American Civil War Reaches New Mexico

On Wednesday, December 4, 1861, Governor Henry Connelly issued his first proclamation as New Mexico’s governor. Ironically, his message came almost exactly fifteen years after he’d been arrested south of Mesilla by Mexican authorities and taken to Chihuahua.

In 1846, Connelly has been suspected of being part of the invading American Army, which was sweeping south across New Mexico, en route to the Sonora desert, California, and possession of the entire continent.

Now, in 1861, Connelly’s proclamation warned of another invasion, this one moving north from the Mesilla area into the rest of New Mexico. This time, the invasion was from Texas, which had recently joined the Confederate States of America. The Governor’s proclamation called for volunteers to fight the invading forces.

Near Mesilla, at Fort Bliss, the former commander of New Mexico’s Fort Union, Confederate General Henry H. Sibley, was preparing his own proclamation to the citizens of New Mexico. It was addressed to his “old comrades in arms” and declared that his troops’ goal was to free New Mexicans from the “yoke of military despotism.”

But the thought of Texas trying yet again to invade New Mexico, as they had in 1841, swayed the Territory’s citizens more powerfully than Sibley’s reminder that they lived under a rule enforced from Washington DC.

Governor Connelly’s rhetoric was more convincing. “The enemy is Texas and the Texans,” he declared. That was enough for New Mexico’s citizens. The Territory raised five regiments of volunteers and one of militia, as well as three independent militia companies and four independent cavalry companies with three-month enlistments. In all, 3,500 New Mexicans fought for the Union—and against Texas—in the War Between the States.

Sources:  Rubén Sálaz Márquez, New Mexico, a brief multi-history, Cosmic House, Albuquerque, 1999; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015.

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