In 1861 New Mexico was a Territory of the United States, comprising modern-day New Mexico and Arizona plus a portion of modern Nevada. This vast, arid, mountainous land was inhabited by native New Mexicans (descendants of Spanish settlers, who had been citizens of Mexico until 1846), a few American civilians (mostly tradesmen who arrived via the Santa Fé Trail), Federal soldiers (garrisons of frontier forts), and numerous tribes of Apaches, Navajos, and Pueblos. The territory comprised the modern-day states of New Mexico and Arizona, and part of modern Nevada.
Sibley's plan was daring. With three regiments of volunteers to be raised in Texas, he would strike north up the Río Grande into New Mexico, capturing the weakly-held Federal forts and their stores of supplies, gathering more volunteers from sympathizers in the countryside, and driving the Federal army out of the territory. His first goal, the capture of Fort Union and its large military supply depot, was only preliminary. Sibley envisioned the conquest of Colorado, whose gold mining profits would be diverted to aid the Confederacy. From there he and his expanded army of conquest would march to San Francisco, acquiring a seaport that would be next to impossible for the Federals to blockade. With the Confederacy reaching from coast to coast, leaders in Europe would be likely to recognize it as a nation.
Davis approved Sibley's plan, made him a Brigadier General, and gave him permission to raise the troops he required in Texas. Sibley returned at once to San Antonio, to spend the summer of 1861 raising his brigade, consisting of the 4th, 5th, and 7th Texas Mounted Volunteers.
Meanwhile, New Mexico was left in the hands of Major E.R.S. Canby, a compatriot of Sibley's with whom he had served on the frontier for several years. Both men were veterans of the Mexican War, and their close friendship led to the prevalent rumor that they were related by marriage.
Canby set about consolidating his forces for the defense of the Territory. He delayed as much as possible the departure of his troops for the eastern theater of war, citing lack of transportation among the reasons for their retention. Leaving Forts Buchanan and Breckenridge (in modern Arizona) to fend for themselves against the attacks of Apache war parties, Canby concentrated their garrisons at Fort Fillmore and Fort Craig on the Río Grande. He also sent pleas for reinforcement to the United States government, to Kansas, Colorado Territory, and California. He knew New Mexico was vulnerable to attack, and very early on he suspected Sibley's ambitions.
While Sibley was raising his brigade, a battalion of mounted volunteers of the 2nd Texas, under the command of Lt.-Colonel John R. Baylor, occupied Fort Bliss. Southern sympathizers in nearby Franklin (modern El Paso), in Mesilla, and to the west in Tucson were active in supporting the addition of the area known as Arizona--roughly corresponding to the Gadsen Purchase--to the Confederacy. Baylor saw his chance for glory and led his men up the Río Grande to Mesilla, skirmishing there with the garrison of Fort Fillmore. When its commander, Major Isaac Lynde, fled the post with his troops, Baylor pursued him into the mountains where he surrendered the entire command without firing a shot, much to the disgust of its officers and men.
The triumphant Baylor proclaimed himself Governor of the Confederate Territory of Arizona on August 1, 1861, claiming all land south of the 34th parallel. The stage was set for Sibley's invasion of New Mexico.
Word of Baylor's capture of Fort Fillmore quickly reached Colonel Canby in Santa Fe. In response he suspended the writ of habeus corpus in New Mexico and asked the new Territorial Governor, Henry Connelly, for four additional companies of volunteers. Though the Territory was sparsely populated, Connelly launched into a campaign to raise more volunteers from both the Anglo and Hispanic citizens. Canby wrote to Governor Gilpin of Colorado Territory, who was in the process of raising a regiment of volunteers from the mining towns around Denver City, asking him to raise one or two companies for the purpose of supporting Fort Wise, which lay within Canby's command. He also began assembling a battery of field artillery, drawing on men and resources throughout his department. This battery would eventually be commanded by Captain Alexander McRae, a native of North Carolina and a staunch Unionist.
Sibley encountered delays in enlisting and equipping his troops, which resulted in a late departure. The first wave left San Antonio for Franklin, Texas, in late October, 1861. Sibley had unintentionally embarked upon a winter campaign in a territory of high steppe deserts, whose plateaus more often than not rose a mile above sea level.
Two full regiments of Sibley's Brigade, the 4th and 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers, left San Antonio for New Mexico in late October and early November, traveling in small detachments because of the scarcity of water along their route of march. The third regiment in the brigade, the 7th Texas Mounted Volunteers, was still incomplete at the time of its departure for New Mexico in late November.
Early in December, Colonel Canby submitted a report to the Adjutant-General in Washington, describing the condition of regular and volunteer troops in the Territory and expressing doubt that the volunteers could be made efficient in any reasonable period of time. He asked for one or two regiments of volunteers from the East to replace the regular troops scheduled for withdrawal, saying, "The New Mexican volunteers, without the support of regular troops or of volunteers drawn from some other part of the country, cannot be relied on to resist an invasion of the country, if one is attempted." This opinion reflected the difficulties of recruiting, training, and arming volunteers in New Mexico. The effort was hampered not only by lack of resources such as weapons and uniforms, but also by a language barrier; many of the native volunteers spoke only Spanish, and some of their Anglo officers were unable to communicate with them. This would be the unfortunate cause of misunderstandings that contributed to problems when the New Mexico Volunteers later engaged in combat.
The first advance of Sibley's army arrived in Franklin, Texas, in mid-December. On December 20, 1861, Sibley, who a few days earlier had formally assumed command of the Confederate forces in New Mexico (including Baylor's force), addressed a proclamation to the people of New Mexico Territory. In it he declared, "by geographical position, by similarity of institutions, by commercial interests, and by future destinies New Mexico pertains to the Confederacy."
Hoping to gain foreign recognition for the Confederacy and to forestall any attempt by Federal forces to cross Mexico, Sibley sent Colonel James Reily of the 4th Texas on a diplomatic mission to the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua. Lieutenant-Colonel William R. Scurry assumed command of the regiment in Reily's absence. Reily bid his men farewell on Christmas Day in a camp just north of the Mexican border. Sibley's army had entered New Mexico Territory.
Moving north up the Río Grande, the 4th Texas established a camp above Fort Thorn, seventy miles from Fort Craig, where Canby was assembling his defensive forces including McRae's field battery. Canby continued to write letters to Washington, Leavenworth, and Denver City, begging for more troops and warning of the Confederate army's approach. His pleas were largely ignored.
The 5th Texas and a battalion of Baylor's men under Major Charles Pyron soon joined the 4th's camp at Fort Thorn. By mid-January their supplies were running low. On February 7th, 1862, Sibley's hungry and cold brigade began to march on Ft. Craig, leaving many men behind in Mesilla who were sick with smallpox and pneumonia.
In mid-February, Colorado Acting Governor Lewis Weld received a telegram from General David Hunter at Leavenworth, ordering the 1st Colorado Volunteers to support Canby. The regiment set off on a winter march a few days later, destined for the large and underprotected military depot at Fort Union in New Mexico. Two independent companies of Colorado volunteers had earlier marched south and were now at Fort Craig.
On February 16th the Sibley Brigade arrived south of Ft. Craig and made a demonstration of force, hoping to entice the Federals to fight. Canby offered a counter-demonstration of nervous New Mexico Volunteers, but refused to be drawn into a general engagement. Unwilling to attack the strongly defended fort, the Confederates retreated, harassed by Federal cavalry. General Sibley, who was unwell, placed Colonel Tom Green of the 5th Texas in temporary command of the army. Green was a hero of San Jacinto and an intrepid commander, a favorite with his men. Never one to hesitate in the presence of an enemy, he decided to turn Fort Craig and threaten the Federal supply line to Santa Fe and Fort Union.
The Sibley Brigade spent three days crossing the Río Grande and struggling up a sandy ravine. Federals from Fort Craig harassed them, provoking a largely harmless exchange of artillery. On the night of February 20th the Federals picketed the river, forcing the Confederates to make a dry camp. That night 150-200 horses and mules escaped from the Confederate camp and made their way to the river, where they were caught by the Federal pickets.
On the cold and cloudy morning of February 21st, Confederate pickets rode to a ford north of Fort Craig, near the village of Valverde. They were pushed back by Federals contesting possession of the water. Both sides sent reinforcements into the developing battle. Light snow fell from time to time, increasing the discomfort of New Mexico Volunteers who had repeatedly swum and waded through the chest-deep waters of the Río Grande.
At noon General Sibley, again unwell, placed Colonel Green in command once more. While Federals pressed forward, concentrating their attention on the Confederate left, Green called for volunteers for a charge on Captain McRae's battery of six guns on the Federal left. At the same time, a movement of Federal troops from the center toward their right opened a gap between McRae's battery with its supporting troops and the rest of the line. When Green's volunteers charged, the remaining supports were scattered. Captain McRae and many of his cannoneers, who stood by their guns to the last, were killed. Soon after the battery was captured by Green's men, Canby sent a courier to request a truce for the purpose of collecting the dead and wounded. By late afternoon the Battle of Valverde was over, resulting in a victory for the Confederates. Reported losses were: Federal, 68 killed, 160 wounded, 35 missing; Confederate, 31 killed, 154 wounded, 1 missing.
Due to heavy losses of horses to sharpshooters during the battle, the 4th Texas was dismounted and their surviving horses were distributed to the 5th. For the remainder of the New Mexico Campaign, the 4th marched as infantry, a high sacrifice for Texans who were used to being in the saddle.
Sibley's triumphant army continued north up the Río Grande with the six guns they had captured at Valverde in addition to the artillery (mostly mountain howitzers) they had brought with them from Texas. Swiftly capturing Socorro, then Albuquerque, they next marched on Santa Fe, the Territorial capital. Unionist citizens and skeleton garrisons of Federal troops fled before them, setting fire to the depots they were abandoning in order to prevent the Confederates from capturing the supplies they so badly needed. Governor Connolly moved the Territorial government from Santa Fe to the town of Las Vegas, about thirty miles south of Fort Union.
Meanwhile, the First Colorado Volunteers, marching south to support Canby, had arrived near the border between Colorado and New Mexico. Their commander, Colonel John P. Slough, learned of the Battle of Valverde and the Confederate advance up the Río Grande just as the regiment was making camp in the snow after a hard day's march. Slough made a rousing speech to his men and asked if they were willing to undergo a forced march in order to save New Mexico. They replied with a resounding cheer, and abandoned their camp preparations and much of their gear as they again took up the march through snow to Fort Union. They reached the fort on March 11 after a grueling six-day forced march, two days before the Confederate advance troops entered Santa Fe. After a few days' rest at Fort Union, Slough led a column south on the Santa Fe Trail. It comprised the Colorado Volunteers and some regulars from the Fort Union garrison, whom Slough had claimed on the strength of his commission being senior to that of the fort's commander.
On March 25 an advance force of mounted troops from the Colorado Volunteers and the U.S. Cavalry arrived at Kozlowski's Ranch, a stage stop on the Pecos River east of Glorieta Pass. The advance's commander, Major John Chivington, sent scouts into the pass. Near dawn they captured a handful of Confederate scouts and carried them back to Kozlowski's. The Federals now knew that the Confederates were west of Glorieta Pass. At dawn on the morning of the 26th, Major Chivington led his advance of about 170 infantry and 234 cavalry (total approximately 404) into the pass from the east.
In Santa Fe, the commander of the Confederate advance, Major Charles Pyron, became concerned that his scouts had not returned, and cautiously moved his troops, numbering around 420, and two 6-pounder cannon into the pass from the west. These forces met in Apache Canyon, near the west end of the pass, and immediately clashed. The Confederate cannoneers placed their two howitzers in the road and opened fire. Federal infantry moved up the rough sides of the canyon and sought to flank the Confederates, who limbered up their guns and fell back. Chivington pursued, seeking again to flank the Confederate position by sending skirmishers up the hillsides. He then sent a mounted company of Colorado Volunteers in a charge which included a subsequently famous jump over the gully of Apache Creek. The horsemen rode back and forth among the Confederates, inflicting casualties but failing to capture the cannon, which were swiftly withdrawn. As darkness began to fall, the Confederates requested a truce, and the Battle of Apache Canyon came to an end. Federal forces had lost five killed and fourteen wounded, Confederates approximately four killed, twenty wounded, and seventy-one captured. As night approached, both commanders withdrew, each concerned that his small advance force might be overwhelmed by concealed enemy reserves. The Confederates retreated to Johnson's Ranch at Cañoncito, just west of the pass, where they had placed their supply train. The Federals fell back to Kozlowski's Ranch.
On March 27th both sides waited for the enemy to come to them, the Confederates going so far as to dig themselves in at Cañoncito. Both also sent urgent messages to their main forces, requesting support. Confederate Lieutenant-Colonel Scurry, marching the 4th Texas northward from Albuquerque, had received Pyron's messenger and promptly urged his troops on in a forced march for Cañoncito, where they arrived in the middle of the night cold, hungry, and exhausted.
The commanders of both armies had been absent from the field at Apache Canyon. General Sibley was in Albuquerque, and Colonel Canby was still at Fort Craig, sending messages across country to Colonel Slough to return to Fort Union and wait for his orders. Slough did not receive them until after the second part of the Battle of Glorieta Pass on March 28th.
Having spent the 27th in inactivity, on the morning of the 28th both sides again moved into Glorieta Pass. This time the Confederates were reinforced with approximately 600 men of the 4th Texas and under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Scurry. When added to the men of the 5th and 7th Texas and Pyron's 2nd Texas who had been engaged at Apache Canyon, the total Confederate force numbered approximately 1285.
The Federal column under Colonel Slough had arrived at Kozlowski's Ranch, adding their numbers to Chivington's advance, for a total of approximately 1340, including about 50 who were to remain at Kozlowski's guarding prisoners. Thus, on the morning of March 28th, each force had roughly 1290 effectives.
Colonel Slough determined he would attempt a pincer movement (difficult to coordinate under the best of circumstances and with seasoned troops) to flank the Confederates and catch them between two forces. For this purpose he sent Major Chivington with a detachment of approximately 490 infantry and scouts up onto Glorieta Mesa, south of the pass, with orders to come around behind the Confederates and take them by surprise while Slough engaged them in front with his main force, numbering approximately 800. Chivington's guide was Lieutenant-Colonel Manuel Chaves of the New Mexico Volunteers, who owned ranch land in the area and knew the pass well.
Colonel Slough led his main column into the pass, where around mid-morning they paused at a stage stop known as Pigeon's Ranch. The men filled their canteens from the well and visited their wounded friends in the makeshift hospital of the stage stop. At about 11:00 am the Federal pickets came galloping back along the trail with the news that the Confederates were at hand. Slough ordered his men to advance and the two armies met about 500 yards west of Pigeon's Ranch.
Slough's main force, reduced by the number of the flanking force under Chivington, was about 800 strong. They were outnumbered by Scurry's 1285 Confederates, but they had stronger artillery. Slough had a heavy artillery battery two 6-pounders and two 12-pounder field howitzers, and a light battery of four mountain howitzers. Scurry had four pieces of artillery, two mountain howitzers and two 6-pounders, but he had left one of the 6-pounders at Cañoncito to guard the supply train.
Slough threw his mountain howitzers up onto a hill south of the stage stop, and unlimbered his larger guns in the middle of the Santa Fe Trail. The battle joined, the Confederates commenced a series of charges which gradually forced the outnumbered Federals back. At 2:00 pm Slough fell back to a new defensive line abreast of Pigeon's Ranch. At 4:30 he retreated again to a position just under a mile to the east of the stage stop. Colonel Slough by this time must have been wondering what had become of his flanking force.
History had not recorded whether it was by chance or by purpose that Lieutenant-Colonel Chaves had not led Chivington's column down from the mesa and into the pass behind Scurry's main force. It is a fact that, however, that he brought them all the way to Cañoncito. From the top of a cliff he showed Chivington an interesting view: the Confederate supply train, inadequately guarded. Chivington deliberated, but in the end he could not resist so tempting a prize. He dismounted his troops and sent them scrambling down the cliff, then formed them and attacked the train's guard under fire of the 6-pounder cannon the Confederates had placed on a hill opposing the entrance to the pass. Swiftly overwhelming the guard, the Federals burned the Confederate train, then returned up the cliff with their prisoners, and marched back toward Kozlowski's.
In the pass, fighting dwindled as both sides became exhausted and darkness approached. The main force of Federals, after steadily retreating all day, finally withdrew, leaving the Confederates in possession of the contested pass. The Confederate victory was empty, however; the loss of their supply train crippled their campaign. Losses in the battle were: Federal, 31 killed, 50 wounded, 30 missing; Confederate, 36 killed, 60 wounded, 25 missing.
After falling back on Santa Fe, Colonel Scurry soon realized there was no hope of advancing again. By the time General Sibley had arrived in Santa Fe, word had reached him of a Federal column approaching from California. This news was the death knell of his campaign. From their high mark of Glorieta Pass, a mere 74 miles from their goal of capturing Fort Union, the Army of New Mexico was now forced to retreat in order to save itself. The New Mexico Campaign had ended.