The Sangre de Cristo mountains loom between high desert and open plains, protecting a circular valley that once housed quiet ranchlands, an important stage stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Today the land is marked with blood, the site of the Civil War’s “Gettysburg of the West,” the Battle of Glorieta Pass.
Traveler’s driving down Interstate 25 might notice a dirt drive housing a hand-painted red, white, and blue memorial, covered in eclectic messages.
In the agony of a nation at war with itself, the Confederate invasion of New Mexico Territory in 1862 was a relatively minor drama. The Rebels dreamed of access to the Santa Fe Trail and the treasure-filled gold mines of California and Colorado. They dreamed of changing the course of the terrible war, of turning the tide in the South’s favor, and fulfilling their own personal manifest destinies of a mighty Confederate nation bounded on both sides by pure ocean waters. The Union Army, however, had other plans.
On the morning of March 26, 1862, a group of exhausted Union volunteers from Colorado left Camp Lewis on a reconnaissance mission to scope out the location and size of the Confederate forces, a rowdy cadre of Texans. They found them at Glorieta Pass, armed and ready with short swords and Colt Navy pistols. The battle was swift and vicious. In this most westernmost campaign of the entire Civil War, 4,000 Union and 3,000 Confederate soldiers engaged in combat, with the Confederacy winning tactical victories with every major battle but still returning to Texas empty-handed, defeated by the harsh New Mexican countryside and the Union’s determined people. More than 280 men died at Glorieta with their dreams, making the battle the central event that shattered the western dreams of the Confederate States of America.
Three days over this weekend, Pecos National Historical Park will host a Civil War extravaganza, meant to commemorate the bloody battle, 146 years to the week after the event. A three-dollar entrance fee for persons over the age of 16 allows one to experience the sights, sounds, and memories of the war’s biggest New Mexico battle. The weekend begins 9:30 a.m. Friday, with a Battlefield Clean-Up. Volunteers will meet at Kozlowski’s Trading Post, where transportation will be provided to the battlefield. Helpers are asked to bring work gloves if they have them.
Civil War re-enactors from the First Colorado Volunteer Infantry, the Artillery Company of New Mexico, and the 1st Louisiana Special Battalion will speak on the grueling, deadly life and times of Civil War soldiers both Saturday and Sunday. Both Union and Confederate re-enactments will occur. The realistic plays will be interspersed by black powder demonstrations where weapons from the time period will be displayed and discharged.
Several experts will provide research, information, and discussion on the war, its place in our country’s history, its impact on New Mexico landscape and populations. Local author Don Alberts will speak about the Glorieta Battlefield Unit of Pecos National Park. Park volunteer Bob Mallin will speak about Civil War surgery. Local author Jim Taylor from New Mexico will speak about the history of the Civil War in the Southwest.
Two hour van tours of the Battle of Glorieta Pass will be available all weekend. Advanced reservations are encouraged for these tours, which cost two dollars per person. Vans will skirt the battlefield, as tour guides point out and discuss landmarks and locations.
For more information, schedule, or to schedule a van tour, please call the Pecos National Historical Park at 505-757-7241. Page 3 of this issue lists a detailed schedule of events for the civil war weekend.