Thursday, July 25, 1861
The summer sun rose over Mesilla, New Mexico, along the Rio Grande, as Lt. Col. John Baylor learned he and his Confederates had been betrayed. He left Fort Bliss, Texas with 258 men, but after two had deserted to warn the Yankees at nearby Fort Fillmore of his plan, Baylor had to make some last minute changes.
The Confederates had camped close to the fort but, in the morning, moved across the Rio Grande to the small town of Mesilla. Their arrival was greeted with cheers, since Mesilla was only technically part of New Mexico Territory. In March, the unofficial Confederate Territory of Arizona was formed and included most of what is now the states of New Mexico and Arizona. According to the Confederates, Mesilla and Fort Fillmore were both on Confederate land and should both be under Confederate control.
Commanding the 500 Union troops at Fort Fillmore was Major Isaac Lynde. After receiving news of the nearby Rebels, he called his men to arms. When no attack came, he, along with several companies, moved towards the town, six miles away.
By the time they reached the river, Baylor knew he was about to be attacked. The Union column of 380 soldiers kicked up dust as it drew closer to the town. This gave the Confederates ample time to take up defensive positions on the rooftops and behind buildings and windows. Lynde sent an adjutant across with a demand for Baylor’s unconditional surrender of the forces in the town. In reply, Baylor told Lynde that if he wanted Mesilla, he could come take it.
The Union force half-heartedly attacked the Confederates, advancing into town. Enough shots were fired to kill three and wound six of the Northern troops. Knowing that he couldn’t take the town, Lynde ordered a withdraw back to Fort Fillmore. Baylor’s Rebels suffered few, if any, casualties, but did not give chase, fearing that the retreat could have been a ruse to draw his men out and ambush them.
For the time being, the Union troops were secure within the confines of the fort and the Confederates held Mesilla.1
Union Troops Enter Charleston, Western Virginia
While Baylor was taking Mesilla for the Confederacy, General Jacob Cox took Charleston, western Virginia for the Union. His “Kanawha Brigade” of 3,000 pushed the Confederates, under former Virginia governor General Henry Wise, from their camp the previous day and from the city over the course of the night.
As Cox and his men entered the streets of Charleston, they were greeted by Jacob Goshorn, mayor, and a few other city officials who surrendered the city to them. Before the Confederates vacated the town, they apparently told the population that the invading Union men “come as robbers and murderers of women and children.” To prove that his men had been “vilely slandered,” Cox ordered no stopping as they passed through the town. No soldier was to “shout or make any unnecessary noise. This way, the Northern troops could stand in “contrast to the profane and disorderly behavior of the rebel army.”2
Not only did the Confederates “vilely slander” the Union troops before leaving town, they also cut the cables on the suspension bridge spanning the Elk River. This they did in hopes of slowing down Cox’s advance. Charleston, like many of the towns in western Virginia, was a coal town. Both the Elk and Kanawha Rivers were navigable by barges, which were not only plentiful, but made great floating bridges when tied together.
Keeping their promise not to stop in town as much as they could, they established a depot for supplies along the river in Charleston. The citizens were informed that the Union army wouldn’t ask their political opinions and would allow them to go about their regular business. They were warned, however, that any communication with the Rebels would be “remorselessly punished.”3
Confederates Gathering in Missouri
In Missouri, the Confederates and secessionists had agreed to once again consolidate their forces. Missouri General Sterling Price planned to meet up with Confederate Generals Ben McCullough and N.B. Pierce, both of whom commanded mostly Arkansas troops. Their rendezvous point was Cassville, nearly sixty miles northeast of Cowskin Prairie, where most of the troops were encamped. Cassville was also sixty miles closer to Union General Lyon’s command at Springfield.
On this date, General Price and his 7,000 or so men began their march. The 3,000 men of McCullough would soon follow.4
In St. Louis, Mexican War hero and explorer, General John C. Fremont, arrived to take command of the newly-created Western Department. The city had never quite recovered from the bloody riots in May and so the arrival of a new Union commander brought out no cheering crowds, no banners or bunting.
Fremont, surrounding himself with a flamboyant European staff, decked out in brass and piping, secluded himself in his mansion headquarters. There, he worked on his plan for the sprawling department, which included not only Missouri and Illinois, but all the states and territories west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rockies. He mostly focused on the Mississippi River, as General Lyon had but 7,000 troops, few with adequate shoes, arms, clothing or pay.
As the terms of enlistment ran out, Lyon would soon be left with no more than 4,000 men to defend Missouri from over 10,000 gathering Rebels. Lyon had asked for 10,000 more. Still, there was no reply from Washington. Would Fremont fair better?5
- The Civil War in the Western Territories by Ray C. Colton. Also, Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 51, Part 1, p425-426. It really makes my day when I come across orders and reports such as these. [↩]
- Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p98. [↩]
- Bloody Hill by Brooksher and Wilson’s Creek by Piston & Hatcher. [↩]