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Blue vs. Gray

Soldiers will march in period dress and cannons will fire this weekend at Pecos National Historical Park to mark the anniversary of a defining, if somewhat unknown, Civil War battle.

Well, OK. They’re not real soldiers. They’re re-enactors, but they strive for authenticity.

The park will commemorate the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Glorieta Pass, a three-day fight that turned back Confederate troops that intended to move westward and ultimately capture the ports of California.

The park’s annual Civil War Weekend runs Saturday and Sunday and includes live rifle and cannon demonstrations, living history presentations, van tours of the battlefield and discussions on topics like Civil War medicine and the history of the war in the Southwest.

Christine Beekman, the park’s chief of visitor services, said the event is now in its ninth year and generally attracts a few hundred people. Often, the visitors are shocked to discover that such an important battle was fought on New Mexico soil.

“It’s a total hoot,” she said. “It’s a classic thing — it’s in your backyard, and you’re like ‘What? I didn’t know this happened.’

“The battle doesn’t have the sheer numbers of, say, Gettysburg, but we do refer to it as the ‘Gettysburg of the West.’ ”

Union and Confederate troops clashed between March 26-28, 1862 at Glorieta Pass — what Beekman calls a “pinch point,” a narrow corridor along the Santa Fe Trail located between Glorieta Mesa and the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Confederates were heading north toward Fort Union, where they planned to capture supplies, before continuing north into Colorado and then west to California.

During the day’s first battle, most of the fighting took place in Apache Canyon. After a rest day, the conflict resumed near the Pigeon’s Ranch stage stop along the Santa Fe Trail. A Pigeon’s Ranch structure — used primarily as a bunker during the battle — remains standing at the park.

Beekman said some historians argue that the Confederates won on the battlefield during the third day as they continued to push Union troops back, but any victory was short-lived. Maj. John Chivington’s men — led by Lt. Col. Manuel Chavez of the New Mexico Volunteers — had managed to destroy the Confederates’ supply wagon, using the area’s geography to their advantage. Divided from the rest of the Union forces, Chivington’s men were attempting to harass the Confederates from the rear. But a 900-foot climb up the mesa revealed the supply wagon below, and they descended from the cliff to destroy it. Left without supplies, the Confederates ultimately retreated back to Texas.

Beekman said the location proved instrumental in the battle’s outcome and the war itself.

“This was a decisive battle,” she said. “Who knows what would’ve happened if the Confederates were victorious here and continued to march north and west?”

This weekend’s events include reservation-only van tours of the battlefield at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Beekman recommends calling in advance to get a seat. The cost is an additional $2.

The park also features a 2¼-mile hiking trail on the Battle of Glorieta Pass. It is classified as “moderately strenuous.”

Most of this weekend’s activities will take place at the historic Kozlowski’s trading post corral, a spot used as a Union camp during the battle.

Among the events scheduled for both days include black powder demonstrations — using an authentic howitzer — and Spanish-language drills performed by the New Mexico Volunteers.

“That’s an often under-told story in New Mexico that we did have New Mexicans who fought in the Civil War skirmishes here,” Beekman said.

Re-enactors will discuss the Union Army in the Southwest and Civil War weapons. They’ll also set up an encampment to provide insight into the life of a Civil War soldier. Beekman said they wear uniforms and carry period guns and re-create a campsite with a mess kit.

“They’ll set up cooking areas with a fire and they’ll talk about their uniform and what they have at the campsite,” she said.

Black powder demonstrations are among the events planned for the annual Civil War Weekend at the Pecos National Historical Park.