The Battle of Glorieta Pass
Battles like Glorieta Pass and Valverde may seem small in comparison to those fought in the other theaters of the war but the stakes were just as high. The Confederate Army’s goal was to secure the New Mexico territory (modern-day Arizona and New Mexico) and cut the Union forces off from an easy route to California. The Union Army was undermanned and undersupplied but they were able to maintain a defensive struggle with the advancing Southerners.
The Battle of Glorieta Pass took place from March 26 to 28, 1862. It was the decisive battle of the New Mexico Campaign. Some historians call it “the Gettysburg of the West” for its importance and was intended to strike a decisive blow to Union possession of the Southwest. Glorieta Pass is in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in what is today New Mexico. The pass was a key point in the mountain range that controlled the route to the high plains.
The Confederate commander Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley with a mixed force of about 2,500 Texas infantry, cavalry and artillery had moved across the Texas border from El Paso in January 1862. He achieved a strategic victory at the Battle of Valverde on February 21st when, after an all-day fight, he was able to bypass the 3,000 Union defenders led by Colonel Edward Canby.
From Valverde, Sibley’s column marched north and captured Santa Fe on March 10th. Meanwhile, Canby remained at Fort Craig to cut off Sibley’s supply lines from Texas and await further reinforcements. Sibley set up headquarters south of Santa Fe in Albuquerque.
Later in March, Sibley sent a force of between 200 to 300 Texans led by Maj. Charles L. Pyron in advance of his main body, over the Glorieta Pass to deny the Union Army access it. Control of the pass would allow the Confederates to advance onto the High Plains and to make an assault on Fort Union, the Union stronghold along the invasion route northward over Raton Pass. Sibley also intended for six companies under the command of Colonel Tom Green to block the eastern end of Glorieta Pass, turning any Union defensive position in the Sangre de Cristos.
The Confederates were led by Maj. Charles L. Pyron and Lt. Col. William Read Scurry. During the battle on March 26, Pyron had his battalion of the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles, four companies of the 5th Texas Mounted Rifles under Maj. John Shropshire, and two cannons. Scurry’s force included nine companies of the 4th Texas Mounted Rifles under Maj. Henry Raguet, five companies of the 7th Texas Mounted Rifles under Maj. Powhatan Jordan, and three additional cannons.
The Union forces were led by Col. John P. Slough of the 1st Colorado Infantry, with units under the command of Maj. John M. Chivington. In the action on March 26, Chivington had three infantry and one mounted companies of the 1st Colorado and a detachment of the 1st and 3rd U.S. Cavalry regiments.
During the main battle on the 28th, Slough commanded in person nine companies of the 1st Colorado, a detachment from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd U.S. Cavalry regiments, and two artillery batteries. Chivington commanded five companies of the 5th U.S. Infantry, one company from the 1st Colorado, James Hobart Ford‘s Independent Company from the 2nd Colorado, and some New Mexico militia.
Pyron’s force had camped at Apache Canyon, at one end of the pass. He had a picket force of 50 men at the summit of the pass. Chivington with a force of 418 advanced to the picket line on the morning of March 26th. After noon, he captured the picket post and ran in to the main Confederate force.
Splitting his force, he achieved a crossfire on the Confederates and forced them to withdraw a mile and a half. The Confederates set up a shorter defensive position in the narrow pass but the Union force flanked them again. Pyron ordered a withdrawal but in the confusion several of his men were captured and the rest were scattered. Chivington retired and camped to await the main body.
There was no fighting the next day as both sides brought up reinforcements. Scurry brought up his force which brought the Confederate strength to about 1,100. Scurry expected Colonel Tom Green to arrive in the Union rear at any time. The main Union force, led by Colonel Slough, arrived on the morning of March 28th, bringing their strength to about 1,300 men.
In the morning Slough ordered Chivington to circle to the Confederate flank but Scurry advanced faster than the Union commander had anticipated. Scurry thought that the Union force would retreat to Fort Union and wished to pin them in place until Green arrived.
Slough hit the Texans at about 11:00 Am with four companies of Colorado infantry but their force was too small and they were outflanked by noon. The Union troops retreated to Pigeon’s ranch where they took cover around the ranch buildings. Slough set up a strong position here, supported by two batteries of artillery.
Scurry then launched a three-pronged attack on the Union positions. Pyron and Maj. Henry Raguet attacked on the right, Shropshire attacked the on the left and Scurry led the attack in the center. Shropshire’s attack failed and he was killed. Scurry’s attack in the center stalled. At about 3:00 Pm the Confederates managed to flank the Union line but Maj. Raguet was mortally wounded.
The Confederates managed to secure a ridge where their sharpshooters began to pick off the Union gunners and infantrymen. This made the position untenable and Slough ordered a retreat. Slough reformed his line a half mile east of Pigeon’s Ranch where both sides skirmished until dusk. Slough retreated back to Kozlowski’s Ranch, leaving Scurry in possession of the field.
Meanwhile, the Union New Mexico Volunteers had spotted a Confederate wagon train. Chivington ordered his force to descend from the pass and intercept the train. They were able to capture and set afire some 80 supply wagons. They also killed or drove off 500 horses and mules. Without supplies, Scurry was forced to retreat to Santa Fe, the first stop on the long road back to El Paso.
Total Union casualties were 51 killed, 78 wounded, 15 captured and 3 missing. Confederate casualties were 50 killed, 80 wounded and 92 captured.
The battle at Glorieta foiled Sibley’s plan to obtain his key objective: the capture of the major Federal base at Fort Union. The fall of Fort Union would have broken Federal resistance in New Mexico, and compelled Union forces to retire north of Raton Pass and back into Colorado Territory.