The Great Bloodless War in the East; Preparing for Blood in the West

Sunday, June 16, 1861

Troop movements in the face of an enemy can be just as confusing for the pursuer as they are for the pursued. As Confederate General Johnston’s men evacuated Harpers Ferry, making Bunker Hill , Virginia their new home, Union forces under General Patterson nuzzled into their positions around Hagerstown and Williamsport, Maryland.

Rather than sit around on the Northern side of the Potomac, Patterson had a plan. He believed his army, pushing south towards Harpers Ferry, would be the most important. So much so that it would require General McClellan’s troops in western Virginia, to follow his lead. While Patterson’s men, along with Lew Wallace’s 11th Indiana, pushed south, McClellan would hold the Confederates [under Garnett] near Grafton. This would ensure that Maryland would have no connection to Virginia. He also believed the entire affair would be relatively bloodless. After all, many believed the decisive battle would be fought at Harpers Ferry, which was once again in Union hands without so much as a shot being fired. To accomplish this, however, he would need more troops.

Receiving reinforcements was even more important to him at this point, since he had just detached Col. Burnside’s 1st Rhode Island Regiment to reinforce Col. Wallace’s 11th Indiana in Cumberland, Maryland. Wallace had reported that up to 4,000 Rebels were coming north from Romney. He also reported that no Rebels had been seen within twelve miles of his post.

General-in-Chief Winfield Scott had requested all of the US Regular Army troops with Patterson to be immediately sent to Washington. He feared that the city would soon be attacked. Patterson, however, refused, stating that they were needed in his command. Scott’s order, if followed, would also have deprived Patterson of all of his artillery and most of the cavalry.

Scott also specifically requested Burnside’s Rhode Island regiment, currently en route to Cumberland. To secure them, he even recommended to Patterson that the Harpers Ferry Rebels not be pursued. Though Patterson agreed with Scott in this matter, it was clear that the two had very different opinions on where the war was to be fought and won.

Col. Lew Wallace, convinced that he was greatly outnumbered, was promised by Patterson that a regiment from McClellan’s army would come via Grafton, and more from Hagerstown would be with him soon. However, General Scott again wrote to Patterson and ordered the US Regulars and the 1st Rhode Island to Washington. Not only that, Scott ordered McClellan not to send any troops to aid Patterson (or, presumably Wallace). Scott was worried that Patterson would drive Johnston’s Harpers Ferry Rebels to Manassas where they could join with Beauregard against Washington.

Reluctantly and without informing Scott, Patterson finally obeyed the orders to recall the 1st Rhode Island. Though Col. Thomas’s brigade (along with the 1st Rhode Island) had crossed the Potomac, his great plan for a drive into Virginia would have to wait. 1

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Preparing for the Invasion of New Mexico

Seemingly worlds away from this bloodless “action,” Federal Major Edward Canby, headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, received word that secessionist Texans (“aided perhaps by some dissatisfied individuals in Arizona”) were about to invade the territory. Since March, however, what constituted New Mexico Territory was up to some debate. The Confederate Territory of Arizona, though unofficial even by Confederate standards, claimed all land in the US Territory of New Mexico south of 34th parallel as its own.

These were but rumors, so Canby ordered that fiften or so Mexicans or Indians be hired to act as spies. He figured that the Texans would use the Pecos Trail, ordering a concentration of troops at Fort Fillmore near the Texas-New Mexico/Confederate Territory of Arizona border at Mesilla, the so-called Confederate territorial capital.2

Over the late winter and early spring, Texas militia units had captured every United States fort in Texas without firing a shot. Some were handed over, such as those of General Twiggs’s, while most others were surrendered after receiving secessionist threats. The United States troops stationed in the forts were allowed to peacefully leave the state.

Fort Bliss, on the other side of the border, past El Paso, had been abandoned and was expected to soon be held by 400 or so Texans recruited by Confederate Lt. Col. John Baylor for the express purpose of invading New Mexico (though he originally claimed to be raising men for a great buffalo hunt).

A few days prior, In El Paso, former United States Major Henry Hopkins Sibley, most famous his teepee-like “Sibley Tent,” wrote that the town was “at last under the glorious banner of the Confederate States of America. It was indeed a glorious sensation of protection, hope, and pride. Though its folds were modest and unpretending, the emblem was still there. The very Southern verdure and familiar foliage, as we progressed on our journey, filled us with enthusiasm and home feeling.”3



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p691-695. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p35-37. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p55-56. []
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The Great Bloodless War in the East; Preparing for Blood in the West by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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