Battle of Glorieta Pass

Men dressed in Civil War uniforms with canyons and Glorieta Mesa in the background
Black powder cannon demonstration during the Civil War Encampment living history event, March 2019.

NPS Photo/Gary Cascio 2019

 
A black and white portrait of a man dressed in a military uniform.
CSA Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley

Photo: Palace of the Governors Neg. 050541

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.

As the Confederates continued north from Albuquerque, they divided their forces. Some made their way towards Santa Fe and others to the Galisteo area. Meanwhile, the rest of their troops raided the villages and countryside for much needed supplies.

A group of about 400 soldiers traveled east along the Santa Fe Trail in the direction of Glorieta Pass. Simultaneously, a Union force of 400 soldiers waited for them on the other side of the pass. These forces would start the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

 
Picture of Pigeon's Ranch with Glorieta Mesa in the background.
Modern picture of the remaining building of Pigeon's Ranch with Glorieta Mesa in the background.

NPS Photo

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 began on March 26, 1862 when the Union forces encountered the Confederates coming up the Santa Fe Trail. The Union troops forced the Confederates back to their camp at Johnson’s Ranch, taking scores of prisoners. Expecting more fighting to come, both sides sent for reinforcements.

On March 27, 1862, each side waited for more reinforcements, which arrived that night. No fighting took place on this day.

 
Painting of soldiers fighting in front of an adobe building.
Battle of Glorieta Pass - Pigeon's Ranch

Roy Andersen painting

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.

Meanwhile, the majority of both forces fought in a fierce battle at Glorieta Pass near Pigeon’s Ranch that lasted from late morning to near dark. The Confederates pushed the Union forces from the high ground and drove them east down the Santa Fe Trail. Even though they controlled the battlefield, the Confederates failed to break through, destroy the Union troops, or take any additional supplies from the Federals.

 
Painting of the burning of wagon train at Apache Canyon
Painting depicting the burning of the Confederate wagon supply train near Apache Canyon.

NPS Image/Roy Andersen

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.

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Last updated: October 6, 2020

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