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Posted on May 30, 2012 in Stuff We Like

Glorieta Pass – Civil War Battle and Reenactment in New Mexico

By Jay Wertz

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Glorieta Pass Battlefield. The crest of Artillery Hill where Lt. Ira Claflin placed three mountain howitzers from the Fort Union command of U. S. Regulars. The large boulders provided protection.

On May 4–6, 2012, reenactors, historians and interested spectators from throughout the west gathered at El Rancho De Las Golondrinas outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a three-day commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War in New Mexico. The first day was largely given over to setting up reenactors’ camps.

The Reenactment of the Battle of Glorieta Pass
The New Mexico Civil War Commemorative Congress sponsored the event that drew more than 200 military and civilian reenactors from as far away as Illinois who camped, demonstrated and skirmished to the delight of hundreds of spectators who attended public events on May 5 and 6. Northern and Southern camps were established on the expansive museum grounds and opened to visitors for most of the weekend. Demonstrations included Civil War medicine, company drilling and ladies’ fashions of the 1860s. A collection of equipment used by the Buffalo Soldiers of New Mexico Territory and a locally produced documentary on the Civil War in New Mexico drew much attention.

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A significant element of the event was an invitation-only Grand Ball for the reenactors. But for most reenactors, and the public as well, the highlight of the weekend was the series of battle reenactments. Skirmishes were fought to represent the early part of the campaign into the Far West by Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley’s Texans.

The Civil War in New Mexico

Sibley’s ambitious plans included capturing the mines of Colorado and the ports of Southern California and enlisting Confederate sympathizers in the region. After skirmishing with and then bypassing the Federal enclave at Fort Craig—consisting of U. S. Regulars and New Mexico volunteers under colonels Edward. R. S. Canby and Kit Carson—the Texans took Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

The Confederate advance needed to take Fort Union in northeast New Mexico to clear the route to Colorado. However Colorado volunteers made a difficult winter march south to reinforce Fort Union. Thus, when the two forces first discovered each other on the Santa Fe Trail at Apache Canyon on March 26, each had a combat strength of about 2,500 men. The skirmish at Apache Canyon resulted in the "Pike’s Peakers" surprising a Confederate encampment and taking a large number of prisoners. The rest of the Rebels retreated to their base at Johnson’s Ranch.

After a relatively quiet March 27, Lieutenant Colonel William Scurry moved out with his force from Johnson’s Ranch early on the morning of March 28. They drove the Federals under Colonel John P. Slough back toward their forward camp at Pigeon’s Ranch, a stagecoach rest stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Confederate flanking maneuvers forced the Federals back a mile beyond the ranch, but the advance ran out of steam when the Texans learned their supplies at Johnson’s Ranch had been captured and destroyed by a Union expedition led over the mountains by Col. John Chivington. The Texans quietly withdrew back to Santa Fe and eventually to Texas leaving Sibley’s objectives unmet.

The "Gettysburg of the West," as the Battle of Glorieta Pass is often called now because of the turn of Confederate fortunes, was reenacted on each of the weekend afternoons by the Civil War New Mexico reenactors. The terrain for the battle provided by the museum was ideal, and the Confederate and Federal interpreters did a wonderful job recreating the historic event and delighting the spectators.

Santa Fe and El Rancho De Las Golondrinas
Some visitors, including this correspondent, traveled to the capital city of Santa Fe, a charming center of history and art. In the middle of Santa Fe Plaza, the old town square complete with cathedral and historic shops, stands a monument to the Federal defenders who drove the Sibley expedition back to Texas. Thirty miles further east is the Glorieta Pass Battlefield. The park, a unit of Pecos National Historic Park, has developed a marvelous walking tour that encompasses much of the original battlefield of March 28, the third and pivotal day in this historic action.

El Rancho De Las Golondrinas is a living history museum that features buildings and historic lifestyles of the 18th and 19th century Spanish colonial period in New Mexico. Besides the Civil War event, held annually, there are many entertaining and educational events held at the museum to demonstrate daily life in New Mexico during Spanish colonial rule. The museum also holds several other significant events annually. The reaction by reenactors and spectators to the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War in New Mexico, however, demonstrated the excitement that is carrying through Civil War Sesquicentennial events through the country. Civil War interpreters are turning out in great numbers to share this important milestone with comrades, while making new friends among participants who have traveled far or are just beginning to discover the hobby. It is a great time for Civil War enthusiasts throughout the country, including those in the American Southwest.

(Editor’s note: Sadly, based on information on the New Mexico Civil War Commemorative Congress Website, it appears the May 2012 event may have been the swan song for Civil War reenactments of this size in New Mexico for the foreseeable future. We hope that will not be the case.)

About the Author

Jay Wertz is the producer-director-writer of the award-winning 13-part documentary series Smithsonian’s Great Battles of the Civil War for The Learning Channel and Time-Life Video. He authored The Native American Experience and The Civil War Experience 1861-1865 and co-authored Smithsonian’s Great Battles and Battlefields of the Civil War with prominent historian Edwin C. Bearss. His most recent publications are the award-winning War Stories D-Day: the Campaign Across France and War Stories: The Pacific, Vol. I, Pearl Harbor to Guadalcanal, published by Weider History Publications.

3 Comments

  1. Hello,
    I very much enjoyed your article. I have been the president of the cw congress for the last 17 years. I believe I was the one who asked you to leave the ball. I am sorry that was necessary, i hope you foregave me . I was acting on the rules of the event! I am now being rude and asking if you would be willing to share your photos with me so I can share them with those that were there .
    Thank you for the positive feedback on our event! I will be sharing you article with those who attended.
    Madeleine

  2. Just my opinion, but I think the Confederacy lost the American Civil War due to incompetence. To not seize the West (New Mexicom Colorado and California), before the Union did asfixiated the Confederacy.

    Major blunders were made by the armies. Did anyone ever learn how to post scouts? how to place sentries? did anyone actually try to gain information on the enemy’s movements? This is a lesson in military incompetence. I am surprised it did not make BarbaraTuchman’s The March of Folly.

  3. I have a surplus of powder and would like to get rid of it

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