Rebels Begin their Long, Treacherous Retreat from New Mexico

April 13, 1862 (Sunday)

Col. Canby

Union Col. Edward Canby was poised to take Albuquerque, defended by no more than 200 Rebels. His force, 1,100-strong, could have captured the city, but he was unsure just when the rest of the Confederates, moving south from Santa Fe, under the command of General Henry Sibley, would arrive. When combined, the Rebels would outnumber him two-to-one.

He had bombarded the town for two days and then slipped out with the Confederates none the wiser, moving to San Antonio, twenty miles east of Albuquerque, and then to Tijeras, a bit closer.

In Albuquerque, the Rebels, who had been reinforced with a portion of Sibley’s main force, were surprised to find that Canby had quietly fluttered away. It now seemed that their worst fears were about to be realized.

During the battle of Glorieta Pass, the Confederates tangled with the Federal troops from Fort Union. Though beaten, the 1,100 or so were still out there and probably trying to link up with Canby, who had a similar number. Sibley had wanted to defeat each of the Union forces in turn, but now he was faced with one larger, combined force.1

He was also faced with the very real prospect of starvation. Right after the firing at Glorieta had died, Federal cavalry had burned the bulk of their supply wagons, leaving them with little provisions. Sibley was nearly 250 miles from home. He hadn’t the sustenance or ammunition to stay, and faced a march through a barren desert that could stretch on for weeks. But once back in Mesilla and Fort Fillmore, he could restrengthen and return.

On the 12th, Sibley began his evacuation. He and his men burned whatever they couldn’t carry with them, but managed to make off with their three howitzers and two other guns captured at Val Verde. By this date, the Confederates had split their forces, marching on either side of the Rio Grande. Col. Surry took his column down the west side, while Cols. Green and Pyron moved down on the east.2

Tijeras Canyon a bit later, when Route 66 passed through it.

Meanwhile, the Federals from Fort Union, now under the command of Col. Gabriel Paul, were making a forced march to join Canby’s men at Tijeras, roughly fifteen miles east of Albuquerque. At 2am on this date, their march from Galisteo began. With breakfasts half finished, they took to the road, over winding hills and flattened plains. They marched through dawn, through noon, into evening, mile after mile with little rest. As the sun slid behind the mountains, Paul’s exhausted force had tramped forty miles. They collapsed in Tijeras, among their comrades under Col. Canby, who now commanded the entire Federal force in New Mexico, 2,400-strong.

Knowing that the Rebels were hurting, depleted of around 600 men from their march to Santa Fe, Canby was determined to strike them before he missed his opportunity.3


On the Peninsula: Bad News for the Rebels, Good News for the Yankees

Confederate defenses at Yorktown.

In numbers far overshadowing those in New Mexico, the Union and Confederate armies on the Virginia Peninsula were gathering. General George B. McClellan’s Union Army of the Potomac was upwards of 101,000 present for duty, and outnumbered the Rebels nearly two-to-one. This separation in numbers, however, was lost upon General McClellan, who believed to Rebels to total 100,000 or more.

While that was a preposterous figure, it was true that the Confederate forces occupying the line across the Peninsula, from Yorktown to Warwick Creek, was growing. On the 12th, General Joe Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of the Potomac, was ordered by Richmond to take over for General John Magruder on the Peninsula.4

Magruder’s Army of the Peninsula, 15,000-strong, was absorbed into Johnston’s numbers. The Confederate Army of the Potomac then became the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Magruder now commanded the left wing, at Yorktown.

The majority of Johnston’s army had left their defenses along the Rappahannock River and Fredericksburg and were either on the Peninsula or en route.

Map of fairly approximate CS and US positions.

On this date, Johnston traveled from Richmond to examine the defenses of his new command. Upon arrival, he found the works to be incomplete. They were constructed by engineers who had no wartime experience and it showed. Johnston had no reason to suspect that McClellan wouldn’t come with an all out assault. He felt that the works would never be able to hold. Besides, even if they held, attempting to defend a peninsula meant that the enemy could simply sail around the flanks and land in the rear.

Discouraged and seeking another line of defense closer to Richmond, Johnston set off for the capital after dark to deliver the bad news.5

On the other side of the fortifications, General McClellan had received some rather good news. After learning that President Lincoln was keeping not only General Blenker’s Division, but also the entire First Corps of his Army of the Potomac, he had somehow convinced Washington to give him General William Franklin’s Division.

General Franklin

McClellan had been repeatedly pleading to have Franklin’s Division with him on the Peninsula.6 Until he finally received word that Franklin and his 11,000 men were his. Granted, he had wanted both Franklin and McCall’s Divisions, but was willing to make do with one. McClellan was overjoyed, or at least not as displeased as he had been. “I am confident as to results now,” he said to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, upon learning that he was getting what he wanted.7

By this date, Franklin had left Baltimore and was to arrive at Fortress Monroe in the next day or so. “We shall soon be at them, and I am sure of the result,” said McClellan to Stanton.8

More good news was coming from the skies. The weather, which had been rainy and rather horrible, was clearing up. The roads were returning to a slightly more solid state, allowing scouts to get a better look at the Rebel right flank near Lee’s Mill and the Warwick River. A weakness was found, but it would take a couple days for them to report it.9

  1. Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall, University of New Mexico Press, 1960. []
  2. Blood & Treasure by Donal S. Frazier, Texas A&M University Press, 1995. []
  3. by Martin Hardwick Hall, University of New Mexico Press, 1960. []
  4. To the Gates of Richmond by Stephen W. Sears, Mariner Books, 1992. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p97 gives the exact figure of 100,970 as “present for duty”. []
  5. Narrative of Military Operations by Joseph E. Johnston, D. Appleton and Co., 1874. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p71, 74, 86. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p86, 87. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 11, Part 3, p94-95. []
  9. Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign by Russel H. Beatie, Savas Beatie, 2007. []
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Rebels Begin their Long, Treacherous Retreat from New Mexico by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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