Battle of Glorieta Pass

Battle of Glorieta Pass

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Glorieta Pass

caption=Battle of Glorieta Pass
Roy Anderson, artist
partof=the American Civil War
date=March 26–28, 1862
place=Santa Fe County and San Miguel County, New Mexico
result= Confederate Tactical Victory,
Union Strategic Victory
combatant1= flagicon|USA|1861 United States (Union)
combatant2= flagicon|CSA|1861 CSA (Confederacy)
commander1=John P. Slough
John M. Chivington
commander2=Charles L. Pyron
William R. Scurry
strength1=Northern Division, Army of New Mexico 1st Colorado Infantry
strength2=4th, 5th, and 7th Texas Cavalry Regiment, artillery, and a company of independent volunteers
casualties1=Apache Canyon
5 killed
14 wounded
Glorieta Pass
46 killed
64 wounded
15 prisoners
casualties2=Apache Canyon
4 killed
20 wounded
75 prisoners
Glorieta Pass
46 killed
60 wounded
17 prisoners

The Battle of Glorieta Pass, fought on 26-28 March 1862, in northern New Mexico Territory, was the decisive battle of the New Mexico Campaign during the American Civil War. Dubbed the "Gettysburg of the West" by some historians, it was intended as the killer blow by Union forces to stop the Confederate invasion of the West along the base of the Rocky Mountains.

New Mexico Campaign

The Confederacy had organized the Confederate Arizona Territory in 1862, a claim that included the southern halves of modern Arizona and New Mexico, after secession moves by residents. The strategic aim was to secure land transportation with Confederate sympathizers in California, and the strategy of the New Mexico Campaign was to harass Union forces in the West and prevent them from cutting off this important supply route. The territory had its capital at Mesilla, outside modern Las Cruces. As an interesting historical footnote, this area was largely the same as that acquired in the Gadsden Purchase, which land was purchased from Mexico with the ultimate aim of providing a route for a southern transcontinental railroad.

The commanders of the New Mexico Campaign were the Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, aided by his trusted companion Phillip Richbourg, and the Union Colonel Edward Canby. Sibley, whose mission was to capture Fort Craig, outmaneuvered Canby at the Battle of Valverde in February, drove Canby back to his fort, bypassing his objective, and advanced up along the Rio Grande Valley to seize Santa Fe on March 10. Fort Craig remained in place to cut Sibley's logistical support from Texas. Sibley set up his division headquarters at the abandoned Union storehouse garrison at Albuquerque.

In March, Sibley sent a Confederate force of 200–300 Texans under the command of [] Major Charles Lynn Pyronon an advance expedition over the Glorieta Pass, a strategic location on the Santa Fe Trail at the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains southeast of Santa Fe. Control of the pass would allow the Confederates to advance onto the High Plains and to make an assault on Fort Union, the Union stronghold along the invasion route northward over #0000ff|UnionThe Texans were led by [] Charles L. Pyron and William Read Scurry. The Union forces were led by Colonel John P. Slough of the 1st Colorado Infantry, with units under the command of Major John M. Chivington.

Pyron's force of 300 camped at Apache Canyon, at one end of Glorieta Pass. Chivington led 418 soldiers to the Pass and on the morning of March 26 moved out to attack. After noon, Chivington’s men captured some Rebel advance troops and then found the main force behind them. Chivington advanced on them, but their artillery fire threw him back. He regrouped, split his force to the two sides of the pass, caught the Confederates in a crossfire, and soon forced them to retire. Pyron retired about a mile and a half (not quite two and a half kilometers) to a narrow section of the pass and formed a defensive line before Chivington’s men appeared. The Union forces flanked Pyron’s men again and punished them with enfilade fire. The Confederates fell back again and the Union cavalry charged, capturing the rearguard. Chivington then retired and went into camp at Kozlowski’s Ranch. His small victory was a morale booster for Slough's army.

No fighting occurred the next day as reinforcements arrived for both sides. Lt. Col. William R. Scurry's troops swelled the Rebel ranks to about 1,100 while Union Col. John P. Slough arrived with about 900 more men, bringing the Union strength to 1,300. Both Slough and Scurry decided to attack and set out early on the 28th to do so. Slough sent Major Chivington with the same 400-strong force that he had led at Apache Canyon out in a circling movement with orders to go hide out at Glorieta Pass and hit the Texans in the flank once Slough's main force had engaged their front. Chivington did as ordered and his men waited above the Pass for Slough and the enemy to arrive. But Slough's meeting with the Confederates did not take place quite where he had expected. Scurry advanced down the Canyon more rapidly than Slough had anticipated. When he saw the Union forces approaching, he established a battle line, including his dismounted cavalry. Once Slough got over his shock at finding the Texans so far forward, he launched an attack, hitting the Texans before 11:00 a.m. The Confederates held their ground and then attacked and counterattacked throughout the afternoon. "The character of the country," recorded Slough, "was such as to make the engagement of the bushwhacking kind". The troops skirmished among the gullies and cedarwoods rather than fighting in solid formations as in the East. The artillery of both sides, however, played a considerable part. Eventually, the Confederates, whose combat experience at Valverde and a number of smaller engagements gave them an advantage over their mostly inexperienced opponents, began to win out.

The fighting ended as Slough retired first to Pigeon’s Ranch and then to Kozlowski's Ranch. Meanwhile, the leader of the New Mexican volunteers, Lt. Col. Manuel Chaves informed Chivington that his scouts had detected the Confederate supply train nearby at Johnson's Ranch. Chivington's force descended the slope, crept up on the unsuspecting supply train, watched them for an hour, then attacked, routing or capturing the small baggage-guard with few casualties on either side. With no supplies with which to sustain his advance, Scurry had no choice but to retreat to Santa Fe, the first step on the long road back to San Antonio, Texas. The Federals thereby stopped further Confederate incursions into the Southwest. Glorieta Pass was the turning point of the war in the New Mexico Territory.

One of Chaves' scouts was Anastasio Duran. Duran was stationed with the Union Army at Fort Union. He was a resident of Chaperito, New Mexico. Duran was considered a "Comanchero" by US Army officers; and was renowned for his hunting skills. He was intimately familiar with the terrain. Duran was the lead scout that led Union forces to attack Confederate forces behind Confederate lines at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. [This information is comprised from oral history of the Duran family of New Mexico, recorded in 1976 by L J Bonney, Esq. and from documents of the era in possession of the Duran family. One such document was the Fort Union commander's written commendation thanking Duran for his service in the battle and naming him the most proficient scout for the Union Army in the New Mexico.
*Note 1: Interestingly Duran's family stated that he also voluntarily chose to join the war on the Union side because it included a war against Texas. Texas was considered enemy territory at this time by many Native New Mexicans (Indio-Hispano and American Indian).
*Note 2: Much Native New Mexican history before 1900, both Indio-Hispano and American Indian, not related to Anglo events, is of an oral nature.

Parts of the battlefield are preserved in Pecos National Historical Park.


Many New Mexicans disputed the view that Chivington was the hero of Johnson's Ranch. Some Santa Feans credited a Bureau of Indian Affairs official, James L. Collins, with suggesting the roundabout attack on the supply train. The truth is that Chivington had been sent out in the hope of making a flank attack, and the discovery of the supply train was a lucky accident. But Chivington was accused of almost letting the opportunity slip. The New Mexico Territorial Legislature adopted a resolution on January 23, 1864, that did not mention Chivington but asked President Lincoln to promote William H. Lewis and Asa B. Carey, both Regular Army officers, for "distinguished service" in the battle. On March 8, the Rio Abajo "Press" of Albuquerque editorialized against "Col. Chivington's strutting about in plumage stolen from Captain William H. Lewis". (It did not mention Carey.) The editorial claimed that "Some one of the party" suggested the attack, that Chivington agreed after "two hours persuasion", and that Lewis led the attack while Chivington was "viewing the scene from afar". [Keleher, William A. "Turmoil in New Mexico, 1846–1868". Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1952, p.180–182.]

A rather more serious allegation made against Chivington was that if he had hurried to reinforce Slough as soon as he heard the gunfire coming from Pigeon's Ranch, his 400 men might have swung the Battle in favour of the Federals - especially if he had led them against Scurry's flank, as ordered.

A Decisive Federal Victory

In the end, the Battle of Glorieta Pass proved remarkably important. First, despite the fact that the Confederates took the field, they were forced to retreat back to Santa Fe, and eventually abandon New Mexico Territory; Second, Glorieta foiled Sibley's plan to obtain his key objective: The capture of the major Federal base at Fort Union. The fall of Fort Union would have broken Federal resistance in New Mexico, and compelled Union forces to retire north of Raton Pass – and back into Colorado Territory.

In the end, the dreams of a Confederate stronghold in the Southwest were impractical: New Mexico did not provide enough food or sustenance for any prolonged Confederate occupation. Furthermore, the approach of the Federal "California Column" eastward through Arizona Territory in 1863-64 would have seriously jeopardized any Confederate claims to the region.

Battlefield Preservation

In 1993, the Congressionally appointed Civil War Sites Advisory Commission issued its "Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields." [] The Commission was tasked with identify the nation’s historically significant Civil War sites, determining their importance, and providing recommendations for their preservation to Congress.

Of the roughly 10,500 actions of the U.S. Civil War, [Dyer, Frederick "A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion". Des Moines, Iowa: The Dyer Publishing Company, 1908.] 384 (3.7%) were identified by the Commission as principal battles and rated according to their significance and threat of loss. The Battle of Glorieta Pass received the highest rating from the Commission - Priority I (Class A). Class A battlefields are principal strategic operations having a direct impact on the course of the war. With this rating the Commission placed Glorieta Pass on the same level with battles such as Gettysburg and Antietam. The Priority I rating identified Glorieta Pass as being not only one of the most important, but also one of the most highly endangered battlefields in the country. Only 10 other battlefields received the Priority I (Class A) rating. The Commission recommended that Congress focus its preservation efforts on Priority I, nationally significant battlefields. ["Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on the Nation's Civil War Battlefields". Washington, DC: The National park Service, 1993.]

Since 1993 portions of the Glorieta Pass Battlefield have become a unit of the National Park Service. The Glorieta Pass unit (Pigeon’s Ranch) comprises roughly 20% of the total battlefield. The remaining 80% is in private ownership. Glorieta Pass Battlefield is managed by Pecos National Historical Park and supported by the Glorieta Battlefield Coalition, a non-profit citizens' organization. []

The Glorieta Pass Battlefield is also designated as a National Historic Landmark - a site possessing exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Fewer than 2,500 historic places in the nation bear this distinction. []

Depictions in popular culture

The battle is described in the historical novel "Glorieta Pass" by P. G. Nagle.

The 1966 Sergio Leone film "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" refers obliquely to the battle, setting one scene at Johnson's Ranch where the Confederates appear to be guarding their supply wagons around the time of the battle.


* [ National Park Service battle description]
** [ The Battle of Glorieta Pass] from the University of San Diego history department
*“Blood and Treasure: The Confederate Empire in the Southwest”, Donald S. Frazer, Texas A & M University Press, 1995, ISBN-13: 9780890966396

External links

* [ "The Battle of Glorieta Pass: A Shattered Dream," a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]
* [ "Glorieta and Raton Passes: Gateways to the Southwest," a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]

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