The Civil War was a turbulent period in American history and had it not been for the military presence in New Mexico at the time, the overall outcome could’ve turned out very different.
It was over the course of three days in March 1862 when a Civil War battle out west would greatly affect the American conflict. Union defenders and Confederate troops fought in the Battle of Glorieta Pass.
“It proves that the civil war was a nationwide conflict,” said Eric Sainio, Park Ranger with the National Park Service. “It wasn’t something that just focussed in on everything east of the Mississippi.”
Glorieta Pass was the last big mountainous hurdle on the Santa Fe Trail before reaching the final destination of Santa Fe. Seizing control of the pass would’ve allowed more Confederate troops to advance north and take over places like Fort Union, thus pushing Union forces back into Colorado and leaving New Mexico vulnerable to southern control.
Fighting began on March 26 and peaked on the 28th in a bloody battle ending with the loss of nearly 50 lives for both sides.
“It was pretty well contained and that’s largely because of the constraints of Glorieta Pass itself, it’s relatively narrow pass,” added Sainio.
In the battle itself, a number of military companies from the Confederate side came from Texas while the Union was backed by a majority of companies from Colorado. With a strong military representation, the first day of fighting saw the Union successfully scattering Confederate forces and either killing or capturing groups of their soldiers. Most of the second day was spent amassing more troops for both sides, but by the third day on March 28th, that’s when the major battle began. Historians often refer to the battle as the “Gettysburg of the West”.
“So in Gettysburg obviously for the east, that was the high tide there. Here it’s also become the high tide of the Confederate invasion into New Mexico as well. It’s the furthest that they get and the closest that they get to Colorado and the gold fields, it’s the furthest that they get and the closest that they get to taking Fort Union,” said Sainio.
There’s still at least one building left of an area known as Pigeon’s Ranch near Glorieta Pass. It was a very crucial spot in the battle because the Confederates thought they had pushed the Union back, but once they learned that the Union had burned their supplies at Johnson’s Ranch south of that spot, the victory was short lived. “That meant even though the south took the battlefield itself,” added Sainio. “It lost the war because they didn’t have the supplies they needed to continue.”
With the Confederates retreating to Texas and Arizona by way of Santa Fe, the victory not only helped Union troops to secure New Mexico for eventual statehood, but ensure a victory for the north in the Civil War.