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Battle of Glorieta Pass

cw 2008
Living history demonstrators prepare for action.
Photo by Patricia Lenihan
 
sibley

CSA Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley

Photo: Palace of the Governors Neg. 050541

Confederate Dreams

The Confederate plan for the West was to raise a force in Texas, march up the Rio Grande, take Santa Fe, turn northeast on the Santa Fe Trail, capture the stores at Fort Union, head up to Colorado to capture the gold fields and then turn west to take California.

New Mexico, Utah and Colorado were "giant recruiting grounds" for potential enlistees to the Southern cause. All three states had populations loyal to the Confederacy and southern New Mexico had already effectively seceded from the government at Santa Fe and formed a separate territory all the way to California.

Need for supplies. War materials in New Mexico were rumored to be extensive (6,000-8,000 rifles and 25-30 cannon) and the morale of the Federal troops guarding the territory was said to be abysmal. Capture of these territories would mean more wealth for the Confederacy from the rich mines of Colorado. Slavery could be expanded, especially into fertile California, and Arizona could be used as a springboard to invade Mexico.

Circumvent the blockade. And perhaps most important, there would be access to 1,200 miles of California coastline with many open, blockade-free ports. Open trading ports meant better chance of recognition by, and trading with, European countries.

In 1861, Jefferson Davis commissioned General Henry Hopkins Sibley to raise three full regiments in West Texas, which eventually became the Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Texas Volunteer Cavalry. The Fourth was commanded by Colonel James Reily with Colonel William R. Scurry second in command. The Fifth was led by Col. Thomas Green with Lt. Harry C. Macneill and the Seventh was commanded by Col. William Steele with Lt. Col J. S. Sutton as second. Lt. Col John Baylor, self-appointed Governor of the new territory, led the Second Texas Regiment, Mounted Rifles. By late Fall 1861, there were 3,500 men prepared to invade New Mexico.

By June 1861, Lt. Col Edward R. S. Canby, Union commander of the Department of New Mexico, was alerted to the Confederate mobilization near El Paso. To prepare, Canby moved to enlarge his army of only 2,500 men. He appealed to Colorado Governor William Gilpin for two companies of militia and New Mexico Governor Rencher for eleven companies of volunteers. On July 23, 1861, Baylor crossed the state line to take the Federal Fort Fillmore, near Mesilla, which surrendered to them in a controversial move on the 27th.

The Federals fell back and reorganized at Santa Fe. Canby increased his requests for volunteers. By February, 1862, Canby reported that he had 4,000 troops at the ready and 3,000 Confederates under Sibley's command were moving up the Rio Grande Valley.

February 21, 1862 saw the first major conflict between Union and Confederate forces in the West, the Battle of Valverde near Fort Craig, 100 miles south of Albuquerque. The Texans won the battle with 200 casualties attributed to each side. However, Fort Craig remained in Union hands under Canby. Needing supplies, the Confederates began a steady march up the Rio Grande and took possession of Albuquerque on March 2, 1862. Major Charles Pyron of the Second Texas Regiment was sent on to unprotected Santa Fe and hoisted the Confederate flag over the Palace of the Governors on March 13. With supplies running low, Sibley knew they could not remain idle and determined to advance on Fort Union to capture its great stores and arsenal. (Ironically, Sibley had supervised the construction of the arsenal at Fort Union before the war broke out.)

Quick-stepping Colorado soldiers. Meanwhile, the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers marched rapidly down from Denver to reinforce the Union troops at Fort Union. The First Regiment consisted of ten companies of men with John P. Slough as Colonel and Samuel F. Tappan as Lt. Colonel. John M. Chivington, a Methodist minister, refused the commission of Chaplain and was designated a Major. Commands were issued to march on February 13, 1862 with the following companies and their commanders:

Co. A - Captain Edward Wynkoop

Co. B - Captain Samuel Logan

Co. C - Captain Richard Sopris

Co. D - Captain Jacob Downing

Co. E - Captain Scott Anthony

Co. F (Cavalry) - Captain Samuel Cook

Co. G - Captain William F. Wilder

Co. H - Captain George Sanborn

Co. I - Captain Charles Mailie (a mostly German Co.)

Co. K - Captain Samuel Robbins

After a fast, exhausting march (400 miles in 13 days) they arrived at Fort Union on March 10. The 950 Colorado Volunteers bolstered the 800 regulars and volunteers already at Fort Union. Colonel Slough assumed command of all the troops. The two forces were poised to meet; between them lay the Glorieta Pass.

Colonel Slough's command as they left Fort Union on March 22, consisted of 1342 men-75% were Colorado Volunteers. Two days later they camped at Bernal Springs about 40 miles southeast of Glorieta Pass.

No reported intelligence. Unaware that the Colorado troops were in New Mexico, Sibley anticipated little trouble from Col. Canby and his men who had been bypassed at Fort Craig. Major Pyron, Second Texas Mounted Rifles, was reinforced with four companies from the Fifth Texas Cavalry under Major John S. Shropshire and headed towards Fort Union. Colonel William Scurry with the Fourth Texas Regiment and the First Battalion, Seventh Texas Mounted Volunteers was despatched to Galisteo to unite with Pyron on the road between Santa Fe and Fort Union. Pyron camped at Johnson's Ranch at the west entrance to Glorieta Pass on March 25.

Neither of the Supreme Commanding Officers were with their troops as they entered Glorieta Pass; U. S. Army Colonel Canby remained at Fort Craig and Confederate General Henry Sibley was rumored to be inebriated at his headquarters in Albuquerque.

On March 25 at 3:00 p.m., Major John Chivington with more than 400 infantrymen left Bernal Springs for Santa Fe where he planned to surprise what he believed to be a small force of Confederates. After marching 35 miles, the group arrived and camped at Kozlowski's Ranch at midnight. There, Chivington learned that some Confederates scouts had been seen in the area.

Scouts rounded up. About 2:00 a.m George Nelson, with 20 calvarymen, captured the scouts (one a Union deserter) without incident and brought back the prisoners to Kozlowski's for questioning. They then learned that Confederate forces were at the far end of Glorieta Pass preparing to march the next day. At 8:00 a.m. on the 26th, Chivington's force moved toward Glorieta Pass for a surprise attack on the Texans. They unexpectedly came upon a scouting party of 30 mounted Confederates about 2:00 p.m., and captured them without casualties.

First Skirmish: March 26, 1862

Major Pyron and his estimated 600 troops left Johnson's Ranch (Canoncito) moving east into an open part of Apache Canyon. where he ran into Chivington's troops. Pyron set up two howitzers and fired at the Union troops. Chivington deployed two companies under Captains Wynkoop and Anthony, along with Captain Walker's dismounted cavalry to the left through the trees.

Captain Downing's company was dispatched to the right. Two mounted companies under Captains Howland and Cook were held in reserve to charge the artillery. The Confederates withdrew down the canyon 1.5 miles to a narrower point, crossed a 16-foot long log bridge over an arroyo and destroyed it to cut off pursuit. They placed their battery on a narrow bluff (no one knows the exact placement) and posted riflemen among the trees.

Union Captain Howland failed to charge the Confederates and the Union troops moved cautiously towards the Texans. Chivington planned to assault this natural fortress by deploying Downing's company and Howland's dismounted cavalry up the steep mountainside on the right to drive the Texans out of the Canyon. Wynkoop and Anthony's troops were to outflank the Texans on the left. The remaining troops were to keep up a steady fire.

After about an hour, Chivington's men gradually forced Pyron's troops back. Then Company F of the Colorado Volunteers under Captain Cook, charged down the road, leaping all 103 horses across the broken bridge, and charged three times through the Texans. Downing's men drove the Texans up a side canyon and captured a number of prisoners. Further pursuit was abandoned when darkness fell. Not knowing how near Confederate reinforcements might be, Chivington gathered up Union and some Confederate wounded, as well as Union dead and returned to Pigeon's Ranch to camp for the night. Major Pyron sent word asking for time to bury the dead and care for the wounded. Chivington agreed to a truce until 8:00 am on the 27th. Total Confederate losses in dead, wounded, and captured vary from 131 to 223. Union casualties were estimated to be from 21 to 29.

During March 27, Chivington's troops buried their dead near Pigeon's Ranch and converted the ranch house to a field hospital. The Confederate prisoners were started to Fort Union under guard. All the troops, except the wounded, returned to Kozlowski's where Colonel Slough united all Federal forces after a march from Bernal Springs.

During the first skirmish, Major Pyron sent a courier to Colonel Scurry, camped at Galisteo, to ask for help. Scurry's troops and the supply wagons joined Pyron at Johnson's Ranch 3:00 a.m. on the 27th.

Battle of Glorieta Pass: March 28, 1862

In the morning, Colonel Scurry decided to move ahead and attack the Union forces since an expected attack on the 27th had not occurred. Because the supply train would impede progress, it was left behind with a small guard at Johnson's Ranch. Scurry's command was made up of 17 partial companies from the Texas

Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Regiments, another independent group of volunteers, and a battery of three guns. Under Scurry, Majors Pyron, Henry Ragnet and Shropshire commanded approximately 1100 men (other sources say 600). Scurry halted his troops about one mile west of Pigeon's Ranch and arranged them in battle formation.

Spies had informed the Union officers that a strongly reinforced Confederate force were approaching. A plan was hatched that took Major Chivington and 430 men in a circuitous route across Glorieta Mesa to reconnoiter the Texans and harass them from the rear. Colonel Slough and the remainder of the troops were to move against the Confederates directly in the pass. The group consisted of six companies of Colorado Volunteers, part of a company of New Mexico Volunteers, two detachments of regular cavalry, and two batteries of regular artillery: a total of approximately 700 men. (Other sources say 900.) Slough's troops arrived in the vicinity of Pigeon's Ranch about 10:30 a.m. where they broke rank, filled canteens and rested before the trip into Glorieta Pass.

Colonel Slough sent a cavalry unit under Captain Chapin, to reconnoiter the enemy. They rushed back in minutes informing Slough that the Texans were in attack position 800 yards ahead in the trees. Before the men could form into battle formation they were shelled by the Confederates.

The fighting was among the rocks and trees. Cavalry could not be used. Rifle and small arms fire was deadly. The odds were against the Union troops. The Texans had a superior position and a greater number of men. The battle raged for more than six hours.

Texan Col. Scurry deployed his men across the canyon with Pyron on the right, Ragnet in the middle and Scurry on the left. The artillery under Lt. James Bradford took a position on Windmill Hill. They were attacked and scattered briefly when Company I, First Colorado charged them from above.

Lt. Col Samuel Tappan, assigned the command of the Colorado Volunteers, sent two batteries under Captain Ritter and Lt. Claflin to the left of the road 400 yards in front of the Texas line. They were supported by Co. C under Sopris and Co. K under Claflin. Co. D under Captain Downing was deployed to the left and Co. I under Lt. Kerber deployed to the right. Fighting was desperate and sometimes fiercely hand-to-hand when the German Co. I, engaged a Texan column. Captain Downing's company was fiercely attacked and fell back. The Union officers ordered their troops to fall back about 400 yards near to Pigeon's Ranch. Another line was formed across the valley.

The Texans advanced, and again opened fire for three hours. Two of the three guns were disabled and most of the gunners picked off. The Confederates were compelled to rely on their superior numbers and repeated charges to win the day. The Texans gained possession of Sharpshooters Ridge and repeatedly fired upon the Union artillery. The Texans made one last charge upon the Union guns, hoping to reach their supply train, but were driven back.

About 5:00 p.m. Colonel Slough ordered his Union forces to gradually fall back to the camp at Kozlowski's. Some were reluctant to leave but Slough said they had fulfilled their objective to "reconnoiter and harass the enemy." Both sides were so exhausted it would have been impossible to continue the fight much longer. The Texans were overjoyed to have been left holding the field.

A definitive realization. The joy turned to defeat when word was brought to Colonel Scurry that his supply train at Johnson's Ranch had been completely destroyed. Major Chivington's men, led by Lt. Colonel Manuel Chavez, New Mexico Volunteers, had reached a height on the other side of Glorieta Mesa overlooking the Confederate supply train 1,000 feet below. The troops crawled, slid and were lowered by ropes to the base of the cliff. The surprised Confederates were almost defenseless. All the heavily loaded wagons, enough supplies for a small army, were destroyed along with all the animals. Chivington's group returned to support Colonel Slough, but when they arrived at Kozlowski's, they learned their attack had caused Colonel Scurry to send Slough the flag of truce and the request for two days of cease fire.


March 29 was spent burying the dead. Casualty figures vary: an estimated 38 Union soldiers killed, 64 wounded and 20 captured; 36 Confederate dead (including Major Ragnet and Shropshire), 60 wounded and 25 captured. Pigeon's Ranch was once again used as a hospital but this time for the Confederates.

After two days and nights at Pigeon's Ranch, the Texans retreated to Santa Fe without food or supplies. In attempt to save the campaign, Sibley wrote the Governor of Texas requesting reinforcements but no answer came. The Texans were forced to retreat to Santa Fe and eventually took a long, dangerous march back to Texas. By July 1862, all Confederate Troops had vacated New Mexico Territory and for the duration of the Civil War, New Mexico remained under Union control.

 
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Battle of Glorieta Pass - Pigeon's Ranch
Roy Andersen painting
 
Edward Canby
Union General Edward Canby
Public domain photo

Did You Know?

apache canyon postcard

The Santa Fe Trail passed through Apache Canyon for 60 years; the railroad did not wend its way through the narrow gap until 1880.