Monday, March 05, 2007

New Mexico

Dates: 7 February to 23 July, 1862


Union: Colonel Edward Canby, commanding Federal forces in New Mexico Territory.

Confederate: Brigadier General Henry Sibley.

Prelude: Not many people know that there were battles in what was called the Far West. These battles were not as massive as Shiloh, Fredericksburg, or Gettysburg, but the campaign in New Mexico Territory was no less important. The region was under Federal control, blocking the CSA from further expansion. Those in Texas saw the region as a possible source of mineral wealth as well as a route for rail lines.

3 July, 1861: As the two nations focused on events in Virginia, a small Confederate force under Lieutenant Colonel John Baylor seize Fort Bliss, near El Paso.

27 July, 1861: Baylor’s force enters New Mexico and captures Fort Fillmore. They drive out a small Federal garrison under Major Isaac Lynde east to San Augustin Springs, and force their surrender.

This gives the Confederates a toehold in New Mexico and they waste no time. A Confederate Territory of Arizona was created and a local supporter was selected as a delegate to the Confederate Congress in Richmond, VA. (New Mexico Territory included the area that would one day be known as Arizona.)

This presented the Confederates with an opportunity. Sibley begins gathering a force to invade the territory and secure it for the CSA. At Fort Thorn, NMT a group of 3500 is gathered.

Sibley was a 1838 graduate of West Point who was known for designing a tent that is being used by both sides. His previous battle experience was as member of the 1st US Dragoons (cavalry) in the Mexican War. He resigned his commission as a Major and was made a Confederate Brigadier General. He is known to take to the bottle, which hampers his abilities.

7 February, 1862: Sibley and his Army of New Mexico began moving up the Rio Grande deeper into New Mexico. The first target was the Union Garrison at Valverde. Canby was already alerted to Sibley’s advance and was making preparations at Fort Craig.

Canby was a 1836 graduate of West Point and was a veteran of the Mexican and Seminole wars, as well as the “Trail of Tears,” the forced removal of Cherokee, Creeks, and Choctaws west. He was posted to New Mexico Territory after a tour in the 19th US Infantry. He commands the Department of New Mexico and has a force of 3800, mainly New Mexico Volunteers.

As Sibley approached, he saw that the Federals were prepared for him and decided to cross the Rio Grande and take Valverde. Canby detaches some of his force to hold the ford at Valverde.

21 February, 1862: Battle of Valverde: Canby crosses the Rio Grand and establishes a beachhead on the east bank. The Confederates launch a two-pronged counterattack. Their left wing is repulsed while the right wing captures a cannon the Federals brought with them. Canby is forces to pull back to Fort Craig where they are bottled up. Sibley orders the advance to continue.

With Canby pinned in Fort Craig, the Confederates keep moving north. Meanwhile, the call went out for volunteers to repel the Confederates. A force was formed in Colorado under the command of Colonel John Slough consisting of 1342 miners from Denver. They began moving south.

1 March, 1862: Sibley’s troops capture Albuquerque. They soon press on to Santa Fe.

11 March, 1862: Slough’s Federals reach Fort Union. These troops are formed as the 1st and 2nd Colorado Cavalry.

22 March, 1862: Slough begins an advance with the aim of taking back Santa Fe. Sibley responds with his own advance east.

25 March, 1862: Part of Slough’s force, led by Major John Chivington, intercepts a force of 400 Confederates at Apache Canyon and begins a running battle. The Federals soon pull back to join the main Union group.

26 March, 1862: Battle of Glorieta Pass: Confederate Colonel William R. Scurry leads a force of 1100 advancing to hit Slough’s lines. While the Confederates were being occupied, Slough sent Chivington to Johnson’s Ranch, near Apache Pass. There the Federals proceed to destroy the supplies that Scurry counted on for survival in New Mexico’s desert environment. He orders a retreat back to Santa Fe.

This strikes a fatal blow to any Confederate effort to keep New Mexico. Sibley knew that without supplies, he could not sustain operations in the area.

11 April, 1862: Sibley orders Santa Fe evacuated. The plan is to pull back to a major supply base, the closest one being San Antonio, TX.

As the Confederates pull back from Santa Fe, then Albuquerque, Slough mounts a pursuit. This adds pressure to Sibley, as now he has to avoid capture, as well as the lack of food and water, and the weather is already hot. Troops starve and die of thirst and heat exhaustion along the route.
23 April, 1862: Sibley and what’s left of the Army of New Mexico leaves Mesilla for San Antonio. The next day they cross into Texas, ending the campaign, dissolving the Confederate Territory of Arizona, and ending any future Confederate efforts in the Far West.

Canby was given the brevet (holds the rank but not the pay) rank of Brigadier General for his efforts. He was soon ordered to Washington DC as an assistant adjutant general. After a promotion to Major General, he was sent to New York after the Draft Riots of 1863. Although given command of both the Departments of the Gulf and Arkansas. His main job was the capture of Mobile, AL but his biggest triumph was accepting the surrender of the last Confederate Armies in the field at the close of the war. He remained in the US Army, seeing duty in the South during Reconstruction and then command of the Department of the Pacific. He was negotiating with the Modoc Indians when he was killed in a surprise attack on 11 April, 1873.

Sibley spent the rest of the war without a command. Post-war he went to Egypt where he served the Khedive as a artillery general. On return to the US, he went on the lecture circuit, but that did not work too well for him. He dies in 1886.

Slough had a better career in the war as he became a brigade commander under Major General John Pope and later as commander of the Alexandria, VA garrison. Post-war he went back to New Mexico Territory where he became the chief justice of the Territorial Supreme Court. He was wounded in a Santa Fe poolroom and died two days later.

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