Battle of Glorieta | Battle of Val Verde | Early Southwest | Fort Belknap | Fort Craig | Sibley In Texas | Sibley Expedition
John R. Baylor
Gen. Henry H. Sibley
The center of Albuquerque's Old Town, the plaza dates from the early 18th century. San Felip de Neri Church was established in 1706, but construction of the present structure was begun in 1793. In March 1862, General Henry H. Sibley and his Texas volunteers occupied Albuquerque and raised the Confederate flag here.
One of the last skirmishes of the Civil War in New Mexico took place here on April 15, 1862. The Sibley Brigade, retreating to Texas, camped at the hacienda of Governor Henry Connelly, a few miles from Peralta. Here the Confederates were routed by Union forces under Col. Edward R.S. Canby.
After a final thirty-five-mile forced march, the Federal forces finally caught up with the retreating Confederates in the darkness at Peralta-the hard-marching miners and regulars were outpacing the mounted Texans. Fiddle music was drifting from Governor Connelly's house and hundreds of dying campfires twinkled in the distance as the Union troops arrived. This was the crucial moment that Canby had been seeking. While the main force of Canby's army took positions near the town, planning to surprise the Rebels at daybreak, other detachments scouted the enemy forces, discovering the stranded wagons. For the Federals, the news was all good. The Rebel army was divided by the Rio Grande and, better yet, was totally unaware of his presence. At first light, Colonel Paul and some of his Federal horsemen swooped upon the outlying Rebel wagons and killed, scattered, or captured their surprised guards after a brave defense. Meanwhile, Union gunners fired twenty-four-pounder shells into the Southern camps, and infantry massed for an assault.
Lt. Benton Bell Seat had just started breakfast when the firing started. "I was sitting down at our fire with a frying pan in my hand frying bacon when the enemy...opened fire. One ball struck the center of the pan I held and knocked the pan and its contents into the fire. The Confederates, although surprised, quickly recovered and made a defense. "We were aroused from our peaceful slumbers by a volley fired right into our sleeping camp," Davidson recounted. "This...was very rude and ungentlemanly yet a very effectual way of waking a fellow up." Daylight also revealed something Canby had not counted on-the flat terrain around the town was sectioned off into fields, bordered by adobe fences and irrigation ditches, which served as ready-made breastworks for the Rebels. Their position was, he said, "The strongest (except Fort Union) in New Mexico." Canby's men were tired and hungry-many had not eaten in a day and a half. Unwilling to send his weary men against such strong defenses, Canby began probing for a weak point.
Both armies, amid the steady boom of artillery fire, maneuvered troops and attempted to gain an advantage on the enemy. Paul's Coloradans moved intgo a strip of woods west and north of town, which masked the bulk of the Union army from sight. Rebel skirmishers, mostly Coopwood's Arizonans, fought from behind fences and walls in the center and right as the Federals continued to deploy around the Confederate position. Maj. Charles Pyron's men faced north and held the crucial ground between Peralta and the river. Green's Fifth Texas held the right. In a matter of moments, it seemed, the Federals would realize their numerical advantage and would rush the Texan line.
Green, anxious to discover the enemy's intentions, placed lookouts in the tower of the Peralta church on the left-center of his line. "Col. Green gave me a field glass and sent me up in a cupola to observe and report to him the movement of the enemy," Sergeant Davidson remembered. "I went up and had a fine view of the surrounding country and the enemy which I thought to be about three thousand strong." Green commanded under a thousand. The lookout then reported a new development. "The finally massed their forces, placed a battery at the head of the column, and started on our left in between the river and the town."
...The Federals continued to maneuver in the face of Rebel resistance. Green ordered the men on his left to sally forth and take a wall two hundred yards south of the tree line. The Texans leapt over adobe walls and rushed to the position, opening on the Union defenders in the trees as they arrived. The Northerners withdrew. On the Texan right, however, Lt. Col. Benjamin Roberts had massed his regulars-the veterans of Val Verde-for a grand assault against Coopwood's position. Green sent an urgent note to Fulcrod to bring his guns back around. The Federals, however, did not attack.
Col. Benjamin Roberts
...Davidson wrote, "when a yell from the right announced that something had occurred." Green had been saved. "Hatswent into the air, and [a] yell went from our throats, for there coming up the road, was brave Scurry with the 4 th and 7 th at his heels." The reinforcements took positions to strengthen the line-Scurry and his regiment on the left near the river, and Maj. Gustav Hoffman leading the Seventh to the right.
Sibley, accompanied by his chief of artillery Maj. Trevanion Teel and a few other staff officers, attempted to cross the river and join the action. Union pickets, however, blocked their way. The general and his entourage, under fire, returned to Los Lunas.
The battle of Peralta continued with unabated fury at ranges of several hundred yards. The artillery of both sides, almost equal in the number and weight of guns, carried the action. Infantrymen on both sides took cover to stay out of the line of fire. Davidson remembered a close call. "While we were laying behind the wall ...the enemy were dropping shells among us...One shell fell right behind our company. The fuse was burning, 'chew, chew.' Of course I was spread out as thin as I could, but it still seemed to me that I was nineteen feet thick and forty-eight feet long, and when the thing exploded it was bound to hit me." A courageous comrade picked up the sputtering missile and heaved it over the wall into a ditch of water. "Said it was better for it to kill him than the whole company."
...Across the river, the Rebel troops in Los Lunas were having troubles of their own. Soldiers standing on top of the flat-roofed houses spied a party of cavalry on the west side of the river rapidly approaching the town. The Southerners hauled cannon into the streets and began building makeshift barricades, determined to resist. The Rebels then dispatched a mounted scouting party to ascertain the intentions of the coming cavalry. Tension mounted as men watched the fighting across the river and waited for the coming enemy. The tension ended, however, as the Confederate horsemen returned to report that the threatening troops in the distance were, thankfully, Texans.
...The Battle of Peralta ended when a howling sandstorm descended on the opposing armies, putting an end to the artillery duel.
...All the next day, amid clouds of blowing sand, the Union army kept pace with its retreating foes. Federal horsemen harassed the Rebel column throughout the day. Sergeant Peticolas remarked that "two or three companies of Cavalry have been dogging us down the river all day, trying to pick up stragglers but cautious to keep out of range." The Confederate column, sensing urgency in their situation, began to abandon extra baggage. "We burnt and destroyed everything we had...save blankets, cooking utensils, a suite of clothes, and overcoats. This was to light our teams so that we could travel more rapidly."
...The Union tactic puzzled the Confederates. "Marching together, halting together, one imitating every move of the other, neither seeming anxious to bring on a battle, yet neither trying to avoid it," mused Davidson. A friend, mounted on a mule, dashed toward the pursuing Federals, with bravado in mind. Reining in within earshot of his enemies, the soldiers asked the blue coats what they intended to do. The Union pickets replied with lead. "I don't think they tried to hit him, but merely intended to admonish him to stay with his own crowd." By early afternoon, the Texans camped on the banks of the Rio Puerco. "The enemy, who had now become like our very shadow, stuck with us like a love-stick swain following the footsteps of his sweetheart, went into camp too."
...In the beginning, spirits remained buoyant and hopeful. The first night, traveling over firm roads by moonlight, the troops covered fourteen miles but made a dry camp. The few remaining wagons even made the journey without trouble. Coopwood's shortcut had proven successful.
The next day, however, conditions worsened. Wagons bogged down in deep sand. Frustrated soldiers abandoned the vehicles, turning the sick and wounded still with the column out to walk. The troops suffered terribly from poor water and inadequate rations. Upon reaching the first spring along the route, Capt. Julius Giesecke wrote, "It was so salty that we could hardly use it for coffee." Sgt. Aflred Peticolas added that since the daily staples were "nothing but coffee and bread, we had pretty hard fare."
The next day, April 19, was a disaster. Thirst soon drove many soldiers to relish even the saltiest water. "The strong," observed Peticolas, "pressed feverishly and frantically on...the cry [becoming] more intense and universal for water." An unfortunate bear and several unlucky antelope happened by the brigade line of march hundreds of weapons fired, dropping the game which was then carved, cooked, and devoured by members of the column. Fatigued added to the misery, and discipline quickly evaporated. "No order was observed, no company staid together, the wearied sank down upon the grass, regardless of the cold, to rest and sleep," Peticolas observed. "A great many of the infantry, tired of marching through the heavy sand, have picked up mules, little poor scrawny things, upon which they tie a fold of blankets for a saddle, and with a rope for a bridle strike out, every man for himself." As darkness fell and camps formed, echoes rang along the slops as soldiers straggled in and searched for their units where food and blankets could be found. "For hours, as the scattered men came in, a confusion of voices hallooing for different companies, individuals, and regiments rendered the place a perfect babel." Fatigue soon overshadowed the lack of food and water, Pvt. William Randolph Howell, still with the army despite a raging illness, wrote "this is my first day on foot and me very feeble, I don't get into camp until 10 p.m. as all have gone to bed, I can't find my company and have to lay by the fire all night without my blanket.
Abandoned equipment littered the trail the Texans traveled, but they were committed to bringing the Val Verde guns through. With little sleep, empty canteens, and bad rations, the soldiers struggled with the pieces, oftentimes dragging them up and down canyons with teams of men working ropes. By April 20, the ragged Texans began talking of leaving the guns. "Some talk of spiking the artillery and leaving it," Peticolas wrote. ""Green [has] gotten tired... of helping their battery along." Lt. Col. William Read Scurry, obsessed with saving the battery, took charge of getting the guns through and himself aided the men as they manhandled the weapons over the formidable terrain. Teams of soldiers lowered the guns by ropes down the steep sides of canyons then dragged them up the other side. The backbreaking effort sapped strength, but Scurry refused to let his men give up. Eventually the officers assigned responsibility for a cannon to each of several companies; troops then destroyed all of the remaining caissons, limbers, and ammunition.
William Read Scurry
...On April 21, the leading elements of the Confederate Army of New Mexico passed along the eastern slope of the San Mateo Mountains and could see the Rio Grande away to the east.
...While Texans fought at Glorieta and Peralta, eighteen-year-old Felix Robert Collard of Polk County had spent the spring chasing these Indians. On several occasions small parties of Apache raiders, camouflaged by oiling their bodies and rolling in the dirt, had stolen dozens of horses and mules from well-guarded enclosures. "This was generally done when the moon was on the wane," Collard wrote, "just before moon-rise. Then, quiet as a cat, [they] would step over the sleeping men, and be among the horses... cutting all halters and ropes." Next, the raiders would stampede the herd through the camp, spreading havoc among the sentries. "The Indian on the inside would mount a horse, one hand under his neck and [with] a good hold of the mane, his foot over the horses loin, yelling and jabbing him with the knife," Collard remembered. "The other horses... frightened, would run over anyone trying to stop them."
On these occasions the alarmed camp would pursue the marauders with varying success. To aid in the chase, the Confederates often employed local scouts and Indian hunters. "We had trailers... half-breed indians and half-breed mexicans, or some trapper who had spent his life in the wilds, "Collard wrote. The Apaches scattered the herd, keeping on the hardest ground where tracking was most difficult, regrouping only at water holes. A lone Indian scout remained behind to warn of the approach of pursuers. On the rate occasions that soldiers overtook the raiders, the Apaches simply abandoned their prize and scattered into the surrounding hills to ride another day. "Then where are you?" Collard asked. "A hundred and fifty miles from anywhere, with a lot of run down horses-those that the indians have stolen and those that have been following."
Occasionally, camp guards and sentinels foiled the apache attempts to steal horses. Collard recalled one sergeant who encountered the raiders sneaking into the Rebel camp. "He discovered a strange looking object near the line," he wrote. "He covered this object with his six-shooter and called 'halt!' At the word... and arrow whizzed past his head. At the same instant he pulled the trigger...." The target, two Apaches, ran into the darkness as the Texan fired another shot. The camp, now alerted by the firing, gathered around the sergeant, and a small party of armed men cautiously pursued the Apaches. "Four or five men, six-shooters in hand,... found a dead indian and a little farther along a drag which they started to follow...." The Texans, wary of straying too far from camp, postponed the chase until sunup. In the morning, after following the trail for nearly a mile, they discovered the second warrior, who "raised up to a sitting position and let fly an arrow," Collard wrote. "We had to back off and shoot him with a rifle. They neither give nor ask quarter."
...Sibley and his troops were indeed beaten. Not just physically, but spiritually as well. The will to fight had been crushed, replaced by the overwhelming desire to go home. There were no longer any delusions of empire. Just memories of lost friends, futile marches, and missed opportunities. During the last wek of April, refreshed by adequate rations, Sibley's Brigade straggled south past Fort Thorn to where the various regiments would camp. Green's Fifth Texas stayed at Mesilla; Reily's Fourth Texas and the five "veteran" companies of the Seventh Texas continued on to Fort Fillmore, Franklin, and Fort Bliss. Col. William Steele and his untried battalion maintained the rear guard at Fort Thorn. Once in camp, the units were to rest and refit, while Sibley, Steele, and their officers determined what to do next. The empire was crumbling.
Col. William Steele
Sibley's command remained disorganized, dispirited, and scattered as it retreated toward Mesilla. Discipline had eroded. The shortage of mounts aggravated the troops' low morale. Pvt. William Randolph Howell lamented, "I have never before known the value of a horse. A man... afoot can only know." One resourceful group, tired of marching and carrying its own gear, built a raft to float their equipment down the Rio Grande, which was flooding from the spring thaw.
...Sibley's decision, born of necessity, to leave Canby in his rear at Fort Craig had committed the Army of New Mexico to an extended mission in a hostile environment. But the Federals had successfully denied the Southerners most of the food stockpiles in the territory, as might have been expected. The loss of the wagon train during the Battle of Glorieta was a staggering blow, but the Rebels had managed to recover, and they doggedly pursued their goals, until forced to retreat under pressure from the combined Union army in New Mexico. They eventually reached the relative security and caches of food in the Mesilla Valley, but Sibley's army, though still intact, was badly battered.
...At Mesilla, the one undefeated Confederate leader-Col. William Steele-seized an opportunity to strike the Federals, while Sibley and his battered veterans rested. According to eighteen-year-old Pvt. Felix Robert Collard of Polk County, the colonel ordered his officers to "go thru the six hundred horses" of his untested battalion an "pick one hundred that could march...without food or water." His target was the Union remuda at Paraje, hundreds of horses under a small guard, cut off from Fort Craig by the flooded Rio Grande. Thomas O. Moody of Tarrant County commanded t he one hundred-man party, with instructions to "arrive... just a daybreak while the horse were corralled... run in on [the enemy] camp, and capture not only horses but also the men guarding them."
At 1:00 p.m. on May 18, the Texan raiding party left Dona Ana, crossed the river, and headed into the dusty plains of the waterless Jornada del Muerte-Spanish for "dead man's journey."
...Although their horses refused to drink, many thirsty soldiers, glad for the relief, dismounted and drank heavily. The pond was, however, heavily alkaline, or "poison," and scores of he men, including Moody, became incapacitated with severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and "purging." The command then fell to Lt. Isaac Bowman, also of Tarrant County.
...On the third day of his ordeal, the boy felt that death was near. "I chewed bullets, trying by these means to excite the salivary glands," he remembered, "the very air was dry, my lips and throat parched." Around midday, however, he found something else to add to his fears. More dead horses, but these had been stripped of blankets and saddles. Surrounding the carcasses were moccasin tracks. "Indians, like sleuth hounds, had followed the trail in the dark." His decision to conceal himself the night before had saved his life. "My bloody scalp was not dangling from an Apache's belt, but the demons were on the trail ahead of me." Collard made a deal with God. "I promised... along about that time, if He would bring me through that peril, that I would try and live a better boy."
...Pvt. William Lott Davidson, with the rest of the Fifth Texas and the five veteran companies of the Seventh Texas, departed a week later. "Be it known that we did not march in line, but every man for himself and the wagons take the hindmost." The midsummer head immediately scorched the footsore troops, forcing them to travel only the dark hours between dusk and dawn. After leaving the Rio Grande at Fort Quitman, water along the route was short. Mescalero Apaches filled many of the springs and wells along the route with dirt and rotting animal carcasses. The suffering was intense. "Hot, hot, and no shade, vine or cloud to hide the sun or break it parching rays from us. Many... threw themselves down... to die. Many kept on forward with their tongues so swollen that they could not articulate a word, more crazed than rational.
Sibley and his escort, including the diarist William Randolph Howell, left June 19, bringing up the rear of the column. "Prepare to go home," he wrote. "Glorious thought!" The general and his companions trotted along the line of march, passing the army along the route. Sibley passed Green's veterans just outside Franklin and started away from the Rio Grande and into the interior on June 23. "Leave it for ever, I hope." Poor grass, deep sand, and insects plagued the command. "Gnats thick as grains of sand," Howell noted. "Almost in possession of the territory." General Sibley, his staff, and escort had frequent brushes with Indians, probably Mescaleros and maybe Comanches. At Eagle Springs, marauders raided the party's mounts. "Indians pay us a visit tonight, stealing one horse and shooting two mules with arrows." Two days later, at Dead man's Hole, three of Sibley's mules disappeared. Hardship and Indians, it seems, did not recognize rank.
...Amazing sights awaited these hundred men as they entered the Great Plains. Herds of antelope dotted the prairie. Regiments of Kansas and Wisconsin troops, responding to the emergency in New Mexico, passed them on the road. Snow-capped peaks dominated the western horizon. The prisoners and guards kept a thirty-mile-a-day pace, finally reaching Bent's Fort on May 12. Following the Arkansas River, the Confederates saw Cheyenne and Kiowa Indians, and supposedly even a few Kaw and Sioux. On May 30, these captured Confederates participated in a grand "buffalo chase." By June 5, the prisoners waited in camps at Fort Riley, Kansas. Here the Rebels whiled away the month, waiting to be exchanged.
On July 1, the Texans again took the trail heading east, through the heart of abolitionist Kansas. After crossing a floating bridge on the Big Blue River, the Confederates neared Topeka on Independence Day. The citizens fired cannons to celebrate the passage of the enemy prisoners, adding to the festivities of the day. Two days later, the prisoner column reached Fort Leavenworth and camped. Some two hundred Arkansas prisoners joined the train here, and later several dozen Confederate Cherokees entered the compound. For their first time in their service, the Texans mingled with units from other Rebel armies from other theaters of the war. This combined collection of soldiers remained in eastern Kansas until mid-August.
The odyssey continued for these veterans. On August 22, the Texans began a three-hundred-mile trip by steamboat and rail that would eventually land them in Camp Douglas, Illinois, two days later. For the rest of the month, the well-traveled Texans renewed acquaintances with old friends from other regiments who were also serving time in the Chicago prison.
On the afternoon of September 3, Union authorities declared the New Mexico prisoners and hundreds of other Confederates officially exchanged, loaded them aboard trains for Cairo, Illinois, and shipped them south. Two days later, the men loaded onto steamers for the long trip to Vicksburg, which they reached two weeks later. Private Williams immediately gorged himself. "Eat to much" his diary reads, followed by "Sick." The Texans waited in camps, until finally heading for home early in October. One month later, Williams reached his parents house. "All well," he scribbled, "Meeting with old friends."
...On August 25, he [Lt. Edward Robb], and more than ninety other recovered Texans who had missed the trip to Chicago, instead headed out of Santa Fe for the long walk to Texas.
These soldiers retraced the route of the campaign, passing by sites made famous by the battles of the spring. The journey through Union-controlled New Mexico seemed pleasant, and the Texans often reveled alongside former enemies at local fandangos in towns along the way. Upon reaching Fort Craig, however, the travelers received reminders of the failed push for empire. "Passed the old battleground... where so many of our brave boys fell," Robb scribbled in his diary. "The river has been up and covered the whole field, nothing remains of it except the lanes ploughed through the woods by the artillery."
...Fort Davis, one of the promising strongholds of the Confederate empire, also lay deserted and destroyed. "Found the fort in ashes, don't know how it was burnt," Robb recorded. The reminders of human tragedy were abundant. "In the hospital of the fort found some of the hair of a man who had been left, probably to die. The worms were thick where his body had lain.
...The Rebels, it seemed, were ready to strike. Fort Garland, near the New Mexico border, was the target. Agents among the Union garrison would allow the secessionists access to the fort. The confederate commanders then assigned men to various tasks, including seizing he post artillery, securing the livestock, and capturing the fort commander. Others were to capture small arms and ammunition, then blow up the magazine. "The calculation was that a sufficient number of men were to be near at hand to overpower the fort within its walls," Conner wrote, "and to have the matter ended before it was known what had happened. All these preparations were complete and the regiment was only waiting to call in its little recruiting camps and for the appointed day to arrive."
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