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Santa Fe Spring Travel: History on the Santa Fe Trail – Battle of Glorieta Pass

Battle of Glorieta Pass by Schlacht von
Glorieta Pass by Schlacht von Courtesy of National Park Service

Battle of Glorieta Pass is an important event in the history of the New Mexico Territory in the American Civil War. The story of the Battle of Glorieta Pass needs to begin earlier than the days it was actually fought (March 26–28, 1862) as it became the decisive battle of the New Mexico Campaign during the American Civil War and as such has been dubbed the “Gettysburg of the West”. Originally intended by the Confederate forces to be a fatal blow to break the Union possession of the West along the base of the Rocky Mountains. The battle rightly named occurred in Glorieta Pass located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains -15 minutes southeast of Pueblo Bonito b&b inn- Santa Fe.

The lower portion of the New Mexico Territory had been largely neglected by both the federal government and the territorial government in Santa Fe even prior to the start of the civil war. As a result, Confederate sympathy was strong, in hopes of receiving better treatment by a new government. Following secession moves by residents, Confederate forces seized Mesilla and captured the federal troops there. In early 1862 the Confederacy established the Confederate Arizona Territory (southern halves of both modern Arizona and New Mexico). The territorial capital was Mesilla,45 miles from El Paso and near today’s modern city of Las Cruces. The strategic goals of the Confederates were to gain access to the gold and silver mines of California and the Colorado Territory as well as the seaports in Southern California, and thus evade the Union naval blockade.

Commanders of the New Mexico Civil War Campaign were Confederate Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley and Union Col. Edward Canby. Sibley attempted to capture Fort Craig, completely outmaneuvering Canby at the Battle of Valverde (near Dixon NM) in February and driving him back into his fort, but Canby never surrendered. Sibley decided to bypassed the fort and advanced north into the Rio Grande Valley to occupy Santa Fe on March 10. Meanwhile, Canby remained at Fort Craig, hoping to cut Sibley’s logistical support from Texas while awaiting reinforcements. Sibley made his headquarters at the abandoned Union storehouse at Albuquerque.

In March Sibley sent a Confederate force of 200-300 Texans on an advance expedition over the Glorieta Pass. This pass was strategically located on the Santa Fe Trail (the major trade

Traveling the Old Santa Fe Trail
Pecos Day Trip on the Old Santa Fe Trail

route of the day) at the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – southeast of Santa Fe. Control of this pass would allow Confederates to advance onto the High Plains and make an assault on Fort Union- a Union stronghold on the route northward over Raton Pass. Ft Union was pivotal as it was the distribution center located on the Santa Fe Trail and supplied over 38 Western Forts (artillery, food, medical, etc) as well providing protection for civilian travel and trade from the Apaches. Occupation of this Fort was to be a major element in the success of the Confederate Campaign. Sibley sent six companies to block the eastern end of Glorieta Pass, thus planning to cripple any Union defensive position in the Sangre de Cristos

On March 26, 1862 a skirmish began between advancing elements from Union and Confederate armies, with the main battle occurring on March 28. Confederate troops pushed Union forces back through the pass however they had to retreat when the confederate supply train (hidden in Canoncito at Apache Canyon) were destroyed by Union forces, killing or driving off most of the horses and mules. This devastating blow forced Sibley to withdraw entirely from the territory and back into Confederate Arizona and then Texas. Glorieta Pass thus represented the climax of the campaign and the end of the civil war in the Western US.

Historic Battle of Glorieta Pass marker
Historic Battle of Glorieta marker.
Pecos National Monument
Pecos National Monument

The Battle of Glorieta Pass and Canyoncito in Apache Canyon are easily visited by guests of Pueblo Bonito b&b inn- Santa Fe. Memorial and Historic markers border the road commemorating blood shed by Union army joined with Colorado and Utah volunteers as well as Confederate Americans. An easy 20 minute drive toward Pecos National Monument from our doorstep will highlight this important piece of American Civil War History. Couple your travels with a visit to Pecos National Monument to learn of the ancient ways of the Pecos Pueblo people, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the ruins of the Pecos Indians.

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