Divided Loyalties

U.S Army officers serving in New Mexico who went South

The political turmoil after President Abraham Lincoln's election reached deep into the Army and extended its long arm into miltary operations in New Mexico. Perhaps 15% of the Army's officer corps in New Mexico defected to the Confederacy. The loss of some 20 officers, including former commanders of Fort Union and the Military Department of New Mexico, created additional problems for the Army as it attempted to fend off an impending Confederate attack on New Mexico.

The situation was so chaotic in New Mexico that senior officers retained their posts in the U.S. Army even after submitting their resignations. For example, on April 28, 1861, Capt. Henry Sibley submitted his resignation from the U.S. Dragoons. Three weeks later, he was promoted to major in the dragoons and given command of Fort Union. By the end of May, still having heard nothing from the Army about his resignation, Sibley applied for a seven-day leave of absence, boarded a Texas-bound stagecoach at Fort Union and never returned. Eight months later, Sibley--a native of Louisiana and now a Confederate general--was leading an invasion of New Mexico.

After arriving in Texas, Sibley wrote to Col. William Loring, a Floridian who was still serving as the U.S. Army commnader in New Mexico. “We are at last under the glorious banner of the Confederate States of America. It was indeed a glorious sensation of protection, hope, and pride….The very Southern verdure and familiar foliage, as we progressed on our journey, filled us with enthusiasm and home feeling,” Sibley wrote. In his letter, Sibley advised Loring to retain his post as long as possible in order to facilitate the Confederate seizure of supplies at the Army’s abandoned Fort Bliss in El Paso. After Loring fled to Texas, the Confederates occupied Fort Bliss.

Throughout the four months of chaos, Fort Union Arsenal commander William Shoemaker remained a steadfast Unionist. “Captain Shoemaker stood forward and denounced Loring and his coadjutors as traitors and told them he would never surrender his arsenal, that he would defend it to the last extremity and then blow it up,” wrote Major A.J. Alexander of the 8th U.S. Cavalry.

Last updated: April 20, 2021

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