Bagging 500 Yankees in New Mexico; McClellan Goes to Washington

Saturday, July 27, 1861

Major Isaac Lynde feared that Fort Fillmore would be attacked at dawn. So, before the first rays of light glimmered over the San Andres Mountains near Mesilla, New Mexico, he gathered the 500 Union soldiers in his command. Through the night, they had destroyed whatever buildings and supplies that might prove useful to the small Confederate regiment under Lt. Col. John Baylor, just outside the confines of the fort.

It was no only soldiers, but over 100 women and children, the families of the officers, that would have to make the 150 mile trek to Fort Stanton, the closest Federal garrison. As dawn broke, Lt. Col. Baylor realized the fort had been abandoned. He ordered a detachment to extinguish the fires and the remainder of his 250 men to pursue the fleeing Yankees.

The Union march along Fort Steadman Road went well until the sun rose, beating the late July heat into the Federals. Soon, men began to straggle and collapse in the heat. The pace, however, was still brisk. It wasn’t until thirty miles outside of Mesilla that Baylor caught up with the first of the left-behind Union infantryman. As they went on, more and more were exhausted and unable to keep up with the main body.

While the Confederates were on horseback and were able to carry a good supply of water with them, the Union soldiers were largely without mounts. The day before, the Rebels raided their herd and made off with eighty-five horses and six mules. Also, more than a few Union men dumped their water before the journey and replaced it with medicinal whiskey. They begged their captors for water.

Blankets, cartridge boxes, camp items an other valuables, such as wives and children, were left behind, as they were too much to worry about.

Gaining ground, Baylor and his Texans drew close to the main Union body at San Augustin Springs [in modern day Baylor Pass between Baylor Peak and San Augustin Peak, south of modern US 70]. Major Lynde ordered what was left of his command to form lines of battle, but they knew it was up. Several times they attempted a half-hearted defense, but each time they just melted away at the sight of the Confederate cavalry.

As the Union troops formed again for battle, Baylor sent an order for their surrender through the lines. Lynde, seeing that he could bring no more than 100 men into line to defend against the Rebels, called for Baylor himself to cross over.

Lynde asked him about the terms of the surrender. Baylor said that it would be unconditional. The Union commander agreed and requested that private property be respected. Articles of capitulation were drawn up and the men were formally surrendered under the strong protests of other Union officers.

The spoils of war included new Springfield muskets for the Confederate soldiers, between $9,000 and $17,000 in United States bank notes, and the colors of the 7th United States Infantry.

While the Rebels returned to Fort Fillmore and Mesilla, the Union men, now paroled, were given fifty old guns and ordered to make haste to Santa Fe, Colorado and finally Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. During the long journey, some of the men lost their minds, while others, dying of thirst, sliced open their veins to drink their own blood.

In December, the United States House of Representatives requested the Secretary of War to report on what punishment had been wrought upon the officers at Fort Fillmore who were, they thought, most certainly guilty of treason. Major Lynde was relieved of any position in the United States Army.

The evening of the surrender, with Baylor’s Texans back at Mesilla, news was received of a troop of resigned United States Army officers passing nearby. This party included former Col. Albert Sydney Johnston.1

__________________

McClellan’s First Day in Washington

General George McClellan had been called to Washington to take over and rebuild the Army of the Potomac, which, under General McDowell, was defeated and demoralized at the Battle of Bull Run. He had arrived in the city the night before, but on this morning, President Lincoln called upon McClellan, told him of his new command and requested his presence at the afternoon Cabinet meeting.

McClellan next visited General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, who seemed to have no plan at all for the defense of Washington. He told the old General that he would have to leave before too long since he was requested at the Cabinet meeting. Scott was indignant at being left out. If McClellan had been invited to a meeting such as this, certainly Scott should have been invited too. As some sort of petty revenge, Scott kept McClellan in his office until it was sure that the meeting was missed.

As McClellan was leaving Scott’s office, he met Scott’s adjutant, Col. Townsend, who gave the General some advice:

You will find splendid material for soldiers sadly in need of discipline. You will be beset on all sides with applications for passes, and all sorts of things, and if you yield to the pressure your whole time will be taken up at a desk, writing. You can from the outset avoid this; another officer can do it as well in your name. The troops want to see their commanding general, and to be often inspected and reviewed by him. Another thing: there is here a fine body of regulars; I would keep that intact, as a sort of ‘Old Guard.’ It may some time save you a battle.

McClellan, while organizing his new army, would keep all of this in mind.

The rest of the day was spent riding around the city to learn about the preparations for a possible Confederate attack. As it turned out, there really were no preparations. No avenue into the city was even guarded. Troops and officers left their regiments at will and for any reason and the bars and brothels were full because of it.

Before evening, he visited President Lincoln and told him of Scott’s behavior. Lincoln had grown to know Scott well and was amused by the anecdote. Turning to more serious work, Lincoln asked McClellan to soon submit his plan on how to bring the war to a swift conclusion. He would do so on August 2nd.2

I find myself in a new and strange position here – President, Cabinet, Genl Scott & all deferring to me—by some strange operation of magic I seem to have become the power of the land. … I almost think that were I to win some small success now I could become Dictator or anything else that might please me—but nothing of that kind would please me—therefore I won’t be Dictator. Admirable self-denial!

-McClellan in a letter to his wife, Ellen



  1. Blood and Treasure by Donal S. Frazier and The Civil War in the Western Territories by Colton. []
  2. Army of the Potomac by Beatie. []
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Bagging 500 Yankees in New Mexico; McClellan Goes to Washington by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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