“If I owned Texas and Hell, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.”
— Gen. Phillip H. Sheridan
The Battle of Glorieta was not called the Gettysburg of the West because of the large number of casualties. It was compared to the Battle of Gettysburg because it just may have determined the outcome of the Civil War.
Had the Confederates from Texas reached California, they would have had an entire coastline of blockade-free ports and all the gold they needed to finance their army.
There were many men in southern New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah who were “southern sympathizers.” The Confederate army could have easily built their ranks as they marched to the Pacific. When a Confederate force was raised in Texas, Southern New Mexico quickly seceded from Santa Fe and joined the Texas Confederates.
This would be the second time in 20 years that a Texas military force would try to take New Mexico. Led by General “Sipping” Sibley, they entered Mesilla on July 23, 1861, and marched up the Rio Grande Valley with little resistance. They did not engage in battle until they reached Valverde (100 miles south of Albuquerque). This confrontation ended with 200 causalities on each side and a Confederate victory.
They took Albuquerque without a fight and by March 13, 1862, the Confederate flag was flying over the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. Unknown to the Confederates, the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers had joined the soldiers at Fort Union after a 400-mile, 13-day march.
The Colorado column (75 percent of the force), along with Fort Union soldiers and a company of New Mexican volunteers, camped out at Bernal on March 24, 1862. The plan was to launch an ambush against the Confederate army at Glorieta pass on March 25.
The first confrontation began at Cañoncito on March 26, and ended with a Union victory. A truce was called so the dead could be buried. The second conflict, known as the battle of Glorieta, ensued on March 28, 1862. During this battle, the Confederates had the clear advantage; they outgunned, outnumbered, and had position on the Union Army. After a six-hour battle, the Union Army retreated.
Again, it looked like the Confederacy was gaining the upper hand. It was a group of Norteños, led by Lt. Colonel Manuel Chavez of the New Mexico Volunteers, that dealt the crippling blow to the Texas Confederates. This group from El Norte knew the terrain and located the supply train of the Confederacy. They proceeded to descend down a 1,000 foot cliff in order to overtake, capture, and destroy all supplies and animals of the Texas regiment.
Once the Confederacy learned of this attack, they asked for a cease fire. After two days of consideration and ignored requests for reinforcements, the Confederacy began the long march back to Texas, never to return.
We will never know what the outcome of the Civil War would have been if not for the defeat of the Confederacy at Glorieta. What we do know is that this battle is not mentioned in our traditional U.S. history text books. Most American youth have no clue that the Civil War was fought in New Mexico.
The tragedy is that I am not speaking just about youth outside of New Mexico. I am relating my experience as a U.S. history teacher in New Mexico. The battle of Glorieta is in our New Mexico history books; however, it excludes the contribution of the New Mexico native volunteers, and only emphasizes the contribution of the Colorado column. It is incumbent upon our U.S. history teachers to fill in the blanks of our traditional texts in order to validate the contribution of our ancestors.
Soldiers such as Manuel Flores of La Quest (modern day Villanueva), fought alongside his three brothers at the battle of Glorieta. These four men participated in the destruction of the Confederate supply train. As a reward, they were given land on the west side where they built their modest homes.
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If you or your children would like to participate in the next phase of The Peoples History of El Norte, contact Miguel Angel at Casa de Cultura at 454-6771.
Rock Ulibarri is a local resident and educator. He may be reached at 505-440-9776.