Although many associate the Civil War with eastern battlefields like Antietam or the Wilderness, the fight over slavery in the United States extended much further west. In March of 1862, the war brought a battle to Glorieta Pass. Some refer to the battle as the Gettysburg of the West due to its overall significance to the war. The Confederates campaigned to take control of the West, which would have greatly improved their chances of success. However, in just three days of tough fighting, the Union Army ruined the Confederate plans and sent them retreating back southwards.
The Confederate Plans
Starting in Texas, the Confederate Army planned to move north into the New Mexico Territory. They hoped to make their way toward the Colorado gold mining camps and eventually travel west to the coast to take seaports at Los Angeles and San Diego. To take Colorado and continue the campaign, the Confederates needed to take Fort Union, a supply center for Federal forces across the territory and beyond.
The battle erupts - March 26, 1862
The Battle of Glorieta Pass took place during the winter months of the year. At an elevation above 7,000 feet, hilly, rocky, and covered with forest, both sides dealt with cold, snow, altitude, and enclosed terrain.
The conflict resumes - March 28, 1862
The heart of the battle occurred within a two-mile stretch of the Santa Fe Trail. The most important force, however, bypassed this area. About 500 Union soldiers made their way up Glorieta Mesa in the morning. Their instructions were to work their way around and attack the Confederates from the rear. After several hours of marching across the mesa, they discovered the Confederate supply train at Johnson’s Ranch. Climbing down the steep mesa, they destroyed the camp, burned all Confederate wagons, and ran off or killed the horses and mules.
Consequences of the battle
There were about 375 casualties over the three days of fighting. The Federals proved to be victorious because they were able to destroy all Confederate supplies. All other Confederate attempts to attack Fort Union proved fruitless and they slowly withdrew from the territory. The Union retained control the American Southwest for the rest of the Civil War.
Last updated: October 6, 2020