February 19, 1862 (Wednesday)
In the hustle and bustle that was the Forts Henry and Donelson Campaign, Union General Halleck, commander of the Department of Missouri, was fearful, even panicked, of a Confederate attack on Cairo, Illinois from Columbus, Tennessee, not too far downstream. He had ordered General John Pope to the west shore of the Mississippi for extra assurance and had given General William Tecumseh Sherman a new post.
After the fall of Fort Henry, but before the fall of Fort Donelson, Halleck placed Sherman in command at Cairo. Sherman was not yet the officer he would later become, but was well respected for his organizational skills. Cairo was the point through which Grant would receive reinforcements and supplies. Now that Grant had succeeded, however, Halleck feared that Cairo would be the focus of a Confederate counter strike.1
On this date, Halleck wired Sherman not to allow any more troops to go north into Kentucky, but to retain them at Paducah and Cairo. He also warned him to “look out sharp for a movement from Columbus.”
While Halleck was worried about Grant’s supply line being cut, Grant was looking towards Nashville, an important Confederate city that was technically outside of his and Halleck’s jurisdiction. Such frivolities don’t seem to have entered Grant’s mind.
He had learned that Clarksville had been abandoned and he planned to occupy it in a couple of days. Both Sherman and Halleck were apprised of the situation. After taking Clarksville, Grant wanted Nashville, and told both that he could take it in a little over a week.
Nashville was under the jurisdiction of the Union Department of the Cumberland, commanded by General Don Carlos Buell. Grant, being under Halleck, would be stretching his authority if he went for Nashville. It was Grant, however, who was the only Union commander in the know. Both Buell and Halleck (because of Buell) believed that Clarksville was still occupied by the Rebels, who planned to make a stand at Nashville.2 What nobody, not even Grant, knew was that the Confederates under General Albert Sidney Johnston were abandoning Nashville as well, regrouping at Murfreesboro, thirty-five miles to the south.3
General A.S. Johnston believed that abandoning Nashville, a city once considered for the Confederate capital, would greatly benefit his army, as by pulling back, they could concentrate their numbers. The citizens of Nashville, however, were much less than amused. Their anger at being left to the mercy of the Yankees caused them to take to the streets and storm Johnston’s headquarters.
The Confederates weren’t just moving soldiers out of town, they wanted to take supplies, rations and machinery used to make weapons. Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest was called in to restore order, but even he could do little. The people, who had been told and who believed that Nashville could never fall, were confused, panicked and furious at the loss of their town. All confidence in Johnston was gone.
In their hurry to leave Nashville, and due to looting, Johnston’s Army of Tennessee left behind nearly half of their supplies.4
The New Mexico Rebels Move, Kit Carson Rides to Cut Them Off
Way down southwest in Dixie, General Henry Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico, the size of a brigade, was beginning their move to sidestep Union Fort Craig along the Rio Grande. The Rebels, mostly Texans, needed to neutralize the 3,000 Union troops under Col. Edward Canby, occupying Fort Craig, if they wanted to continue their campaign towards Albuquerque and Sante Fe.
The Rebel camp and Fort Craig were both on the west side of the Rio, with the Rebels being several miles south of the fort. At dawn, Sibley’s troops made their way across the river, using a ford a few miles south of their camp. Their plan was to move up the eastern shore and take Valverde Ford, cutting off the Union supply line. They would feast upon the Union supplies and force Col. Canby to attack them on ground of their own choosing.
They took their time in crossing. Today’s march would be short, just three miles to the village of Paraje de Fra Cristobal. They reached the village around 3pm and made their camp for the night. Before sleeping, they cooked three day’s worth of rations for the coming campaign.5
Always watching the Confederates, Col. Canby had a hunch he knew what they were up to. They had crossed the Rio Grande, and he suspected their objective was a bluff across the river that overlooked the fort. To meet them, he sent two regiments under Col. Miguel Pino and the famous Indian fighter and Wild West legend, Col. Kit Carson.6
Before war broke out, Kit Carson had acted as a guide to John C. Fremont’s 1842 exploration of the west, bringing the frontiersman to the national stage. During the Mexican war, he guided General Stephen Kearny to California and acted as President Polk’s messenger, taking dispatches to and from the west.7
Between the wars, Carson was a Federal Indian Agent, engaged in both helping and fighting the natives. When word of the Rebellion reached his ranch near Taos, New Mexico, Carson resigned his post and began to recruit for the 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He, along with Col. Canby and several others, organized nearly 6,000 New Mexicans, mostly paisonos, untrained, but patriotic farmers.
The 1st New Mexico, under Carson, drilled in Albuquerque until January, when it made its way to Fort Craig, where they were, no doubt, warmly welcomed.8
- Memoirs, Vol. 1, p221 by William Tecumseh Sherman, D. Appleton and Company, 1875. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p638-639. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p888. [↩]
- Army of the Heartland; The Army of Tennessee 1861-1862 by Thomas Lawrence Connelly, LSU Press, 1967. [↩]
- Bloody Valverde by John Taylor. [↩]
- Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall. [↩]
- Encyclopedia of the American Civil War edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. This is a HUGE tome (nearly 3,000 pages) and highly recommended. [↩]
- Kit Carson Days (1809-1868) by Edwin Legrand Sabin, 1914. [↩]