Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Battle of Valverde, New Mexico


When the Southern states seceded the area which now makes up New Mexico and Arizona was organized into a territory called New Mexico territory. The settlers of Southern New Mexico wanted to join the Confederacy, and they assembled in several secession conventions, and began forming into militia companies. On August 1st, 1861 the Confederate government had established what was called the Territory of Arizona, which contained the southern halves of what is now Arizona and New Mexico.


Brigader General Henry H. Sibley, a West Pointer who had followed his state Louisiana and left the army, prepared an idea for a New Mexico Campaign. He planned to begin by capturing Nevada and Sante Fe, seize Colorado Territory and the forts in the area, and then turn to capture Nevada and California. This would give the Confederacy access to the large amounts of gold in the area, which would help finance the war effort. Sibley gathered an army of 2,510 men, and marched towards Fort Craig. There were 3,800 Union troops under Edward Canby at Fort Craig. 1,200 of these were seasoned troops, the rest were volunteers. Sibley did not think a direct assault would be successful, so he formed his brigade south of the fort in an attempt to lure Canby to attack him.


After waiting for three days Sibley decided to move out, since they were low on supplies, and cut the fort's line of communications with Santa Fe. However, Canby beat him to the Valverde ford of the Rio Grande. Sibley turned over his command to Colonel Tom Green because of illness. Some skirmishing occurred throughout the day as each force waited for all their troops to come up. One Confederate lancer company charged what was thought to be a weak volunteer company. However, it was a company from Colorado, which was able to break the charge, killing twenty lancers and almost all their horses. This was the only lancer charge of the Civil War.
Battle Map
At 4 pm Canby decided to attack the Confederate left. In moving troops to prepare for this, he weakened his center. Green launched a failed attack on the Union right. Then he had 7,050 strike their center. The Southerners fought desperately, as they were very thirsty and the Unions stood between them and water. They were successful, and broke the line and resisted a cavalry counterattack. They continued to advance, capturing six cannons, and breaking Canby's line. After a truce to remove the dead and wounded, Canby was able to reorganize his men enough to retreat back to Fort Craig, having been badly defeated.
Fort Craig Today
The casualties of the battle are not certain, being at least 140 for the Confederates and 260 for the Federals. Sibley decided not to attack the strong fort and instead marched on Santa Fe. Canby did not pursue, instead remaining at the fort to prevent the Confederates from receiving supplies. They moved north, capturing Albuquerque and Santa Fe. However, as we will see, this would turn out to be the high point of the New Mexico campaign.


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