March 5, 1862 (Wednesday)
Union General Ulysses Grant, shockingly removed from field command by General Halleck only the day before, must have awoken to a very strange new day. Before receiving the news, he was planning a two-pronged advance up the Tennessee River. General C.F. Smith would command one wing, while Grant commanded the other. Forced to remain at Fort Henry, he could do nothing but turn over command to Smith (as directed to by Halleck) and hope for some clarity.
After Smith was on his way, Grant wrote to Halleck to try and explain his case, though he was given scant details as to why he was being removed. General Halleck had accused Grant of not keeping him updated as to the numbers and whereabouts of his troops. Grant countered that he reported by telegraph almost every day. Grant did admit that he wasn’t able to get the returns from all his troops, specifically General Smith’s. He reasoned that Smith was probably unable to send them, due to being ordered to Nashville by General Buell, who commanded the adjoining department.
Grant restated that he had made daily reports to General Cullum, Halleck’s chief of staff, and that, perhaps, Cullum deemed them too unimportant to forward.1
While the Union Army of the Tennessee, now commanded in the field by General C.F. Smith, gathered at Fort Henry to pursue the Confederates under General Albert Sidney Johnston, Johnston’s Army of Tennessee was headed towards Corinth and Decatur, Mississippi, which were to be reached in three days. To cover Chattanooga, Tennessee, he sent General John Floyd with 2,500 troops.
Farther to the west, along the Mississippi River, General P.G.T. Beauregard took command of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi (often the “the” is left off, but Beauregard used it), formerly under General Polk, at New Madrid, Missouri (though Beauregard was still in Jackson, Tennessee). In a message to his new troops, Beauregard assured them that the Confederate losses thus far in the war were “now about the same as those of the enemy.” There had been some reverses, it was true, but, urged Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter and Manassas, “those reverses, far from disheartening, must nerve us to new deeps of valor and patriotism, and should inspire us with unconquerable determination to drive back our invaders.”2
Before taking command, Beauregard had called upon Richmond for reinforcements. In response, they sent General Braxton Bragg from Pensacola, Florida and Mobile, Alabama with a force of 10,000 well-trained soldiers. Additionally, 5,000 from New Orleans, under General Ruggles, had been sent north, weakening the port city. Bragg and his men currently held Corinth.
Braxton Bragg was an officer of high moral character and a West Point education. He had served with Ulysses Grant in the Mexican War, and under Albert Sidney Johnston during the Mormon uprisings of mid 1850s. Beauregard wanted him in Tennessee badly enough to offer to serve below him. In turn, Bragg was given allowance to issue orders in Beauregard’s name. When all was said and done, with the exception of the troops at New Madrid and Island No. 10, Beauregard had roughly 23,000 men under his command.3
Near New Madrid and Island No. 10, Union General Pope’s Army of the Mississippi was gathering its strength to take the town, while a detachment moved farther south to capture the Rebel town of Point Pleasant, effectively choking New Madrid. It had been hoped that Commodore Foote would provide several gunboats to assist Pope, but Foote refused and the operation was at a stand-still. Pope would have nearly 18,000 men poised to take the scantily-defended town and island, both of which were constantly being reinforced by the Rebels.4
Four New Mexican Rebels Storm a Union Supply Depot
Before the war, any armory or depot in the west had been filled with ammunition and supplies to fight the Indians. Sixty miles west of Albuquerque, recently taken by General Henry Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico, was the small village of Cubero, home of roughly 500 Mexicans and a Union Army depot.
The depot was held by Captain Francisco Aragon and about forty-five men, including only three regulars. When Albuquerque was abandoned, its supplies set ablaze, and the Union troops moved north to Santa Fe, Cubero seems to have been forgotten.
Aside from the 500 Mexican inhabitants, and the small detachment of the Union army, four staunchly pro-Southern white people lived in Cubero. Realizing that the native Mexicans didn’t really care one way or the other which flag flew over their town, the four Secessionists made a plan to seize the depot for the South. They had, no doubt, heard of Sibley’s campaign and wished to help.
On March 3, the four Secessionists stormed into the quiet depot and demanded Captain Aragon to surrender. Aragon, like his neighbors, also cared little for the cause of the Union. He turned over the depot without giving it a second thought.
Before Cubero’s Secessionists executed their plan, they sent word to Albuquerque, informing the Confederate commander of the depot. He sent Captain Alfred Thurmond with twenty-five men to the village. They arrived on this date, finding sixty small arms and 3,000 rounds of ammunition. More importantly, they acquired medical and camp supplies, which filled twenty-five wagons.
The Union troops were given guns and ammunition for the sixty-mile journey back to Albuquerque. Upon arrival, they were to surrender their arms.5
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, p4-5. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p297. [↩]
- The Army of Tennessee by Stanley F. Horn. [↩]
- Island No. 10 by Larry J. Daniel and Lynn N. Bock. [↩]
- Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall. I have visited the tiny town of Cubero and fell in love with it. It’s an old Route 66 town that is often stated to be a ghost town, but it still has life within it. Here’s a random fact: Author, Ernest Hemingway lived in Cubero for a time. It’s where he wrote his novella The Old Man and the Sea. [↩]