Desert Trails and The Civil War

A Solder's View Part 2

by Jay W Sharp

In the Civil War, many volunteers who thought they'd be fighting to defend their homes ended up in the southwest fighting far from their families and familiar turf. Here, our story of the young Private Thomas Edwin Jackson, who volunteered in Anderson County, Texas and found himself part of the Confederate Army of New Mexico, continues.

It was February 21, 1862, in the late evening. Seventeen-year-old Private Thomas Edwin Jackson, Company I, 7th Regiment, Confederate Army of New Mexico, had survived the long trek westward across the desert trail from the Pecos River to El Paso; the wintry march northward up the Chihuahua Trail and the Rio Grande from El Paso to the enemy’s Fort Craig; and, today, a fight – victorious but bloody – with Union soldiers at the Battle of Valverde a few miles north of the post.

Knowing the Confederate Army of New Mexico – although winners on the battlefield – lacked the necessary forces to storm Fort Craig and capture desperately needed stores and armaments, Jackson and his fellow troopers could only wonder what their alcoholic general, Henry Hopkins Sibley, would do next. They knew they had no more than a few days’ rations remaining, according to Martin Hardwick Hall’s account in his book Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign. They knew they did not even have enough supplies to sustain a retreat back to El Paso. “The country about them was barren and destitute of food, not even producing enough grass for their horses,” said Hall. With the loss of key officers in the battle, their command structure had frayed, as Donald S. Frazier said in his book Blood and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest. Their artillery and equipment had suffered substantial damage, undercutting their readiness for a fight. Their horses and draft animals had died wholesale in the campaign, leaving many soldiers without mounts or carriage. They felt a growing sense of urgency. “Many came to curse Sibley for their plight…” said Hall. “Many accused him of being drunk most of the time, and a coward at heart.”

If Jackson and his fellow soldiers could see that their ability for making war had diminished, they would soon discover that Sibley’s appetite for conquering the Southwest had not. Their general now meant to lead them lead them northward, up the Chihuahua Trail to the Santa Fe Trail. He then meant to turn them eastward, to Fort Union, the Federals’ linchpin to the Southwest. He believed that, along the way, he could supply his army by capturing Union stores. He believed that he could easily defeat the enemy forces at Fort Union, isolating Fort Craig and forcing surrender. He believed that he could then deliver the Southwest into the Confederate empire.

Sibley miscalculated.

Hardship on the Chihuahua Trail

While Sibley, in his sober moments, dreamed of conquest and glory, the young Jackson and his comrades, in chilled exhaustion, dreamed about a decent meal, warm clothes, a reliable rifle and a good horse. On February 23, 1862, a day after they buried their dead on the battlefield at Valverde, they turned northward, up the Chihuahua Trail, carrying their wounded and sick on improvised litters. They more resembled a ragged stream of refugees than a march of victors.

In the 25-mile trek upriver to the village of Socorro, they looted Federal warehouses, acquiring a few much-welcomed supplies. They confiscated some 300 Federal horses and mules. They beat back a small Federal force. Their medical personnel established a hospital for their sick and wounded in the village. Still short of provisions, mounts and draft animals, they looked anxiously toward Albuquerque, where, they had been told, they would find an abundance of Federal stores. What they did not know at the outset is that Colonel Edward R. S. Canby, the commander at the Federals’ Fort Craig, had dispatched a force of regular troops on a mission past the Confederates to destroy supplies along the trail ahead. Neither did they know that a regiment of some 900 volunteers from Colorado had begun a march southward toward Fort Union, coming to aid the Federal forces in New Mexico.

The march upstream to Albuquerque became, with only occasional relief, a tableau of bitterness toward officers, emptiness of the belly, exposure to cold and vermin, contraction of disease, and rumors of Union maneuvers.

In his journal Rebels on the Rio Grande, A. B. Peticolas probably spoke for Jackson and all the other enlisted men who made the long march up the trail from Socorro to Albuquerque: “…to trudge along day after day with nothing to eat save beans, with no teams fit to transport our baggage, and no forage, and then to see our officers, every one of them with great sacks of flour and sides of bacon, living high while the men are really suffering for something to eat – to go from early breakfast till late supper, and feel the weakness and gnawing of hunger – hunger for the staff of life – is a feature of soldiering without any redeeming trait.”

Frazier said, “As the troops consumed the last of their rations, hunger and disease again swept the ranks; the Texans became despondent. ‘We buried four men,’ Bill Davidson of the Fifth Texas wrote. ‘Pneumonia, measles, small-pox, itch, and body lice are getting in their work on us.’”

“…I heard,” said Peticolas, “that the enemy at Albikirque [sic] were rallying the citizens and intended to make a stand against us there. However, in our present situation the enemy is the last thing we dread, and some were rather glad to hear of it, for they thought it was proof that the Federals have something there to defend.”

Later, said Peticolas, in a comment with which Jackson and all the enlisted men would surely have agreed: “…for such green Volunteers, scarce 3 months from all the comforts of a home life in an enlightened country, we have had pretty rough experiences. I never thought I would ever be so pressed by hunger as to ask for bread when I had no means of paying for it, but I have done it, and without shame too.”

As the soldiers drew near Albuquerque in early March of 1862, their luck, at ldesert trailsast, began to change, according to Frazier. They captured a treasure trove of supplies from a Union supply depot at Cubero, a village some 60 miles to the west. They captured 23 wagonloads of provisions from a Union supply train in the mountains just to the east. Reaching Albuquerque, they managed, with the help of local citizens, to salvage a significant percentage of stores from warehouses that Canby’s detachment and other Union forces had set ablaze. Suddenly they had supplies “enough to last forty days,” according to Frazier. Their morale improved. They fired a 13-canon salute to Albuquerque and raised the Confederate flag triumphantly over the main plaza, before the old San Felipe de Neri church. Their general began to look ahead to the offensive against Fort Union, the crown jewel in his plans for conquest.

Preparation for Battle

Under orders from Sibley, the Confederates organized and stored their newly won supplies in local warehouses. They set up a local hospital, which promptly filled with soldiers suffering, not only from wounds, but also from pneumonia. Soldiers began to recondition artillery pieces, putting them back into combat condition. A small detachment struck northward toward Santa Fe, which the Federals had left undefended. The Confederates soon raised their flag over the main plaza of the capitol.

On March 8, Jackson, with troopers from his own 7th Regiment and the 4th and 5th Regiments, marched to the mountains immediately east of Albuquerque, to the pass between the Sandia and Manzano ranges. They expected to take refuge and rest for a few days in protected canyon encampments with plentiful grass and water. They took a position from which they could intercept any Federal traffic on a mountain trail between Fort Craig and Fort Union. En route to their mountain redoubts, they got hit by an icy spring storm that brought powerful winds from of the west and nightly snows out of dreary skies. Peticolas said, “We took up the line of march…in a furious west wind and marched a little north of east out into the mountains… Clouds of sand came driving against our backs, and the whole atmosphere was dark with the heavy clouds of sand…”

They found little rest. “Laid in camp today [March 9] and the weather, cold, windy, with frequent showers of snow, claims our exclusive attention,” said Peticolas, “for we shiver round the best fire we can make, all wrapped in our overcoats… We are living now on bread and beef, everything else having given out. Poor meat, for the beef is miserably lean and tough, neither fit to eat broiled or boiled.”

Within a few days, the troopers had better weather. Like all bored young soldiers, they grumbled, gambled, traded, read and even danced. They fretted because their officers had not ordered them to move out, on toward the Santa Fe Trail and Fort Union. They knew that the enemy officers could use the lost time to gather intelligence, rest their troops, move or destroy provisions, fortify their post and bring in reinforcements. “Soldiers who had anticipated a quick conclusion to the campaign after Val Verde [sic] seemed bewildered by a lack of decisive action on the part of the leaders,” said Frazier. “Four company commanders resigned. Sibley, his aides, and presumably the regimental staffs also came under criticism, mostly for drinking too much.” The troopers lay around for nearly two weeks. The delay would prove costly.

desert trails

The Battle at Glorieta Pass

Finally, on March 21, Jackson, with a thousand other troopers under Colonel William Read Scurry, marched northeast from the mountain pass, following a route that would take them east of the Sandia Mountain range and through the mining village of Galisteo to Glorieta Pass on the Santa Fe Trail. Jackson’s 7th Regiment, guarding wagons and supplies, trailed the main column. During the first few days, Scurry’s force moved with no sense of urgency. “The mountain scenery in places is picturesque and interesting, but an air of desolate lonesomeness reigns over the whole country,” said Peticolas. “No living thing can we see as we travel on, save animals and men accompanying us… We traveled 10 miles today and passed some old gold mines… We camped this evening at a little village [Real de Dolores] in a mountain valley, the principal feature of which is a large gold mill for crushing quartz… I got several specimens of quartz. Spent _ an hour in the mill very pleasantly…”

At this point, the column did not know that during the days Sibley wasted drinking with his officers in Albuquerque, Colonel John P. Slough had led the First Colorado Volunteers, a force of some 900 miners, southward from Colorado to reinforce the enemy garrison at Fort Union. On March 22, while his opponent Sibley remained sequestered in Albuquerque, Slough had led his Colorado Volunteers plus other Union soldiers out of the fort westward over the Santa Fe Trail to harass the Confederates and menace the capitol. He had sent Major John Chivington ahead with a vanguard of 418 men. Slough followed with the main body, nearly 900 troopers. When Sibley got word of the Colorado Volunteers, he quickly countered by ordering Charles Pyron and John Shropshire, both majors, to lead a detachment of some 400 Confederates from Santa Fe over the trail to intercept Slough’s force. Now, Scurry’s column, Slough’s Union force, and Pyron’s and Shropshire’s Santa Fe detachment all converged on Glorieta Pass.

About twilight on March 26, 1862, a weary 7th Regiment, with Jackson, brought the wagons and supplies into the column’s main encampment near Galisteo, about 15 miles southwest of Glorieta Pass. They had scarcely settled in for the evening when a hard-riding messenger from the north brought word that Pyron’s and Shropshire’s Santa Fe detachment had collided with Chivington’s Colorado Volunteer vanguard force at the west end of the pass, in Apache Canyon. The soldiers would learn that the Confederate detachment had suffered disastrous losses: dozens killed, dozens more wounded, 75 captured (including seven commissioned officers), according to Robert Scott in his Glory Glory Glorieta: The Gettysburg of the West. It added up to nearly half the Santa Fe force. By comparison, the Colorado Volunteers vanguard lost a bare handful of men. The battle had broken off when darkness fell. “…luck was against us,” said one of the Confederates who had been taken prisoner (and was quoted by Scott). “…after fighting hand to hand with them and our comrades being shot and cut down every moment, we were obliged to surrender.” The messenger had brought Pyron’s and Shropshire’s urgent call for Scurry to rush forward to reinforce their detachment.

“The order was immediately given,” said Peticolas, “and in a hour after we received the express, we were all under way…” Jackson, worn and tired like the rest of his 7th Regiment, now found himself faced with a hard night’s march to the Glorieta Pass. “We started off at a brisk gait,” said Peticolas, “and made the first six miles of our journey in a very little time, but footsore and weary we did not travel from that point so fast as we had been doing… …but every man marched bravely along and did not complain at the length of the road, the coldness of the weather, or the necessity that compelled the march.” The column reached the battered Santa Fe detachment at Johnson’s Ranch, at the west end of Glorietta Pass, in the pre-dawn hours of March 27, and Colonel Scurry, the senior officer, assumed command over the entire Confederate force, which would now total some 1000 men still able to fight. (The alcoholic General Sibley had remained safely behind in Albuquerque, far from the scene of the fight.)

With the coming of dawn, Scurry – certain that Slough’s Colorado Volunteers would attack him in force during the day – posted artillery and sharpshooters on high ground to keep watch over the pass. Jackson, with his company and others, snatched some time for rest, and, said Frazier, “teamsters and quartermasters parked the supply trains alongside a creek, beyond the anticipated line of fire.” They believed their supplies lay beyond the reach of the Colorado Volunteers.

Ironically, Slough, at Kozlowski’s Ranch, east of Glorieta Pass, felt certain that Scurry’s Confederates would attack him in force during the day. He concentrated his forces – by now, something less than a thousand men able to fight – and posted sentinels to keep watch over the pass. Chivington’s vanguard force, fresh from the battle of the previous day, gained time for rest.

Throughout the day, both sides waited. And waited. And waited. For an attack that never came.

The following morning, Scurry – ready to join the battle – decided to take the offensive against Slough. Leaving a small force and a single artillery piece to guard what he believed to be his well secured supply train – some 80 wagons and 500 horses and mules – near Johnson’s ranch, he put, according to Hall, around 900 troops on the march east over the Santa Fe Trail. He would attack the Federals head on. Jackson, with his company led by Major Shropshire, marched with the advance units. “Fearing nothing for our [supply] train,” said Peticolas, “we left it behind and marched out to give battle to our enemy…”

At the same time, Slough – ready to join the battle – decided to take the offensive against Scurry. Assuming that the Confederates had remained at Johnson Ranch, Slough sent Chivington with more than 400 men (according to Hall) through a rough mountainous bypass with orders to return to the Santa Fe Trail west of the Confederate forces. He was to then double back and attack Scurry from the rear. Meanwhile, Slough would march westward over the trail with 400 to 500 men. He would attack the Confederates head on. Chivington would serve as an anvil, Slough, as the hammer. At least, that’s what Slough meant to do.

At 11:00 o’clock on the morning of March 28, 1862, the forces of Scurry and Slough came face to face just east of the summit of Glorieta Pass, near Pigeon’s Ranch, their meeting announced by the “sharp report of a gun and sharper whistle of a minie ball,” said Peticolas. “Get out of our way you damned sons of bitches, we are going to take our dinner in Santa Fe!” a Colorado Volunteer yelled, according to Frazier. “You’ll take your dinner in hell,” a Confederate soldier responded. The fight had begun.

For the next seven remorseless hours, the 17-year-old Private Thomas Edwin Jackson, with his company, fought in the ferocious battle that swept him from a pine forest on the south end of the battle line to rugged and wooded slopes on the north end. It became a perfect storm of the crash of cannon, the crack of rifles, the reports of shotguns, the resounding orders of officers, the screams of the wounded and dying.

“…we all fought the same way,” said Peticolas, “advancing steadily from tree to tree and shooting at every enemy that showed himself… Our boys dashed down upon them with a yell and plunging into the gully came to a hand-too-hand conflict with them. Capt. Buckholts killed one with a bowie knife. He was killed himself later in the day.”

The Confederates, with superior numbers, mounted “a furious and steady onslaught, with their rifles and heavy double-barreled shot guns, and then rushed forward, dodging from tree to tree and from rock to rock, until they came into close quarters with the Federals, who, delivering volley after volley, yielded the ground only inch by inch…” said William C. Whitford in his The Colorado Volunteers in the Civil War. “So near together were these contending ranks at times that ‘the muzzles of their guns passed by each other over the top of the loosened rocks,’ and some of them shot at each other from opposite sides of the same clump of cedar bushes.”

For some reason Slough could not understand, Chivington had apparently failed in his mission to bypass the Confederates, double back and attack them from the rear. As the sun sank toward the mountains to the west, Colonel Slough, unnerved and discouraged, ordered his outnumbered troops to abandon the field and retreat to their Kozlowski’s Ranch encampment. He would lead his men back to Fort Union, where he would leave them and return to Colorado far from the war. Even though they had the Colorado Volunteers on the run, said Whitford, “the troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Scurry were so exhausted and crippled by the struggle through which they had passed that they could not further continue fighting at that juncture.”

The two sides called a truce so they could tend to their casualties. According to Frazier, the Confederates suffered 46 dead and 60 wounded; the Federals, 46 dead and 64 wounded. Both sides held prisoners. Snow came in the evening. “Several of our wounded froze to death,” said one Confederate.

Jackson and his fellow troopers did not celebrate their thin victory that cold night. They felt a deep sense of unease. They had received no rations. They felt the familiar gnawing of hunger in the belly. They knew that something beyond the battlefield had gone dreadfully wrong.

The Battle at Johnson Ranch

Chivington and his troops had missed the conflict at the Pigeon Ranch for a simple reason. They got lost. “They had ridden up and down hillsides, through wooded areas and treeless plateaus, but simply could not find the bottom of Glorieta Pass; the men had no idea where they really were, nor where the Confederates were,” according to Scott. They had stumbled around through the mountain slopes for some five hours, Chivington feeling a growing frustration as he listened to the thunder of weapons from the Pigeon Ranch in the distance. He could not locate a trail to take him to the battle scene to join the fighting.

Then, by sheer luck, Chivington found himself peering from a mountain peak down into Glorieta Pass at Johnson Ranch, where he could see the Confederate supply train and draft animals and mounts. After reconnoitering, Chivington and his men poured down the steep mountainside, flushing the startled Confederates like a covey of Gambel’s quail. He seized all 80 of the wagons. “In them,” said Whitford, “were ammunition, subsistence, forage, baggage, officers’ clothing, medical and surgical stores—all of the equipage and other necessary supplies for a small army in camp and on the march.” Chivington torched the entire train. “All of the wagons, most of them hastily overturned, were burned with the entire contents,” said Whitford. He then ordered his men to slaughter the Confederates’ horses and mules, all 500 of them. He left a hellish mosaic of smoldering ruins and dead animals and returned, with freed Union prisoners, in the night over the mountain route to reunite with Slough at Kozlowski’s Ranch. Chivington had dealt a devastating blow to the Sibley’s Army of New Mexico and the Confederate campaign in the Southwest.

The Aftermath of Battle

While Jackson and his fellow soldiers listened to the spades that turned the earth for the graves of their comrades that cold, dark and mournful evening of March 28, 1862, they would discover that their forebodings had been well founded. They would learn that their supply train had been burned, their horses and mules had been butchered, and their Federal prisoners had been set free. Their “victory” over the Federals had literally gone up in smoke.

As the forlorn troops began a withdrawal to Santa Fe in hopes of finding provisions, Jackson passed the ashes of their supply train and the gutted carcasses of their mules and horses. With the ragged Confederate column, he suffered through a long and icy night. He arrived at Santa Fe the following morning, Sunday, March 30, as the ringing bells of the churches called the faithful to mass.

Meanwhile, according to Frazier, Jackson’s commanding officer, Colonel Scurry, had dispatched a report on the Battle at Glorieta Pass to General Sibley, still in Albuquerque. He reported that:

“…another victory was added to the long list of Confederate triumphs.

“…we drove them back until they were in full retreat our men pursuing until from sheer exhaustion we were compelled to stop.

“…Major Pyron had his horse shot under him, and my own cheek was twice brushed by a Minie ball, each time drawing blood… I mentioned this simply to show how hot was the fire of the enemy when all of the field officers upon the ground were either killed or touched [wounded]…

“Our train was burned by a party who succeeded in passing undiscovered around the mountains to our rear…

“The loss of my supplies so crippled me that after burying my dead I was unable to follow up the victory. My men for two days went unfed and blanketless unmurmuringly. I was compelled to come here for something to eat. At last accounts the Federalists were still retiring towards Fort Union…
Yours in haste, W. R. Scurry

“P. S. I do not know if I write intelligently. I have not slept for three nights, and can scarcely hold my eyes open.”

According to Frazier, General Sibley had his brass band assemble before his soldiers in the central plaza in Albuquerque, before the towering San Felipe de Neri church. He had a major read Scurry’s report. He had his band play a vigorous rendition of “Dixie.” The soldiers cheered.

After a few days in Santa Fe, where he found some food and stores, Jackson marched southward with the Confederates to defend Albuquerque, now threatened by reorganized and strengthened Federal forces both from Fort Craig and Fort Union. Reaching Albuquerque, he would learn that the alcoholic Sibley had, at last, faced reality: senior officers killed in battle; men dying daily from their wounds and disease; the Confederate ranks depleted by a quarter; a chronic scarcity of food and provisions; an acute shortage of ammunition. The general, his grand scheme for empire in ruins, ordered his command to retreat down the Chihuahua Trail and the Rio Grande to the south.

As the 17-year-old Jackson moved downstream with his broken and scattered column, he must have yearned for his east Texas home, his mother, his three brothers. He could scarcely have been prepared for another battle, an artillery duel that erupted on April 15, when the Federals attacked the Confederates at Peralta, a few miles south of Albuquerque. Neither could he have been prepared for what would happen to him next. As the battle wound down and the forces disengaged, Jackson fell into the hands of the Federals on April 16. He, with 21 other Confederates, became a prisoner of war.

In the wake of the clash at Peralta, the 45-year-old Henry Hopkins Sibley, General, Army of New Mexico, turned his shattered Confederate brigade toward Texas and home, simply abandoning his sick and wounded in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Socorro. When his campaign began, in the late fall of 1861, he had commanded a force of some 3200 men. When his campaign ended, in the late spring of 1862, Sibley had lost 500 men to wounds and disease and another 500 to Union imprisonment. He had forfeited his reputation. According to Don E. Alberts, writing for the Handbook of Texas, “His men considered him incompetent, a drunkard, and a coward; he had not commanded in any of the battles they fought.” In a letter included in Whitford’s The Battle of Glorieta Pass, one soldier, who had been taken prisoner, said, “I hope the day is not far distant when Gen. Sibley will be hung.”

Prison to Battle to Prison

After his capture at Peralta, the 17-year-old Thomas Edwin Jackson, Private, Company I, 7th Regiment, Army of New Mexico, marched before the guns of Union guards northward up the Chihuahua Trail, eastward over the Santa Fe Trail and eastward across Missouri and Illinois to Chicago and Camp Douglas, a distance of more than 1000 miles. According to the Chicago Historical Society, approximately 26,000 Confederates spent time at Camp Douglas, the foulest of the Federal prisons. Some 4000 died, their bodies buried in unmarked paupers’ graves.

Jackson survived. Even as some Confederate soldiers deserted the South by taking an oath of allegiance to the United States, Private Jackson stayed true to the cause. According to military records, he was released in a prisoner exchange at Vicksburg, Mississippi, on September 20, 1862, nearly three months after his 18th birthday. Apparently – if I can judge by circumstantial evidence – he returned to Texas and soon rejoined the 7th Regiment, which had been revived following Sibley’s New Mexico debacle.

Battle hardened, Jackson now marched with the 7th Regiment into southern Louisiana. On November 20, he fought in a skirmish against the Union’s 2nd Illinois Cavalry, Companies F, H and K at Camp Pratt, a “Confederate camp of conscription and instruction,” according to a Louisiana roadside historical marker. According to the 2nd Illinois Cavalry’s history, the three companies “came upon a force of Texas Rangers that outnumbered them considerably and after firing one volley charged them, and chased them several miles, killing 2 and wounding 4, capturing 1 captain and 75 men, making their total loss 82 men; all without losing a man.”

According to official military records, Jackson fell into the hands of the Federals during the Camp Pratt battle, becoming a prisoner of war for the second time. This time, he marched before the guns of Union guards, not back to Camp Douglas, but to internment in New Orleans. He was released on July 22, 1864, at Red River Landing, a major point of prisoner exchanges located at the juncture of Red River and the Mississippi River, in Louisiana’s Pointe Coupee Parish.

By the time he had reached 19, Thomas Edwin Jackson had survived hard marches across the Chihuahuan Desert, battles in New Mexico, imprisonment at the Union’s notorious Camp Douglas, battles in Louisiana, and imprisonment in New Orleans. He returned home. He would marry. He would raise a family. He would become the great grandfather of Martha A. Sharp, my wife of nearly half a century.

Jay W. Sharp

More Trails

Wild and Diverse Landscape
Native Americans Trails
Coronado Expedition From Compostela to Cibola
Coronado Expedition From Cibola to Quivira Then Home
Chihuahua Trail
Chihuahua Trail 2
The Juan Bautista De Anza Trail
Jornada del Muerto Trail
Santa Fe Trail
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 1


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