The Death of a General, but Move of an Army; Rebels Take Albuquerque

March 2, 1862 (Sunday)

It would be easy to believe, even fitting, that the Union advance into the Shenandoah Valley could be quickly ground to a halt by such an obscure thing as a too-small lift-lock. But that was not the case. It was true, the semi-permanent floating bridge, constructed of canal barges, that General McClellan wanted to construct across the Potomac at Harpers Ferry could not be built. It was also true that to reconstruct the railroad bridge, destroyed by retreating Confederates at the start of the war, would take weeks. Still, this did not stem the flow of Union troops crossing to the Virginia shore.

The rickety pontoon bridge hastily strung across the river would not hold, but there were other ways to reach the Confederacy. General McClellan stayed at Harpers Ferry long enough to oversee General Banks’ initial crossing at Harpers Ferry, and to issue orders for nearby divisions to cross the Potomac.

Four divisions in all would be called upon. Banks’ Division of 16,000 were already across and encamped at Charlestown [or Charles Town, as it’s called these days] and Bolivar Heights, as were the 11,000 men of General John Sedgewick’s Division (except for the six regiments under General Alpheus Williams, who were to en route from Hancock and crossing at Williamsport, and ordered to move on Martinsburg, which they would take on this date). This left the division of General Frederick Lander.

Lander’s Division had been in Virginia on and off throughout the winter, as he followed orders to evacuate Romney, and nipped at Stonewall Jackson’s heels throughout February. It’s possible that this whole forward thrust into the lower Shenandoah Valley was happening due to Lander’s unceasing insistence to attack Stonewall Jackson, currently holding Winchester.

The 15,000 men of Lander’s Division had been holed up at Paw Paw Tunnel [now part of West Virginia]. As the snow whipped and slashed the faces of the men, they marched east to meet up with William’s Brigade at Martinsburg. Lander ordered the 39th Illinois to open the railroad to Martinsburg, entrusting its commander, “If the rebels come on you in force, fight under any circumstances, and if you are taken prisoner, I will release you tomorrow morning.”

General Lander, however, had been seriously ill for weeks. Being the tough and stubborn man that he was, he usually worked around it or through it, but all of this action, the cold and the snow, was finally taking its final toll. Early on this date, Lander was unconscious, sleeping under the heavy cloud of morphine, administered by surgeons who claimed he was too ill to lead an army in the field. Major Simon Barstow, his aide-de-camp, by his side kept General McClellan appraised of the illness’s progress. Though Lander’s Division was on the move, seeing that its leader was probably not going to make it another day, Barstow ordered the men back to Paw Paw.

As the winter sun sank quickly into the valley of the Potomac River, General Frederick Lander, railroad surveyor, trailblazer and poet, spoke his last words through his haze of delirium and passing: “Don’t sound the bugle.”

At 5pm, Major Barstow wired General McClellan, telling him that Lander had died, and that he turned over command of the division to Col. Nathan Kimball. McClellan would agree with Barstow’s choice, as Kimball was the senior-most brigade commander, but had another officer in mind.

General Frederick Lander was a crass, angry, and largely unlikable man who, even immediately following word of his death, would have few pleasant things said about him. Personally, he would be little missed, but it was he who had a firm grasp of the roads, terrain and abilities of the forces, Union and Confederate, arrayed in the lower Shenandoah Valley.1


The Rebels Take Albuquerque and Take Nothing

While the North was on the move south in the Shenandoah Valley, the South was on the move north in the Rio Grande Valley. On February 26, Confederate General Henry Sibley captured the town of Socorro, New Mexico, seventy-five miles south of Albuquerque. There, General Sibley reorganized his 2,500-man Army of New Mexico, redistributed the healthy horses among his men, and tried to figure out what to do next.

Following the Battle of Valverde, Sibley had left Union Col. Edward Canby and his 3,500 Yankees behind at Fort Craig, licking their wounds, but not at all whipped. Fort Craig and Col. Canby were left behind on the Confederate supply line. While they had captured provisions in Socorro, it wouldn’t be long until his men had eaten through them.

He could either go south to destroy Canby or keep pushing north towards Albuquerque, where supplies were supposedly in abundance. Moving north, however, would place Sibley between two large Union forces. Canby would be to the south, while Fort Union, north of Las Vegas, New Mexico, was to the north. Sibley’s beautiful dream of taking all of New Mexico had the inceptive stirrings of a nightmare.

Still, on February 28th, Sibley left Socorro, heading north towards Albuquerque. This move surprised many of his men, who thought it folly to leave Canby to their rear, and figured that they’d meet him soon again. But Albuquerque held provisions and supplies needed to subsist off this desolate ground.2

While the main body’s march was slow, the vanguard of the army, 200 men, most of the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles, were ordered to ride quickly ahead to secure the Union depot in Albuquerque before word of their advance reached the city.

This was an idea that was late in coming. The several days Sibley spent resting after the Battle of Valverde, along with the several days spent deciding what to do at Socorro, were about to haunt him.

On March 1, As the 2nd Texas was storming north, a messenger had already arrived at the Federal depot, informing its commander that part of Sibley’s army was but thirty-five miles south. He immediately took action, ordering whatever supplies could be saved to be loaded onto wagons and taken to Santa Fe. The rest would have to be put to the torch.

By the evening of the first, the Rebels were reported to be fifteen miles away, but there was no sign of them through the night. At 6:30 in the morning of this date, the Union depot was set ablaze. During the start of the fire, the natives of Albuquerque rushed forward, not to save the building, but to scoop up whatever provisions they could carry, risking their lives for the essentials of life, and maybe a bit extra for comfort.

As the Texans reached the city, they saw large, black pillars of smoke and realized they were too late.3

  1. As this was mostly a “catch up” post, I used a variety of sources. Mostly, Russel H. Beatie’s Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign and Army of the Potomac; McClellan Takes Command (the third and second volumes, respectively) were used. Also, the Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p732 provided the divisional strengths of the commands involved. Vol. 51, Part 1, p545 contained wires from McClellan and Barstow. Lastly, Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens shed light on the Confederate reaction, but I’ll be getting to that tomorrow or the next day. []
  2. Blood & Treasure by Donald S. Frazier. []
  3. Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall. []
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5 thoughts on “The Death of a General, but Move of an Army; Rebels Take Albuquerque

  1. It appears Sibley tried to live off the land just as Sherman did a couple of years later. It’s a lot easier to live off the land in Georgia than it is in New Mexico!
    Sibley seems to have forgotten that war is about defeating armies, not taking cities.

    1. That was his plan, yes. Or rather, he was hoping to live off the Union supply line and the various Union depots that his army would, no doubt, capture. We’ll see how that worked out for him. 🙂

  2. I think you are too harsh with your words about Frederick W Lander. He sometimes seemed a harsh man – demanding and fearless – frustrated at the lack of support from his military superiors, but many of his soldiers spoke high praise for him, as did Lincoln and Stanton and most military officers. He was an officer who was not afraid to fight, a rarity in the Union Army in the first year of the war.

    One of his soldier’s wrote in his diary (Captain George Wood, 7th Ohio):

    “Lander was a brave man and an able commander. In his death the service has lost one of its best men. in battle he exposed himself, disdaining to stand back and see his brave soldiers fall without meeting the same dangers himself. he was very eccentric in his habits and required the utmost promptness on the part of those around him – rewarding the brave and manly whether under shoulder straps or a musket, and punishing those severely who were negligent in performing their duty or who displayed cowardice in any way whatsoever. In the army he was rough and unpolished but I am told that at home he was a polished gentleman. In his speech he was short and to the point, never using any but the plainest terms. . . I esteemed him a great man and general.”

    Another wrote: “Eyes filled with tears as we silently returned to our quarters. We had first known him at Rich Mountain, as the noble, brave, daring, and fearless Lander. A great and noble man has fallen.”

    I posted this today on the All Things Lincoln Assassination board:

    Today is March 2, 2012. 150 years ago today the United States Federal Army lost one of their greatest commanders – one who some believed would have been one of the greatest leaders of the Civil War – Frederick W Lander. Lander died of pneumonia/sepsis (his biographer believes his symptoms point to osteomyelitis – an infection of the bone – caused by an unhealed bullet wound he received at Edward’s Ferry). Lander was a frontiersman – not a soldier. Born in Salem Massachusetts, he became a surveyor and railroad man who crossed the US multiple times in his work surveying the west for a railroad (he favored a northern route which was ultimately selected) and as superintendent of the roads through Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon & Washington (Lander’s cut-off, Lander’s pass, Lander Wyoming).

    I first became ‘acquainted’ with Frederick Lander in my Frederick Aiken research – Aiken served as a spy for Seward under Lander’s direction in the spring of 1861 – and I have since come to admire and respect Lander and his passion and committment to save the Union. Like many Democrats he supported Breckinridge, which may explain why, despite the confidence of the Administration to place him as a spy, he was not taken up on his first offers to serve as a military officer in the war. In the same letter he wrote to Seward recommending Aiken be given a more permanent position as a spy Lander wrote, “As the Secretary of War (Cameron) was entirely indisposed to aid me to serve the country in a more honorable field of service than that which detained me in Washington and prevented me from availing myself of opportunities here now closed to me, i am on my way to Major General McLellan who is at least a soldier and being an old comrade of mine may appreciate better my past experience . . . Lawyers & diplomats make excellent paper warriors but i have yet to learn their capacity to meet a desperate & determined enemy on the battle field.”

    The best Lander could do in the early days of the war was to volunteer as an aide to McClellan. But his exploits and leadership at Phillippi (if you’ve seen The Man From Snowy River, you can imagine his heroic charge down the mountainside which many of his men said after the war was the most remarkable thing they had ever seen) brought him accolades and advancement – he was made a Brigadier General and given his own command – he was promoted by what he did, not who he was. But his friendship with McClellan was destroyed when he discovered that McClellan was one of those great paper soldiers – unwilling to risk his army on the battle field. Hampered at every turn, frustrated at the unwillingness of the Union generals to fight, he vented his anger in profanity laced tirades. He begged and pleaded to be allowed to fight. But cautious men checked him. In a letter to Stanton he wrote that his enemy was the War Department and the orders of “weak men.” Realizing that his terse words would raise eyebrows at the Department, he wrote: “You will regard this as disrespectful. I hope you may. I am not here for promotion.” Stanton loved his fire. One of his soldier’s christened him “Old Fear-Naught.”

    His injury occurred when he rushed from Washington (he had been given another command and had been in Washington making preparations) to the aid of his former troops at Edward’s Ferry. He vented that the non-support of his men was ‘ nothing less than murder’ and was shot in the leg as he led a reconnaissance mission to rescue his stranded soldiers “Having lost one regiment I believed it was time to save another.” The bullet (and parts of his boot) lodged in his leg, but Lander refused to seek aid until his men were safe. He was sent back home to recuperate, but chaffed at the inactivity. Finally given orders to rejoin his troops, he was ordered to hold Hancock, W. Virginia. When Jackson sent his ultimatum that Lander surrender Hancock, Lander responded in typical fashion – “Bombard and be damned.” He then gave Jackson his only defeat.

    As he became more and more ill, he still begged to be allowed to cross the river and cut off Jackson. Believing that the Union army could capture Jackson’s army, he again pleaded for Banks and McClellan to allow him to act. He drew up battle plans, but was again (and again, and again) denied. His requests for replacement in his final illness were ignored by the war department who believed his illness was not serious. All were shocked when his death was announced.

    His funeral was attended by thousands, including Lincoln and all of his Cabinet. The eulogy, given by Bishop Clarke of Rhode Island is beautiful.

    “We are called to lay one more costly offering on the altar of our country. In this presence it is hardly necessary that I should say a word in eulogy of the brave man whose mortal remains now lie before us. He has written the record of his indomitable energy, his invincible courage, and his lofty patriotism, where all the world can see and read it.

    Gen. Lander was a brave and honest man. No one ever dared to impeach his integrity. No shadow of suspicion ever polluted his fame. From a serene height, he looked down with scorn upon all the arts and intrigues of designing men. He was chivalrous in his integrity, and rated others strictly according to their desserts.

    This was not all. The qualities of character, to which I have here alluded, were manifest to all; but there were other traits, which they only who knew him most intimately were competent to estimate. As among the rugged scenery of mountains, through some chance opening, you may sometimes catch the glimpse of a soft and pleasant landscape, where beautiful flowers bend over the placid waters, so, if you had been allowed to look through the stern exterior into the secret chambers of his soul, you would have seen there a delicate love of nature, a tenderness of sensibility, and a generous refinement that might have made him a great poet, if Providence had not determined that he should be a great warrior. This was reason why they who knew him most thoroughly love him best.

    It seems hard that we should be called to make such costly sacrifices as this. But remember that every great work is accomplished only through sacrifice. The religion of Jesus, to which we owe all our choicest blessings, was inaugurated on a cross. When our country was born into life, she was baptized in blood. And now that she is to be born again, into a freer, higher, nobler life, it is the will of God that the sacrament of blood should be repeated.

    Our heroes do not fall in vain. There are solemn and instructive lessons which come to us from their honored graves. Their blood cries to us from the ground, and solemnly charges us to be faithful to the great cause for which they have sacrificed their all. After what they have done and suffered, shall we dare to falter? Shall we dare to be untrue to the solemn work which they have left for us to finish?

    Their departure warns surviving comrades to remember that there is but one short step between them and death. No brave man is ever repelled from his duty because others have fallen before him, and none will fight any the less bravely because he is conscious that his peace is made with god. Loyalty to Christ will make him all the more loyal to his country. He will go forth into the battle-field with a calmer and more heroic spirit, if he can feel that the blow which liberates him from earth opens to him the gates of heaven.

    And now we are about to return these honored remains to the home from which our departed friend lately came forth, in all the freshness and vigor of his manhood, to offer himself to the service of his distracted country. He will hear no more the din of battle, but in the calm shades of the quiet city by the sea-side, where he passed his childhood, and whose name is Peace – Salem, the place of rest – his body will now repose. Weeping friends will receive him there, and there is one, who, in the loneliness and agony which only the widow can feel, will accompany these remains to the place of sepulture. But let them take comfort in the thought that the sympathy of a nation is theirs. And remember that he whose loss they mourn, has enrolled his name among the heroes, whom all the generations to come will delight to honor. If we could have had our way, we might have wished that Lander and those other noble men who have been taken from us, might have lived a little longer, to hear the shout of triumph that will ere long proclaim the restoration of peace, harmony and unity throughout the land. But God has ordered otherwise. We bow in reverent submission, and say, “even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight.”

    “Soldier, go home; for thee the field is won.”

    Frederick W. Lander: December 17, 1821 – March 2, 1862

    Sadly, Lander’s name and heroism have drifted into obscurity and most people have never heard of him. My guess is that most civil war blogs won’t even mention him today. Even his tomb (he is buried in his mother’s tomb in Salem) only has her maiden name on it – not his name. I HIGHLY recommend, ‘Frederick W Lander – The Great Natural American Soldier” by Gary Echelbarger.

    Here is a link to a short bio:

    National Republican report of his funeral:;words=Lander?date1=1862&rows=20&searchType=basic&state=District+of+Columbia&date2=1862&proxtext=lander&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&index=0

    You can read the National Republican report of his funeral on chronicling america: March 7, 1862:;words=Lander?date1=1862&rows=20&searchType=basic&state=District+of+Columbia&date2=1862&proxtext=lander&y=0&x=0&dateFilterType=yearRange&index=0

    A short tribute to him is on the All Things Lincoln Assassination website:

    1. Thank you for the post and the comment. I hope I didn’t come off too harsh. I remember growing to like Lander when I was first researching and writing this. It seems that few of his peers liked him, however, which is what I was getting at.

      If he would have survived, there’s every chance he could have been another Sherman or Sheridan.

  3. bravo christine on all that great info on lander-a man of action-i dont think lander really cared who liked him or not-stonewall gets his fame off of generals not of his steel(bank-fremont-shields)lander was a diffrent general and i always will wonder what the valley campaign results would have been with lander still in command-yes one of the forgotten heroes of the union

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