Diary of Orrin Brown—Feb 21, 1865

NM Territory, Feb 1862 (Swanson)Diary of Orrin Brown, outside Winnsboro, South Carolina

Tuesday–Feb. 21st

We had a frosty night but it came off warm and nice this Morning. We left the picket line at 10 AM went to camp and was on the road at about 10.30 AM. I got into the Ambulance about noon and rode the rest of the day. The country through here is very rough and the soil is red clay. The Timber is White and Blk. Oak. Some Hickory and some Pine. We must have marched about 10 miles and went into camp at about 4 PM in an oak grove. The day has been cool. Read 3 chapt. in Testament today.

The Battle of Valverde, 1862

On the morning of 21 February 1862, 3,000 Union regular troops and New Mexico volunteers under Col. E.R.S. Canby, in charge of Fort Craig near Socorro on the Camino Real, met 2,500 Texas cavalry under Confederate Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley, at the Battle of Valverde Ford.  Rebel troops had arrived a week earlier in poor winter weather, hoping to lure Canby out of the fort, which guarded the road north.  When Canby refused to take the bait, the Texans fell back and forded the Rio Grande River, intending to re-cross north of the fort and continue on to assault the town of Albuquerque.  The result of the battle was inconclusive, with 432 casualties (including deserters) on the Federal side against 187 on the Southern side.  Canby was indecisive yet retained control of the Fort, while Sibley, who had previously served under Canby in New Mexico Territory, apparently wallowed in drunkenness, effectively yielding command of the engagement.  Technically it was a Confederate victory, as they held the field at the end of they day and so continued their scourge of the Rio Grande valley.  Both sides were well served by veteran junior officers stepping up, including legendary Col. Kit Carson (later Brig. Gen.) of the 1st New Mexico Infantry for the Union and Col. Tom Green (later General) of the 5th Texas Mounted Rifles for the Confederates.


The Confederate’s New Mexico Campaign of February – April 1862 can be seen as the continuation of the Texican‘s manifest destiny quest to control expansion territory for the Republic of Texas.  The Spanish had established Santa Fe by 1610, long before the first European settlements on the Texas Gulf Coast.  On independence from Mexico in 1836, Texas had claimed the Rio Grande valley north beyond the river’s source, and soon after its citizens began independent armed forays into Northern Mexico.  In 1841, the Republic sent 300 volunteer troops on an expedition against Santa Fe, which historian Alvin M. Josephy, Jr, termed “a debacle” (The Civil War in the American West, 1991).  In 1843, the Republic tried again, commissioning three independent parties to intercept Mexican trade on the portion of the Santa Fe Trail claimed by Texas.  Each succeeded only in raising animosity against Texas by Santa Fe, the Republic of Mexico, and US Federal authorities.  Annexation of Texas into the United States in 1845, and the cession of New Mexico Territory in 1848 after the Mexican War.  These claims were only dropped in the Compromise of 1850 in exchange for the US Federal government assuming substantial debts run up by the Republic.

At the onset of the Civil War, Southern strategists set their sights on New Mexico Territory in connection with adding California (and her gold) to the Confederacy, as well as Colorado (and her gold).  There was also long agitation for creation of “Arizona Territory” from the southern portion of New Mexico, including the Gadsen Purchase.  After Major General David E. Twiggs traitorously surrendered the U.S. Army’s Department of Texas without a fight, Federal troops had evacuated forts across Texas.  In July 1861, while William T. Sherman was fighting at Bull Run back East, Texan Lt. Col. John R. Baylor arrived at abandoned Fort Bliss at El Paso with authorization to take Fort Fillmore outside the Southern stronghold of Mesilla.  Which he did easily, allowing organization of the territory for the Confederacy with himself as governor.

The Confederate victory was fleeting.  Within a year, Baylor was removed from office in scandal, while Sibley and the Texans were forced back to Texas after destruction of their supply train at Glorieta Pass.  In 1863, the Union Territory of Arizona was organized from the western portion of New Mexico Territory.  The site of Valverde Ford now lies under the waters of Elephant Butte Lake, and in many ways New Mexicans and Texans remain if not at war, certainly wary of each other still today.



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3 Responses to Diary of Orrin Brown—Feb 21, 1865

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