Part II – Battle of Glorieta Pass
A view of Pigeon's Ranch (final Union position during battle of Glorieta Pass)
from Sharpshooter's Ridge, just north of the ranch; photo taken in 1990
Today in Military History: March 26-28, 1862
Prelude to Battle
Col. John Slough (1829-1867), 1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry
Federal Officer Commanding, Battle of Glorieta Pass
The Colorado Volunteer Infantry force left Denver in late February, marching nearly 400 miles in 14 days. One Colorado chronicler stated that horses and mules were dying in their harness, causing wagons transporting soldiers to be abandoned. They began arriving at Ft. Union on March 10, hoping for some extended rest and food. However, their commander Col. John Slough (rhymes with "plow") told the fort's commander that tents and supper were not necessary for his men, claiming they were "old mountaineers [mountain men?] and were accustomed to all kinds of hardship and privations." This did not sit well with the men, with one Coloradan complaining in his memoirs, "We were compelled to lie out all night, exposed to a severe, cold March wind, without a mouthful to eat." Because the exhausted volunteers complained about the conditions, each company was issued three gallons of whiskey.
Major John Chivington, (1821-1894)
1st Colorado Volunteer Infantry
Col. Slough's second in command was Major John Chivington, a former Methodist minister with a warlike demeanor. When the 1st Colorado Volunteer Regiment was organizing, the territorial governor of Colorado had offered Chivington the position of regimental chaplain. Chivington turned it down – saying he wanted to fight – and instead received a major's commission.
On March 22, Col. Slough – who had assumed command of the troops at Ft. Union – defied a direct order from Col. Canby and left the fort in search of the invading Confederates. Maj. Chivington was ordered to travel down the Santa Fe Trail, to probe west and south in an attempt to contact the Rebel forces. After a three-day march, Chivington's force made camp at Martin Kozlowski's ranch, one of several stage stops on the Santa Fe Trail leading westward. Chivington had under his command three infantry companies and a mounted company of the 1st Colorado Volunteers and a detachment of cavalry from the 1st and 3rd U.S. Cavalry regiments, mustering some 418 men.
At about the same time, Rebel Gen. Sibley was still sitting in the abandoned Union storehouse in Albuquerque, sending foraging parties out trying to gather supplies and horses. He finally decided to launch an attack towards Ft. Union. Sibley ordered a detachment of Confederates to travel along the Santa Fe Trail to take control of Glorieta Pass. Control of the pass would allow the Confederates to advance onto the High Plains and to make an assault on Ft. Union. The vanguard of this Confederate movement was assigned to Major Charles Pyron had his battalion of the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles, four companies of the 5th Texas Mounted Rifles under Maj. John Shropshire, and two 6-pound cannons, a force totaling about 300 men.
Phase I: Battle of Apache Canyon, Wednesday March 26, 1862
Map of New Mexico Territory, c. 1861
(Glorieta Pass is located under the "s" in "Santa Fe")
It was one of the great coincidences of warfare that both Federal and Confederate commanders selected the same time and place to move troops forward, looking for a fight. Major Pyron had set up camp at Anthony P. Johnson's ranch, another Santa Fe Trail stage stop and just nine miles away from the Union encampment. Pyron sent 4 of his men forward to Pigeon's Ranch at the eastern entrance to Glorieta Pass, hoping they would give him sufficient warning of approaching Union forces.
At 2:00 am on March 26, Maj. Chivington sent 20 scouts forward to capture any Rebel pickets they might find, hoping to gain intelligence of the enemy's location and to deprive him of warning of the approach of Union forces. Chivington's scouts were successful, taking all four men prisoner; unfortunately, they could not (or would not) provide any insight into the exact location of Pyron's men. Probably around late morning, the Union force left Kozlowski's Ranch and headed west through Glorieta Pass. Coincidentally, Rebel forces left their camp at Johnson's Ranch at about noon, heading east.
At about 2:30 pm, the two forces ran into each other, both likely as surprised to encounter the other. Pyron soon had his six-pounders set up and firing at the Union troops, then put his dismounted men into line. Though Chivington had no artillery, he enjoyed superior numbers. In an attempt to get a position above the Texans, he deployed some of his men up each side of the canyon, above the elevated range of the artillery, from where they fired down on the Confederates and enfiladed their flanks. The rough terrain and trees helped to render the artillery ineffective.
After about an hour, the Confederates realized they were going to be outflanked, so Pyron ordered a retreat of about a mile-and-a-half, the Confederates set up another battle line, hope to delay the Union further. As they fell back the Rebels destroyed a small bridge over a chasm, hoping it would stop the Union pursuit. A company of 103 mounted Colorado Volunteers was ordered to jump their horses across the sixteen-foot chasm, and all but one made it. The Federals continued to outflank their enemy on the canyon walls. After another hour or so, Maj. Pyron realized he was getting the worst of the fighting, so he ordered his command to retreat. During the resulting pursuit, some 71 Texans were captured by Chivington's men. As sunset approached, a truce was arranged so both sides could recover the wounded and bury their dead. Maj. Chivington reported his casualties as 5 dead and 14 wounded, and stated that the Confederates had suffered 32 killed, 43 wounded and the 71 prisoners mentioned above. As the sun was setting, Chivington and his command set up camp at Pigeon's Ranch for the night, and in the morning the Federals pulled back to Kozlowski's Ranch.
Phase II: Reinforcements, Thursday March 27, 1862
No fighting took place on this day, as both sides received reinforcements. Col. Slough and his remaining men joined Chivington's men at Kozlowski's Ranch. After receiving Chivington's report of the previous day's fight, Slough was determined to push forward and attack the Confederates in Santa Fe. He hoped, once Col. Sibley and his forces still holed up in Ft. Craig received information about the Apache Canyon fight, he could trap the invading Texans between their two forces. [Sibley had by this time been promoted to brigadier general, and he had no intention of leaving Ft. Craig without a reasonable expectation of defeating the Rebels.]
Lt. Colonel William Scurry, CSA (1821-1864)
Confederate Officer Commanding, Battle of Glorieta Pass
To the west, Lt. Col. Scurry brought the remainder of his forces to join Maj. Pryon's men. Both the Federals and the Rebels expected the other to attack that day. In anticipation of a Union assault, Scurry ordered his men to dig rifle pits. Finally, on the morning of the 28th, Scurry decided to move forward and attack the Union force. He took about 1000 men and three artillery pieces with him.
At the same time, Union Col. Slough led 900 of his men and 8 artillery pieces down the Santa Fe Trail, through Glorieta Pass and toward Johnson's Ranch to contact the main Confederate force. In addition, he assigned Maj. Chivington 430 men to take a back road over Glorieta Mesa to attempt to take the Rebels in the rear. Chivington's command consisted of two companies of the 5th U.S. Infantry, a company of the 1st Colorado Volunteers, an independent company of Colorado volunteers, and a detachment of New Mexico Volunteers.
Col. Slough's main force – under the field command of Lt. Col. Samuel Tappan – was comprised of five companies of the 1st Colorado Volunteers and two batteries of artillery. In reserve were a company and an additional detachment of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry, and the mounted company of the 1st Colorado Volunteers.
Col. Scurry's force consisted of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 7th Texas Mounted Rifles, 3 independent units – the Arizona Rangers (Confederate sympathizers in New Mexico, the "Brigands" (described in one source as a collection of Santa Fe gamblers), and the "San Elizario Spy Company (probably scouts) – as well as an artillery battery of 3 cannons, with the fourth one left behind at Johnson's Ranch with a small guard detail.
Phase III: Battle of Glorieta Pass, Friday March 28, 1862
Battle of Glorieta Pass, March 28, 1862
(The map's north-south axis is from the upper right to lower left corner)
Col. Slough had moved his small army from Kozlowski's stage stop to Pigeon's Ranch. At about 11:00 am, scouts reported that the Texans were fast approaching. Lt. Col. Tappan moved his men forward and quickly arranged a battle line about a half mile northwest of Pigeon's Ranch. Tappan's Colorado Volunteers and the two batteries were arrayed across the trail, absorbing several attacks from the Rebels. After about a half hour, the dismounted Confederates began to outflank the Coloradans, causing them to pull back to a position closer to Pigeon Ranch. Slough reformed his men, with four companies under Tappan and an artillery battery on a hill to the left, the other battery supported by two companies in the center across the road, and the other two companies on the ridge to the right.
The dismounted Texans had become greatly intermixed because of the rocky, forested terrain in Glorieta Pass. As the Confederates reformed, their right was under control of Maj. Pyron of the 2nd Texas, with the left under Maj. Henry Raguet of the 4th Texas. As these two units kept up the pressure on the Coloradans, Maj. Shropshire's 5th Texas men were moving behind Pyron's soldiers, seeking to outflank the Union left. As Shropshire's men moved around the Federal left, Col. Slough ordered his line to fall back again. The Union force reformed with Pigeon's Ranch at its center around 4:00 pm.
Pigeon's Ranch, Santa Fe Trail Stage Stop; Photograph taken in 1880
(Illustration courtesy of National Park Service, Department of the Interior
Scurry then launched a three pronged attack on the Union line: Pyron and Raguet were ordered to attack the Union right, Shropshire the Union left, with the remainder of the Confederate force under himself attacking the Union center, supported by the artillery. The attack on the Union left was routed, with Shropshire killed, the attack in the center stalled, while the artillery was forced to withdraw after one cannon was disabled and a limber destroyed.
At around 5:00 P.M., the Confederates managed to outflank the Union right, but Raguet was mortally wounded. From the ridge (known after the battle as "Sharpshooters Ridge"), the Confederates started to pick off the artillerymen and infantry below them, while Scurry started to press the Union center again. This made the Union position untenable, forcing Slough to order a retreat; Tappan organized the companies on the left flank into a rear guard. Slough then reformed his line a half mile east of Pigeon's Ranch, where both sides skirmished until dusk. Slough retreated back to Kozlowski's Ranch, leaving Scurry in possession of the field.
However, the one event which truly determined the outcome of the entire New Mexico Campaign was taking place at Johnson's Ranch. Maj. Sibley and his force had found the Rebel supply train. After watching them for an hour, Chivington's force descended the slope and attacked, routing or capturing the small baggage-guard with few casualties on either side. They then looted and set afire 80 supply wagons and spiked the cannon, and either killed or drove off five hundred horses and mules before returning to Kozlowski's Ranch.
Union casualties from both battle totaled 51 killed, 78 wounded, 15 captured, and 3 missing. Rebel casualties were listed as 50 killed, 82 wounded, and 92 captured. The victorious Confederates were now bereft of any supplies with which to sustain their advance. Scurry had no choice but to retreat to Santa Fe, the first step on the long road back to Texas. The Federals thereby stopped further Confederate incursions into the Southwest.
Footnote #1: The New Mexico Volunteer Infantry regiments contained a large number of companies composed of Hispanic members. Many of these men spoke no English, so their Anglo officers commonly employed interpreters to issue commands. Though some of these units performed admirably during the New Mexico Campaign, they were not given a great deal of credit by their Anglo U.S. officers. In January of 1862, 28 men from the 2nd New Mexico Volunteers deserted because of no pay. But these men were the exception.
Footnote #2: Confederate Gen. Sibley – who prior to the war had invented an Army tent and stove – had served in the 3rd U.S. Cavalry before the Civil War.
Footnote #3: Gen. Sibley makes a brief appearance in the 1966 Sergio Leone western, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." At approximately the 42 minute point, Gen. Sibley passes the camera riding in a supply wagon.
Footnote #4: After the end of the war, William Slough was appointed Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. He did his job too well and too abrasively. In 1867, William Rynerson, a member of the Territorial Legislative Council, took part in a campaign to remove the judge, leading Slough to slander Rynerson publicly. The next day, Rynerson drew a gun on the judge in Santa Fe and said, "Take it back." Slough exclaimed, "Shoot and be damned!" and Rynerson fired. Mortally wounded, Slough drew a derringer but was unable to fire. He died a day later. At his trial Rynerson was found not guilty by self-defense.
Footnote #5: Major Chivington was later promoted to command the 1st Colorado Volunteers. Two years later, he was involved in the infamous Sand Creek massacre. [I will post on that subject at a later date.]
Footnote #6: A re-enactment of this conflict occurred last weekend at the Pecos National Historical Park in New Mexico, which encompasses the area of the battlefield.