The Battle of Glorieta Pass

On Saturday, March 22, 1862, Colorado Militia Colonel John Potts Slough led his troops out of Fort Union to meet the Texan Confederate army that had seized Santa Fe twelve days earlier—the same day Slough and his Colorado Militia, or Pike’s Peakers, had arrived at Fort Union. The irascible and rather arrogant Slough, who’d virtually seized command of the Fort when he arrived, had about 1500 men at his disposal, a combination of Pike’s Peakers, New Mexico Militia, and Army infantry and cavalry.

On Sunday, Slough’s Union forces camped overnight at Las Vegas, then on Monday swung west  toward Santa Fe. Tuesday was another day of slowly moving forward and into the mountains. Santa Fe must have seemed a long way away, especially to the Colorado militiamen, who’d already trekked over 300 miles from Denver to Fort Union.

But then on Wednesday, Union scouts clashed with a small Confederate force in Apache Canyon, at the west end of Glorieta Pass and less than twenty miles from Santa Fe.

Both sides pulled back. The Confederates—about 200 men under Major Charles L. Pyron—headed to Johnson’s Ranch at Canoncito, where they were joined by the main Confederate force, which had just arrived via a trail through the mountains north east of Albuquerque.

march 26 illustration

The Union men moved to Kozlowski’s ranch, at the eastern end of the Pass. When the rest of Slough’s forces joined them on Friday morning, everything went into high gear.

Most of Slough’s men headed on into the Pass. But Colonel Manuel Antonio Chaves, of the New Mexico First Infantry, led Major John M. Chivington and 530 men (New Mexico Militia, two Pike’s Peakers infantry columns, and a detachment of Third U.S. Cavalry) into the mountains south of the Pass. Their goal was to circle south and west around the Confederates and hit them from behind while the main body met the Texans head on.

And the Union and Confederate troops did meet head on, at Pigeon’s Ranch, a trail hostelry in the middle of the Pass owned by Frenchman Alexander Valle. It was a hard-fought, all-day battle between evenly-matched combatants. When the fighting ground to a halt late in the day, the two sides agreed to a truce so they could tend their wounded and dying. But both sides saw the break in fighting as temporary. They were confident they’d ultimately win the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

Until that evening, when news arrived from the western end of the Pass.

Instead of Confederate troops, Colonel Chavez and Major Chivington had found a weakly-defended supply train. Chivington ordered his men down from the bluffs above the camp and set them to attacking, pillaging, and then burning the Texan wagons and everything they contained: food, clothing, equipment, ammunition, and medical supplies.

The Confederates had stationed the majority of their horses and mules with the train—as many of 500 animals. Chivington ordered his men to destroy them, as well. It’s not clear what actually happened to all the animals in question, though. At least some were driven off into the mountains and presumably into the hands of citizens for whom they were more useful alive than dead.

Wherever the Confederate livestock ended up, they certainly weren’t going to help the Texans. With their supplies, wagons, and animals gone, Sibley’s men forfeited the Battle of Glorieta Pass and beat a retreat for Santa Fe and, ultimately, Texas.

Most of the Coloradans headed home, too, although at least one of them returned a few years later. In 1865, John Potts Slough was named chief justice of the New Mexico Territorial Court.

Although Slough was an able judge—he would announce the 1867 legal decision that declared Pueblo Indians to be United States citizens—Slough was still as thin-skinned and greedy for honor and position as he’d been five years before. His furious response to New Mexico legislative political intrigues and Capt. William L. Rynerson’s role in them culminated in a December 1867 shootout in what is now Santa Fe’s La Fonda Hotel. Slough died as a result.

At the ensuing trial, Rynerson was found to have drawn his gun in self-defense.

It’s likely Slough would have insisted on a different opinion.

 

Sources: Howard Bryan, Wildest of the Wild West, Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishing, 1988; David L. Caffey, Chasing the Santa Fe Ring, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 2014; Jacqueline D. Meketa, Louis Felsenthal, Citizen-Soldier of Territorial New Mexico, Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1982; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts & Trails: A guide to New Mexico’s past. Albuquerque: UNM Press, 1994; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia¸ Albuquerque: UNM Press, 2015; Ralph Emerson Twitchell, The Leading Facts of New Mexico History, Vol. II. Cedar Rapid: Torch Press, 1912; https://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=125 Accessed 1/10/19

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