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NM’s role in 1862 battle lost in history

This painting depicting part of the Battle of Glorieta Pass is part of the makeshift memorial east of Santa Fe. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

This painting depicting part of the Battle of Glorieta Pass is part of the makeshift memorial east of Santa Fe. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

GLORIETA – Driving north on Interstate 25, about a dozen miles beyond Santa Fe just past Mile Marker 295, is a makeshift memorial about as ragtag as the soldiers it is meant to honor.

There are no signs along the highway alerting travelers to its existence. If you blink, you’re likely to miss the hand-painted sign mounted on the side of a shelter and partly obscured by a tree. It reads “Glorieta, Gettysburg of the West” and refers to the Battle of Glorieta Pass – a little known and rarely talked about clash, even among Civil War historians and buffs, but one that may have dramatically changed the course of U.S. history.

“Everybody forgets about what happened there from the 26th of March to the 28th of March, 1862,” says retired lawyer Alfonso Sanchez, who built the memorial/museum decades ago at the edge of 19.5 acres of property he bought when the interstate highway was being built some 40 years ago. “That (battle) ended the Civil War. That saved the United States and ended slavery.”

History books, those that even mention it, don’t give the Battle of Glorieta Pass as much credit. But perhaps they should.

In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, tasked with identifying the historical significance of approximately 10,500 military skirmishes that took place during the War Between the States.

This makeshift private memorial built by Alfonso Sanchez at the Glorieta Pass Civil War battlefield site stands on a pullout off Interstate 25 east of Santa Fe. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

This makeshift private memorial built by Alfonso Sanchez at the Glorieta Pass Civil War battlefield site stands on a pullout off Interstate 25 east of Santa Fe. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

In its final report published three years later, the commission rated Glorieta Pass in the top 4 percent, designating it a Class A battlefield, or “having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war.”

The rating put Glorieta Pass on par with such well-known and historically recognized battles as Gettysburg and Antietam.

“If you think about it, if the Confederates were successful in gaining command of the West, the Civil War could have turned out to be very different,” said Ralph Arellanes, president of the state chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and chairman of the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, who is working to get a government-sanctioned monument built at Glorieta Pass, with the help of a measure passed during the recent legislative session.

“Not just how many more people would have died, but the United States could have become three different countries – the North, the South and the West,” Arellanes said.

The eastern portions of the Glorieta Pass battlefield are located east of Sanchez’s property, at Pecos National Historical Park, which provides tours of the site each Saturday. The battleground unit at the National Park Service park is otherwise closed off to the public (though friendly rangers have been known to unlock the gate for interested parties). There are interpretive trail markers that point out where battle lines were drawn, the site of “Artillery Hill” and Pigeon’s Ranch, location of one of the key skirmishes of the three-day battle.

Suzan Schaff, a guide at the park, said not many people visit Pecos National Historic Park, which also includes the ruins of both a pre-colonial pueblo and a huge Spanish colonial church amid spectacular scenery, to see the battlefield.

“Most of them are surprised there were Civil War battles here,” she said. “Just the other day, there was a guy here from Michigan and he was just blown away.”

From the Washington, D.C., area herself, Schaaf understands. She doesn’t recall anything about Civil War battles being fought in New Mexico when she was in school.

That may be because New Mexico is so far west and fewer than 100 soldiers died at Glorieta Pass, compared to about 8,000 at Gettysburg. But that wouldn’t take into account the significance of the New Mexico battle.

“There’s kind of a nationwide disregard, which is interesting,” Schaaf said of Glorieta Pass. “Potentially, it could have turned the tide for everything.”

A folk art painting of the Colorado volunteers who fought at the Battle of Glorieta Pass is part of the museum at Alfonso Sanchez’s private memorial to the battle. An effort is underway to create a government-sanctioned memorial for the battleground site. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

A folk art painting of the Colorado volunteers who fought at the Battle of Glorieta Pass is part of the museum at Alfonso Sanchez’s private memorial to the battle. An effort is underway to create a government-sanctioned memorial for the battleground site. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

NM Hispanics under-represented

Aside from the displays at Pecos National Historical Park, there are historical markers identifying the battleground on roads leading to the park. In addition, on N.M. 50 south of Pecos there are two stone memorials to the soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

Standing side by side, one states that it was “erected by the people of Colorado” and recognizes the Colorado Volunteers who fought there, and the other is attributed to the United Daughters of the Confederacy and memorializes the Texas Mounted Volunteers under Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley.

But what of the New Mexicans who fought in the battle? It’s estimated that 8,300 Union troops fought Civil War battles in New Mexico, the vast majority of them Spanish-speaking Hispanos recruited as volunteers.

Well, 20 miles west of Glorieta Pass in the center of Santa Fe’s downtown Plaza stands an obelisk honoring “the heros of the Federal Army who fell at the battles of Canon del Apache and Pigeon’s Ranchero,” but even then they share the tribute with those who died at the Battle of Peralta south of Albuquerque and those killed during the Indian Wars.

Though somewhat crude and rudimentary, Alfonso Sanchez’s weatherbeaten roadside attraction is a good and honest effort to distinguish what happened there 153 years ago, although it’s tucked away in a pullout area some 30 yards from the interstate’s northbound lanes backing up to Galisteo Creek and easily missed by vehicles speeding by at 75 mph.

A sign, visible on the left, along Galisteo Creek near the private Glorieta Pass battlefield memorial calls the area “The Killing Field.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

A sign, visible on the left, along Galisteo Creek near the private Glorieta Pass battlefield memorial calls the area “The Killing Field.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

But Sanchez is 87 years old. He lives in Santa Fe now and isn’t allowed to drive, so he needs someone to give him a ride to the site where he put in hundreds of hours to build his memorial/museum when he was a much younger man. He can’t keep it up like he used to. The elements have taken their toll. Some of the metal posts he erected are missing their signs. Plexiglas meant to protect displays of old newspaper articles and other paper containing information about the battle is cracked and faded.

The only apparent access to the memorial is by carefully stepping through a barbed wire fence. Having accomplished that, visitors can follow steps down the hill to another open-air structure containing pictures and paintings depicting battle scenes.

“I put a lot of cement together and built a footpath that leads right up to what I call Chivington’s Rock,” he said, later adding that the battle started near a bridge more than a mile away, “but it ended on my property.”

It was near there where troops under Major John Chivington snuck around the bulk of Confederate soldiers and destroyed a lightly guarded supply train of 70 or 80 wagons at what was then Johnson’s Ranch. It was a knockout blow to the Texas troops, who could no longer sustain their campaign to capture the riches found in the gold and silver mines of Colorado, and continue the conquest west to California.

Alfonso Sanchez posted this sign at his Glorieta Pass battlefield memorial. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Alfonso Sanchez posted this sign at his Glorieta Pass battlefield memorial. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Lack of recognition ‘disgraceful’

“I think it’s disgraceful,” Sanchez, who has his own place in history as the district attorney who tried Reies Lopez Tijerina, the land-grant activist who led the raid on the Tierra Amarilla courthouse in 1967, said of the lack of recognition given to the battle that saved the West for the Union.

“The significance of that … I think every child in New Mexico should come visit.”

Arellanes feels the same way. As president of the state chapter of LULAC and chairman of the state’s Hispano Round Table, he’s particularly interested in making sure that the more than 6,000 Spanish-speaking New Mexicans who fought the Civil War receive their just due.

“It’s a shame that we’re not celebrating these significant pieces of history simply because the education system left it out,” he said. “What bothers me about the education system is they are always skewing the role of Hispanos in history. Some of these things that happened, they’re not just glossed over in history books, they’ve been completely obliterated.”

History books frequently refer to Anglo leaders on both sides of the Battle of Glorieta Pass – among them Sibley, Scurry, Pyron and Shroshire on the Confederate side, and Federal officers Canby, Chivington, Slough and Tappan – but little, if anything, gets said about the native Hispanics who played a critical role in winning the battle for the Union.

Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Chaves, born in Atrisco west of Albuquerque, of the Second New Mexico Volunteers, guided Chivington’s battalion to Johnson’s Ranch to destroy the supply train. Santa Fe native Rafeal Chacon distinguished himself while fighting under former territorial Gov. Manuel Armijo at Glorieta Pass.

And Anastasio Duran, from the now defunct town of Chaperito about 30 miles east of Las Vegas, N.M., was a renowned comanchero who served as a lead scout at Glorieta Pass.

“These guys knew the terrain. They knew all the Pecos Wilderness,” said Arellanes, an ancestor of Innocencio Arellanes, who also served as a scout during the battle. “It’s a shame and insulting to native New Mexicans and Hispanos that they don’t get the recognition for the role they played and blood they shed in turning the tide of the Civil War.”

One book on sale at the Pecos National Historic Park visitors center does recognize the role Hispanics played during the war. Selling for $4.95, “Hispanics and the Civil War: From Battlefield to Homefront” is published by the National Park Service.

A mock cannon stands at the Glorieta Pass battlefield memorial site. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

A mock cannon stands at the Glorieta Pass battlefield memorial site. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Efforts continue on several fronts

Arellanes was part of ceremonies recognizing the 153rd anniversary of the battle last Saturday. The event was held at Sanchez’s weatherworn memorial/museum, where Arellanes was one who expressed the need for a more suitable monument.

“I’d like to see several monuments,” Arellanes said in a phone interview this week. “At Glorieta, I would like to see a light tower at the top of the hill lit up 24/7. In Glorieta and Las Vegas, I’d like to see something like the Vietnam Memorial wall that shows all the names of people who fought, so people can see when they come to New Mexico how many Hispanic names are on that wall. There were Anglos and Native Americans, too, but 80 percent were Hispanos, and many of them were from Las Vegas and the surrounding area.”

Arellanes was part of a successful effort to get a Senate memorial passed on the last day of this year’s legislative session. Senate Memorial 131 calls for the formation of a task force “to plan the development of an American Civil War memorial to be placed at the Glorieta Pass battle site.”

The task force is to be made up of representatives from the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, New Mexico LULAC, the Historical Society of New Mexico, the state’s Cultural Affairs Department and Santa Fe County.

Arellanes said a memorial at Glorieta Pass could be an untapped source for economic development as a tourist attraction.

The senate memorial calls for the task force to report its findings and recommendations to the appropriate interim committee in November.

The Fiscal Impact Report for the memorial says that a potential conflict with House Memorial 50, which requests that the state’s congressional delegation ask for a waiver from the National Park Service to allow the Friends of Pecos National Historical Park to construct a memorial to the Battle of Glorieta Pass at the Pecos park.

In the meantime, Sanchez’s roadside memorial/museum serves that role until a monument or memorial is built … if one ever gets built.

“A long time ago, the city of Santa Fe was trying to do the same thing and nothing ever came from it,” Sanchez said. “Something needs to be done.”

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