Battle of Glorieta Pass the Gettysburg of the West?


Is This Any Place to Have A Civil War Battle?

CSS Shenandoah Fired Last Shot of Civil War Two Months After It Was Over

On This Date in History:  When we speak of the US Civil War, one thinks of great battles in the eastern and southern parts of the country.  There were however battles on the high seas and in areas far from the main battle fields.  The last battle fought on land was the Battle of Palmetto Ranch in South Texas of all places and it came after the war was over in May 1865.  Communications were rather slow and so no one got the message that the south had lost so those who died near the Rio Grande River really did die in vain.  That would suck to fight a battle in a war that was over.  But, it wasn’t the first time.  The Battle of New Orleans was fought after the War of 1812 was complete.   While Palmetto Ranch was the last land battle fought, the last shot fired in the Civil War two months after hostilities had ended on June 22, 1865 when the CSS Shenandoah’s guns finally went silent in a battle in the Bering Strait.

From These Heights It's Easy to Control This Mountain Pass

The State of Texas was marked the farthest western edge of the United States except for California and Oregon.  The region in much of the west were US territories that had not been organized into states.  While the war was largely fought over the expansion of slavery in the new territories, very  little action took place in the West…except for New Mexico.  The Confederates had many grand plans at the outset of the war and one included capturing gold and silver mines in the West.  Success would give the slavocracy some hard currency that might lend legitimacy in international circles as well as permit it to actually pay for war supplies instead of operating on credit.  The first thing that the Confederacy did in 1862 was claim that the southern half of the Arizona Territory and the New Mexico Territory was the Confederate Arizona Territory. 

Out West, Without Your Own Supplies You're Doomed

The supposed capital was Mesilla which is outside of the booming New Mexico metropolis of Las Cruces.    Seems to me that I’ve eaten lunch several times in Las Cruces.  When traveling out west even today, places with adequate supplies are hard to find.  Well, that was true back in the mid 19th century and the Confederates in general were not nearly as well supplied as their Union adversaries.  Back East, Confederate Armies regularly foraged the land and took supplies from the citizenry for support.  Out west, there wasn’t really anything to forage and the Union Army forts were relatively well supplied.  So, Brig. General Henry Hopkins Sibley took his forces from the south and moved North where he ran into Union Colonel Edward Canby’s army.  Canby was defeated and went in retreat to his base at Fort Craig.  Fort Craig was near present day Truth or Consequences and that is well south of Santa Fe.  Instead of doing what he was supposed to do and capture Fort Craig, Sibley bypassed it and moved North to take Santa Fe. If you look closely, you can see that the route taken by the Confederate forces from Mesilla to Fort Craig and then to Santa Fe follows the exact route of the current I-25.  Now,  it’s generally not a good idea to leave a substanative enemy force in your rear and Sibley found out why.  See…from Fort Craig, Canby was able to disrupt the supply and wagon trains to Sibley’s army.

Sibley Looked Good But Should Have Checked His Rear

Sibley sent about 300 Texans to Glorieta Pass with the idea that control of the pass would mean that the Sibley could take a large force through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to attack Fort Union in the northwestern quadrant of modern day New Mexico.  On March 26 there was some initial skirmishing and the timing was good for the Confederates because the 400 Union soldiers at Glorieta Pass had just  gotten there a few hours earlier at the conclusion of a forced march from Denver.  The next day, not much happened except that each side gained reinforcements with the Union Army numbers rising to about 1300 and the Confederates fielding about 1100.  These numbers are way way less those associated with most Civil War Battles. 

Does This Painting Look Anything Like The Battle of Gettysburg?

Nevertheless, the battle took place on this date in 1862.  All told, between fighting in the pass and also in Apache Canyon, casualties were pretty even with the Union suffering 51 deaths and 50 Confederates died.  Casualties for the North numbered 78 to 80  wounded for the South.  As previously mentioned, an army can only go as far as the supplies can last and out west you almost always had to bring your own.  New Mexico volunteer leader for the North, Lt. Colonel Manuel Chaves reported that scouts had  found the Confederate wagon train.  So, Union officer in command Major John M. Chivington who  for some reason decided to observe the activity for an hour or so before ordering an attack.  On the battlefield, the Confederates had pushed the Union out of the pass and controlled the field.  But, because they had lost some 500 mules and horses as well as all of their supplies.  Seems that they forgot to leave enough men in the rear with the gear for defense.  So, even though they won the day, the Confederates lost because they had to retreat back to Santa Fe.  Eventually, CSA had to retreat all the way back to San Antonio, Texas.  Somehow, some historians apparently call the Battle of Glorieta Pass the “Gettysburg of the West” but I think that’s a bit over the top.  But, it is an interesting battle and outcome.

Weather Bottom Line:  I had to watch part of the UK game in the dark.  Snow White turned out the lights for Earth Hour.  The kitties and I were not amused.  Sunday will feature clouds and rain and perhaps some rumbles of thunder.  Anything worthwhile should stay to our South.  There really wasn’t much action on Saturday except for a few hail reports associated with cold air connected with the upper low.  Otherwise, nothing too earth shattering.  Now, this week will be interesting.  Skies clearing on Monday high mid 50’s.  Then low 60’s then low 70’s on Wednesday and I suspect that we will be pushing 80 on Thursday and in the low 80’s for Friday and Saturday.  A big fat high gets set up along the Gulf Coast.  We will get a nice southerly and then southwesterly flow.  By the end of the week I betcha we have a severe weather outbreak in the plains states.   Could be interesting around here on Sunday…long way out…but we’ll have to see.

2 Responses

  1. I’ve studied the Civil War (many years ago), but I never knew of this battle. Thanks for educating me!

    Randolph Mase, Fiction Writer
    http://randolphmase.wordpress.com
    http://twitter.com/randolphmase

  2. It’s not very well known. I suspect that it was the locals who came up with “the Gettysburg of the West” to help drum up tourism because it’s a real stretch to try to make that comparison from any point of view. Glad you liked it.

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