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  Civil War in Albuquerque

The Civil War opened in April 1861. A number of army officers serving in New Mexico at the time resigned their commissions to join the Confederate Army. One was Col. Henry Hopkins Sibley, who had been stationed at Albuquerque and was then in command at Fort Union, New Mexico.

Maj. Edward R. S. Canby was left in charge. Promoted to colonel, he would lead the New Mexico forces in defending the territory. Sibley soon became a brigadier general, charged with annexing New Mexico for the Confederate States and gaining control of Colorado’s gold mines.

Gen. Sibley looked the part of a general, but he had trouble making decisions and often sought the advice of his junior officers. He had another weakness that would doom his New Mexico military campaign – he was too fond of rum and whiskey.

In September 1861 President Abraham Lincoln appointed Henry Connelly, of Peralta, as New Mexico’s governor because he trusted Connelly to be loyal to the Union of the United States and because Connelly, who had lived here a long time, had the sympathy of native New Mexicans.

Just five days after his inauguration in Santa Fe, Gov. Connelly contacted each county in the territory urging the establishment of a militia, or home guard, for the defense of the territory against the enemy – Texans serving in the Confederate Army.

An overly confident Sibley in late January 1862 led an invasion force known as the Army of New Mexico, which consisted of three regiments of cavalry and a battery of artillery, from his headquarters in El Paso into the Territory of New Mexico. He had previously issued a proclamation to the people of New Mexico announcing his intention to take possession of the territory.

Canby anticipated just such an invasion and had tried to shore up his fighting forces with a volunteer infantry and cavalry paid and equipped by the U.S. government. Kit Carson commanded the First Regiment of New Mexico Volunteers, and Col. Miguel Pino and Lt. Col. Manuel Chaves commanded the second. Canby favored Hispanics in filling officers’ ranks, believing it would attract more volunteers. Albuquerque became a rendezvous for recruits, who were sent south to Fort Craig, south of Socorro.

Texans had already seized Mesilla in southern New Mexico when Sibley pushed north along the Rio Grande. Sibley expected to meet Canby’s forces at the federal stronghold at Fort Craig. Gov. Connelly had also arrived at Fort Craig. Canby assured the governor that he had 4,000 men, of whom 1,200 were regular army troops, and all were ready to fight.

The two sides met on a battleground outside the fort. In a hard-fought battle, known as the Battle of Valverde, the Union was holding the line. Then Col. Tom Green, standing in for Sibley who was drunk in his tent, ordered an all out charge straight at Union regulars. The ploy worked. Union soldiers broke and ran, which caused the volunteers, many of them poorly trained, to flee in panic. They took refuge in the fort. Sibley, not wanting to attack the fort, ordered his forces to continue their march north.

When Colonel Canby realized he was being bypassed, he became concerned for the military stores at the Albuquerque post. He sent his quartermaster, Maj. James Donaldson, to slip through the lines and warn the small forces in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to remove or destroy the supplies stored in both places.

The governor also slipped quietly out of Fort Craig and rode north. Concerned that Albuquerque was defenseless and would soon be taken by rebels, he advised ranchers and small farmers to gather their sheep and cattle and conceal them in the Manzano Mountains. The citizens of Albuquerque collected their valuables and took them out of town or buried them.

In Albuquerque Capt. Herbert M. Enos, the assistant quartermaster and ranking officer, moved as many supplies as possible from the military depot and destroyed the rest.

On March 1 Enos sent six wagons to the Sandia Mountains to gather firewood. The wood cutters spotted the approaching enemy, and a rider galloped into the plaza with the news that the rebel army was only 20 miles away at Los Lunas. 

Enos ordered some army wagons, already filled with arms and ammunition, to leave immediately for Santa Fe, guarded by a few regular soldiers.  He also had the volunteer militia load the several remaining wagons with baggage, which he would lead north to Santa Fe. At dawn the lookout reported that the Confederate Army was south of town near what would become the South Valley neighborhood of Barelas.  So at 6:30 a.m. on March 2, Enos ordered his men to burn the buildings that held military equipment, along with neighboring stables and corrals.

Watching from the shadows, some of the town’s poor people scrambled into the burning buildings to carry away molasses, vinegar, soap, candles, a few saddles, carpenter’s tools and even some office furniture, as Captain Enos led his caravan of loaded wagons out of town.

The approaching Confederates saw three columns of smoke rising over the town with sinking spirits. They were cold and hungry, and their horses were thin from fast marching and short supplies of grass. They proceeded to occupy Albuquerque.

Within an hour of arriving, a rider from the small village of Cubero, west of Albuquerque, reported that four Confederate sympathizers had demanded the urrender of the supplies from a small Union outpost whose volunteer captain had no orders to follow. Four days later a badly needed supply wagon arrived.

When Sibley arrived after March 6, he moved into the adobe home of Rafael Armijo and his younger brother Manuel, which became his headquarters. The Armijo brothers, who were store owners, turned over $200,000 in goods. The Armijos weren’t necessarily southern sympathizers. While most Albuquerque residents were Union partisans, many native New Mexicans were ambivalent about this war between states. New Mexico was not yet a state and had only been a territory of the United States for about 13 years.

The Confederates marched north, expecting to capture Fort Union. Unknown to them, Colorado volunteers, led by Maj. John Chivington , had hurried from Denver to shore up the thin Union forces in New Mexico and discourage an invasion of their state.

Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Chaves, a seasoned member of New Mexico’s militia, was asked to join the Confederates but chose to be loyal to the Union. He led a spy company into Santa Fe and informed Chivington of the rebel troop strength and their movement toward Glorieta Pass. On March 28 Chivington, reinforced by troops from Fort Union, engaged the Confederates in a hard battle. Sibley remained comfortably in Albuquerque.

In a flanking action the Union forces also slipped behind the Confederate lines, led by Manuel Chavez, and burned 61 wagons in Sibley’s supply train. It was a decisive strategy. The Battle of Glorieta Pass was over. Without supplies the rebels had no hope of taking Fort Union.

Manuel Chaves is a little known hero of the Battle of Glorieta Pass.

The Texas army retreated to Santa Fe and then to Albuquerque, where they commandeered Franz Huning’s flour mill at what is now Laguna and Central. The mill was named, ironically, La Glorieta. On April 8, Canby, then at the small farming settlement of Barelas, south of what is now downtown, ordered four Union cannons to fire on Albuquerque. The colonel had decided to make a noisy show of strength by his small army. The cannons of the rebel army, located at the mill near present-day Old Town, returned fire.

The “Battle of Albuquerque” lasted several hours. It was only an artillery shelling, with no casualties. As the cannon balls flew back and forth, a worried group of citizens approached Canby and told him the Confederate Army would not allow the women and children who had remained in their homes to leave and find a safe refuge. Canby ordered his men to stop firing. The Battle of Albuquerque had ended.

As the sunset glowed red, orange and pink in the west, both citizens and Confederate soldiers watched the campfires of a thousand Union Army soldiers burn brightly as day turned into night. Worried residents wondered if the ceasefire would end the following morning and the battle would resume. They heard the Union Army musicians playing their instruments well into the night and saw the campfires slowly die out.

Unknown to citizens or Confederates, Canby thought a larger force of Sibley’s forces would return to Albuquerque and had ordered his soldiers to quietly move south during the night, leaving the musicians behind for part of the night to cover up the noise of their departure. Canby moved into the Sandias, where on April 1 the victorious Colorado volunteers joined him at the village of San Antonio. Canby now had a large force, which he soon sent towards Albuquerque.

Sibley had by then arrived in Albuquerque from Santa Fe. At a meeting of his officers, he explained their situation. They had food for 15 days and only 35 to 40 rounds of ammunition per man. To save his army he felt it was best to retreat down the valley and out of the territory.  No one disagreed. Some of the wounded would have to be left behind. 

Eight brass howitzer cannons would also be left behind, buried at a corral behind San Felipe Neri Church.  Sibley wanted to be sure the cannons would not be used against the Confederacy in the future. They were later recovered, and two are preserved in The Albuquerque Museum.   

On the morning of April 12, the rebel army began its retreat southwest of town, crossing to the opposite bank of the Rio Grande.

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