Colorado in the Civil War

Private Joseph Aldrich of the First Colorado Cavalry died at the Sand Creek Massacre. He is seen here in uniform with carbine and saber.
Private Joseph Aldrich served with the First Colorado Cavalry and died at the Sand Creek Massacre.

Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy Collection
Call Number Z-517

Sand Creek Massacre News Release

April 3, 2014
For Immediate Release
Interpretive Staff, 719-729-3003

Colorado in the Civil War

This article is part of a series by the National Park Service concerning the 150th Anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre.

"With Mormons to the west, New Mexicans of questionable loyalty to the south and Indians everywhere else," Duane A. Smith paints a picture of what Coloradans faced at the beginning of the Civil War. Tasked with guarding the territory and millions of dollars in trade and gold production, Colorado's Union soldiers also participated in campaigns against Confederates in New Mexico, rebels in the territories, and Plains Indians, ultimately marring their reputation with the Sand Creek Massacre.

Initially raised by Territorial Governor William Gilpin in 1861, the 1st Colorado Infantry Volunteers (U.S. Army) faced their baptism of fire at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico, denying the Confederacy access to the gold fields of Colorado. Subsequently converted to cavalry and stationed across Colorado, new Territorial Governor John Evans and commanding officer Colonel John Chivington resisted calls to move them east. They argued that Plains Indians threatened the territory, a fear that proved unfounded until the summer of 1864.

With the so-called Indian War of 1864 causing death and loss across Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska, Governor Evans and Colonel Chivington were authorized to raise the 3rd, a regiment of one thousand U.S. Army volunteers for 100 days. Alongside 250 men of the 1st, around 425 of these men attacked and killed peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho in the village on Sand Creek in 1864. The repercussions from the Sand Creek Massacre resounded across the plains for years to come.

To find out more about the effects of the Civil War on the Sand Creek Massacre, go to or visit the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site outside of Eads, Colorado.

Last updated: April 4, 2020

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