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Civil War in New Mexico - Page 2

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Sibley's New Mexico Campaign (February-March 1862) - Led by Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, southern troops invaded northern New Mexico Territory beginning in February, 1862 in an attempt to gain control of the Southwest, as well as the gold fields of Colorado and the ports of California. One of the most ambitious Confederate campaigns of the Trans-Mississippi Theater, the rebels hoped to establish control of the American West and to open an additional theater in the war.


In the Spring of 1861, Sibley, a Louisianan who had just resigned from the U.S. Army, met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis, outlining a strategy to take over the American West. The plan called for an invasion along the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, seizing Colorado Territory, which was in the height of a gold rush, as well as Fort Laramie, Wyoming, which was the most important garrison along the Oregon Trail.


Sibley then planned on focusing on areas farther west to attack mineral-rich Nevada and California. His strategy also included taking the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sonora, and Lower California, either through purchase or by invasion.


The extremely ambitious plan was made more manageable by carrying  minimal supplies, instead, capturing supplies at Union forts and depots along the Santa Fe Trail and living off the land. He also planned to recruit new soldiers along the way, certain that there was much Confederate sentiment and cooperation in the sparsely defended deserts.




Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley

Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley came up with one of the most ambitious Confederate campaigns of the Trans-Mississippi Theater.




New Mexico Campaign Map, 1862President Davis agreed to the plan and gave Sibley a brigadier general's commission.


Leading more than 2,000 troops, Sibley left San Antonio, Texas in November, 1861, stopping in El Paso to recruit more soldiers. They then marched onward to Mesilla, the Confederate Capitol of Arizona Territory. On December 20, 1861, now in command of the Army of New Mexico, issued a proclamation taking possession of New Mexico in the name of the Confederate States. He called on the citizens to abandon their allegiance to the Union and to join the Confederacy, warning that those "who co-operate with the enemy will be treated accordingly, and must be prepared to share their fate."


In February, 1862, Sibley led his men northward up the Rio Grande Valley toward the territorial capital of Santa Fe and the storehouses at Fort Union. Along the way, Sibley's first objective was to capture Fort Craig, New Mexico.



Battle of Valverde


Making their way across and up the east side of the Rio Grande River to the ford at Valverde, north of Fort Craig, the Confederates hoped to cut Federal communications between the fort and military headquarters in Santa Fe. However, on February 20, 1862, some 3,000 men led by Union Colonel Edward Richard Sprigg Canby left Fort Craig to prevent the some 2,500 Confederates from crossing the river. When he was opposite them, across the river, Canby opened fire and sent the Union Cavalry over, forcing the Rebels back. The Confederates halted their retirement at the Old Rio Grande riverbed, which served as an excellent position. After crossing all his men, Canby decided that a frontal assault would fail and deployed his force to assault and turn the Confederate left flank. Before he could do so, though, the Rebels attacked. The Union forces were able to rebuff a cavalry charge, but the main Confederate force made a frontal attack, capturing six artillery pieces, forcing the Union battle line to break, and causing many of the Federal troops to flee. Canby then ordered a retreat.


Fort Craig, New MexicoIn the meantime, more Confederate reinforcements arrived and Sibley was about to order another attack. After battling for two days, Canby asked for a truce, by a white flag, to remove the bodies of the dead and wounded. Left in possession of the battlefield, the Confederates claimed victory but, they had suffered heavy casualties, an estimated 187. The Union also suffered with an estimated 202 casualties.


Although a Confederate victory, Sibley determined he had lost too many men and supplies to take Fort Craig itself, and went north around the post to head to Albuquerque, where the Federals had stored $250,000 worth of goods. Starting out from Valverde on February 23rd, they reached Albuquerque on March 2nd and attacked. However, no battle ensued, as the defenders were gone, as well as the supplies.


The Confederate troops advanced slowly through the imposing peaks and buttes of the Jémez and Sangre de Cristo mountains toward Santa Fe. However, their progress was very slow due to the loss of many horses at Valverde, requiring many of the soldiers to march. They also had lost much of their transportation in the Battle ot Valverde, causing them to carry the wounded. Though slow, they continued northwestward, finally reaching Santa Fe on March 13th.


Sibley detached 600 men to plunder city, but, once again, they found no federal ammunition or supplies. Sibley's men then headed to Fort Union, some 90 miles to the northeast of Santa Fe.


In the meantime, the Confederates slow advancement allowed reinforcements from Colorado, under the command of Colonel John Slough, to reach Fort Union,  Being the senior officer at the fort, Slough took command, reporting to Colonel Edward Canby at Fort Craig. Canby instructed Slough to "harass the enemy by partisan operations, obstruct his movements and cut off his supplies." Slough interpreted this as an authorization to advance. He soon gathered 1,342 men from Fort Union and began the trek to Santa Fe.



Battle of Glorietta Pass - See Full Article HERE!




© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March, 2017.


Also See:


Civil War (main page)

New Mexico (main page)


Civil War Photo Print Galleries

New Mexico Photo Print Galleries


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