Rebels in New Mexico Begin their Campaign in Earnest

March 20, 1862 (Thursday)

Santa Fe (circa 1866)

By this time, General Henry Hopkins Sibley had settled into his new headquarters in Albuquerque. His Confederate Army of New Mexico, victorious after the Battle of Valverde, left the Union force of Col. Canby at Fort Craig in their rear and marched north.

While Sibley remained in town, he had vanquished most of his force into the Sandia Mountains, east of the settlement. There they had stayed, with eyes upon Santa Fe for over two weeks, but had spent much of the time shivering in the severe wind, cold and snow.

Wanting to capture Santa Fe, the territorial capital, Sibley (actually, the commander of the vanguard, Major Charles Pyron) had dispatched about a dozen soldiers to seize the town, which had been abandoned by the small Federal force from Fort Union.

Lying nearly 150 miles northeast, Fort Union, near Las Vegas, was the base of area Federal soldiers, and a vital link on the supply line to Col. Canby at Fort Craig. If Fort Union fell, Canby would be cut off and forced to surrender. All of New Mexico Territory [which included all of modern-day New Mexico and Arizona] would be under Confederate rule.

Before leaving on his campaign, President Jefferson Davis entrusted Sibley “with the important duty of driving the Federal troops from that department, at the same time securing all the arms, supplies, and materials of war.” Following the drive, he was to “proceed to organize a military government within the Territory….”1 Taking Fort Union would accomplish the first goal, and Sibley wasn’t thinking much at all about the second.

Map showing Union forts and Confederate plan of attack.

His immediate plan was simple: keep the Union forces at Forts Craig (1,800-strong) and Union (1,400-strong) from combining. He first wanted to take care of Fort Union, defeat the Federals and capture the much-needed supplies. To accomplish this, he planned to split his army of 2,500 into three columns.

The first, roughly 200-strong, was to move north to Santa Fe, which was already occupied by Major Charles Pyron, who would be in command. The second column, under Col. Tom Green, would first move east, through Anton Chico, and then north towards Las Vegas. The largest, under Col. William Scurry, would take the middle road through Galisteo. This would allow Scurry to support Green, should Canby from Fort Craig come out of his hole, or Pyron, if the Federals from Fort Union got ambitious.2

On this date, Sibley’s army began to move. From the East Mountains, Major John Shropshire, a Texas lawyer, stepped off towards Santa Fe with four companies of the 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers to reinforce Pyron. Somewhere in the sixty miles between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, a Confederate foraging party stumbled upon around 120 Federals patrolling the passes and roads.

As the four Rebels crested a hill, they saw the Union troops two miles away, atop an opposite hill. Somehow, the Federals caught site of the Rebels and charged them. Not wanting to put up such a fight, they took to their horses and scurried back to the main body. The Union cavalry quickly abandoned the chase when seeing the Rebel camp.3

Old road near Starvation Peak, which Confederates would have used according to their plan (probably). Also an old alignment of early Route 66.

General Sibley’s delay in Albuquerque was a boon to the Federals. It allowed Col. Canby’s force to recover from their defeat and it gave time for reinforcements from Colorado to bolster the numbers at Fort Union. It also allowed the chance for both Union forces to effect a juncture. Col. John Slough, the new commander of Fort Union, taking over for Col. Gabriel Paul, on this date, was preparing his men for a march south towards Fort Craig.

At Fort Craig, however, Col. Canby had thought of a better plan. Since Fort Union was a link on the Federal supply line, it would be wiser to protect it. Though not quite ready to move out, he fixed it in his mind to soon make the push northward. Instead, he sent a messenger to Col. Slough (actually Paul, since he was unaware of the command change), telling him to stay put. This message would arrive the next day.

Both Union and Confederate armies were soon to be on the move, almost blindly stumbling towards each other.4


Jackson Prepares to March Upon an Unsuspecting Foe; Hotchkiss Arrives

Rain had fallen through the night and morning in the Shenandoah Valley, soaking the men and muddying the Turnpike. General Shields and his division had tangled with Stonewall Jackson’s Rebel cavalry the previous day, and probably surmised that the enemy was hunkering down near Mount Jackson, twenty miles to the south.

Jedediah Hotchkiss

Towards noon, Shields began to move his troops the twenty-two miles to Winchester, away from Jackson. They wouldn’t arrive until after dark. Soon, General Shields and his 6,000 men would be the only Union force in the Valley. Due to McClellan’s Peninsula Plan, General Banks’ Corps, to which Shields’ belonged, was covering Washington. General Williams’ Division, which had been with Shields to this point, was moving out for Centreville over the next day or so. Both Union commanders figured that Jackson had no plans to move north.5

That was, however, blatantly untrue. Jackson had been reinforced and was readying his men to attack the Federals. Turner Ashby, who commanded Jackson’s cavalry, reported that the Union troops were moving back to Winchester (Jackson would receive the message the following day). Jackson’s commander, General Joe Johnston, who had also pulled south from the Centreville/Manassas line, had suggested that Jackson do what he could to keep as many Union troops in the Valley as possible. If they were in the Valley, they couldn’t be used to reinforce McClellan.

Though risky, Jackson was determined to advance. First, however, there was a slight problem. Some of the reinforcements refused to fight. They were Virginians, but before that, they were Mennonites, Duckers and Quakers – sworn pacifists who could never be made to fire a musket at another man. Jackson was in a quandary over how to handle these soldiers.

Unable to count upon the faithful, Jackson welcomed 500 additional troops on this date. Included in their number was Jedediah Hotchkiss, an engineer, geologist, and, most importantly, a cartographer. He, like Jackson, (and the pacifists, for that matter), was a strict man of God. Soon, Hotchkiss would become indispensable to Jackson.6

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p93. []
  2. The Battle of Glorieta Pass by Thomas S. Edrington and John Taylor. []
  3. Blood & Treasure; Confederate Empire in the Southwest by Donald S. Frazier. []
  4. Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall. []
  5. Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign by Russel H. Beatie. []
  6. Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson. []
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Rebels in New Mexico Begin their Campaign in Earnest by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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