton Pass to Denver, the territorial capital of Colorado.

The First Colorado Volunteers, an infantry brigade of 950 miners, were quickly organized under the command of Colonel John P. Slough. They marched the 400 miles from Denver through the deep snow of Raton Pass to Fort Union in only 13 days, arriving at the fort on March 10. After a brief rest and re-supply, Slough defied orders to remain at Fort Union. Joined by some regular army troops and New Mexico volunteers, Slough's 1,350 soldiers departed Fort Union on March 22, and they followed the Santa Fe Trail westward to meet the enemy. By March 25, the Union advance troops, under the command of Major John M. Chivington, set up Camp Lewis at Kozlowski's Stage Stop east of Glorieta Pass, a gap in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Meanwhile, Pyron's Fifth Texas Regiment had left Santa Fe, following the Santa Fe Trail eastward, marching on Fort Union. After following a southward swing through Glorieta Pass, he intended to join with other Confederate troops. Pyron's Texans camped at Johnson's Ranch in Apache Canyon, just west of Glorieta Pass, unaware of the Union troops only nine miles away.

On the morning of March 26, 1862, a scouting party of Colorado Volunteers led by Chivington left Camp Lewis to locate the Texans. They discovered and captured a Confederate scouting party in Glorieta Pass, then ran into the main body of the Confederate force in Apache Canyon, about 16 miles east of Santa Fe. A two-hour scrimmage, known as the Battle of Apache Canyon, ensued. Although Chivington captured 70 Confederate soldiers, he fell back to Pigeon's Ranch. By evening, both sides called a truce to tend to their wounded.

The following day, when Union spies notified Colonel Slough that the Confederates had been reinforced, Slough decided to divide his forces. Slough's 900 soldiers would proceed west along the Santa Fe Trail and block Glorieta Pass, while Chivington and Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Chavez of the New Mexico Volunteers would take 450 men over Glorieta Mesa to attack the Confederate right flank or rearguard. Colonel Scurry decided to leave his supply train at Johnson's Ranch and march his 900 men eastward along the Santa Fe Trail the next morning to force the battle where he wanted it.

On the morning of March 28, Slough's men broke ranks near Pigeon's Ranch to fill their canteens at Glorieta Creek. Scurry's quickly advancing Confederates came upon the Union troops and opened fire on them. The Union soldiers quickly formed a defensive line along Windmill Hill, but an hour later, fell back to Pigeon's Ranch.

Scurry's Confederate soldiers faced the Union artillery at Pigeon's Ranch and Artillery Hill for three hours, and finally outflanked the Union right. From Sharpshooter's Ridge they could fire down on the Union troops, so Slough ordered another retreat, setting up a third battle line a short distance east of Pigeon's Ranch. The Texans charged the line shortly before sunset. Slough ordered his soldiers back to Camp Lewis leaving the Confederates in possession of the field. Both sides were exhausted after six hours of fighting, each having sustained more than 30 killed and 80 wounded or missing.

Believing he had won the battle, Scurry soon received devastating news. After a 16-mile march through the mountains, the Union force led by Major Chivington had come upon the Confederate supply train at Johnson's Ranch. They had driven off the few guards, slaughtered 30 horses and mules, spiked an artillery piece, taken 17 prisoners, and burned 80 wagons containing ammunition, food, clothing, and forage. Scurry was forced to ask for a cease-fire.

Lacking vital supplies, Scurry could no longer continue his march on Fort Union so he retreated to Santa Fe. Two weeks later, General Sibley ordered his army to retreat from Santa Fe and relinquished control of Albuquerque. There was no further Confederate attempt to invade the western territories. The Battle of Glorieta Pass had decided conclusively that the West would remain with the Union.

Questions for Reading 1

1. Identify the issues that concerned residents of the western territories at the time of the Civil War. How were they different from or similar to issues that interested easterners and why?

2. What developments convinced General Sibley that a Confederate campaign through the far West could be successful?

3. Approximately how many soldiers were involved in the fights at Valverde and Glorieta Pass? Compare these numbers with those of battles farther east, which occurred at nearly the same time, in the Shenandoah Valley at the Battle of Kernstown or at Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing.)

4. What role did geography play in determining that Glorieta Pass would be the site of a battle? How did Scurry and Slough adapt their battle plans to the geography of the area?

5. Why was the destruction of the Confederate supply train at Johnson's Ranch an insurmountable problem for the Confederate invasion? What additional hardships would it have created during the long retreat from New Mexico?

Reading 1 was adapted from Richard Greenwood, "Glorieta Battlefield" (Santa Fe County, NM) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1978; and U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Four series, 128 vols. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901).

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