Diary of Orrin Brown—March 26, 1865

Pecos Civil War WeekendDiary of Orrin Brown, Goldsboro, North Carolina

Sunday–Mar. 26th

It has been a little warmer today than yerterday. Our regt. went out today to guard a forage train they had to start at 4 AM and got back at about 3 PM. We got a large mail this PM. I got 9 letters.

Battle of Apache Cañon

New Mexico Territory, 1862, was very much in play between the Confederate States of America and the Union to which it had only recently been attached.  So far, Sibley’s Brigade of Texas Volunteers had marched up the Rio Grande Valley with little resistance (Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign).  However, a force of Colorado Volunteers under Col. John Slough was also on the march by way of Fort Union, destined to meet first this day.

On 25 March 1862, Union Maj. John Chivington, a Methodist preacher from Denver, led four companies of the 1st Colorado Volunteers and a detachment of the 1st and 3rd U.S. Cavalry regulars up the Santa Fe Trail from the main Federal force camped at Bernal Springs, stopping that night at Martin Kozlowski’s ranch near Pecos Pueblo, where there was a good spring to provide water for the men and horses. Under cover of darkness, 20 men under Lt. George Nelson moved out hoping to surprise any Rebel pickets in the early morning, which they did near the Alexander Vallé “Pigeon” Ranch at the eastern end of Apache Cañon in Glorieta Pass about 20 miles east of Santa Fe.

Battle of Glorieta Pass map

Confederate Maj. Charles L. Pyron, a veteran of the Mexican War, had taken Santa Fe, but he was unaware of the newcomers from Colorado.  Pyron’s advance of Texas Mounted Rifles and local scouts and Chivington’s Colorado volunteers and regulars found each other in the narrow canyon that afternoon.  Pyron’s two howitzers quickly threw grape and shell at the Union troops, who were then deployed to either side of the cleft and sent a withering crossfire on the guns.  The Texans were forced to fall back about a mile and a half before also climbing the rocks and the repeating the scene once more through the day.  The day ended with Pyron retreating to Anthony Johnson’s Ranch (known today as Cañoncito) at the western end of Apache Canyon.  Chivington also retreated, to the Alexander Vallé home, as he explained in the Official Report:

It now being sundown, and we not knowing how near the enemy’s re-enforcements might be, and having no cannon to oppose theirs, hastened to gather up our dead and wounded and several of the enemy’s, and then fell bak to Pigeon’s Ranch and encamped for the night.

As Arthur A. Wright* wrote:  “Something out of the ordinary had taken place in this remote section of the war: Union troops had had a taste of victory.”

Casualties reported for this day were 5 killed, 14 wounded and 3 missing for the Union; 4 killed, 20 wounded, 75 captured for the Confederates.  The next day, Chivington buried his dead and fell back to the better water supply at Kozlowski’s Ranch.  Both sides brought up their reinforcements:  Confederate Col. William R. Scurry from Santa Fe bringing the Texans to 1,100 men; Union Col. John Slough from Bernal Springs, bringing Union strength to 1,300 men, ready for the main event on the 28th.

* Wright, A.A. The Civil War in the Southwest, Denver: Big Mountain Press, 1964.



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