Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Battle of Glorieta Pass or Why New Mexico is not a Southern State/

Recently Marsha and I toured the Glorieta Pass Battlefield, the site of one of New Mexico’s two military engagements during the U.S. Civil War.  

Back in 1792 French explorer Pedro Vial blazed a trail from Independence, Missouri to northern New Mexico.  In 1828 – when merchants from the eastern United States sought to take advantage of new trade opportunities with Mexico, which had just won independence from Spain and taken control of  New Mexico – Vial’s way west, soon known as the Santa Fe Tail, would become the preferred way to get there.
At this end of the trail lay the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains through which two passages were established.  Raton Pass, on the border between Colorado and New Mexico, was narrow and steep and initially proved suitable only for packhorses.  A 7,432' high, one-half mile wide crossing at Glorieta Pass between the mountains and the red wall of Glorieta Mesa proved to be easier to negotiate and became the path of choice.  The surrounding forests possibly inspired the name Glorieta, which translates to “bower” meaning “a pleasant shady place under trees.”  The Spanish word also can mean a small square, or a roundabout – as in traffic circle, which is how it is commonly used today in parts of Spain and South America. 
New Mexico had become a U.S. Territory in 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (named for the villa in which it was signed). ended the Mexican American War. So what was the “War Between the States” doing in The Land of Enchantment?
According to Charles S. Walker writing in the New Mexico Historical Review, “The Confederate invasion of New Mexico was the initial movement of a campaign the object of which was the seizure of the entire American Southwest and the northern Mexican states. The cause of the invasion was the desire to see the Confederacy a sea-to-sea power with all the advantages which a nation reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific between the parallels twenty-six and thirty-six north latitude might enjoy.”
A big part of this equation, according to H, our tour leader, was the possibility of a coast-to-coast collection of “slave states”.  Texas, with its cotton farming economy, already was pro-slave.   However, while the people of the southern portion of the New Mexico had closer economic and cultural ties to the South, the northern section with more voting power had strong business connections with the Union states via Missouri and The Santa Fe Trail.  As evidence of that southern discontent with being overruled, a convention held at Mesilla New Mexico on March 16, 1861 adopted a decree of secession, and called on the citizens of the western portion of the New Mexico Territory to "join us in this movement".
U.S. Army General Henry H. Sibley had been stationed in Arizona before the outbreak of the war, and, like many other southern officers, resigned his commission.  He then traveled east to inform Confederate President Davis of the situation in New Mexico, and outlined a campaign to takeover the entire Territory.   It was the execution of this strategy that culminated in the Battle of Glorieta Pass.
Sibley’s plan, of which Jefferson Davis approved, was: to raise an army of three regiments in West Texas; march up the Rio Grande River; capture Santa Fe; turn northeast on the Santa Fe Trail; capture the supplies of equipment and food at Fort Union; head up to Colorado and take control of the gold fields; and then turn west to conquer California and its seaports.  Fort Union (1851 – 1891) and the soon to be mentioned Fort Craig (1853 – 1885) were among the series of forts constructed in the wake of the U.S. – Mexico war and outlined in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Marching to that plan Sibley and 3,500 men invaded the New Mexico Territory in February 1862 with the immediate objective of capturing Fort Craig located along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, near Elephant, New Mexico.  They were met near the town of Valverde at a ford of Valverde Creek on February 20, 1862 by 3,000 men led by Union Colonel Edward Richard Sprigg Canby who had left that fortified building to prevent the Confederates from crossing the river. 
Initially Canby’s troops drove the Rebels back, but the Texans regrouped and launched a frontal attack that drove Canby into retreat.  After two days of fighting Canby requested a truce under a white flag in order to remove the bodies of the dead and wounded.  During the cessation Sibley decided that he had lost too many men and supplies to take Fort Craig itself, and went north to Albuquerque, where the Federals had stored more goods. They reached Albuquerque on March 2nd and attacked, however the Union defenders had already left town with all of the supplies.
Sibley continued slowly north to Santa Fe where he dispatched a group of 600 men to take the Capital city – which they did on March 13, however, once again, there was no federal ammunition or supplies.  They did however hoist the Confederate Battle Flag over the plaza – then headed to Fort Union, some ninety miles to the northeast.  Meanwhile Union reinforcements from Colorado, under the command of Colonel John Slough, reached Fort Union.  Canby then ordered Slough to “harass the enemy by partisan operations, obstruct his movements and cut off his supplies”, which Slough chose to interpret as “advance on the enemy.”  He gathered 1,342 men from Fort Union and began the march to Santa Fe.
Both Union and Confederate forces moved north to the Santa Fe Trail at Glorieta Pass.  Sibley, who had remained in Albuquerque, sent a Confederate force of 200-300 Texans under the command of Maj. Charles L. Pyron on an advance expedition over the Glorieta Pass, and six companies led by of Col. Tom Green to block the eastern end of Glorieta Pass.  Meanwhile Union forces made a fourteen-day, 400-mile forced march from Denver, over Raton Pass, to Fort Union and then to Glorieta Pass.  On March 26, 27 and 28 both sides locked horns in what some have called the "Gettysburg of the West" – a term that "serves the novelist better than the historian" according to historian Thomas Edrington.  To that point– casualties at Gettysburg totaled 23,049 for the Union (3,155 dead, 14,529 wounded, 5,365 missing); Confederate casualties were 28,063 (3,903 dead, 18,735 injured, and 5,425 missing) versus at Glorieta Pass Union casualties were (51 killed, 78 wounded, 15 captured, 3 missing); and Confederate (50 killed, 80 wounded, 92 captured.)  But while Gettysburg was the “high-water mark of the Confederacy”, Glorieta effectively ended any possibility of Jefferson Davis’ dream of a coast-to-coast collection of “slave states”. 
The conflict played out at and around three major stops on the Santa Fe Trail – Johnson’s Ranch, Pigeon’s Ranch, and Kozlowski’s Ranch.
Anthony P. Johnson established his ranch at the western end of Glorieta Pass in what today is called Cañoncito at Apache Canyon.  From St. Louis Missouri, Johnson, came west along the Santa Fe Trail in the late 1840s and worked as a teamster at Fort Union. He bought the land on which he built his ranch of adobe and rock in 1858. Johnson sold the ranch around was found murdered ten years later.
Moving north to the village of Pecos and then west on State Road 50, still following much of the Santa Fe Trail nearly to Glorieta, New Mexico, was Pigeon’s ranch – a small portion of which remains today.   The ranch was built by Alexander Vallé, a French-American also from St. Louis, Missouri who followed the Santa Fe Trail westward until settling upon this narrow spot on the trail. The 35th Congress awarded him title to a land grant in 1857 or 1858, indicating that he had received a Mexican land grant during that country’s occupancy of New Mexico, possibly from Governor Manuel Armijo in the 1840s. Armijo granted tracts of land to many foreigners who promised to settle the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and act as a buffer between the settlements along the Rio Grande Santa Fe corridor and the Plains Indians.
On his land Vallé built a twenty-three-room complex with a principal structure that “formed a kind of Asiatic caravansary”, and a double corral for enclosing and protecting loaded wagons with attached sheds with stalls for draft horses and mules. Initially named Rancho de la Glorieta, it popularly came to be known as Pigeon's Ranch, according to folklore because of the way in which Vallé stuck out his elbows while dancing at local fandangos.  However at least one historian avers that Vallé’s given name was Alexander Pigeon.  Whatever the owner’s surname, the hostelry was the largest and most convenient stop on the trail between Las Vegas (New Mexico) and Santa Fe, housing up to forty people and several hundred animals.
The easternmost of the three hostels belonged to Martin Kozlowski.   Born in Warsaw, he became a refugee from the wars with Germany at the age of twenty-one and moved to England where he married. By 1853 he and possibly his wife were in America where he enlisted in the 1st Dragoons who were stationed at Fort Union from 1851-1856.  Kozlowski mustered out in 1858 and settled down on 600 acres of land alongside a plentiful spring on the Santa Fe Trail and also began a business of catering to travelers – featuring a good meal prepared by his wife, often fresh trout from the Pecos River.  The hostelry, sometimes referred to as Gray's Ranch by the soldiers, was later expanded to encompass a stage station for the Barlow and Sanderson line.
According to the Legends of America website,  “Union troops came into contact with a Confederate force of 200-300 Texans under the command of Major Charles L. Pyron, who were encamped at Johnson’s Ranch, at one end of the pass. [Under orders from Colonel Slough] Union Major John M. Chivington led more than 400 soldiers on the morning of [March] 26th in an attack, capturing some Confederate advance troops before finding the main force behind them.  Chivington advanced on them, but their artillery fire threw him back. He regrouped, split his force to the two sides of the pass, caught the Rebels in crossfire, and soon forced them to retire.
“Pyron and his men retreated about a mile and a half to a narrow section of the pass and formed a defensive line before Chivington’s men appeared. The Union troops then flanked Pyron’s men again, firing heavily into their ranks. When the Confederates fled again, the Union cavalry charged, capturing the Confederate rearguard. Chivington then retired and went into camp at Kozlowski’s Ranch. No fighting occurred the next day [March 27] as reinforcements arrived for both sides. Lieutenant Colonel William R. Scurry’s troops swelled the Rebel ranks to about 1,100 while Union Colonel John P. Slough arrived with about 900 men.
“Both Slough and Scurry decided to attack early on March 28th. As Scurry advanced down the canyon, he saw the Union forces approaching, so he established a battle line, including his dismounted cavalry. Slough hit them before 11:00 am. The Confederates held their ground and then attacked and counterattacked throughout the afternoon. The fighting then ended as Slough retired first to Pigeon’s Ranch and then to Kozlowski’s Ranch.”
Scurry left the field believing that he had won the battle – which at that point he had.  However unbeknownst to him a detachment led by Major Chivington and guided through the unfamiliar Glorieta Pass terrain by Lt. Col. Manuel Chaves of the New Mexico volunteers secretly rappelled down a mountain overlooking Johnson’s Ranch wherein the remaining Confederate supplies and animals were sequestered. Chivington’s sharpshooters picked off most of the small number of guards.   Union forces then destroyed the entire storehouse of food and weapons (driving spikes into the touch holes of the cannon to prevent their further use), and ran off the horses and mules.
“Facing defeat and starvation, Sibley and his men began their retreat to Texas. They were pursued all of the way to Fort Craig by Canby’s troops, but, finally slipped from the Federals by a circuitous route. Nearly dead of thirst and starvation, 1,700 Confederate survivors eventually reached safety in El Paso, Texas on May 4th.”
Time and progress have replaced most of the battlefield with roads and thick pinyon juniper woods.  On our tour however we were still able to pull off the road at the keys points of the battle – Johnson’, Pigeon’s and Kozlowski’s Ranches – get a sense of the physical surroundings and be able to picture the action in spite of the noise and backdrafts of nearby semis, cars, and motorcycles.  We also walked part of the Glorieta Battlefield Trail, a 2.3 mile loop that brought us to “Artillery Hill” from where the Union directed fire on the third day of battle, and to a vantage point from which we could look down upon Pigeon’s Farm and “Sharpshooter’s Hill” where Slough established his battle headquarters from which he was driven when the Confederates attacked from the one direction the Union was not guarding, even though its was by far the easiest way up the mountain. 
Our tour ended at the site of Johnson’s Ranch – the site of Chivington’s  destruction of the Confederate supplies, equipment, and horses, which effectively ended southern combat activities in New Mexico.  By the end of July, 1862 all Confederate troops had left the territory, never to attempt a return visit.
Marsha and I moved to northern New Mexico from Wethersfield, Connecticut – a place from which most people retire to “The South” – North Carolina, Florida, etc.  One of the principal reasons for our choice, in addition to the lack of humidity and hurricanes, was the unique ambiance of Santa Fe.  Which, but for the unguarded Confederate supplies at Johnson’s Ranch, might not have been.

No comments: