Times are Tough for New Mexican Rebels

April 8, 1862 (Tuesday)

Albuquerque, circa 1900 (older photos of ABQ are hard to come by).

Since their tactical victory/strategic defeat at Glorieta Pass, New Mexico, the Confederates under General Henry Sibley had been celebrating/lamenting in Santa Fe. By the 4th of April, Sibley’s entire army, which had been scattered before the battle, was finally whole. The problem (and what turned the victory into a defeat) was that the bulk of the Army’s supply wagons had been torched by Federals after the battle.

To help make ends meet, Sibley ordered his quartermaster to seize the New Mexico treasury, which was bizarrely left unsecured by the retreating Federals before Sibley arrived nearly a month ago. The coffers offered little, and the already barren landscape had been picked clean by weeks of various troops encamping nearby.1

Though seemingly victorious, a dark cloud fell over the Rebel army. They knew they were in trouble, far from home and cut off from their supply line. There was also a grave danger of the Union armies, Col. Edward Canby to the south, and Col. Slough to the east, uniting and trapping them in Santa Fe.

Sibley had requested and expected to receive reinforcements from Texas, and wanted to wait for them near the village of Manzano, southeast, and across the Manzano Mountains from Albuquerque. This wasn’t such a bad idea. It sidestepped the route that the Union troops under Canby would be taking from Fort Union and was far enough away from the other Union troops that the Rebels just defeated, now at Fort Craig.

As Sibley was making up his mind, however, Canby was quickly moving north upon Albuquerque, still held by a Confederate rear guard. The Confederates were daily receiving word that the Federals from Fort Union were moving upon Albuquerque. On the 6th, a column of Rebel cavalry under Col. Tom Green, left Santa Fe in hopes of arriving in time to beat Canby and rescue the garrison of 120 men guarding the armory.2

While all this was taking place, the supposedly defeated Federals had retreated back to Fort Union, north of Las Vegas (New Mexico). There, Col. Slough, who had no real business leading men into battle, turned the entire command over to Col. Gabriel Paul and wished to completely resign from the army, effective April 9. Probably elated, Paul, a military man who had originally commanded at Fort Union, reorganized his force and set out to meet up with Canby. By this date, he was at Bernal Springs, forty-five miles southwest of Fort Union.

Col. Canby and his 1,200 men and four pieces of artillery, had spent a week marching the 120 miles from Fort Craig to Albuquerque. On the afternoon of this date, they found themselves on its outskirts. Knowing they were coming, the scant Confederate rear guard had placed their own artillery, hoping to hold off the Yankees, but realizing they would be greatly outnumbered. The rest of the Confederates were just now leaving Santa Fe and wouldn’t arrive until the 9th or 10th.

Canby unlimbered his guns in a ditch south of town and sent some of his cavalry forward to find out where the Rebels were. The Confederates put up a good scrap, firing upon the Federals and even dusting off their own cannon, attempting to duel with the Union battery.

Col. Gabriel R. Paul, later of Gettysburg fame.

Each side pounded away, but did no damage to the other. The wild firing of the Federals did, however, damage some houses, causing the citizens to sneak across the lines to inform Canby that they were endangering the lives of civilians.

Canby silenced his guns, but the Rebels continued, lobbing a shot towards the Federals every now and then, while small arms fire peppered the afternoon.

Eventually, as night was coming, Canby ordered his men back. There had been no casualties on either side, except one. During the artillery duel, a Major in Canby’s army had been sitting upon his horse when he saw a Confederate artillery shot coming towards him. He tried to get out of its way, but ended up losing his balance and fell off his horse.

The Federals fell back two miles, believing Albuquerque to be too heavily defended to take on this day.3


Forrest Escapes the Union Pursuit

The two-day battle at Shiloh had left the ground strewn with over 3,400 dead from both sides. Thousands of rotting horses, exploded caissons, destroyed wagons and all the paraphernalia of war were scattered about at random.

Nathan Bedford Forrest

The defeat had cost the Rebels nearly a quarter of their men, leaving General Beauregard with little more than 25,000 troops under arms. The Union forces, while suffering greatly, were concentrating. General Buell’s Army of the Ohio, which had reinforced General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee on the second day of the battle, was now fully up. General Pope’s Army of the Mississippi, fresh from their victory at Island No. 10 was also on their way.

Following the Rebels on their twenty-five mile retreat back to Corinth, was General Sherman with two infantry brigades and some cavalry. Sent to protect the rear of the Rebel column, Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest spied the pursuing Federals. Though he had only 350 troopers, he charged Sherman’s skirmishers, sending them running.

Giving chase, Forrest again charged, this time into the Union cavalry, driving them into the gathering infantry. Forrest’s men reloaded and once again attacked, their sheer audacity shocking the Federals, as they fired shotguns into the blue ranks. With the barrels empty, the Rebels turned to their sabers, cutting their way in and out of the Union lines.

The first Federal brigade fell back upon the second. Forrest somehow wound up charging the entire brigade by himself. Once among them, they clamored to grab him, shoot him or knock him down. In the confusion, they could do little as Forrest fired his revolver and hacked away with is saber. Two balls had already wounded his horse, and others were buzzing by his head.

Completely surrounded, one of the Federals stuck his musket into Forrest’s gut and fired. The ball entered just above his left hip, ripped through his back muscles before lodging against his spine. Reeling, but still conscious, he dashed away from the enemy and back to his own line, ordering his men to retreat. They took with them over forty Union prisoners.

Having gained a healthy respect for the wounded Confederate army, Sherman made no further moves against them. Union losses were probably fifteen killed and twenty-five wounded. Forrest probably lost about as many. Though this skirmish was slight, especially compared to the bloodletting at Shiloh, both armies would need time to recover.4

  1. Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall, University of New Mexico Press, 1960. []
  2. Blood & Treasure; Confederate Empire in the Southwest by Donald S. Frazier, Texas A&M University Press, 1995. []
  3. Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign by Martin Hardwick Hall, University of New Mexico Press, 1960. []
  4. Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862 by O. Edward Cunningham, Savas Beatie, 2007. []
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Times are Tough for New Mexican Rebels by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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