Forces Engaged: United States of America, U.S. Army, Department of New Mexico
Flanking Column (MAJ John M. Chivington, commanding) 488 infantrymen
1st Bn (Provisional) – 269 all ranks
A Co. 5th U.S. Infantry USA
G Co. 5th U.S. Infantry USA
B Co. 1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry
Independent Co., Colorado Volunteer Infantry
Detachment, New Mexico Volunteer Infantry
2nd Bn (Provisional) – 219 all ranks
1st Colorado V.I.; Co’s A, E, H
Main Column (COL John P. Slough – commanding, and Force Commander) – 800 all arms
Field Bn. (Provisional) – 615 all ranks (540 infantrymen, 85 artillerymen), 2 x 6lb cannon, 2 x 12lb field howitzers, 4 x 12lb mountain howitzers
1st Colorado V.I.; Co’s C, D, G, I, K
Ritter’s Battery (2nd/3rd U.S. Cavalry) 4 x guns (2 x 6lb cannon, 2 x 12lb field howitzers)
Claflin’s Battery (5th U.S. Infantry) 4 x 12lb mountain howitzers
Cavalry Reserve – 185 all ranks
Det., 3rd U.S. Cavalry
E Co., 3rd U.S. Cavalry
F Co., 1st Colorado V.I.
Combat Trains – CPT Enos (strength unknown), quartermasters, teamsters, and civilian drovers.
The U.S. northern New Mexico field force totalled approximately 1,200 all arms, 8 cannon, but did not fight as such, having separated before the main engagement began northwest of Pigeon Ranch and not reuniting until after nightfall on 28 MAR (as we'll see). In effect what the British in WW2 would have called "Sloughforce" fought as two commands, the smaller under MAJ Chivington, the larger under COL Slough, with no overall commander.
But we'll talk about that later.
Confederate States of America, Army of New Mexico
2nd Texas Mtd Rifles – 80 infantrymen
4th Texas Mtd Volunteers (-) B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K Companies. – 600 infantrymen
5th Texas Mtd Volunteers – A, B, C, D Coys. – 220 mounted infantrymen
7th Texas Mtd Volunteers – B, F, H, I coys – 280 infantrymen
Separate Companies (total 60 infantry/mounted infantry)
Det., Arizona Rangers
Det., Sante Fe Gamblers (“The Brigands)
San Elizario Spy Co.
Provisional artillery battery – 45 artillerymen, 1 x 6lb cannon, 2 x 12lb field howitzers composed of two smaller units:
B Co., 1st Texas Artillery – 2 x 12lb field howitzers
FA Section, 5th Texas Mtd Volunteers – 2 x 6lb cannon (1 left with trains)
Combat Trains - about 200 sick, injured, and detached + 1 6lb cannon (5th TEX) at Johnson’s Ranch w/ trains under Chaplain Jones, 4th Texas Mtd Vols.
The Army of New Mexico present at Glorieta Pass fielded roughly 1,280 all arms, 3 cannon under the nominal command of BG Henry H. Sibley but under the operational control of LTC William R. Scurry.
Author's Note: I wanted to step in here before we begin and make a point of discussing the thing about war that the Battle of Glorieta Pass throws into harsh relief.
Specifically, that while we like to pretend that we hairless monkeys are rational thinkers (we call ourselves sapiens, "thinking", forfuckssake) and that the actions we take are based on rational thought much of what we think and a hell of a lot of what we do is about as rational as a cat clawing a roll of toilet paper.
Glorieta Pass was "decisive" in that what happened there had a great effect on the affairs of the people involved and the portion of the American Southwest they were disputing.
But Glorieta Pass was a battle fought in the wrong place, for the wrong reasons, that was decided by several ridiculously, flukishly coincidental happenstances brought on by boneheaded stupidity, cowardice, ignorance, and foolery.
If one of the reasons that we are fascinated with battle and war is for what it reveals about us and our fellow humans, this battle is like shining a flashlight into a goddamn septic tank.
So, if we're ready, let move on to Sources.
The Sources: Typically the American Civil War is well sourced from both sides, the officers, at least, being literate and formed into industrial-era armed services. Orders of battle, morning reports, supply and service records, casualty lists, orders, messages, unit war diaries...all the bumpf generated by modern armies was generated by the armies of the American Civil War.
Beginning during the war itself all the sorts of documents above generated by the United States Army were collected into what was eventually published in the 1880s as The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies or more commonly referred to simply as the "Official Records" or ORs. This source includes both U.S. and Confederate records and is one of the most complete assemblages of military records in a single source anywhere I can think of.
The ORs can be found at the Cornell University website here, and are a wellspring of information for the military historian. The materials covering the New Mexico campaign of 1862 are contained in Volume 9.
Unfortunately for the researcher interested in the engagement at Glorieta Pass or the New Mexico campaign in this case the records for the Confederate side are terribly incomplete.
I am not sure why, beyond the obvious issues with the campaign itself. One reason may have something to do with the notional commanding officer of the Army of New Mexico, Brigadier Sibley.
Sibley was a veteran officer, West Point-trained, with a record that included service in the Seminole and Mexican Wars. He was also something of a troubled character and was, at least by some accounts, already struggling with the bottle by 1862.
His record in the campaign for the Southwest is problematic enough to generate at least the suspicion that the failure to archive the Confederate records may have reflected the Confederate commander's personal problems and the effectiveness of his staff.
As far as secondary sources, few conflicts are as heavily written-over as the American Civil War. One of the better secondary sources is Don Alberts' 1996 The Battle of Glorieta: Union Victory in the West published by the Texas A&M University Press. Another good secondary work is Thomas Edrigton's The Battle of Glorieta Pass: A Gettysburg in the West, March 26–28, 1862 from the University of New Mexico Press. I reviewed both works in the preparation of this post and can testify to the quality of both.
One rather fascinating source is a 2009 undergraduate research paper An Exercise in Deception: John M. Chivington at the Battle of Glorieta Pass by one Mertis Smith of the University of Colorado. A young man with a massive hate on for MAJ Chivington Smith's work does provide some worthwhile details as well as questions some of the conventional wisdom about the campaign. To be used with caution, but apparently well researched and written.
The Civil War Trust has a nice, conventional writeup of the engagement and the circumstances of the New Mexico Campaign here. It's also worth following the links to the main site, where you can find some excellent battle maps, historical tidbits, and other good references.
The Campaign: The American West was nearly deserted in the spring of 1861 when the nation was divided by treason in defense of slavery, and what was then the New Mexico Territory was no exception.
The non-native-tribal population of the western portion of the territory - what became the State of Arizona, is supposed to have been approximately 6,500 in 1862, of which no more than 600 were actual U.S. citizens of one form or another. The remainder were described by one of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives as "...Mexicans and half breeds, totally unfit for American citizenship." The eastern portion of the territory was unlikely to have been much different.
Consider that the entire region was largely desert or mountain, barely habitable for an agrarian civilization and by far better suited to the native Apache, Navajo, and Hopi (along with the many other smaller bands) that had hunted and foraged there for millenia.
Of the "civilized" inhabitants the vast majority had been Mexican until little more than 15 years earlier. And since the American land-grab the primary feature of American governance had been a sort of malign neglect. New Mexico had little that the U.S. government wanted and so that government gave as little as possible to New Mexico. So it should hardly be considered surprising that the vast bulk of the non-Amerindian residents of New Mexico Territory cared very little indeed for the United States of America.
Add to that:
Many of the Caucasian residents were Southern and either owned slaves or were pro-slavery,
Whether pro- or anti-slavery, the Anglos and their hispanic neighbors alike were pretty honked off at the meager efforts the pre-war Army had put into killing or driving off the former owners of the place, particularly the irascible and lethal ones like the Apache, who in particular had been indulging in a spate of casual butchery now known as the Apache Wars since 1860 when a nasty little incident called "The Bascom Affair" had turned the enmity of the tribes from their traditional Mexican prey to the white newcomers. And...
The Butterfield stage line had been abandoned.
So it's not surprising that when the Southern states opened fire on the Northern ones that a number of the people living in the Southwest were willing to throw in with the rebels. Secession conventions in southern New Mexico called for joining the rebs, and the locals declared themselves in rebellion, formed militias, and appealed to the Confederacy for help in March of 1861.
By July a single battalion of Texas troops had crossed into southeastern New Mexico and whipped off the small U.S. garrison of little Fort Filmore near the town of Mesilla. The beatdown of the bluebellies prompted the commander of the unit, one LTC Baylor. to proclaim a "Confederate Territory of Arizona" with himself as military governor.
That's the rebel territory of "Arizona", the gray part. Oh, the rebs claimed the northern bits, too, but knew perfectly well that they barely controlled the parts of southern New Mexico they squatted on, much less north of the 34th Parallel.
Frankly, that shouldn't have been much more than a nuisance to the U.S. federal government. Whether it was called the "New Mexico Territory" of the U.S. or the "Arizona Territory" of the C.S.A., the barren parts of the American southwest contained a lot of scrubby, desert-y jack shit and not much else.
New Mexico was a road to other places. Specifically to the goldfields of Colorado to the north and California to the west.
And it was this quality of the New Mexico area that drew the interest of the ambitious Brigadier Sibley.
Sibley's plan used the Confederate forces in Texas - the only large body of formed troops available - to drive north along the Rio Grande out of El Paso to capture the only big towns in eastern New Mexico, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. En route his guys were supposed to take Fort Craig, the U.S. Department of New Mexico's southern hub.
From Albuquerque he intended to push his force over the Sangre de Cristo mountains and seize the U.S. main logistical and admin center at Fort Union.
Taking Fort Union would allow Sibley to control the Santa Fe Trail and give him a forward base of supply for an invasion of the Colorado mining regions along the Rocky Mountain front. This would provide the CSA with hard currency, something that even that early in the war was already a problem for the rebels.
In Sibley's plan this move would involve the destruction of the bulk of the U.S. forces in the Department. This, in turn, would free up both Sibley's men as well as the battalion of 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles under LTC Baylor that had preceded his army into the New Mexico Territory in late summer 1861 to turn west, take California and the Nevada lodes as well as the Pacific coast ports.
The plan Sibley presented to Confederate President Davis concluded with an even more ambitious coup; the invasion of northern Mexico and seizure of the border states of Chihuahua, Sonora, and Baja California through intimidation and purchase or outright coup de main.
Even leaving out the whacky Mexican adventure, and even at that period of the war, Sibley's plan was a pretty desperate gamble that depended on a lot of things going right.
He planned to travel light and "live off the land", either feeding and supplying his troops on the local economy - which any New Mexican could have told him was virtually nonexistent - or with captured U.S. supplies.
The idea of using the California ports to supply the Confederacy was, purely and simply, nonsensical; goods from California couldn't even make it across the Arizona desert to Tucson, let alone Richmond or Atlanta.
But the gold and silver fields were another thing, as was the possibility of using a small force to divert substantial U.S. military resources to a distant and unimportant theater to prevent Sibley's frontier ruffians from running amok amid the Union territories Colorado and California.
What the hell. All the Confederacy had to lose were a bunch of scruffy border reivers. Davis gave Sibley the greenlight and Sibley began assembling his forces in the autumn of 1861.
The Texas Historical Association reports that:
"In June 1861 President Jefferson Davis...authorized (Sibley) to recruit a brigade of volunteers in central and south Texas to occupy the adjacent federal territories. By the early fall of 1861, in San Antonio, Sibley had raised three regiments — the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Texas Mounted Volunteers — plus attached artillery and supply units. On October 22 he started west with 3,200 men along the San Antonio–El Paso road, moving in detachments so as not to drain the scant water holes along the route.The U.S. officer commanding the Department of New Mexico was a guy named Edward Richard Sprigg Canby, born in the border state of Kentucky but a Unionist by nature. In the odd sort of confluence that you tend to encounter in the American Civil War his military career was tightly linked with his adversary's.
Sibley reached Fort Bliss by late December and incorporated the vanguard of Texas soldiers under Col. John R. Baylor. Baylor reported that Union forces were being organized further north by Col. Edward R. S. Canby, commanding the Military Department of New Mexico.
During January of 1862 Sibley marched to Mesilla, proclaimed his invading force the "Army of New Mexico," and at Mesilla absorbed several local "spy companies." In early February he sent on company of Arizona Rangers to Tucson. The Ranger commander, one CPT Hunter, was supposed to raise up the locals and scout out the rumors of a U.S. buildup at Fort Yuma along the Gila River.
On February 7 Sibley started up the Rio Grande toward Fort Craig, seventy miles distant. Leaving detachments to staff his hospital and guard supplies, he commanded 2,500 Texans, fifteen pieces of artillery, and an extensive supply train."
Both Canby and Sibley had attended the military academy at West Point, both had fought in the Seminole and Mexican Wars. Both men had seen extensive service in the western territories, including a final assignment together as commander and deputy commander of the Department of New Mexico.
Their singular difference appears to be in military temperament. COL Canby appears to have been a methodical man who had an excellent grasp of organizational and logistical realities. BG Sibley, as we've seen, had the military common-sense of a horsefly.
Unsurprising for a man of his nature, COL Canby was using the slow approach-march of the rebels to his advantage.
His first act on the intelligence that the Confederacy was invading the Southwest in force was to pull in the scattered frontier garrisons in Arizona and New Mexico.
It's worth remembering that this was not a careless or casual act; by withdrawing their soldiers Canby was condeming a certain number of his own civilians to a fairly gruesome death by Native American. The constant low-grade hum of non-Indian on Indian butchery was the background noise to the Civil War in the West. Canby as an experienced frontier soldier knew this, but took the brutal steps he had to when the military necessity demanded it.
He concentrated these scattered troops Fort Craig, along with whatever New Mexico volunteer and militia units he could arm and equip. The arms, ammunition, and equipment needed were drawn from the local depots in Albuquerque and the regional logistic center at Fort Union.
COL Canby also cut through the usual early-war sentimental collection of odds-and-sods little volunteer outfits; he collapsed an independent Colorado Volunteer Infantry company and Kit Carson's 1st New Mexico Volunteer regiment - a unit that was probably little better than a short battalion of sagebrush characters - with his frontier regulars. These units included the 5th and 7th U.S. Infantry, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd U.S. Cavalry.
As was fairly common in the U.S. Army of the day, these units were viciously shorthanded. Companies authorized 100 other ranks typically had 40 or less. But the regulars were trained, at least by 1862 standards. Accepted military wisdom is that trying to use a scattering of trained soldiers to bolster untrained one is like stiffening jello with bullets, but in this case the amalgamation helped; about a third of the resulting 3,500-odd U.S. troops Canby collected at Fort Craig were actually "soldiers" by mid-winter 1862.
The results weren't great, but they were better than if Canby had left the volunteers to do it their own way.
Canby also knew his ground. He knew that the invaders would have only two real options; to bring everything they needed with them (an impossiblity given the
shortage of draft animals and transport vehicles in Texas) or take what they needed when they got there.
And that provided that the U.S. forces defended their logistical depots (and ensured that the locals hid or destroyed whatever they had) that Sibley's guys would have no option other than to split up and forage the hell out of the countryside.
Which Canby could prevent simply by existing. A large enough body of U.S. troops placed nearby would mean that no Rebs could affort to spread out lest they get caught and hammered flat in detail.
This strategy is still known as "Fabian" after a joker named Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus who was the caudillo in Rome during Hannibal's time. He knew that the Carthaginian's army, no matter how well led, depended on quick victories and loot. If the Romans just stayed away from them the invaders would eventually wander off to find someone else to beat up and loot.
So COL Canby's Fabian strategy depended on two critical elements;
1. His troops had to keep from getting their ass whipped and while not doing that guard the two main supply centers, Ft. Craig and Ft. Union, and
2. His troops - or someone - had to ensure that enough civilian materials were denied the Confederates so that they couldn't live off the civilians, either.
Okay? So here's where the two side stood in mid-February 1863.
The Confederate Army of New Mexico had followed the west side of the Rio Grande north, reaching Fort Craig on 13 FEB. Here Sibley didn't like the look of the post and called a council of war.
Sibley had two tough, capable subordinates; LTC William R. Scurry and COL Thomas Green, commanders of the 4th and 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers, respectively. Both of them recommended that Sibley bypass Fort Craig and force Canby's detachment to come out and fight. Sibley hung around south of the fort for three days but Canby, no fool and knowing that most of his troops were just-barely-not-civilians, sat tight.
Finally on the 18th Sibley crossed the Rio, slipped around to the east of the fort, and set up at a ford on the main supply route to Santa Fe. This worked, in that Canby's outfit came out and fought the Battle of Valverde on 21 FEB.
Perhaps the best remembered bit of this little fracas is the "charge of the Texas Lancers", B Company, 5th Texas Mounted Rifles:
"...armed only with nine-foot-long wooden lances tipped with three-inch-wide steel blades, captured from the Mexicans during the Mexican-American War...at 2:00 pm, Company B of the 5th Texas was sent forward with their lances, charging on horseback at full gallop. A company of Colorado Volunteers was at their front.Which reminds me of the degree to which both sides in the American Civil War really hadn't been fucking paying attention.
Their commander, Captain Theodore H. Dodd, yelled "There are Texans. Give them hell!" The Coloradoans sent a devastating volley into the ranks of the lancers, knocking the first rank to the ground. Some of the lancers came close enough to almost be impaled upon the Coloradoans bayonets or give the Coloradoans the lance! The lancers went on and were gunned down until only 3 men were left out of 50 that charged. Captain Willis L. Lang was severely wounded in the charge. Lt. Demetrius M. Bass, Lang's second in command, was wounded several times and died several days later. Captain Lang was in so much pain in the fallowing week and realizing that his wounds were untreatable, sent his body servant to bring him his revolver, with which he committed suicide on March 2, 1862."
Both U.S. and Confederate officers were largely products of a school of military thought that still revolved around the campaigns of Napoleon fifty years earlier. Despite the wars in Europe that had occurred in the past decade, including the Crimean War in 1854 and Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, most officers on both the American sides still thought of battle tactics in terms of Nappie's long lines of fancy-dress musket-firing infantry coming to point-blank range and blasting away, and his sword-and-lance cavalry charging gloriously.
Lovely, yes, but this was 1862.
Both sides had some sort of rifled musket firing a minie projectile that was at least an order of magnitude more accurate than the old turn-of-the-century weapons. Two lines of shoulder-to-shoulder infantry was a slaughterhouse. A mounted charge against unshaken infantry was just suicide, whether the horse soldiers were waving old Mexican shish-kabob skewers or not.
By 1863 most smart cavalry commanders had figured out that your horse was a just a way to get around in a hurry. Sadly, the infantry still had to march shoulder-to-shoulder and get torn apart by fire for another three years. But the death-ride of the Texas lancers should have put a cork in the "romantic" notions of Napoleonic glory if anyone had been bothering to notice it.
Anyway, this engagement can be legitmately described as a Confederate win. The two sides are about equal in numbers, training, and experience. Canby made a serious goof in trying some sort of slick trick to weight up the right side of his line. When he did the rebs piled into his center and left, broke them, and the entire little U.S. force was thrown back on the Rio. COL Canby was lucky that his former assistant agreed to a truce and didn't mop up the broken mess his old boss had made.
Canby's troops pulled back inside the fort, and Sibley, without a siege train, decided to keep going north towards Albuquerque and Santa Fe; remember, he needed to capture Union supplies, and the Texans were finding that there was damn hard living in the Territory of New Mexico. Among the many problems that the "victory" at Valverde caused the rebels was a lot of dead horses and mules.
Sibley - or, more likely COL Moore and LTC Scurry by this time, since Sibley was already said to be losing his fight with the bottle - dismounted the 4th Texas Formerly-Mounted Rifles. Worse, quite a few of the supply wagons and their cargo had to be destroyed.
Canby chose to remain immurred in Fort Craig, sending out mounted patrols to harass the rebels as they trekked north, and communicating with his elements at Fort Union to pin the Texans between the two U.S. forces.
Sibley's force was pretty thoroughly fucked at this point.
He had enough food for about three or four days; not enough to starve out Canby or enough to make it back to his original start line around Mesilla. The Army of New Mexico had to hurry on to Albuquerque as fast as possible.
Though the rebels made it there on 2 MAR and from there took Santa Fe on 13 MAR the slow Texan movement - carrying their wounded and the pace of their galvanized infantry - meant that the small U.S. garrisons and the locals there managed to un-ass the AO and drag their chow and blankets with them. The rebels did what they could to round up some rations - and what they could was mighty irritating to the good citizens of Albuquerque and Santa Fe - but the force that plodded north towards Fort Union was not a happy one.
The glacial pace had another ill effect for the Army of New Mexico; it allowed roughly a full regiment - about 900 infantrymen - of Colorado volunteers under COL John Slough to reach Fort Union.
Apparently COL Slough was some sort of seriously dickish kind of officer. The Colorado boys had been marching hard - 400 miles in two weeks - and the weather was poor, snow, sleet, and cold. Slough, who was well-mounted and arrived at Fort Union a couple of hours ahead of his soldiers on 11 MAR, is supposed to have told the post commander (who had laid on hot chow and some indoor bunks for the new arrivals) that his Colorado troopers were ol' Rocky Mountain polecats who gnawed nails and shit iron filings and were too damn tough to want some sissy ol' hot A rations and a dry bunk just because of a little springtime hike in a winter wonderland.
When the Pike's Peakers arrived they recorded their reaction to sleeping out in the snow with a hardtack dinner and it wasn't real damn cheery.
COL Canby had already ordered the Fort Union post commander, one COL Paul, "...not move from Fort Union to meet me until I advise you of the route and point of junction.", intending to slip past the rebels and link up with his forces east of the Sangre de Cristos.
COL Slough proceeded to pull seniority over the regular officer and take charge of the entire garrison.
Canby informed the new commander to "...advise me of your plans and movements, that I may cooperate...harass the enemy by partisan operations. Obstruct his movements and cut off his supplies." which sounds pretty clearly like instructions not to bring on a general engagement. Don't get beat and don't give the Rebs a shot at capturing your supply point. Remember?
Slough interpreted this, instead, as a free hand to advance to contact, which he did with 1,342 men from the fort's garrison.
Now he clearly understood that he was fucking up, mind you. He claimed that he was conducting a "reconnaissance in force" - with about 95% of the entire garrison of Fort Union and all the artillery.
Suuure. Pull the other leg, Slough.
So, on the one hand you've got Slough's mob moving west out of Fort Union, in direct opposition to Canby's strategic plan, without any real idea of where the enemy is or what he's bringing to the party.
On the other, a strong force - or, at least, as strong a force as that little brigade-sized army could assemble - from the Confederate Army of New Mexico was heading northeast towards Fort Union.
The point element was MAJ Pyron's 2nd Texas and a couple of raggedy-ass outfits of New Mexico rebels who called themselves things like the "San Elizario Spy Company" or the “Brigands” or the “Company of Santa Fe Gamblers,” was in Santa Fe, near where the Santa Fe Trail came out of the west side of the mountains.
Most of the rest of the Army - the 4th, the 7th, and part of the 5th Texas, the artillery, and the supply train - was just northeast of Albuquerque. On 12 MAR this outfit marched out towards Santa Fe while Sibley remained goofing off in Albuquerque with the bulk of the 5th Texas and one company of the 4th Texas "guarding the supplies" from Canby's force to his rear.
It's worth noting here that neither side lolloping about northern New Mexico in the early spring of 1862 had any more concept of what in the U.S. Army we call "operational security" or OPSEC than a cow knows about the Council of Trent. The Santa Fe trail was one of the big emigrant roads, THE emigrant road to the Southwest, and it was a busy highway for what passed for commerce as well as just plain casual travel. All the accounts report that both Union and Confederate forces ran across numerous civilians traveling both directions, and these travelers were all too happy to chatter on about the enemy army they'd just passed coming the other way.
Nobody thought to grab hold of these chatterboxes, or turn them around. So it didn't take long for Pyron's guys to hear civilian chatter about some damned bluebellies heading his way from the northeast.
Pyron seems to have been a hard man, and his reaction to an enemy was to go find him and give him a poke in the nose. Early on 25 MAR he march-ordered out of Santa Fe and tromped east into the Sangre de Cristos, where the narrow canyon pass would force the Yankees to take him head-on as well as negating their numbers, which were supposed to be considerably more than his own.
The Confederate point element bivouacked that night near something called Johnson’s Ranch near the present-day town of Canoncito.
Meanwhile, the U.S. field force had left Fort Union on 22 MAR leaving only a small rear detachment to garrison the place. A 100-wagon Quartermaster field train supported the column.
The U.S. troops made good use of the Santa Fe Trail which was, at least in the Santa Fe - Fort Union segment, a military road. By the afternoon of 24 MAR the column had reaching Bernal Springs, about 45 miles southwest of Fort Union.
At this point COL Slough seems to have had some second thoughts about what that military philosopher Donald Rumsfeld would call his "unknown unknowns". He threw out a reconnaissance element - about 400 soldiers (three companies of regular cavalry and four Colorado volunteers, three companies of infantry and one (F/1st Colorado) of mounted infantry/cavalry) - under MAJ Chivington to see where the hell the damn rebels were and what they were up to whilst he sat tight at Bernal Springs.
Chivington's guys moved west about 16 miles to one of the state stops on the Santa Fe Trail, a place called Kozlowski's Ranch, where they stopped for the night.
26 MAR - Apache Pass
At nightfall on 25 MAR the situation around Glorieta Pass was as follows:
Chivington's force (400 infantry and cavalry) was bivouacking for the night (less Company F, 1st Colorado, who had been thrown out as pickets) at Kozlowski’s near the eastern end of Glorieta Pass.
Pyron’s 300-odd Texans were enduring a very nasty cold night at Johnson’s Ranch, near the western end of the Pass and about nine miles from Chivington's overnight position.
The main element of the Army of New Mexico - COL Scurry’s units comprising some 1,000 all arms - was near the village of Galisteo, 12 miles south of Canoncito and Pyron's troops.
Then one of those weird things that sometimes happen in war, happened.
Both U.S. and Confederate troopers were abroad in the narrow canyon of Glorieta Pass that night.
Four rebel horsemen under a lieutenant had ridden around the bend of the pass to check out a place called "Pigeon's Ranch" near the eastern end of the pass and Kozlowski's, some five miles further on.
About 20 mounted troops from F/1st Colorado rode west towards Pigeon's to scout that area.
Somehow nearly two dozen men and horses managed to wander past each other without so much as a hard word in the dark.
All that changed when the F Company boys arrived at Pigeon's around dawn on 26 MAR. The proprietor of the Ranch, a character called Valle (who must have been quite the strutter, since the "Pigeon" tag was hung on him for his dancing), promptly informed the Yanks that their enemies had sauntered past them in the dark.
The Colorado boys turned around and rode back down the Trail looking for their enemies.
Who were themselves returning the way they came, having found nothing, until they rode up to the group of troopers in the dim light assuming with some justification that these were some of their Texan pals. The four gave their supposed buddies some shit about being late for relieving them.
To which the U.S. troopers announced that they would be happy to relieve them...of their weapons. Outnumbered and surprised, the Rebs promptly surrendered.
The prisoners were a pretty clear signal that there were other Rebs nearby, and Chivington got his force moving out towards Johnson's Ranch. The Confederates, however, took no warning from the disappearance of their recon element and spent the morning and early afternoon of 26 MAR trying to make up for the sleep they hadn't got rolled up in their thin blankets over the freezing cold night.
Chivington's force hit the security element of the Confederate troops - the "Brigands" - in mid-afternoon, sending that outfit scrambling for safety and surprising Pyron's force.
In several short pushes - including a mounted charge by F/1st Colorado; that's them above doing their best Napoleonic impression - and a series of flanking movements the U.S. troops forced Pryon's unit back down the pass. The Confederates fought well considering that they had been badly surprised and both sides were still capable of more fighting as the short March day began to end. MAJ Pyron asked for a truce to evacuate his wounded and bury his dead and MAJ Chivington, himself not quite sure whether his position was secure or where the enemy was, willingly granted it.
The fighting petered out around nightfall with the Federals withdrawing back to Pigeon's Ranch and the Rebs still in possession of Johnson's.
The Battle of Apache Canyon was not much of an battle. Neither side was driven off in disorder, neither side lost many lives - three for the rebels, five for the government - but Pyron's force had lost more than seventy prisoners in the confused fighting that day.
But the Colorado men had met the wild and woolly Texans everyone had seemed to think were so fierce and had taken the measure of them. The Texans themselves felt that they'd fought well enough but had been badly handled; outgeneralled, outflanked, and outnumbered.
27 MAR - Day Off
COL Scurry's element had been shocked by the arrival of a messenger from Pyron late on 25 MAR asking for support and informing the Confederate field commander of the appearance of the Federals. Scurry got his force moving as quickly as possible, but it was a miserable cold day and even colder night, many of his troops hadn't eaten all day and many had no shoes or poor excuses for them.
The twelve dark, freezing miles from Galistego to Johnson's Ranch must have been made of complete and utter suck, and the road saved the worst for last.
Edrington and Taylor (1998) notes grimly:
"Near the end of the march, around midnight, the men had to climb over a steep grade, dragging the cannons with them by hand. The ascent and descent were so difficult that the last two or three miles took the column two hours."Scurry's troops finally reached Johnson's around 0300 and most were exhausted when they did.
The Confederate trains pulled into Johnson's late in the morning. By that time COL Scurry had formed his command across the pass and stood to arms waiting for the attack he was sure would come.
It didn't, and at nightfall the rebels pulled back to Johnson's, leaving their picket screen at the mouth of Apache Pass for another cold and miserable night.
Late on 26 MAR Chivington (that's him, above - there's a scary face for a parson, innt?) had left a screen of troopers across the pass and retired to Pigeon's Ranch. The next day his force retired from there to Kozlowski's where they spent the day waiting for the main body of the U.S. force to come up or for the Rebs to cock a snook.
They didn't, and it was early the following morning before COL Slough and the rest of the U.S. column got to Kozlowski's after a march of 34 miles in 18 hours.
But now all the pieces were in place. There was no going back, or around. The following day there would be a head-on collision, and men would die, and perhaps history would be made.
The Engagement: Perhaps the oddest and least explicable thing about Glorieta Pass is how the U.S. managed to lose the fight and still win the battle. Seriously. The actual fighting part of this day was the least important part of the whole thing, and the Federal success didn't happen through military skill or tactical nous, but, rather through what was really a piece of extraordinarily bad judgement on the part of COL Slough.
Both sides committed to attacking on 28 MAR after their unintended rest day. The difference was in the way each commander went about attacking.
LTC Scurry went with the KISS Principle. He Kept It Simple; left his combat trains back at Johnson's Ranch under a small security detachment and then hatted up the rest of the whole outfit down the Santa Fe Trail.
COL Slough, on the other hand, went all Napoleonic and tricky with some sort of maneuver, dividing his command and sending MAJ Chivington over the cutoff south of the bend in the Trail while he took the remainder down the road.
I can't emphasize enough what an utterly fucked up, stupid plan this was.
The track Chivington's troopers were supposed to use was pretty much that; a narrow path the climbed out of the steep wall of the Pass and over something called "Glorieta Mesa", a high rocky plateau that extended between the southern arc of the river valley. There was no way to move along this path at more than a careful walk and the slopes at both ends meant that any soldiers climbing up or down would be hideously vulnerable and arrive at the bottom (or top) as a puffing, sweaty clusterfuck.
As we'll see, there was no way for the two elements to support each other. If one was hit the other probably wouldn't even know it; the canyon walls worked as damn effective sound barriers.
COL Slough did a Custer, basically; he divided his force in the immediate presence of an enemy of relatively unknown size, disposition, and activity. He committed military suicide; the pistol just misfired, that's all.
One of the pieces of luck that saved the U.S. troopers' collective ass was not so much luck as good intelligence and knowledge of the terrain.
The Confederate command group apparently took the mountainous terrain of Glorieta Pass at face value. It wasn't exactly a stupid decision; if you look up at the mountains from the valley floor they look damn high and damn steep. If you didn't know the area you'd probably figure that outside the pass itself the region was just a mess of jagged hillsides and steep slopes:
But you'd also be pretty damn careless not to at least send out some recon units to check on that.
And in this case LTC Scurry's discreditable ignorance of the ground did turn out to be pretty damn critical, because the U.S. Army had a guy with local knowledge.
MAJ (or LTC) Manuel Antonio Chavez, former Mexican soldier, Indian fighter, descendant of conquistadors (by his own story, anyway), and officer commanding the 2nd New Mexico Mounted Volunteers. Chavez apparently knew the ground around the Pass and knew that the mesa was passable for infantry. He is said to have been the source of COL Slough's inspiration to try and flank the Rebs, and was also said to have been the guide - he, or another local guy named Anastasio Duran - for MAJ Chivington's force on 28 MAR.
The U.S. command moved out about 0900, with Chivington's force breaking off nearly immediately and climbing out of the canyon. The remainder of the U.S. troops continued up the pass in march order until 1100 when the U.S. and Confederate scouts ran into each other. At that point the main body of the Federal force was halted for a water break and reorganization west of Pigeon's Ranch.
The Confederates shook out into line and attacked, the U.S. main line of resistance held for about three hours, but eventually the larger Reb force - about 1,300 to about 800, remember - worked it's way around both flanks of the American lines, which were too short to anchor themselves against the walls of the canyon.
The U.S. forces managed to disengage under pressure and drop back to Pigeon's, reforming there.
Here's where I put in a good word for the supply pukes.
First, the supply and service guys in the U.S. Army circa 1862 were called, as they are now, "quartermasters". The difference, though, is that in 1862 the Quartermaster Corps, the QM guys, were almost a separate branch. QM officers were usually considered little better than civilian sutlers, and no self-respecting officer of the line would listen to, let alone take the advice of, a quartermaster officer.
COL Slough's QM officer was a mere captain, a guy named Herbert M. Enos, and he deserves to be remembered. Here he is with a bunch of the other Fort Union officers a couple of years later:
Earlier in the day at the start line near Kozlowski's Ranch CPT Enos had advised his commander that since the Rebs were afoot and because food, clothing, and ammunition were what they needed as much as sunshine and water and more than military victory that it would be a good idea to keep the combat trains out of their reach.
COL Slough, who appears to have been the sort of man who wouldn't have recognized a good idea if it had bit him on the ass, ordered his supply guys forward to Pigeon's Ranch.
Enos saluted and moved out smartly...but...he also march ordered his outfit so that the ammo vehicles were in front - since ammo was sure to be the most wanted item shortly. Behind the ammo wagons came the medical supply and services. Then the ash-and-trash; the commissary and general supply wagons.
When word got back that the Rebs were coming on with their tails up CPT Enos moved quickly, sending everything but the ready-ammo wagons back down the road to Kozlowski's place. This worked slicker'n water off a cat's ass; the Rebel troops never came within more than a mile of any significant amount of U.S. beans and bullets. Had they the outcome of Glorieta Pass would have ben entirely different.
COL Slough formed up his line around Pigeon's place. The left was posted on a small wooded hill ("Artillery Hill"), the center around the ranch buildings and the trail, his right up on a rocky knuckle called "Sharpshooter's Ridge". Here's the U.S. position looking from the first battle area around Windmill Hill:
LTC Scurry had also reorganized his command and planned to attack the second U.S. position as a double envelopment. About 1400 this attack kicked off and worked about as well as the usual Civil War "stand-up-and-run-at-the-guys-firing-from-cover" assault; it was blown apart by fire and got a lot of guys killed for no purpose.
Here's a map of the full engagement. The afternoon fight is shown in darker colors, deep red and blue:
The fight for Artillery Hill was a disaster. MAJ Shropshire, the commander of the Reb 7th Texas, was blown away and his guys stopped and milled about the bottom of the hill. LTC Scurry's attack was shredded, one of his supporting cannon was knocked out and an ammo truck destroyed. The Rebel left kept moving - despite the name the terrain around Sharpshooter's Ridge was too crappy for good fields of fire - but slowly, working up the ridge by bounds and in small squads.
Abut 1500 the boys from 2nd Texas finally managed to push the Yanks off Sharpshooter's Ridge. From there they could take the whole ranch complex under fire, and the U.S. troops there were unable to suppress Scurry's next attack. It was time to grab a hat again.
MAJ Tappan, the officer commanding the U.S. left, organized a withdrawal under pressure covering the retreat of the rest of Slough's outfits. The retreat only went as far as Kozlowski's, though, where the Federal forces regrouped and reorganized their defenses.
The Confederate troops; hungry, cold, poorly fed, and low on ammunition were in no shape to break through this third line, and night was falling quickly. The fighting slowly ended around dark, with the main Confederate force camped at Pigeon's and the U.S. troops around Kozlowski's Ranch.
What the hell had MAJ Chivington's outfit been doing all this time?
Well, the "trail" across the mesa had petered out about halfway, and for the rest of the trip the Colorado boys had clambered and scrambled across some pretty rough terrain before emerging on the high bluff overlooking Johnson's Ranch.
MAJ Chivington hung around on the bluff for about an hour. He wondered where the heck his commander and the other guys were, he probably wondered what the fresh hell was going on, and he absolutely forgot his mission of taking the Rebel main force in the flank or rear.
Instead he ordered CPT Lewis commanding A Company, 5th U.S. Infantry, to attack the Confederate position while he kept an eye on things from on top of the hill. The outfit “...raised the Injun yell and commenced pitching down the hill, some on their heads some on their feet.” (Gardiner, 1976) The Rebs got off a couple of rounds from the single six-pound cannon LTC Scurry had ordered to remain behind but that was pretty much it. The security detachment was mostly sick and walking wounded. Most of them put their hands up; only a handful of the quickest beat feet up the canyon towards the main force.
The Colorado boys proceeded to loot what they could carry away and burn what they couldn't; “fine officers clothing, fine Mexican blankets and all kinds of military stores, wines, Brandies, pickles, canned fruit, oysters & Navy Revolvers.” (Gardiner, 1976) They spiked the Rebel gun and hucked in into a ravine. The entire supply train of the Army of New Mexico - less whatever minor items remained with the detachment in Albuquerque - was destroyed.
Supposedly - according to PVT Gardiner of the 1st Colorado, who wrote about the action - a runner from COL Slough arrived about 1500 informing MAJ Chivington of the Confederate attack and ordering him to march his command to rejoin the main body.
Here's where Chivington's actions get a little shifty.
He knew - from the Rebel prisoners as well as from U.S. prisoners taken earlier in the day and released at Johnson's - that his commander was under attack less than four miles down the pass. He also knew that he was in the enemy rear and that the enemy, as yet, didn't know that. Chivington's command was in a position to take the Rebels the way the wild monkey took the woodcutter's wife: by surprise and from behind.
Instead, MAJ Chivington took his outfit all the way back across the mesa, sixteen miles, arriving late in the evening of 28 MAR when the fighting in the Pass had ceased.
The Outcome: Confederate tactical victory but United States strategic victory, of a sort. See below.
The Impact: On a scale of American Civil War engagements Glorieta Pass was pretty tiny.
Both sides lost about 50 guys killed outright, another 80 or so wounded, and a further 90 prisoners from the Rebel side. The Yanks gave up 15 prisoners, most of whom were eventually recaptured.
Most of the U.S. troops that fought at Glorieta Pass felt like they'd been pretty badly whipped. COL Slough withdrew his force to Bernal Springs the next day and - on COL Canby's orders - to Fort Union 31 MAR. The Colorado volunteers were not a happy outfit, with their commander especially, whom they felt had led conspicuously from the rear. Slough wrote to then-LTC Tappan about a year later:
"...at the battle of Pigeon’s Ranch a volley was fired at me by a part of this company — Lt. Murphy of New Mexico ant Lt. I. C. Anderson will testify to this fact, hence I hid myself from that flank so as to avoid a repetition — this is what gave rise to the report that I acted cowardly at that time — I resigned the colonelcy because I was satisfied that a further connection would result in my assassination. I am now satisfied that men now high in rank and command were at the bottom of this thing. I am satisfied that to-day if a chance offered I would be murdered, I say this in confidence that you will keep it secret."LTC Scurry and his Rebels, though, even without supplies, wanted to pursue the beaten Yankees and take the rich storehouses at Fort Union. BG Sibley came up to confer with the boys and the advance on Fort Union was planned. But in early April COL Canby march-ordered his force at Fort Craig, slipped past Sibley in Albuquerque and made it to Fort Union to unite his command.
The Rebel forces, out of supply and now weaker than the U.S. Army between them and their goldfield objective, simply had no more mission. After a couple of days the Army of New Mexico fell back south. COL Canby followed behind, taking a swipe at the Rebels every so often to make sure they didn't have time to forage. By late April the invaders were back in Texas, other than a handful of rear detachments that were gone by July. The Confederacy never mounted a serious threat to the western United States again.
When you think about it Glorieta Pass really was a remarkable series of fuckups.
COL Slough fucked up first by leaving his post at Fort Union. He then fucked up again dividing his command, and did a pretty good job of fucking up the tactical work he did on 28 MAR. MAJ Chivington fucked up after getting word of his commander's situation.
In the bigger picture, BG Sibley fucked up the entire concept of operations, which required a whole bunch of things unlikely to happen to happen as well as his enemies making the mistakes he wanted them to make, always a dumb thing for a commander to base his plans on.
We could even go further to the whole business of a largely agrarian area rebelling against a larger, stronger, economically more powerful polity on behalf of an antiquated and vile social practice, but that's sort of beyond the scope of this post.
The typical interpretation of Glorieta Pass is that the destruction of the Rebel supplies ended the Campaign for New Mexico. That's true, and, yet, not the entire truth.
The Confederates did need supplies. They couldn't get them, enough of them, anywhere but from one of the Federal depots in the Territory. There just wasn't any real way to "live off the land" as Sibley had foolishly presumed.
In a sense, what really destroyed the New Mexico Campaign was New Mexico; the "economy", that is, the sort of Victorian agricultural and industrial structure that a Civil War army needed to move and fight, just didn't exist there. Canby's Fabian strategy, and Slough's luck in that the Confederates didn't completely break his Coloradans at Glorieta Pass, meant that the Rebel attempt to carve out a Western Empire was deader'n a Texas lancer.
Touchline Tattles: Probably my favorite oddball story from Glorieta Pass is the Remarkable Walkabout of Sergeant Alfred B.Peticolas.
There he is, as a young noncom in 1862. At the time the war broke out Peticolas was a lawyer in the little Texas town of Victoria. Born in Virginia, Peticolas was 24 in March, 1862, when he was in New Mexico as part of Company C, 4th Texas Mounted Volunteers (those were the guys who got picked to be the Dismounted Volunteers, remember?)
Anyway, the guy was "mustered in" as a volunteer in September, 1861, and six months later found himself - probably hungry, tired, a little scared and throughly pissed off - at the base of Artillery Hill just south of Pigeon's Ranch.
He'd somehow wandered south from where the rest of his unit was posted and then got even further lost during the disastrous attack on the hill by the 7th Texas. He wasn't the only one.
One of the many goatscrews that occurred that day happened when the U.S. artillery - Claflin's Battery - abandoned it's firing positions on the hill and just hauled ass, leaving a gap open between K and D Companies, 1st Colorado. Peticolas, who even though lost apparently still wanted to get some Yankees (as an attorney this guy was clearly a litigator - he had the temperment of a rabid shark) and, as he described it, proceeded to walk “...leisurely along the hill towards where their line was, firing at every opportunity down at the enemy.”
This sounds like Sarge was walking along the northern crest of Artillery Hill shooting at the Yanks posted at Pigeon's downhill to the north. But this military volksmarsch couldn't last forever and didn't. Peticolas ran into not just a Yankee but the Boss Yankee of Artillery Hill, MAJ Tappan, the commander of the Federal left.
But Sergeant Peticolas still had another bit of luck in him that day. He was wearing a scrounged Union overcoat and probably looked no scruffier than a typical Pike's Peaker, not an outfit known for it's military smartness. Tappen told him to quit wandering around and go shoot something. Given the young lawyer's nature Tappan was probably lucky that he was too close to enough other Yankees that Peticolas didn't just shoot him.
Peticolas saluted and moved out smartly; he found another hole in the Yankee lines and slipped back down the hill to find his buddies who, in the manner of soldiers since Ramses day, probably told him he was full of shit and had been hiding in some ditch somewhere whilst they did all the real fighting.
Anyway, Peticolas survived the war and settled down to his law practice in Victoria. He married right after the war but lost his wife and baby daughter to yellow fever almost immediately. Seven years after his New Mexican adventure he married again, and his second wife, Marion and he had three sons together.
He had a good solid Victorian life:
"The Peticolases built an elegant two-story home at the corner of Bridge and Goodwin streets...(i)n addition to expanding his law practice, Peticolas served as editor of the Victoria Advocate from 1881 to 1888. He actively supported the Presbyterian church in Victoria. In 1885 he wrote the Index Digest of Civil and Criminal Law of Texas, for many years a standard text used by the State Bar of Texas.One has to wonder what, if anything, he told his boys about The Day I Wandered Around The Battle.
Peticolas was a tall, impressive man, nicknamed "Judge."
His drawings of Victoria's first courthouse (1862), the old Globe House, which was located at the corner of Bridge and Forrest streets (1865), and the homes of such early Victoria settlers as Ben F. Tippett and Col. A.F. Hall (1860) enable one to visualize an early Victoria that has since disappeared. In addition to sketching, Peticolas traveled in Europe, played chess in national tournaments, and built expertly crafted furniture.
He died in Victoria on January 27, 1915."
And you have to kinda wonder if his kids believed him.