near Fort Craig in New Mexico Territory. The Union troops were under the command of Union Colonel Edward R. S. Canby.
The battle, the first major engagement of the Civil War in the far West, produced heavy casualties but no decisive result. This action was part of the broader movement by the Confederates to capture New Mexico and other parts of the West. Their goal was to gain control of territory that the Rebels believed they had been denied by political compromises made before the Civil War. Additionally, the financially impoverished Confederacy intended to use Western mines to fill its treasury. From San Antonio, the Rebels moved into southern New Mexico (which included Arizona) and captured the towns of Mesilla and Tucson. Sibley, with 3,000 troops, now moved north against the Federal stronghold at Fort Craig on the Rio Grande. However, at Fort Craig, Canby believed the Rebels could not wait long before running low on supplies so he intended to force the Confederates lay siege to the post in order to make them run through what supplies they did have. He also knew that Sibley did not have enough heavy artillery to attack the fort. When Sibley arrived near Fort Craig on February 15, he ordered his men to swing east of the fort, cross the Rio Grande, and capture the Valverde fords of the Rio Grande. He hoped to cut off Canby’s com-munication and force the Yankees out into the open. At the fords, five miles north of Fort Craig, a Union detachment attacked part of the Confederate force. They pinned the Texans in a ravine and were on the verge of routing the Rebels when more of Sibley’s men arrived and turned the tide. In command in place of an ill Sibley, his second in command, Colonel Tom Green made a bold counterattack against the Union left flank. The Yankees fell back in retreat, and headed back to Fort Craig.
The Union suffered 68 killed, 160 wounded, and 35 missing out of 3,100 engaged. The Confederates suffered 31 killed, 154 wounded, and 1 missing out of 2,600 troops. It was a bloody but indecisive battle. Sibley’s men continued up the Rio Grande. Within a few weeks, they captured Albuquerque and Santa Fe before they were stopped at the Battle of Glorieta Pass on March 28.
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