December 14, 1861 (Saturday)
While events in the east seemed to transpire with relative swiftness, things in the west, especially the southwest, evolved with much more laxity. It had been a month and a half since Confederate Col. John Baylor had written to General Henry Hopkins Sibley, informing him that Union troops under Col. Edward Richard Sprigg Canby were poised to invade the Confederate Territory of Arizona [modern-day southern New Mexico].
Since then, General Sibley and his small band, had been making their slow way from San Antonio, Texas to Fort Fillmore in Mesilla, a journey of 700 miles.
Finally, on December 13, Sibley arrived at Fort Bliss, forty miles down the Rio Grande from Fort Fillmore. Here, on this date, he took command of all the Confederate troops north of Fort Quitman, officially forming the Confederate Army of New Mexico.1
Prior to Sibley’s arrival, Col. John Baylor had been in command. Upon setting up the territorial government of Arizona, he also became governor. With the threat of a Federal invasion, he had moved his entire command and government to Fort Bliss in, what a Mesilla newspaper editor called “a Manassas… without a fight or even a sight of the enemy.” Baylor was labeled a coward and was seen as an embarrassment when he crawled back to Fort Fillmore.
Baylor, not one to suffer in silence, ambushed the editor the day before Sibley arrived. The editor pulled a knife and Baylor, a pistol. A crowd quickly gathered around and begged their decreasingly-esteemed governor not to shoot. Unable to break the editor’s grip on the knife, Baylor pulled the pistol to the editor’s jaw and fired.
The ball shattered his jaw and exited through his neck, leaving the man convulsing on the ground. Baylor stood up and surrendered himself to his second in command. The editor would linger for two weeks, penning more scathing editorials before finally expiring.
General Sibley’s arrival effected Baylor’s military command, only. Baylor still retained his governorship and civil control over the Territory of Arizona (by the grace of Sibley, of course). Sibley now commanded his 2,700, plus Baylor’s thousand or so.2
Halleck Disregards Pope in Missouri
When we last left western Missouri, General Sterling Price was in the process of gathering northern Missouri’s secessionists into the Missouri State Guard. Union brass was fairly well aware of this, but could do little more than send out patrols to watch the roads.
General Henry Halleck, commander of the Union Department of Missouri, based out of St. Louis, believed that Price was moving north, towards the Union troops at Sedalia, which was incorrect. Price’s force had been so diminished that it was unfit for service. With the new troops arriving daily, however, they would soon be ready for a campaign.
General John Pope, Halleck’s senior division commander in Sedalia, believed that if Price could be defeated, the recruits would have no where to go and would return home. He stated as much in a letter to Halleck on December 11.
“I would respectfully suggest,” wrote Pope, “that to quiet all the disturbances and uneasiness engendered by the presence of so large a hostile force in this region, an advance in force against Price be made as soon as possible.” He reasoned that his 15,000 troops in Sedalia could easily take out whatever force Price could gather, even if it were the 50,000 called for in his November 26th proclamation. This was probably true. The Union troops were better disciplined, better armed and better organized.
Pope was tired of Halleck holding him back. He was ready to move, even boasting that the entire army could be on the road in less than two hour’s time.
Most importantly, however, Pope had a plan which he shared with Halleck. He wanted his cavalry to make movements up and down some main roads to confuse the enemy pickets. These movements would take place over several days. When the pickets got used to such movements, he would send his army along with the cavalry, surprising the Missouri State Guard. Pope believed that his entire army could cross the Osage River before Price even knew they were on the march.
He fully expected Price to flee without a fight, unless the Union troops could cut off his retreat route. He was convinced that Price’s force could not withstand another retreat into Arkansas.
On this date, General Halleck finally gave Pope permission to move. It was, however, not in the direction of the enemy. While Pope reckoned that moving southwest and defeating Price meant defeating the recruits before they even joined, Halleck took the opposite stance.
He ordered Pope to move northwest in the direction of Lexington, where the recruits had been gathering. Pope wished to make his move with not only his division, but two others, as well. Halleck, however, allowed Pope to take only part of his own division.
Pope would protest, but planned to move his troops in the morning.3