Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fort Craig, NM

Commanding Officer's Quarters
Several miles off Route 25 between Las Cruces and San Antonio, New Mexico lies the crumbled remains of Fort Craig. The fort was built in 1854 along the El Camino Real del Tierra Adentro (The Royal Road of the Interior Land) to defend travelers and settlers from Indian raids. The fort was named after Captain Louis S. Craig who was a American officer in the Mexican War.

General Sibley
With the outbreak of the Civil War, the fort assumed a new importance in defending the gold fields of Colorado and California from the cash-strapped Confederacy.  By July 1861, Fort Craig was the largest fort in the Southwest with a garrison of over 2,000 soldiers.  The same year, the First New Mexico Volunteer Infantry Regiment was formed.  The mostly Hispanic unit was commanded by Colonel Kit Carson.

Colonel Canby
The war soon came to this remote outpost along the Rio Grande River in 1862.  General Henry H. Sibley led a brigade of about 2,500 Confederate troops up the Rio Grande to Fort Craig.  In response to the threat on Fort Craig, Col. R. S. Canby, the military governor of the New Mexico Territory, moved his troops down from Santa Fe to Fort Craig.  In February 1862, five regiments of New Mexico volunteers were marched from Fort Union to supplement the Regular Army troops at Fort Craig.

Gravel Bastions
When the Confederate force reached the fort, Sibley tried to induce the Union force to meet them outside for a battle.  Sibley demanded that Canby surrender the fort.  The Union commander refused the battle challenge and the surrender.  Silbey's thoughts to attack the fort were quickly squashed when he saw how well the fort was defended by artillery.  The armament was a ruse, and Canby had mounted wooded logs painted black on the gravel bastions supplemented by Union caps and real soldiers. 

Guard House and Sally Port
On February 21, Sibley was eventually able to draw the Canby's forces into battle.  The two armies met at the Battle of Valverde north of Fort Craig on the eastern side of the Rio Grande. Canby's 3,000 Union soldiers were defeated by Silbey's 2,590 Confederates. The Confederates, under command of Texan Tom Green, defeated the larger Union force inflicting 432 casualties.  Two hundred of the casualties were identified as missing or captured, however most of these men deserted.   The Union forces retreated to the safety of Fort Craig, but not before the New Mexico Volunteers under Col. Miquel Pino burned the Confederate supply wagons.  Silbey's troops continued their march north and won another victory at Glorieta Pass on March 28.  However, the Confederate campaign in New Mexico was terminated, when, as at Valverde, Union troops destroyed the supply train.  Without supplies, Silbey was forced to leave New Mexico and return to Texas.

Today, the remains of Fort Craig are all that is left of the Battle of Valverde.  Please see my pictures of the fort. I hope that you will have the opportunity to visit the site maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. If you tour the site, please stay on the trails, keep off the walls and bastions, and watch out for rattlesnakes.

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