Diary of Orrin Brown—March 28, 1865

Fight at Pigeons RanchDiary of Orrin Brown, Goldsboro, North Carolina

Tuesday–Mar. 28th

It was cool again last night and the day has been foggy. I wrote another letter home today. We drew clothing this AM. Jim Gifford was put on extra duty today for not going with the regt. a forageing last Sunday he was not well but did not go to the Drs. to be excused from duty. I have felt considerable better today. The regt. was out on dress parade again at 5 PM. There is a standing order for dress parade at that hour every day while we stay in camp. Sherman issued an order to the effect that the army was to have a good rest here and be well fed well clothed and payed off so that the soldiers can leave here on the next campaign in good spirits. Lieut. Kelleys time is out the 13th of next month. I wrote another long letter home today.

Battle of Glorieta Pass

Glorieta, New Mexico, is often called the “Gettysburg of the West”.  The Battle of Glorieta Pass was the high point of the Confederacy’s manifest destiny expansion plans to conquer the American Southwest.  Rather than extending their reach to the Pacific ports of California, and the gold and silver mines of Colorado—in what had seemed an easy task after taking Valverde Ford, Albuquerque and Santa Fe—the Southerners were forced to retreat back to Texas for the duration of the Civil War.

Apache Cañon offered a preview on 26 March, when evenly matched advance forces under Confederate Maj. Charles Pyron and Union Maj. John Chivington had fought to a draw in the narrowest part of Glorieta Pass.  On the 27th, Col. William Scurry took command of the Confederate forces camped at the western mouth of the canyon, intending to march on Fort Union.  Col. John Slough commanding Federal troops from Fort Union camped at Koslowski’s Ranch near Pecos east of the canyon.  The morning of the 28th, both commanders took to the field, meeting about 11 am at Pigeon’s Ranch in the middle.

Battle of Glorieta Pass

The Confederates had their three cannon in the road as they had the day before, but now with about 1,000 battle-hardy veterans arrayed across the canyon wall to wall.  The Union troops, numbering less than 900 of whom about 2/3 were raw recruits, also formed a battle line, with their artillery (two batteries of four pieces each) across the road and up a gently rising hill.  The Federal artillery forced the Rebel guns back, but an attempt by Colorado Volunteers on the Union right to use the cover of an irrigation ditch to sneak up on the guns resulted in intense hand-to-hand combat when they were discovered.  About noon, Slough fell back about 800 yards and established a new line just west of Pigeon’s Ranch (which was in use as a hospital).  Here the Union artillery pounded the Texan battery quiet.

A frontal assault by the Confederates forced one Federal battery to fall back again, but together the Northern cannons stopped the Rebel advance.  On the rocky slopes above the canyon, though, the Texans were more successful, finally forcing the Union guns to fall back east of the Ranch.  It was a terrible fight, Col. Scurry later reported, noting that every Confederate officer on the field had been injured if not killed.  After six hours of fighting, both sides gradually stopped firing in exhaustion, with the Confederate Army in control of the field of battle.

The Southern victory was tactical, but unknown on the battlefield the Northern troops had scored a strategic victory this day.  Slough had detailed Chivington with 490 men on a circuitous route led by Lt. Col. Manuel Antonio Chaves of the 2nd New Mexico Volunteers across the mesa in an attempt to flank the Texans and harass them from the rear.  Chivington wound up 200 feet above Pyron’s camp at Johnson’s Ranch, where the Rebels had left their baggage train under light guard.  Union troops scaled down into the canyon with rope and leather straps, and quickly routed the baggage guard, fired 80 supply wagons, spiked a cannon, and killed or drove off 500 horses and mules.

Casualties reported on 28 March 1862:  46 killed, 64 wounded, 15 captured for the Union; 46 killed, 50 wounded, 17 captured for the Confederacy.  Yet with the loss of their supply train, Scurry and Pyron had no choice but retreat.  After retreat to Santa Fe, they fell back to Gen. Sibley’s headquarters at Albuquerque before evacuating the Territory and returning to Texas.

Chivington went on to disgrace after the Massacre at Sand Creek in November 1864.  Slough, ever temperamental, resigned his commission and returned East after Col. Canby ordered him back to Fort Union, although by that point Canby had already left Ft. Craig and had authorized the very troop movement Slough had initiated.  The fact his own troops had apparently targeted him during the fighting at Pigeon’s Ranch might also have had something to do with it.  In Washington, DC, Slough was appointed brigadier general with command of a brigade in the Shenandoah.  After the war, he returned to Santa Fe where he was killed in a duel.

In 1879, the New Mexico and Southern Pacific Railroad was constructed through Glorieta Pass, and became part of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.  In the 20th century, first Historic Route 66 and then I-25 were constructed through the pass and now cover much of the original site.  The Glorieta Pass Battlefield is now part of the Pecos National Historical Park, which was first set aside in 1965 to protect the Pecos Pueblo ruins, built c. 1100 AD, and the remains of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos, an early 17th century Spanish mission.  Portions of the battlefield may be open for public access.

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