Sunday, July 10, 2005
Old Town Was Site of Civil War Skirmish
By Dan Mayfield
Journal Staff Writer
Today, little girls in sun dresses and boys in dirty jeans climb on the cannons in Old Town Plaza. They play tag inside the white gazebo.
But in the spring of 1862, things were much different.
The Confederate flag flew over Old Town. Union soldiers lobbed cannonballs into what is now the west side of Old Town, while Confederate soldiers from Texas were about to starve or die from pneumonia in the Confederacy's first attempt at conquering the West, said Don E. Alberts, author of several books on Civil War history.
Only two little plaques tacked on the gazebo commemorate "The Skirmish at Albuquerque."
Albuquerque and New Mexico, Alberts said, were very important in the Confederacy's plan to conquer territory and establish warm-water docks on the Pacific.
"At stake was the incorporation, or not, of what was today's West," Alberts said.
But the plan proved too much for the Texan troops.
The battle, however, wasn't that big. It pitted Confederate Brig. Gen. H.H. Sibley against Union Col. E.R.S. Canby.
"The Confederates had taken over Albuquerque and used it as a supply dump," in March of 1862, Alberts said. "Sibley stayed behind. He was a drunk and he didn't get to participate in any of the battles."
According to Albert's book, "Rebels on the Rio Grande," on the afternoon of April 8, 1862, Canby reached Albuquerque and sent men in to shell the town but stopped when he found it was full of civilians.
On April 9, however, Canby attacked and then withdrew into Tijeras Canyon after dark.
"It was a feint," Alberts said, nothing more than a glorified fist fight with a few fireworks.
But it was a turning point.
"The Confederates had sent word to Santa Fe, where those that survived the Battle of Glorietta were, and said 'Come quick,' '' Alberts said. "And they did."
Canby's plan to lure troops out of Santa Fe had worked.
By April 15, the Texans didn't have enough ammunition for a fight, and had rations for only 20 days.
"Canby's principle was that there wasn't enough food to feed them if they captured them," Alberts said. "Canby's goal was to run them out of New Mexico so he didn't have to feed them."
And, they fled.
The Confederate Texans left behind, buried, eight cannons so they could use the cannons' wheels to take their meager supplies with them.
The Albuquerque Museum now has the cannons.
The two on Old Town Plaza are replicas.
"The Texans were eventually forced to the west side of the river and out of the area. They were out of food, supplies, horses, everything.... Just across, on the east side of the river, was a huge column of union soldiers that were going to catch up with them, or so they thought."
Near Socorro, the Texans fled to the hills and ended up at the Rio Grande near where Elephant Butte is today.
They returned to Texas, never to come back to New Mexico.
"At least until the ski areas opened," Alberts said.