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The Civil War in New Mexico

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Confederate FlagFirst Battle of Mesilla

Second Battle of Mesilla

Sibley's New Mexico Campaign

Battle of Valverde

Battle of Glorietta Pass

 

 

Prior to the Civil War, residents in the southern part of New Mexico Territory had long complained that the territorial government in Santa Fe was too far away to properly address their concerns. Their sense of abandonment was further confirmed at the beginning the Civil War, when regular troops were withdrawn from the area. As a result, a secession convention was held at Mesilla, New Mexico in March, 1861, where citizens voted to join the Confederacy and formed militia companies to defend themselves.

 

John R. BaylorWith Union Troops gone from the southern part of New Mexico Territory as well as Texas, the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles under Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor were sent to occupy the series of forts along the western Texas frontier, as well as advancing  into New Mexico to attack the Union forts along the Rio Grande River.

 

About six miles southeast of Mesilla sat the tiny post of Fort Fillmore. Originally established to control the local Apache, the post had declined over the years, fallen into serious disrepair and its troops removed. However, when the Union found out that the Texans were coming in to the territory, they reinforced the fort.

 

First Battle of Mesilla

 

On July, 24, 1861, 250 troops of the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles crossed the Rio Grande River into Mesilla, arriving to the cheers of the population. A company of Arizona Confederates quickly joined Baylor there. Planning to attack the Union force at Fort Fillmore the next day, they were thwarted by a Confederate deserter who informed the Fort Fillmore's commander, Major Isaac Lynde. 

 

Taking the offence, Lynde left a small force behind to guard the fort and marched on Mesilla on July 25th. Leading some 380 Union troops, he approached the town and demanded Baylor's surrender. When the Confederates refused, the Union opened fire with his mountain howitzers and the infantry was ordered to advance. However, heavy sand and corn fields interfered with this attack. Lynde then ordered his cavalry and three companies of the Regiment of Mounted Rifles, to charge the Confederate forces.

 

Able to repulse the oncoming Union troops, both sides then began skirmishing at long range. After three Union enlisted men died and two officers and four other men were wounded, Lynde ordered a return to the fort. The Battle of Mesilla resulted in a Confederate victory.

 

 

 

Early day Mesilla, New Mexico by Carl Schuchard

At sunset on July 26th, Baylor ordered his artillery and more cavalry to reinforce him, while the rest of his command moved into position to attack the fort the next day. That same night, Baylor's men managed to capture 85 of the fort's horses, which formed most of the fort's transportation. Foreseeing the oncoming attack, Lynde destroyed the ammunition and supplies and the fort and retreated northeast towards Fort Stanton, some 150 miles to the northeast.

 

In pursuit on July 27th, the Confederates captured a number of straggling Union troops and soon overtook Lynde's command, who had been reduced to only about 100 men as they crossed the dry Organ Mountains. The prisoners were paroled and Baylor returned to Fort Fillmore. 

 

The Battle of Mesilla led to the official establishing of a Confederate Arizona Territory, which would consist of the southern portion of the New Mexico Territory and Arizona, and paved the way for the Confederate New Mexico Campaign the following year.

 

On August 1, 1861 Baylor declared the establishment of the Confederate Arizona Territory, installed himself as the new territory's military governor, made Mesilla the capitol, and declared martial law.

 

 

Second Battle of Mesilla

 

Less than a year later, another battle would be fought near Mesilla on June 1, 1862 between Arizona rebels and the New Mexican Militia. Known as the Second Battle of Mesilla, the engagement ended with a Union victory though neither side had any casualties. However, the Confederate forces lost precious supplies and several horses, forcing them to retreat.  The rebels officially withdrew from Mesilla a few days later on June 7th. It was the last engagement between Union and Confederate forces in the Confederate Arizona Territory.

 

 

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