At long last, the New Mexico Volunteers will be recognized for the critical role they played at the Battle of Glorieta Pass during the Civil War.
On Saturday, March 24, Pecos National Historical Park will host its annual Civil War Encampment, both to educate people about the significance of the battle and give them a glimpse into the past.
The schedule includes the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the New Mexico Volunteers, which will be moved later to a location between two existing monuments: One commemorates the Colorado volunteers, on the Union side, and the other the Confederate Texas volunteers. The site is on N.M. 50 a few miles northwest of the park visitor center.
The event is held on the last Saturday of March each year, close to the anniversary dates of the battle, which took place March 26-28, 1862.
For many, the monument commemorating the New Mexico Volunteers is long overdue.
“We know that the New Mexico Volunteers fought beside the Union regulars. It appears that the New Mexico Regulars had been left out,” said Karl Cordova, superintendent at Pecos National Historical Park.
Not on purpose. Cordova said the National Park Service purchased the strip of land upon which the existing monuments are located in the 1990s. By then, the markers were already there.
A red granite monument inserted into a boulder memorializes the Texas Mounted Volunteers under Henry Hopkins Sibley, “who died in service at Glorieta Pass.” The monument was installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1939. It’s the only Confederate memorial in the general Santa Fe area and has not attracted the controversy attached to Confederate statues in the South.
A standalone red granite monument honoring the First Colorado Volunteers, “who saved the Union in Northern New Mexico,” was “erected by the people of Colorado” in 1993.
Soon, thanks to the efforts of The Friends of Pecos National Historical Park, the two markers will flank a memorial to the soldiers who really did the saving – a bit of a ragtag group of mostly Hispanic men under the leadership of Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Chaves.
Cordova said the Friends had to get a waiver to place the monument on what is now part of the park’s Glorieta Unit, a section separated from the nearby ruins of Pecos Pueblo and an old Spanish mission, where the visitors center is located.
“It’s National Park Service policy that we don’t allow monuments and memorials to pop up without review,” Cordova said, adding that the new plaque passed the vetting process. “We think it’s really important that people in northern New Mexico know that a Civil War battle was fought in their own backyard.”
Contacted by the Journal, Bill Zunkel, president of the Friends group, referred questions to the Park Service.
There are a couple other sites where the New Mexico Volunteers are commemorated. A few miles south of the historic park near Mile Marker 295 on the northbound side of Interstate 25, former district attorney Alfonso Sanchez years ago built a makeshift memorial on property he owns. But Sanchez is an elderly man now and his handmade memorial has fallen victim to the elements. Few speeding by even know it’s there.
Another one is smack dab in the middle of Santa Fe’s historic Plaza, about 20 miles as the crow flies northeast of the Glorieta battlefield, although it doesn’t cite the Volunteers by name. The Plaza’s centerpiece obelisk was erected in 1868 to honor “the heros of the federal Army who fell in battles of Canon del Apache and Pigeon’s Ranch,” referring to skirmishes during the Battle of Glorieta Pass.
The obelisk, on one panel, also controversially commemorates U.S. soldiers killed in the Indian Wars.
Help in the Legislature
State Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, helped start the process of making the new marker possible. In 2015, he sponsored a House memorial calling on New Mexico’s congressional delegation to seek approval for The Friends of Pecos National Historical Park to obtain a waiver from the Park Service to erect a monument recognizing the New Mexico Volunteers. He had been approached by the Friends group and heard support for it from some of his constituents.
“I just thought that the Hispanics should be honored as much as the Colorado soldiers and the Texas soldiers,” he said. “They made up the main forces, and when the war was over, everyone got out of there except the Hispanics.”
During this year’s legislative session, Trujillo also sought $50,000 for a bust of Lt. Col. Chaves, who led the New Mexico Volunteers at Glorieta. Though approved by the Legislature, Gov. Susana Martinez cut it out of a broader infrastructure bill with a line-item veto, saying the money would be better spent on schools and law enforcement.
Concerns have been raised about Chaves’ legacy. Though he was a hero at Glorieta, he also participated in bloody battles against Native American tribes, including leading 450 volunteers in a retaliatory campaign against the Navajo in what is now northwest New Mexico.
But Chaves will still be honored at Pecos National Historical Park. A Park Service news release says the new bronze plaque, affixed to a stone monument, will commemorate “Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Chaves and the contingent of New Mexico volunteers” who fought on the Union side in the decisive battle.
Trujillo said his motivation for proposing both the bust and in seeking help to erect a monument at Glorieta was not only to honor the New Mexico soldiers but to enhance tourism.
“This idea came up from the Friends, and I thought it would generate tourist traffic,” he said, noting that the city of Santa Fe is working to upgrade its airport for better visitor access. “A lot of people are interested in the Civil War and like to visit battlegrounds. I’m trying to build tourism in Santa Fe, where people are staying in our hotels, eating at our restaurants and shopping in our stores.”
It’s true that many people, even so-called Civil War buffs, still don’t know that the Land of Enchantment was a battleground during the war and just how pivotal the Battle of Glorieta Pass really was.
In 1993, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission judged the historical significance of 10,500 Civil War engagements. Glorieta was rated in the top 4 percent as a Class A battlefield. The designation was based in part on “having a decisive influence on a campaign and direct impact on the course of the war.”
Trujillo’s 2015 New Mexico Memorial details the events leading up to the battle. The South had a plan: Send Texas Confederate forces through New Mexico to Colorado and California to capture silver and gold mines to help finance the war effort, and to seize sorely needed seaports on the West Coast.
Sibley led 2,600 troops into the territory, winning the Battle of Valverde near Fort Craig south of Socorro, then capturing that city, Albuquerque and Santa Fe en route to Fort Union north of Las Vegas, N.M., where they hoped to overwhelm a Union vanguard and confiscate supplies.
In anticipation of the Texas intrusion into New Mexico Territory, Gov. Henry Connelly issued a call for citizens to take up arms in defense of their “homes, firesides and families.” According to “The Battle of Glorieta Pass” by John Taylor, by January 1862, some 4,000 volunteers in northern New Mexico had responded. While the local Hispanics and 1,200 Union regulars led by Col. Edward Richard Sprigg Canby made for an awkward alliance, the New Mexicans tipped the scales, both in numbers and on the battlefield.
While history books detailing the battle are filled with the names of Anglo leaders – like Sibley, Scurry, Pyron and Shropshire on the Confederate side, and Canby, Chivington, Slough and Tappan of the Union – Hispanic surnames rarely come up. Lost are the heroic efforts of Santa Fe native Rafael Chacon, who distinguished himself fighting under former territorial Gov. Manual Armijo; renowned comanchero Anastacio Duran, from Chaperito, who was a lead scout in the battle; and Chaves, who played a key role in saving northern New Mexico, and Colorado, from the Texans.
The decisive blow in the battle was set up when the Confederate forces went out to meet the Federal troops, leaving behind a supply train of 60 to 80 wagons filled with food, blankets and medical supplies at Johnson’s Ranch.
Familiar with the territory, Chaves led Major John Chivington – the “Fighting Parson” who two years later led a massacre at a Cheyenne settlement at Sand Creek in eastern Colorado – and the Colorado Volunteers around the west edge of Glorieta Mesa undetected. They overwhelmed the lightly guarded supply train and burned the wagons. The Texans had little choice but to abandon the campaign and head back to the Lone Star State.
“The importance and significance of this battle cannot be overstated, as the ultimate outcome helped hold the union together and assured its survival in what we now know as the United States of America,” the House memorial says.
The actual battlefield is a few miles removed from where the encampment will be located during the events on March 24. It’s a short drive away, and visitors will be able to tour the site along two miles of paved walkway, the route dotted with wayside interpretive signs that tell the story of the battle.
For those unable to attend the encampment, the battle site, normally behind locked gates, is open daily, but visitors must stop at the visitors center to pick up a key. The park also hosts tours of the site on Saturdays, led by a park ranger or volunteer.
“They can take a van tour and go to different locations and hear the entire story of the battle,” Superintendent Cordova said. “It’s intimate and full of lots of information.”
But visitors may get a better visual by attending the Civil War Encampment. Cordova said a platoon or two of “living historians” – outfitted in soldier uniforms and using only the equipment and furnishings available to soldiers during that period – will set up camp and will be available to talk about what life was like during the war. Some of them come from Fort Union National Monument, about an hour up the highway at Watrous. Others are based in Fort Collins, Colo., and are mostly made up of high school kids, which Cordova said is appropriatebecause many of the soldiers who fought in the battle were about that age.
While there will be no battle re-enactment, there will be two black powder demonstrations – one signaling the start of activities at 10 a.m. and another at the finish, beginning at 2 p.m.
“That’s always a big hit. People love to hear the big cannon go off,” he said, adding that visitors will also have the opportunity to examine replica muskets used by the soldiers and see them fired.
Cordova said there are a few events scheduled especially for children.
“Over the years, we’ve really tried to make this available to families,” he said.
The kids’ activities begin at 10 a.m., with opportunities to decorate husk dolls, paint quilt squares or play Civil War era games.
From 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., kids, and adults, can take horse-drawn wagon rides around the grounds of the Forked Lightning Ranch, where Union soldiers camped during the battle.
The plaque unveiling is scheduled for 11 a.m. That will be followed by a lecture on Civil War era medicine by Bob Mallin, a war veteran, historian and surgeon. Another lecture titled “Civil War in the Southwest” will be presented by Alwyn Barr, a history professor at Texas Tech University.
As always, there is no charge to visit Pecos National Historical Park.