Friday, August 7, 2020

The Battle of Glorieta Pass, New Mexico

By Michelle Shocklee

When I was a kid growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the American Civil War wasn't something I was interested in. I mean, it all took place back east a gazillion years ago, right?


Winding mountain road alongside the Pecos River. I've
traveled this road hundreds of times! Photo on Google
Turns out I lived 22 miles from a bonafide Civil War battlefield. Every time my family drove into the Pecos National Forest for a day of picnicking or camping, we passed through said battlefield. It isn't a well known battle, but the outcome may have played a huge role in the outcome of the entire war.

First, a little history.

In March 1862, New Mexico wasn't a state, it was a territory. The lower half of it as well as present-day Arizona had fallen under Confederate control and was called the Confederate Arizona Territory. The territorial capital was Mesilla, near what is now the city of Las Cruces, NM (where I went to college my freshman year!). Why would the Confederacy--and the Union Army, for that matter--want to occupy land so far away from the battles taking place back east?

The answer can be summed up in a couple of shiny words: Gold and silver. Silver and gold. (Cue a cute singing snowman!)

Apache Canyon, scene of the first phase of the Battle of Glorieta Pass; 
Photo on Google
California and Colorado were both gold and silver producing states. Whoever had control of these states and the trade routes in/out of them would have a huge advantage over the opponent. New Mexico sat right in the middle of it all. Both sides knew this and were doing everything possible to gain and keep control of the territory.

By August 1861, Union troops stationed at Fort Craig (in southern NM) had already suffered defeat by the Confederate 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles as well as another defeat nearby in September at the Battle of Canada Alamosa. This gave the Confederate generals confidence to move forward with a bold plan.

"Sharpshooters ridge" above Pigeon's Ranch where Union troops
hunkered down at one point; Photo on Google
In the cold days of early 1862, Confederate General Sibley was determined to march his army north to capture the capital city of Santa Fe. Once Santa Fe was in Confederate control, they would turn their attention towards capturing the stores of ammunition and food at Fort Union (north of Santa Fe), gain control of the Santa Fe Trail, then turn west toward the gold fields of California. Success was his in February when his army defeated Union troops in the Battle of Valverde, although both sides suffered losses. Sibley continued his northern march and took possession of Albuquerque on March 2 and Santa Fe on March 13. Supplies and ammunition, however, were running dangerously low. Although a supply wagon train was on its way to them, Sibley hoped to capture Fort Union--a fort he'd been personally acquainted with prior to the war--to replenish.

Meanwhile, the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers marched rapidly down from Denver to reinforce the Union troops at Fort Union. Confederate scouts were captured on March 25, providing invaluable information regarding the location of Sibley's army at the far end of Glorieta Pass preparing to march north the next morning.

Burning of Confederate supply wagons

Unaware that the Colorado troops were in New Mexico, Sibley anticipated little trouble. Mistake. On March 26 and 28, the two armies clashed. Fighting took place among the craggy rocks and evergreen trees, which prevented both sides from using their cavalry. The turn for a Union victory came when the Confederate supply wagon train was captured and destroyed, including, sadly, all of the animals. Without the much needed resources, there was no way for Sibley's men to continue the fight. A flag of truce was offered by Confederate Colonel Slough and was accepted by Union Colonel Slurry.

March 29 was spent burying the dead. The Texans were forced to retreat to Santa Fe and eventually took a long, dangerous march back to Texas. By July 1862, all Confederate Troops had vacated New Mexico Territory and for the duration of the Civil War, New Mexico remained under Union control. It is said that had the Confederates taken control of the gold and silver produced in the West, they would have won the war. What a different country it would be today if that had happened.

A monument at the center of Santa Fe honors the men who fought and died in the various Civil War battles in New Mexico Territory, including Valverde and Glorieta Pass.

Glorieta Pass monument in the center of the famed Santa Fe Plaza
Photo on Google

Your turn: Have you been to Santa Fe? Did you know about New Mexico's role in the Civil War?


Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at

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Sixteen-year-old Lorena Leland’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life as a writer are dashed when the stock market crashes in 1929. Seven years into the Great Depression, Rena’s banker father has retreated into the bottle, her sister is married to a lazy charlatan and gambler, and Rena is an unemployed newspaper reporter. Eager for any writing job, Rena accepts a position interviewing former slaves for the Federal Writers’ Project. There, she meets Frankie Washington, a 101-year-old woman whose honest yet tragic past captivates Rena.

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  1. Fascinating! I didn't realize the Civil War battles stretched that far west. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Interesting! Thanks for posting. I think the Civil War is one of the saddest points of our history, but for a noble cause.