Today In Western History: The Battle of Glorieta Pass

On this day in 1862, Union forces stop the Confederate invasion of New Mexico Territory when they turn the Rebels back at Glorieta Pass

This action was part of the broader movement by the Confederates to capture New Mexico and other parts of the West. This would secure territory that the Rebels thought was rightfully theirs but had been denied them by political compromises made before the Civil War.   The cash-strapped Confed-eracy was planning on using the wealth from the Western mines to fill its treasury. From San Antonio, the Rebels moved into southern New Mexico (which included Arizona at the time) and captured the towns of Mesilla, Donna Ana and Tucson. General Henry H. Sibley, with 3,000 troops, now moved north

General Henry Hopkins SIbley, CSA
General Henry Hopkins Sibley, CSA, and inventor of the Sibley Army tent

against the Federal stronghold at Fort Craig on the Rio Grande.  Sibley’s force collided with Union troops at Valverde near Fort Craig on February 21, but the Yankees were unable to stop the invasion. Sibley left parts of his army to occupy Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and the rest of the troops headed east of Santa Fe along the Pecos River. Their next target was the Union garrison at Fort Union, an out-post on the other side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. At Pigeon’s Ranch near Glorieta Pass, they encountered a Yankee force of 1,300 Colorado volunteers under Colonel John Slough. The battle began in late morning, and the Federal force was thrown back before taking cover among the adobe buildings of Pigeon’s Ranch. A Confederate attack late in the afternoon pushed the Union troops further down the pass, but nightfall halted the advance. Union troops snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when Major John Chivington led an attack on the Confederate supply train, burning 90 wagons and killing 800 animals.  With their supplies destroyed, the Confederates had to withdraw to Santa Fe. They lost 36 men killed, 70 wounded, and 25 captured. The Union army lost 38 killed, 64 wounded, and 20 men captured. After a week in Santa Fe, the Rebels withdrew down the Rio Grande. By June, the Yankees controlled New Mexico again, and the Confederates did not return for the rest of the war.

The hero of this attack, Major John Chivington will lose his laurels in just two years, when he leads a

Major John Chivingon, a hero at Glorieta Pass and a disgrace at Sand creek.
Major John Chivingon, a hero at Glorieta Pass and a disgrace at Sand creek.

surprise morning raid on a band of “tame” – or non-aggressive — Indians who were camped under a United States flag of peace, at Sand Creek, Colorado, in a massacre that to this day is one of the most infamous acts of war on a peaceful people.


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