Confederate Invasion of New Mexico; Western Virginia Heats Up

Wednesday, July 24, 1861

Fort Fillmore, near Mesilla, New Mexico Territory was one of a string of forts that were built primarily to protect settlers as they moved west from Texas. Major Isaac Lynde of the United States Infantry commanded the 500 troops consolidated at the fort. After Texas seceded from the Union, all forts within its borders were vacated by United States troops. Other area forts, across the border in New Mexico, were also abandoned to gather as large a force as possible to defend against the rising bands of Confederates.

Confederate Lt. Col. John Baylor’s 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles made their home in abandoned Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas. Baylor, noticing the conflagration of United States soldiers at Fort Fillmore, 45 miles north, was convinced that they would soon attack.

What Baylor did not know was that Major Lynde was ordered to abandon Fort Fillmore as soon as the area troops had arrived. He was to fall back to Forts Craig and Stanton. Fillmore was built for protection against the Natives, not against Confederates who could place artillery on the surrounding hills.

The withdraw was exactly what Baylor’s commander, General Earl Van Dorn, hoped to avoid with a sneak attack, capturing the lot of them. Baylor’s invasion into New Mexico Territory got off to a splendid start as his band of 258 men rode north along the banks of the Rio Grande. By the evening of this date, they arrived and encamped within 600 yards of the outposts at Fort Fillmore.

Baylor, apparently unaware of how defenseless Fort Fillmore was, wished to entrench his force between the fort and the Rio Grande, cutting off the Federals’ access to water. The Union troops would have to attack him and, by sheer numbers, he would be victorious.1

His plan might have worked if two deserters hadn’t tipped off Major Lynde. With the fort alerted to his presence, Baylor would have to come up with a different idea.2

__________________

Union Troops in Western Virginia’s Kanawha Valley on the Move Again

Delayed near the mouth of the Pocatalico, along the Kanawha River in western Virginia, General Jacob Cox and his 3,000 man “Kanawha Brigade” were finally on the move. Cautiously they marched east, away from the river, towards Tyler Mountain, eight miles distant. There, Confederate General Henry Wise had established his camp.

The march was necessarily over broken, rough and little-used roads. Using such avenues, Cox wished for his brigade to be unnoticed, which it was, until they met the Confederate pickets outside the camp. The Rebels fired a few shots and scurried back to camp to warn General Wise.

By the time Cox made it to the Rebel camp, Wise and his men were gone, supper still cooking over the fires. Not wanting to let them get away, Cox moved off the mountain towards Charleston. When his brigade got to the river, they saw a steamboat and troops gathering wheat on the other side. Unsure whose troops they were (Cox had left a regiment back at the Pocatalico that could have come upstream for some reason), his boys called out “who are you?” just as the soldiers gathering wheat asked the same thing.

Also simultaneously, each answered the other “United States troops!” and “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” Now that the soldiers on either side of the Kanawha River were acquainted with each other, a smattering of musket fire was exchanged across the water.

Cox ordered a cannon forward and sent a shell into the side of the steamer. This shot sent the Rebels on board scrambling over the sides, into the water and onto the shore. They quickly set fire to the vessel so it wouldn’t fall into Union hands, and then left the banks of the Kanawha under the cover of the trees and the darkness that was settling in.

A small force was sent to track down the retreating Rebels, as the rest, including Cox, set up camp for the night. General Wise, however, moved out of Charleston and, before the next morning, was gone.3



  1. This account is from Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall. However, The Civil War in the Western Territories by Ray C. Colton states that Baylor’s plan was to attack the fort in the morning. []
  2. Both Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall, 1960 and The Civil War in the Western Territories by Ray C. Colton, 1959 came in useful here. []
  3. Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 1 by Jacob Dolson Cox, C. Scribner’s & Sons, 1900. []
Creative Commons License
Confederate Invasion of New Mexico; Western Virginia Heats Up by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

About

View all posts by