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A Civil War battle in New Mexico Territory

Glorietta Pass Battlefield
Glorietta Pass Battlefield

On this day in history, March 26, 1862, a Civil War battle began in of all places New Mexico Territory – at Glorieta Pass.

The event, which lasted over three days, was part of Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign and was an attempt to keep the Confederate army from moving into the Southwest.

Federal soldiers under the command of Major John M. Chivington faced a rebel force of Texans led by Major Charles L. Pyron at Glorieta Pass, located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, near Santa Fe.

The Southwest had great potential for the Confederacy. Victories there could bolster their treasury (with the extensive gold fields in Colorado), provide open recruiting areas, and provide possible expansion of slavery into California. Of special interest to the Confederate government was the 1,200 miles of California coastline that had not been blockaded with the potential of opening new trade routes for much needed supplies and even the possible recognition from the European countries which they desperately needed.

On the first day the Union had the advantage, catching the Confederates in cross-fire in the pass and driving them out. Chivington’s men retired to Kozlowski’s Ranch. There was no fighting on day two.

On March 28, both sides received reinforcements and returned to fight in the pass. Lt. Colonel William R. Scurry, commanding the reinforcements on the Confederate side, pretty much had his way, forcing the federals out of the canyon. While Scurry left the field thinking he had won the battle, the new Union forces, directed by Col. John P. Slough circled back and wiped out Scurry’s supplies and animals that he had left back at camp.

The battle is considered a Union victory. There were 321 combined casualties reported. Historians consider the battle at Glorieta Pass as the turning point in the war in New Mexico Territory. The Union victory halted further Confederate invasion in the southwest.

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