Desert Trails and The Civil War

A Soldier's View

by Jay W Sharp

Near the end of 1860, just a few months before our tortured nation erupted in civil war, 16-year-old Thomas Edwin Jackson lived with his mother and four brothers, 11, 9, 6 and 5, in Anderson County, Texas, near the western margin of the pine and hardwood forest that spanned much of the South. Certainly, he had worked the sandy, loamy and gently rolling land of the county; his father, William, now dead for two years, had been a farmer. Surely, he – and his brothers – had learned the value of books; his mother, Ann, was a teacher. Undoubtedly, he had foreseen the likelihood of change in his life; the clouds of war were gathering swiftly in the east.

If war did come, Jackson knew where his allegiance would lie. He could be no other than a son of the South. Great grandparents and grandparents had been born in Virginia. Both his mother and father had been born in Virginia. They had married at Holly Springs, in northern Mississippi. He himself had been born in 1844 in east central Mississippi. When his father moved the family to Anderson County in Texas around 1850, Jackson saw the familiar signatures of the South: the plantations of large landowners, the fields of cotton, the enslavement of black men and women, a fierce loyalty to the Confederate notion.

When, in the pre-dawn hours of April 12, 1861, the first shot of the Civil War “drew a red parabola against the sky and burst with a glare, outlining the dark pentagon of Fort Sumter,” as Shelby Foote said in his book, The Civil War: A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville, Jackson, like many other young men of Texas, would respond by answering the South’s call to arms. “…the Confederate States soldier goes to battle with the belief that our cause is just and right,” Private William Randolph Howell would say in his Civil War journal Westward the Texans, “and that if he lives or dies the God of battles will not suffer him to pass unnoticed or unattended in his dying moments.”

The Making of a Soldier

On October 1, 1861, only some three months after his 17th birthday, Thomas Edwin Jackson, fired by patriotism, enlisted as a private in The Anderson County Buckhunters, a Confederate militia of nearly 100 men organized by farmer and slave owner James W. Gardner. Like many others, some as young as 15, Jackson lied about his age. Otherwise, by Confederate law, he could not have joined the military until he reached his 18th birthday.

In his heart, he probably yearned to fight the Abolitionists, or “Abs,” in glorious battles in the east, perhaps even in his ancestral state of Virginia. Imbued with belief in the cause of the Confederacy and faith in his fellow sons of the South, he probably expected his new country, born of rebellion, to bring the war to a swift and victorious conclusion. He thought he would return soon from the war to his mother and his younger brothers.

Within a matter of days after he enlisted, he would find that his Buckhunters would be mustered, not into an army headed for the battlefields of the east, but into a force bound for the deserts of the American Southwest. His Anderson County Buckhunters would be re-designated as Company I, Seventh Regiment Texas Mounted Volunteers, one of three regiments in General Henry Hopkins Sibley’s brigade, which Confederate president Jefferson Davis had charged with “driving the Federal troops” from the region. Jackson’s regimental officers, both seasoned military men, would be Colonel William Steele, first in command, and Lieutenant Colonel John Schuyler Sutton, second in command.

Jackson knew now that he would fight the Abs in a strange new land, a place unlike any he had ever seen. But at least, he would be fighting the Abs. What he did not know was that General Sibley’s ambitions for conquest far exceeded the orders from Jefferson Davis. In fact, the general had “grandiose plans for the West,” as Martin Hardwick Hall said in his book Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign. “Sibley’s ultimate goal,” said Hall, was nothing less than “the conquest of California and the annexation of northern Mexico” for the South. Neither did Jackson know that Sibley suffered from the cruel and debilitating disease of alcoholism. The general would invariably drink himself into oblivion at the most critical moments of the campaign.

Presumably – since we have no evidence to the contrary in official military or other records – Jackson would remain with his fellow Anderson County compatriots in Company I throughout Sibley’s campaign in the desert. He would share fully in the battles, the glories, the hardships and the despair of a soldier’s life.

Jackson, with Captain Gardner and the rest of Company I, reported for training at Camp Pickett, on the banks of the Salado River, just north of San Antonio, within a matter of weeks. Knowing that the Confederate forces had few of the tools of war to issue troops, he had likely armed himself with a family double-barrel shotgun, musket or squirrel rifle, and, with good luck, a six-shooter and a Bowie knife. He would need them all. He probably rode a family horse outfitted with a family saddle and bridle. He almost certainly wore civilian clothes, likely sewn by his mother from flannel or twill cloth. Typically, only officers had the good fortune to wear military-issue uniforms.

Anxious to fight the Abs, finish up the war, win glory, and come home, Jackson quickly took up the business of soldiering. “The training program called for drilling as infantry in the morning and as cavalry in the afternoon,” said Hall in Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign. The routine swiftly became bracketed by guard duty, roll calls, tattoo and reveille. “Within a short time,” said Hall, “Sibley’s raw recruits began to be transformed into reliable soldiers.”

Meanwhile, Jackson undoubtedly heard the stories about the victories won by Colonel John R. Baylor’s vanguard of Confederate soldiers in southern New Mexico and listened to rumors of coming offensives by Union forces from northern New Mexico. Like his fellow soldiers, he grew anxious to head to the West.

On October 23, 1861, Jackson and other young and inexperienced soldiers probably thrilled as General Sibley assembled his brigade for a grand ceremony on the banks of the Salado. According to Frazier, the Seventh Regiment lined up to Sibley’s left. The other two regiments – the Fourth and Fifth – lined up on the right and in the center. “He told us,” said Private Theophilus Noel, a soldier in the Fourth Regiment, “that a people who in after years would prove grateful to us for our acts, expected much from us… After closing his remarks, he drew off his hat and…offered up to the High God…one of the most fervent and eloquent prayers that it has ever been my lot to hear. Everyone was moved to tears and solemn thought.” (Frazier included the quote in Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest.) Sibley’s Brigade now prepared to begin the long march for the desert to the West and the fields of battle.

Jackson and his fellow troopers may have known, under Sibley’s master plan, that he expected them to “live off the land;” that he counted on support by Southern sympathizers along the way; that he intended to purchase supplementary food stocks from merchants in Mexico; and, most importantly, that he planned to capture essential supplies and arms from the Union forces. They could scarcely have known, however, that Sibley had overestimated the willingness and ability of the Westerners and the Mexicans to contribute nor that he had underestimated the willingness and ability of the Union army commanders to put up a fight.

Jackson, still in training, watched anxiously as the Fourth and Fifth Regiments began leaving their San Antonio training camps for the desert during the first half of November, accompanied by freight wagons and beef herds. They would travel the 700-mile route to El Paso, not as a single column, but in segments, separated by days, to avoid overtaxing the water produced by slow seeping springs along the trail. As one company began its march, an older soldier told his young comrades, “Boys, I want to say good bye…for they is a good many of you I may never see any more. You’ll soon be way up yonder where the wolves howl and the chickens never crow, and ye won’t have mammy’s apron strings to tie to.” (I have taken the quote from a story in Frazier’s book.)

The young Jackson marched out, at last, with his regiment and company on November 28. Soon, he would find that the loblolly pine forests of his native South had receded into images lodged in his memory. He would see the brush country west of San Antonio give way to an increasingly dry and desiccated landscape. He would discover that the night air of late autumn had begun to bite with icy teeth. He would learn that the march would grow even harder when his regiment crossed the Pecos River at Fort Lancaster, into the Chihuahuan Desert to follow the well-worn route across basin and range country as far as El Paso. The Pecos, said Howell, was a “narrow, deep, muddy, and crooked stream.” The meal of the day had become “beef and wormy crackers…”

The Desert Trail

Jackson, who had lost his father and a brother less than three years earlier, knew about pain and hardship, but during the journey across the desert, he would discover whole new dimensions to the human experience. As the passage was described by one young soldier, quoted by Frazier, “Our daily travel was limited to the miles the beeves could be driven, and the distance the water holes were apart. Sometimes we would not travel over 10 miles, and then again we would go thirty. We dragged our slow way onward, handicapped by the weakness of the cattle that we depended on for food, and the want of grass for our horses and mules.”

Relieved on the trail only by brief stops at military posts such as Fort Stockton, Fort Davis and Fort Quitman, Jackson, like his fellow troopers, suffered from wintry weather and punishing thirst. He yearned for a decent meal. He saw companions fall ill from dysentery and measles. He, like all the soldiers, feared the possible onset of smallpox. He heard men, stricken with pneumonia or other respiratory diseases, coughing in their tents during the stillness of cold dark nights. He watched his horse grow thin for want of decent grazing. He saw gaunt draft animals and beef stock, after two days of dry camps, become maddened in their thirst. He fretted about potential raids by Mescalero Apaches, who had long laid claim to the desert land crossed by Sibley’s Brigade. He knew that insubordination threatened to take hold among enlisted men, who sometimes assaulted their officers.

In spite of the hardships, Jackson, like a few others, may have felt a sense of adventure and awe during the hard trek across the desert landscape. As quoted by Jerry D. Thompson in his introduction to Westward the Texans, one young soldier, John E. Hart, said, “Never have I seen more beautiful bright moonlight nights than are to be seen on these western prairies.” Hart found Wild Rose Pass, east of Fort Davis, to be the “most splendid scenery my eyes ever beheld.” He recalled that the “metallic sound of the bugle [would] dash against the side of these hills and [the] echo would send it back and forth until the sweet strains of music seemed to pervade all surrounding us.” Certainly, Jackson and his fellow troopers felt glad to strike the Rio Grande, not far from Fort Quitman, for the river meant plentiful water and better grazing as the trail paralleled its banks upstream.

In January 1862, Jackson, with his regiment and company, finally arrived in the El Paso and Fort Bliss area, more than a month after leaving San Antonio. One soldier, of the 4th Regiment, which had begun arriving in mid December, had said, “When I go to another war, I’m goin’ to it a way I can get to it quicker than I can to this ‘ere one.”

Prelude to Battle

At El Paso and Fort Bliss, Jackson would soon learn that General Sibley had already asserted military command over the Confederate Southwest. He had bolstered his brigade with Baylor’s Confederate vanguard. He called his united forces the “Army of New Mexico.” He had declared administrative control of the civilian population. He had moved to establish international relationships with Mexico. He had selected Fort Thorne, an abandoned military post some 70 miles upstream, on the old Chihuahua Trail, as the launching pad for his march to battle. Most importantly, the 17-year-old Private Jackson learned that he would soon go to war.

He marched, with his Company I and four other 7th Regiment companies, up the Chihuahua Trail along the Rio Grande, to Fort Thorne in early February 1862, joining the combat force of the Army of New Mexico. (Five other companies of the 7th Regiment had remained behind in the El Paso region as an occupying force under the command of Colonel Steele.) In addition to Jackson’s 7th Regiment units, now under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Sutton, the force included the general staff, under the direct command of Sibley; the 4th Regiment, with 10 companies plus artillery, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William R. Scurry; the 5th Regiment, with 10 companies plus artillery, under the command of Colonel Thomas Green; and “Pyron’s Battalion,” with companies drawn from Baylor’s vanguard forces, commanded by Major Charles L. Pyron. Altogether the total force at Fort Thorne would include more than 2500 officers and enlisted men.

As Jackson would discover, Sibley intended to push northward up the Chihuahua Trail, capturing Fort Craig, Albuquerque and Santa Fe in succession. From Santa Fe, he would march eastward over the Santa Fe Trail to capture Fort Union, east of northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Along the way, Sibley expected to capture Union armaments, munitions and provisions—supplies critical to sustaining his impoverished and poorly equipped Army of New Mexico. He believed that the conquest would serve as a platform for his greater ambitions, to conquer the greater Southwest and, perhaps, even northern Mexico.

Fort Craig ruins

Had they known of Sibley’s grandiose vision, Jackson and the other troops might have doubted the sanity of the general. They had far more immediate problems. Before they left El Paso, their officers had failed to acquire the badly needed supplementary food stocks from the Mexicans. They came armed with a wide and motley assortment of weapons, and they came dressed in a wide and motley assortment of non-military clothing. As they marched up the Chihuahua Trail to Fort Thorne, the troopers had alienated the communities along the way by simply appropriating provisions of local populations. They had had to fight back Mescalero Apache raids to protect horses, draft animals and the beef herd. When they reached Fort Thorne, they found supplies and stores dwindling. They slept in inadequate shelter and wore threadbare clothing in the intense cold of the winter season. “Many of the men are completely bare-footed, and a few are bare-headed,” said soldier William Davidson (quoted by Frazier). Some suffered from pneumonia, measles and, now, the fearsome smallpox. The soldiers endured the incessant aggravation of lice. “We have tried every way we could to get clear of them…but the vermin get thicker,” said Davidson. The soldiers’ saddle horses and beef stock had grown thin on the poor desert grass. Most of the draft animals had grown so wasted that they could not pull supply wagons.

No doubt, Sibley’s Army of New Mexico fully understood the importance of “driving the Federal troops” from the Southwest. They soldiers also fully recognized the crucial need to capture Federal provisions and weaponry. They could see that victory on the battlefield would mean little if they could not solve the problems of hunger in the belly, loss of livestock, exposure to the winter, and the growing onset of diseases.

Jackson, with his Company I and the other companies of the 7th Regiment, began moving up the Rio Grande within days after arrival at Fort Thorne, following the 4th and 5th Regiments to an assembly point on the west bank of the river, within sight of Fort Craig, under the command of Colonel Edward R. S. Canby. During the march, the soldiers endured a bitter winter storm, with a north wind driving sleet and snow driven so hard that it would “almost pull the face off a man,” according to an account quoted by John Taylor in his book Bloody Valverde.

The Battle of Valverde

On Saturday, February 16, Jackson likely felt fear and exhilaration well up in his chest, for Sibley’s Army of New Mexico and Canby’s Union forces at Fort Craig stood on the brink of battle. Sibley had deployed his force between the bank of the river and high ground to the west, about a half mile south of the fort. He hoped to lure Canby’s troops away from the fort, into the open desert for a fight.

Canby had established his battle lines just outside the fort, with artillery flanked by cavalry. He hoped to induce Sibley’s troops into a direct assault on the fort, where the entrenched Union troops held tactical superiority.

Sibley, seeing that Canby had the advantage in numbers of troops (over 3000 to Sibley’s 2500) and quality and quantity of weaponry, decided to withdraw southward, to a protected campsite in a ravine on the west bank of the river. Jackson probably felt a mixed sense of relief and disappointment. While Sibley met with his senior officers to plan what to do next, the Confederate troops had to hunker down and endure a hellish two-day desert sandstorm.

On February 18, Jackson, like the other troops, learned that Sibley had decided to avoid a direct assault on Canby’s fortified position. Instead, the general planned to bypass Fort Craig and its enticing cache of supplies, at least for the moment. He would cross to the east bank of the Rio Grande. Even though it meant a difficult sandy and dry passage for his men, animals and wagons, he would circle through the desert east of the brooding, lava-capped, 300-foot high Mesa del Contadera, a landmark that lay on the east bank nearly due north of Fort Craig. Sibley would return to the river and seize strategically vital crossings near an area called Valverde, an open and intermittently wooded sandy river bottom just upstream from the mesa. He hoped that the tactic would force Canby’s hand, drawing him away from his fortress and into open-field battle to defend the fords.

On February 19, the Confederates crossed the Rio Grande, taking time to fill their canteens and water their livestock. They did not expect to reach water again for two days. They encamped near the village of Paraje de Fra Cristobal, which lay empty because the residents had fled at the approach of the Confederate soldiers.

On February 20, Jackson saw, perhaps, the most chaotic day he had ever experienced up to that time. Colonel Thomas Green, 5th Regiment commanding officer, had to take command of the entire brigade, apparently because Sibley had slipped into his bottle. Canby’s troops, including a unit led by the famed Kit Carson, probed parts of the Confederates’ column then withdrew to Fort Craig. Jackson could hear the sporadic crack of muskets and shotguns. He heard, briefly, the thunder of Confederate artillery. He likely heard the distant strains of the lively Southern anthem Dixie, played defiantly by the 5th Regiment’s small brass band. He knew that supply wagons had bogged down in deep soft sand, testing the endurance of straining, undernourished and thirsty draft animals and straining, undernourished and thirsty soldiers who struggled to keep the wheels turning.

When night fell and the Confederates had settled into a dry camp east of Mesa del Contadera, Jackson, like the rest of the Confederates, had been startled awake by a thunderous explosion. After the confusion subsided, he would learn what had happened. Union spies had made their way under cover of darkness to the perimeter of the Confederate defenses, leading two feeble, old, dynamite-laden mules. The spies had lit the fuses to the dynamite, driven the mules toward the Confederate encampment, then turned hurriedly back toward Fort Craig, expecting the animals to head on into the midst of enemy forces and serve as highly destructive terrorist mule bombs. The scheme failed when the mules decided, unilaterally, that they belonged, not with the Confederacy, but with the Union. They, too, turned hurriedly back toward Fort Craig, hoping to overtake their spy caretakers, whose horses barely managed to outrun the decrepit old mules before the fuses burned down and the poor animals paid the ultimate price in service to their country.

Jackson and his fellow soldiers might have seen some humor in the incident had the detonation not startled some 150 poorly tethered Confederate mules into deserting the cause of the South. The animals broke free. They rushed toward the Rio Grande and its water, where they fell captive to Union soldiers. The loss of the mules meant that the Confederates had to abandon some 30 supply wagons at the very moment when provisions had already run critically short.

February 21, 1862, dawned slowly as a wintry gray day with threatening skies. While the 17-year-old Jackson, Private, Company I, 7th Regiment, arose and prepared to march with his comrades into battle and while the 45-year-old Sibley, General, Army of New Mexico, arose and struggled to recover from a gut-wrenching hangover, a vanguard force of Confederates headed north, skirting the Mesa del Contadera on their left en route to the river’s east side and the Valverde fords. The 4th Regiment then mounted, and it, too, turned north. The vanguard encountered the Union forces near the river ford immediately north of the Mesa del Contadera. The crack of small arms fire quickly erupted. The crash of artillery soon followed. The 4th Regiment, with many of its men singing the songs of the South at the tops of their voices, rushed forward to join the fight. It had become clear, now, that the battle would play out, not at Fort Craig, but in the sandy hills and cottonwood groves of Valverde.

Sibley promptly took refuge in his bottle.

Jackson moved up with his 7th Regiment and the 5th Regiment to a holding position near the battle zone, which would parallel the river for a mile northward from the mesa. While the vanguard force, the 4th Regiment and part of the 5th Regiment fought the Abs, all of the 7th Regiment and the other part of the 5th Regiment remained with the wagons to guard crucially important provisions and equipment.

The Confederates faced grim odds. With Sibley lying drunk in his ambulance, the units of his army had little central command to coordinate their actions. They fought ad hoc battles, trying to hold back the Union advance across the Rio Grande. They faced superior small arms. They faced superior artillery. They and their livestock suffered for want of water, now denied them for two days.

From his guard post near the train of wagons, Jackson, anxious about the course of the battle, his heart thumping against the walls of his chest, could hear the uniform cracks of the Federals’ rifled muskets across the field of the conflict through the morning. He could hear the discordant firing of the Confederates’ mix of old smoothbore muskets, double barrel shotguns and pistols. He could hear the crash of 6-pound and 12-pound howitzers from both ends of the battle line, and he could hear, and almost feel, the heavier and more threatening explosions from the Union army’s 24-pounders below Mesa del Contadera, at the south end of the battle line. He watched the horses and mules, skittish from the gunfire and thirsting for water. He felt the cold sting of the weather and, now, a light fall of snow. He wondered whether he would be summoned to the fight.

As the sun climbed toward its zenith in a leaden sky, the word came. The battle was going badly. Confederates had fallen back. Sibley, in a stupor, had again relinquished command to Colonel Green, who would try to salvage the situation. Green ordered 7th Regiment commanding officer Colonel John Schuyler Sutton to send reinforcements to the front line as rapidly as possible. Sutton sent Jackson’s Company I and two more 7th Regiment companies rushing forward. They took positions at the left center of the Confederate defenses. Jackson would now see, first hand, the violence of combat. Almost immediately, he, with the other reinforcements, came under fire from an artillery battery that had crossed the river at the south end of the battle line. Simultaneously, he could hear shelling by another Union battery, at the north end of the line.

Likely, Jackson and his fellow soldiers could scarcely believe what they would be called on to do next. With the tide of battle running against them, their general lay drunk in his ambulance. They faced superior numbers and superior arms. They, and their animals, had been cut off from water for two days. In a pivot maneuver, the south end of the Union line had begun to wheel forward on the Confederate positions while the north end and its artillery battery served as a pivot point. At just this moment, Green ordered his soldiers, not to retreat and run for their lives, but to take the offensive. He sent four companies of the 4th Regiment and one company of the 5th Regiment – about 200 mounted men – to halt the Union advance and attack the artillery batteries on the south end of the battle line. He directed the remainder of his forces, including Jackson’s Company I, to dismount and storm the Union positions and artillery batteries on the north end. He would launch the two attacks simultaneously.

The Confederate soldiers at the south end formed a line single line, and “With the roar of cannon, a hail of small-arms fire, and Rebel yells, [the Confederates’] determined cavalry bravely dashed across the field toward [the Union artillery] battery,” said Hall in his Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign. “When the Confederates had galloped to within 150 yards of the Union line, they received a deadly discharge of rifles and musketry… [Kit] Carson’s whole command…sent destructive volleys into the Texans while, almost at the same moment, a shell from [an artillery piece] burst in their midst. The Confederate assault was completely shattered.”

In rushing to blunt the Confederate attack, however, the Union forces had made a serious blunder. They had siphoned combat units away from the middle of their line, leaving it exposed.

Almost immediately, the main body of Confederate soldiers, Jackson among them, surged over the sandy hills of Valverde for 450 yards to attack the northernmost artillery battery. Screaming for vengeance, they seemed almost impervious to the hailstorm of artillery and rifle shot fired against them. Their own artillery replied. As they closed, their double barrel shotguns and pistols became, not a liability, but a terrible advantage. Their ferocity unnerved many Union soldiers, principally the volunteers, who fled past frustrated officers to reach safety. Closing on the Union howitzers, the Confederates fought in a savage and bloody hand-to-hand struggle against the regular Union soldiers who had tried to rally and save their weapons. Jackson’s regimental commander, Colonel Sutton, fell mortally wounded. Samuel Lockridge, a major in the 5th Regiment, fell to a bullet, saying to his men, according to Frazier: “Go on my boys, don’t stop here.” Other Confederate officers, waving their swords, took up Lockridge’s call. A Confederate bullet killed Union officer Captain Alexander McRae, the commanding officer of the artillery battery. Within a matter of minutes, the Confederates had overwhelmed the Union forces and seized McRae’s artillery pieces. They fought back two Union attempts to recapture the guns. They forced the Union troopers back across the Rio Grande to the west bank, streaming southward to the sanctuary of Fort Craig. They fired captured rifles and artillery at the Union soldiers as they fled. By sunset, the Battle of Valverde – a tragic and bloody conflict between American and American – had drawn to a close.

The Aftermath

The 17-year-old Private Jackson apparently left no record of his personal experience, but, at the battle of Valverde, he must have felt much like other young soldiers who did leave chronicles or diaries.

The firing commenced at 9 A.M. and continued until 5 _ P. M. Our boys maintained their ground. Made several unequalled charges, captured 6 pieces of the enemy’s artillery and routed them entirely.

From Private William Randolph Howell’s Civil War journal, Westward the Texans

We could see the enemy in strength just before us about 600 yards and advancing rapidly as if to force our lines in… …their bullets began to play havoc with our horses. Sam Hyatt’s was shot and killed instantly. I saw [Louis J.] Berkowitz’s fall. Numbers of others about the same time were killed and wounded. One man on my left, in [Capt. David A.] Nunn’s Company was shot through the back, as he raised to load by a flank fire, and fell with heart rending groans. Asking some one to load his gun, which was done, he fired at them again, although he had a wound which proved mortal.

…[several] of our boys were wounded. [Cpl.] Al Field was shot in the arm, a flesh wound, as he stood behind a large tree shooting at them, and exclaimed “O God, I’m shot.” [William H.] Onderdonk was shot through the mouth and his tongue nearly shot out. He pulled out a part of it which was hanging ragged to the edge of the tongue and cut it off with his knife… S. Schmidt was shot through both thighs by a minie ball.

…nothing could stand before our victorious forces. Their own cannon were rapidly drawn down towards the left, where we were driving them back, and fired upon them will telling effect.

…never before have I felt such perfect happiness as I did when we took the battery from our enemy. Then I knew the tide of battle was changed…
From A. B. Peticolas’ Civil War journal, Rebels on the Rio Grande

[After the battle] I ran down to the water’s edge to get me a drink of water, a wounded [Union] soldier hollowed, “Don’t shoot me any more.” He was in the river and just could hold his head up above the water. I lay my shot gun down, waded to him and pulled him ashore. He thanked me and gave me his name and regiment but I lost it.

As natural, our guys was guying the [Union] prisoners, and one of our boys said to Pat [one of the prisoners], “We licked you d—Yankees.” Pat answered, “How, a b’Christ, don’t call me a d—Yankee. I am an Irishman, and b’Christ, who could stand up before you d—Texans with a double-barrell shotgun in your fist and two d—great big batteries on your hips--.” That was our sixshooters he alluded to as batteries.

From Thomas Benton Collins’ “A Texan’s Account of the Battle of Valverde,”
Panhandle-Plains Historical Review, 1964

Well may it be said this was a bloody battle. Many the brave spirit that went to his great and final account this day and many the fond parent, brother and sister this day forever bereft of an affectionate son or brother. May God have mercy on the souls of those who fell thus nobly!

From Private William Randolph Howell’s Civil War journal, Westward the Texans


When the Battle of Valverde was done, Jackson had escaped the bullets of the Abs, but his regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel John Schuyler Sutton, and two enlisted men lay dying. His company commander, James W. Gardner, and seven enlisted men suffered wounds. Jackson had probably known some of these men for years.

All together, according to Hall’s account in his The Confederate Army of New Mexico, the Confederate forces reported 36 killed, 150 wounded and one missing; the Union forces, 68 killed, 160 wounded, and 35 missing.

While the Confederates won the Battle of Valverde, Sibley, once he sobered up, realized that he did not have the strength to attack Fort Craig itself. He would not be able to seize the supplies and weaponry his men needed desperately if they were to continue the campaign. He did not even have the provisions he needed to sustain a march back to El Paso. As Jackson would soon learn, Sibley would decide that his soldiers would have to continue northward, to other Union posts, where they would hope that they could capture supplies. Sibley’s strategy of “living off the land” would be put to a severe test in the days and weeks to come.

More on page 2

Jay W. Sharp

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Chihuahua Trail
Chihuahua Trail 2
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The Long Walk Trail Of The Navajos
The Desert Route to California
Bradshaw's Desert Trail To Gold
A Soldier's View of the Trails Part 2


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