The Forgotten Civil War Campaign in New Mexico

Yes, there were Civil War battles near Albuquerque NM……

Replica Cannon commemorating the Battle of Albuquerque

After the outbreak of the Civil War, the Confederacy tried to expand westward, in an attempt to reach the port cities in southern California and evade the Union’s naval blockade. In the first months of 1862, Jefferson Davis established the “Confederate Territory of Arizona” which contained what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico. A small Confederate force was sent to Tucson to take control in the name of the Confederacy, but it was driven out by a Union force from California in a series of skirmishes. One of these, between two cavalry patrols at Picacho Pass, near present-day Tucson, was the westernmost fighting during the Civil War.

In response, Lincoln sent troops under Colonel Edward Canby to the area. Canby was followed by Confederate forces from Texas under General Henry Sibley, and the two forces fought some skirmishes. Canby initially occupied Albuquerque, then abandoned it on March 2, allowing the Confederates to move in and establish supply depots.

A few weeks later, Sibley sent a detachment of 300 troops under Major Charles Pyron to occupy Glorieta Pass, a strategic route through the desert mountains. Pyron was met there on March 26 by 400 Federals under Colonel John Slough. After a day’s inconclusive fighting, both sides spent the next day positioning reinforcements, and when the battle resumed on the 28th, the Confederates outflanked the Union troops and forced them to withdraw.

But it had been a Pyhrric victory: the Confederates held the battlefield, but during the fighting a Federal unit had attacked the Confederate wagon train and destroyed nearly all of it. With most of their supplies and ammunition now gone, Pyron’s men also had to withdraw back to Santa Fe and then to Texas. The drive for california had failed.

On April 8, Canby’s forces approached Albuquerque, unsure of how many Confederates were still there, but knowing that he didn’t have enough troops himself to take and occupy the town in the face of resistance. Instead, he was hoping to drive the Confederates off and spook them into retreating with the rest of Sibley’s army.

At first, Canby shelled the town from long range, until he was informed that there were a large number of civilians there. The next day, Canby sent a detachment of troops into the city to probe the Confederate defenses. After some skirmishing in the city plaza, the Federals withdrew back to their lines. Two days later, the Confederates, having exhausted their supplies and ammunition, destroyed their remaining depots, buried a number of cannons in the plaza, and slipped out of the city, retreating all the way to Texas. The Southwest would remain firmly in Union hands for the rest of the war.

Today there is a commemorative plaque in Albuquerque’s “Old Town” plaza marking the site of the skirmish, and replicas of the buried Confederate cannons are displayed here. The original cannons are part of an exhibit at the Albuquerque history museum commemorating the battle. The Museum is just a short distance away.

About one-fifth of the Glorieta Pass Battlefield is held by the National Park Service. The rest is in private hands.


2 thoughts on “The Forgotten Civil War Campaign in New Mexico”

  1. As I recall, the Union forces were joined by a number of miners in the area – made me feel good to have workers on the right side of the fight – and the Confederates barley survived the retreat. My memory might be letting me down, though.

Post a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s