Monday, January 8, 2024

When Victory is Actually Defeat—The Battle of Glorieta Pass

by Martha Hutchens
Image by njproductions, Deposit Photos

In this post, I will be talking about Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley, who is a prime example of winning every battle and still losing the war.

Most of the United States Civil War battles took place east of the Mississippi River or in states that bordered the Mississippi. However, a handful of battles took place farther west. This includes five in New Mexico, and the most interesting of those happened east of Santa Fe, at the Glorieta Pass.

Image by Furian, Deposit Photos

The United States held the territory of New Mexico beginning in 1848 after the Mexican-American War. Therefore, it was in Union hands at the beginning of the Civil War. Note from the map that the Rio Grande River runs southward through the center of New Mexico before forming the border between Texas and Mexico. The battles will follow this natural water source.

Unlike most of his fellow confederate officers, Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley looked to the west. He knew that both California and Colorado had gold fields that could help finance the confederacy. He also knew that a large number of the Union troops in the west had been ordered to the larger battlefields in the east. He believed that New Mexico was a disorganized and lightly guarded pathway to mineral wealth.

In July of 1861, the Confederates seized Fort Fillmore in southeastern New Mexico near Mesilla. Sibley’s men would use this foothold to move north into New Mexico.

Supplies are a key element to any military engagement, and Sibley believed he would be able to raid Union forts to supply his army. Northeast of Santa Fe, Fort Union was his first objective. Union Col Edward R. F Canby stood in his way.

Canby held Fort Craig, located on the Rio Grande about 100 miles south of Albuquerque. Many of his regulars had been called east, and he augmented his forces with volunteers from the area.

Image by mandritoiu, Deposit Photos

In February of 1862, Sibley moved northward from Mesilla. Canby met him at the Battle of Valverde, on Feb 20-21, 1862. Despite a numerical advantage, Canby lost the encounter. However, he refused to surrender Fort Craig, which denied Sibley the supplies he desperately needed. Sibley was forced to proceed northward, leaving an enemy stronghold to his rear, but he raided a deserted depot at Polvadera. He occupied Albuquerque on March 2, 1862. He then sent some of his troops farther north. They occupied Santa Fe on March 13..

During this time, Union troops from Colorado marched south under the command of Col. John P. Slough. He took control of Fort Union, the objective of the Confederates under Sibley. Confederate Major Charles Pyron left Santa Fe and met Slough at Glorieta Pass.

The first day of battle was March 26, 1862. It was not decisive. Both sides spent the next day gathering reinforcements. The battle resumed on March 28, and the Confederates drove the Union troops from the field.

However, the Union had a secret weapon, a man in their ranks that was native to the area around Glorieta Pass. He led a smaller group of men to a high area looking down on the Confederates supply train, far behind the battle lines. They destroyed the Confederate supplies, and Sibley was eventually forced to retreat back to Texas. While he won every engagement on the battlefield, his campaign was a loss.

As he retreated, one of his men, Major Teel, buried several cannons near Albuquerque to keep them out of Union hands. Several years after the war, Teel returned to Albuquerque and showed the locals where he buried them. The cannons were dug up and placed on the Albuquerque plaza for many years. Later, replicas were made and the originals were moved to the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History.

Image by Martha Hutchens
The replicas still stand on the Plaza today.

Martha Hutchens is a transplanted southerner who lives in Los Alamos, NM where she is surrounded by history so unbelievable it can only be true. She won the 2019 Golden Heart for Romance with Religious and Spiritual Elements. A former analytical chemist and retired homeschool mom, Martha is frequently found working on her latest knitting project when she isn’t writing.

Martha’s current novella is set in southeast Missouri during World War II. It is free to her newsletter subscribers. You can subscribe to my newsletter at my website,

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today, and Happy New Year to you and your family. This was a very interesting post highlighting the intricacies of warfare.