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Legislation calls for plan for new Civil War memorial

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

GLORIETA – There’s finally a historical marker commemorating the key role that New Mexico Civil War volunteers played in the Union’s victory at the crucial Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862.

The bronze plaque was posted several months ago on a vertical stone slab off N.M. 50, a few miles northwest of the visitors’ center at Pecos National Historical Park, which includes a large section of the battlefield.

Beneath American and New Mexico flags with crossed staffs, the plaque reads: “In memory and honor of a contingent of New Mexico Volunteers who fought alongside Union Regulars and Colorado Volunteers and spearheaded a Union flanking movement at the Battle of Glorieta Pass that ultimately caused the Confederate forces to retreat to Texas, thereby giving up on their effort to annex the entire West and parts of northern Mexico to the South.”

The new marker, resulting from efforts by The Friends of Pecos National Historical Park, with help from state funding obtained by state Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, is part of a set of three.

This plaque was installed at Pecos National Historical Park last year to honor the New Mexico Volunteers who fought at the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Before the park owned the site, a red granite memorial was placed there by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1939 to memorialize Texas volunteers who fought at Glorieta Pass for the Confederacy. Another slab honors the First Colorado Volunteers “who saved the Union in Northern New Mexico,” erected in 1993.

But now there’s talk of another Civil War memorial at Glorieta Pass.

State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has introduced a measure at the Legislature that would create a task force “to plan the development of an American Civil War memorial to be placed at the Glorieta pass battle site” and make recommendations before next year’s legislative session.

It turns out that Lopez’s measure is aimed at another location, a few miles south of the national historical park at a pullout off Interstate 25’s northbound lanes, according to a backer of the proposal. Years ago, Alfonso Sanchez, a lawyer and former local district attorney, built his own makeshift memorial to the 1862 battle there, a handmade tribute to the “Gettysburg of the West” that has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

Ralph Arellanes, chair of the state Hispano Roundtable, is a supporter of the Lopez’s Senate Joint Memorial 5, and helped write it. “It’s the right thing to do to honor our Civil War soldiers,” he said.

He said the old Alfonso Sanchez site has parking and electricity. Issues of cost and the safety of vehicles pulling on and off I-25 at what’s now not an official exit or rest stop would be considered in the task force study, he said.

And, Arellanes said, “it would pay for itself over time as a historical and tourist attraction.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the country has no knowledge that New Mexico played a significant role in the Civil War,” Arellanes said. “Most people in the state don’t even know it.”

He said “something more significant” is needed to mark the battle and the service of the New Mexico Volunteers, mostly Hispanic men who were led by Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Chaves.

But Andres Romero, vice president of the friends of the Pecos historical park group, said there’s no need for another memorial now that the plaque honoring the New Mexico soldiers is up on the battlefield in the park.

Various items are included in a makeshift Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass memorial off Interstate 25 that has deteriorated in recent years.

The completion of the set of stone markers, with the one honoring New Mexico Volunteers in the middle, means the creation of a memorial has been accomplished, he said.

“It’s simple and where it should be,” Romero said, and not at the I-25 site, near where Confederate soldiers were buried.

He called the legislative proposal “duplication.”

And Romero said it’s difficult to get a waiver to rules against new memorials on National Park Service sites like the Pecos park.

The nearly 17-acre I-25 site is not now in the park. It was acquired in 2014 by the American Battlefield Trust, a charitable group based in Washington, D.C., and dedicated to preserving battlefield land around the country, according to spokeswoman Nicole Ryan.

She said last week that the trust’s hope is to transfer the site to the Pecos park. “Our big focus is on preserving the land,” she said.

Ryan said the trust has no specific plan for what to do with Sanchez’s old homemade memorial off the interstate.

“What we want is to tear it down,” said Romero, of the friends of the park group. Park superintendent Karl Cordova said the state Department of Transportation is “not fond” of travelers pulling on and off at the I-25 spot via a DOT right of way to check out the ramshackle displays.

New Mexico plaque

Getting the plaque honoring the New Mexico Volunteers installed hit some bumps last year.

After The Friends of Pecos National Historical Park got the waiver from the National Park Service to allow the memorial, and Rep. Trujillo obtained $50,000 to pay for it and improvements at the memorial site, the park announced that it would be installed and there was to be an unveiling at the park’s annual Civil War weekend in March.

This plaque was installed at Pecos National Historical Park last year to honor the New Mexico Volunteers who fought at the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The plaque was in fact unveiled, but it was never installed, at least not in its original form, which specifically named Lt. Col. Chaves as leader of the New Mexico volunteer contingent at the 1862 battle.

Superintendent Cordova said at the time that the park wouldn’t put the plaque up because of its focus on a single individual, unlike the pre-existing Texas and Colorado memorials.

But Romero and Rep. Trujillo said last year the real reason the plaque wasn’t accepted was because Chaves also fought against Indian tribes at a time when Native women and children were taken into slavery.

Last week, Romero blamed a specific Associated Press news story that detailed Chaves’ violent raids on Indians, as the Legislature was considering funding for a bust of Chaves. Romero said the article got the attention of regional National Park Service officials who took back previous approval of the text of the Civil War plaque that mentioned Chaves.

The plaque that’s now installed has the exact same wording as the original version, except for the omission of Chaves’ name as the leader of the New Mexico volunteer contingent. The plaque with the original text was given to the New Mexico National Guard Museum in Santa Fe.

The controversy still irks Romero. “You can’t judge what happened 150 years ago from the point of 2019,” he said last week. “There was murder and slavery on both sides.”

The centerpiece of Pecos National Historical Park are ruins of the abandoned Pecos Pueblo and of a huge Spanish Colonial church that was built at the Native American village.

Pecos park superintendent Cordova spoke about the matter in a recent article in the magazine of the National Parks Conservation Association. He said again that not singling out an individual was consistent with the two pre-existing Civil War memorials, but that a goal was also to make sure “we respect the historical perspective of our native communities, as well.”

“It’s our job to protect their ancestral land, and we take that very seriously,” he was quoted as saying. “The last thing we want to is offend their descendants.”