On Friday, February 21, 1862, the Army of the Confederate States of America once again won a battle in New Mexico, their third in a row.
The conflict took place at the Valverde Ford of the Río Grande, and was a decisive victory for the Texan Confederates. Under former Fort Union commander Henry Hopkins Sibley, they moved north, occupying Socorro, Albuquerque, then Santa Fe, en route to their ultimate destination, Colorado’s gold and silver mines. They were on track to replenish the Confederacy’s coffers, then swing west to California and its unblockaded coast.
They never made it. In late March, the Confederates were stopped at Glorieta Pass by Union troops and the scouting skills of New Mexico’s Manuel Antonio Chavez y Garcia de Noriega.
But at Valverde, the Confederates reigned. When Union soldiers attempted to cross the river, the Texans opened fire, killing New Mexico volunteers who were armed with outdated single-shot muskets. The victory was decisive.
However, the New Mexicans did capture over 200 of the enemy’s horses and mules. This loss forced the Confederates to discard some of their wagons and supplies. When additional animals and goods were destroyed during the conflict at Glorieta Pass, all hope of reaching Colorado collapsed. The Confederates were forced to turn south for home.
During that retreat, even more supplies would be left behind as the remaining horses and mules died in the harsh conditions. Men perished as well, some of them only half-buried in the rocky soil of New Mexico’s Magdalena Mountains. The Texans would lose a full third of their men to capture or death before they reached home.
Which only goes to show that even a series of initial victories does not guarantee a successful campaign. And that even small losses can lead to catastrophe.
For a fictional telling of the Confederate story in New Mexico, I recommend Jennifer Bohnhoff’s excellent middle-grade Rebels of the Rio Grande novels. The first of the series, which deals with the events at Valverde, is available here. This book, with a map similar to the one above, will be re-released as When Duty Calls this June by Kinkajou Press.
Sources: Jacqueline Dorgan Meketa, Louis Felsenthal, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1982; Francois-Marie Patorni, The French in New Mexico, French in America Press, Santa Fe, 2020; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2015.