Thursday, September 7, 2023

Fort Craig, New Mexico: Civil War History Comes Home

By Michelle Shocklee

As an author of historical fiction, I thoroughly enjoy digging into the past, visiting ancient sites, and browsing antique shops. But the history I most enjoy unearthing is my own ancestry. Case in point: I recently discovered that Lewis, one of my great-great grandfathers, was a farrier for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. We'd known we had ancestors who fought for the Union, but this is our first discovery of a Confederate ancestor. That historical tidbit led me to write a blog post about farriers and horseshoes back in April. It also made me want to dig deeper, and BOY, am I glad I did! What I discovered is a connection between my Confederate, Alabama-born g-g-grandfather and my deep roots in New Mexico's rich soil. 

The connection location: Fort Craig. 

Ruins of Fort Craig, NM. Photo:

Fort Craig was established on the plains of New Mexico in 1854. It was one of eight forts built along the cottonwood-lined Rio Grande River valley that runs north-south through the state. The fort, one of the largest in the West, played a crucial role in that region, when unrest between American settlers and members of native tribes often erupted in violence. Records show that military units from Fort Craig pursued such notable Apache leaders as Geronimo, Victorio, and Nana. At one time the fort was home to Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 38th Cavalry, as well as the 125th Infantry, the predominantly Hispanic New Mexico Volunteers and New Mexico Militia, commanded by the famous frontiersman Kit Carson.

By the time the Civil War began, Fort Craig's military population was nearly 4,000. Their objective was still to protect settlers and merchant traffic traveling up and down the Camino Real between Santa Fe and Mexico, but the soldiers were now tasked with another vital mission: keep the Confederates from claiming the riches of gold and silver found in New Mexico's and Colorado's mountains and rivers.

On February 16, 1862, the Fifth Texas Cavalry, led by Confederate Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley, arrived at Fort Craig via El Paso. His mission was exactly what the Union feared: he was headed to secure Albuquerque and Santa Fe for the South, thereby giving them access to the West's wealth. 

Why is this an important fact in my personal history? Because the 5th Texas Cavalry was the unit Lewis, my g-g-grandfather, served as a farrier! 

Over the next four days, several skirmishes ensued, but Union troops mostly stayed within the walls of the fort, and Confederate troops didn't venture far from their camp near the river. Rather than attack the fort, Gen. Sibley decided to march his men across the river and head north. Soldiers from Fort Craig were hot on their trail. There, two major battles took place that, according to many historians, eventually ensured the North would win the war. The Battle of Valverde and the Battle of Glorieta Pass kept Sibley from securing Albuquerque and Santa Fe, thus denying the South access to money they would desperately need in the final years of the war. Had Sibley achieved his goal, the war may have continued beyond 1865, and may have even had a different ending.

Many, many years later, my grandpa and grandma -- Lewis's granddaughter -- lived about an hour or so from the ruins of Fort Craig. They visited the site several times and enjoyed poking around a place that holds history, both for our country and for our family. I hope to visit Fort Craig the next time I'm in New Mexico. 

My g-g-grandfather Lewis. Sadly, he died in El Paso, Texas in July 1862. 
It is believed he was wounded in one of the battles I mentioned

Your turn: Have you ever discovered something about your family history that surprised you? Tell me about it. 

Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels, including Count the Nights by Stars, winner of the 2023 Christianity Today Book Award, and Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. 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. Michelle's next novel, Appalachian Song, releases October 3, 2023, and is available for preorder. Visit her online at

Releases 10/3/23

Forever within the memories of my heart.
Always remember, you are perfectly loved.

Bertie Jenkins has spent forty years serving as a midwife for her community in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Out of all the mothers she’s tended, none affects her more than the young teenager who shows up on her doorstep, injured, afraid, and expecting, one warm June day in 1943. As Bertie and her four sisters tenderly nurture Songbird back to health, the bond between the childless midwife and the motherless teen grows strong. But soon Songbird is forced to make a heartbreaking decision that will tear this little family apart.

Thirty years later, the day after his father’s funeral, Walker Wylie is stunned to learn he was adopted as an infant. The famous country singer enlists the help of adoption advocate Reese Chandler in the hopes of learning why he was abandoned by his birth parents. With the only clue he has in hand, Walker and Reese head deep into the Appalachian Mountains to track down Bertie Jenkins, the midwife who holds the secrets to Walker’s past.


  1. Thank you for posting today. The most surprising fact I learned is that one of my uncles doesn't have the same dad as the rest of his siblings and no one knew about it until my uncle was over 60 and did research on his genealogy. I wish I had heard about it from my gram, whom I was close to, just for the story of her life and not for malice.

  2. Finding out surprising information about your family is indeed fun. My siblings and I learned that our father had served in the Army for a couple of years--we only found out after both he and Mother died, when we cleaned out the house and found a batch of letters to him from his mother and sister. Apparently, he joined after WWI and hated it so much, he went AWOL. From what we could learn, he did go back and complete his obligation (including time in the brig). He never mentioned this to any of us, even though my husband served 20 years in the Army!

    1. Marie, that's really interesting! It would have be fascinating to hear why he made the choices he did. My dad never talked about his time in WWII as a turret gunner on a B17, but oh, how I wish I could hear his stories now!