FORT UNION
Historic Resource Study
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CHAPTER TWO:
THE FIRST FORT UNION (continued)

     While the troops and supplies were moving from old departmental headquarters at Santa Fe to the new post on the Mora, Major Edmund B. Alexander, Third Infantry, was ordered to abandon the post at Las Vegas and move his command, one company of infantry and two of dragoons, to the new place. At Santa Fe, where 134 citizens were employed by the quartermaster department, all civilian employees, except for those needed to assist with the movement of stores to the new headquarters and depot, were discharged. Within three weeks after Sumner took command, the citizens employed by the quartermaster department in New Mexico was reduced to three clerks and one carpenter. [54] Thereafter a few citizens were hired as teamsters and occasional "other capacities," but most were discharged as soon as their duties were performed. [55]

     All expenditures for the department were to be approved by the commander before disbursements were made. Sumner later observed, "if I do nothing else in this Territory, I will certainly effect a great reduction in expenses but I hope to do more." [56] The troops rather than civilian employees performed most of the construction work at the new posts in the department. Almost all transportation of supplies within the department was done by army wagons and animals at a cost less than private contractors could offer. Because "it is impossible to procure soldiers sufficient for our wants who have any experience whatever in ox driving" (which meant that civilian teamsters had to be hired for ox trains), Captain Sibley believed that mules were more efficient than oxen for the public wagons and shifted to those draft animals in the name of savings. [57] The cost of keeping one army mule in New Mexico was calculated by Captain Easton, quartermaster department, as being $320.00 per year. Before winter Sumner sent 71 wagons and 473 mules to Fort Leavenworth so his department would not have the expense of wintering those animals. [58]

     Sumner fulfilled most of his orders regarding economy, and he did not neglect the Indian question. He sent a patrol to begin protecting the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail between Fort Union and Fort Atkinson on the Arkansas River on August 3 and ordered that an expedition against the Navajos, which Colonel Munroe had been planning, be prepared to march on August 15. [59] While troops and supplies were being consolidated at the new department headquarters on Wolf Creek, Indian raids continued in New Mexico. The Navajos were the major perpetrators, stealing livestock and killing citizens. Sumner began to concentrate troops and supplies at Santo Domingo, south of Santa Fe, for the upcoming Navajo expedition. Following the show of American military force in the Navajo homelands, Sumner intended to establish a new military post in the area to keep watch over them.

     Sumner later reported that his "first step was to break up the post at Santa Fe, that sink of vice and extravagance, and remove the troops and public property." Next, he moved troops from other New Mexican towns, "a matter of vital importance, both as regards discipline and economy." He declared that, from his observations, "most of the troops in this territory have become in a high degree demoralized, and it can only be accounted for by the vicious associations in those towns." The "evils were so great," he feared that he could not "eradicate them entirely" until the troops could be concentrated in sufficient numbers to instill discipline. [60]

     On July 21, 1851, Sumner ordered Second Lieutenant Louis H. Marshall, Third Infantry, to lead Company D, Third Infantry, from Fort Marcy at Santa Fe to the new post on Wolf Creek. Lieutenant John C. McFerran, Third Infantry, remained in Santa Fe to oversee the packing and shipping of subsistence stores to the new depot, after which he was to follow. Because sufficient transportation for the transfer of stores was unavailable, the army hired 32 wagons belonging to Francis X. Aubry, well-known Santa Fe Trail freighter who had just opened a significant new branch of the trail that became known as the Aubry Route or Aubry Cutoff. Aubry later claimed $4,000 in damages done to his equipment. [61] Captain Easton turned over the quartermaster stores to Captain Sibley, who was responsible for moving, storing, and protecting the large inventory at the new site. Sibley later reported that most of those stores, except for clothing and some subsistence items, were moved within 20 days. [62] Captain Shoemaker, military storekeeper, transferred the ordnance and ordnance stores from Santa Fe to the new depot, although much of this was left in safe storage in Santa Fe until buildings could be erected at Fort Union. [63]

     Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Swords, quartermaster department, inspected all quartermaster facilities in New Mexico in 1851, and the report he filed from the new Fort Union, one month to the day after it was established, was critical of the removal of stores to this new post before storehouses were available to protect the commodities. He could not understand why such "a large amount of public property had been removed to it from Santa Fe and Las Vegas" when "no storehouses had yet been provided for its protection." The supplies were piled outside with only a canvas cover, and Swords "feared much of it has become more or less damaged by exposure to the weather, the rainy season having set in." He had serious "doubts as to the propriety of removing the stores from Santa Fe before provision was made for their security at the new-post." There were adequate storehouses in Santa Fe, and a battalion of artillery was still there to guard them. It would have been less expensive to distribute the commodities from Santa Fe to many posts in the department than to haul them to Fort Union from which they would have to be hauled a farther distance to reach the same posts. [64] It was another example of Colonel Sumner's intense desire to save money regardless of the consequences, practices which Surgeon Jonathan Letterman later called "extravagant economy." [65]

     Sumner left Santa Fe on July 23 with troops heading for the new headquarters, arriving at Las Vegas on July 25. There Sumner directed that the military post at Rayado be abandoned, with the garrison and supplies transferred to the new headquarters. [66] Two days later Captain Ewell reported from Rayado that everything there would be moved as soon as transportation was provided; he estimated 20 wagons were needed for the supplies which included a sawmill and about 10,000 feet of sawed lumber. The saw and the lumber would be important for the construction of quarters and storehouses at the new post. Ewell also reported that no laborers were available at Rayado to make and lay adobes because Lucien Maxwell had employed everyone available to build a fence around his fields. [67]

     Maxwell, proprietor of the enormous Beaubien-Miranda Grant (later known as the Maxwell Grant), protested the removal of troops from Rayado where his headquarters were located. He requested that some military protection remain in that vicinity in order to protect his holdings from Indian raids, especially while he was serving as a guide to Lieutenant Pope to open a new wagon road from Fort Union to the crossing of the Canadian River on the Cimarron Route and from that crossing to the Big Timbers on the Arkansas River. A compromise was reached whereby 15 dragoons (a non-commissioned officer and 14 privates of Company I, First Dragoons) were left at Rayado with supplies for three months, and Maxwell provided quarters and stables for these soldiers and their horses. Captain Ewell reported that "Mr. Maxwell furnishes excellent Quarters & stabling gratis, for the Det. authorized to be left here." [68]

     Sumner later reported that he had removed the troops from and abandoned several other posts located in towns, establishing new garrisons closer to the Indians of the territory. In addition to Las Vegas and Rayado, he withdrew the troops from Albuquerque, Cebolleta, Socorro, Dona Ana, San Elizario, and El Paso. [69] The posts at Taos and Abiquiu were abandoned in November 1851. [70] Four new posts were founded in 1851: Fort Union near the Mora River on Wolf Creek (July 26, 1851), Fort Conrad on the west bank of the Rio Grande near Valverde (September 8, 1851), Fort Defiance at the mouth of Bonita Canyon in Navajo country just west of the present New Mexico-Arizona boundary (September 18, 1851), and Fort Fillmore on the east bank of the Rio Grande about 40 miles above El Paso near Mesilla (September 23, 1851). Because of demands from the citizens of Taos and promises to provide "comfortable" quarters for soldiers, a company of Third Infantry was ordered to return there. Troops were again withdrawn from Taos, June 14, 1852, and a new post, Cantonment Burgwin, was established a few miles from Taos on August 14, 1852. Sumner also established two other new posts: Fort Webster at the Santa Rita copper mines on January 23, 1852, and Fort Massachusetts in the land of the Utes on Ute Creek near the San Luis Valley of present Colorado, June 22, 1852. [71]

     Quartermaster General Thomas S. Jesup was pleased with what Sumner had done upon his arrival in New Mexico. He especially approved the removal of the troops from the towns and locating them closer to the scenes of Indian raids at points where grass and fuel were readily available as positive steps toward the reduction of expenses in the department. [72] He apparently endorsed the establishment of Fort Union.

     Major Alexander abandoned the post at Las Vegas on July 26, 1851, and led Company G, Third Infantry, and Companies F and K, First Dragoons, to the site of the new post at Los Pozos, which was established later the same day at the site selected by Colonel Sumner on July 12. The post was on the west side of Wolf Creek at the base of a high mesa to the west of the site. The geographical position was 35° 54' 21" north latitude, 105° 01' 00" west longitude, at an altitude of 6,670 feet above sea level. Sumner, with Company D of the Third Infantry, and a detachment of recruits arrived the following day. Sumner and Alexander immediately referred to the new post as Fort Union, but Sumner did not issue an order officially giving it that name until August 2, 1851. [73]

     Prior to that, on July 31, Sumner expressed belief that the location "would certainly effect a great reduction in expenses." He expressed some reservations about the location, stating "it does not exactly suit me" because of a shortage of arable land for a large farm and a shortage of water for irrigation purposes. He requested that equipment be sent to bore wells. Still, Sumner defended it as the best place available east of Santa Fe. [74]

     Not everyone was satisfied with the location. Captain Shoemaker, military storekeeper in charge of the ordnance depot, declared soon after arriving at the new post, "every days experience goes to show the many disadvantages & objections to this place as a permanent location for an Ordnance Depot." He asserted that the "want of common natural advantages seems to indicate the absolute necessity of its abandonment as an Ordnance post, so soon as there is an appropriation to build an Arsenal." [75]

     The suitability of the location of Fort Union was almost a constant issue until the Civil War, and there were several proposals over the years to move it to a "better" site. A second post was built approximately one mile east of the first post and the nearby mesa early in the Civil War, and a third post was erected next to that second fort a short time later. Other than those short moves, the several proposals to relocate Fort Union were not fulfilled because of changes in command of the department or the interruption of circumstances such as the Civil War. After the Civil War Shoemaker's arsenal was rebuilt beside the site of the original fort, and he remained at Fort Union beyond his retirement in 1882 until his death in 1886. Despite his early opposition, he became closely attached to the place. There were always some problems, however, which resulted from the location of the post.

     Fort Union was established on private land, as noted, for there was little public land in the region because of the earlier Spanish and Mexican grants to individuals and groups. Alexander Barclay, co-owner of Barclay's Fort on the Mora River, protested to Colonel Sumner in October 1851 that military plans to use land along the Mora for agricultural purposes would take water for irrigation that he was already dependent upon for his own farming operations. [76] Barclay later claimed the land on which Fort Union was located and, after his claim was confirmed by the courts, negotiated a rental agreement with the army.

     Because Fort Union was located off the route of the stagecoach line, which passed by Barclay's Fort, Sumner discovered that mails from the East were delivered to Santa Fe and distributed throughout the territory from that city. This meant that mail for department headquarters at Fort Union passed within a few miles of the post on the way to Santa Fe and was not delivered to the new post until several days (usually five days) later. Thus he requested of the postmaster general that a post office be established at Fort Union, with the post sutler, Jared W. Folger, as postmaster, and that the mails be delivered directly to the post. [77]

     Sumner directed Lieutenant Pope, topographical engineers, to find "a new road by the shortest practicable route between this point and Fort Leavenworth." Pope, accompanied by a dragoon escort and guided by Lucien B. Maxwell and a Delaware Indian, began his reconnaissance on August 9. [78] The route Pope established, with the help of Captain Carleton and his company of dragoons, was commonly known in New Mexico as the Fort Leavenworth Road. It ran northward from Fort Union, passed north of the Turkey Mountains and Wagon Mound, and connected with the main Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail near the Rock Crossing of the Canadian River. As a more direct connection to the Cimarron Route, this road saved travelers to and from the Missouri Valley approximately 13 miles over the older circuitous course. The new road became the principal route for military freight, most of which came from Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri River to the depot at Fort Union for distribution to the military posts throughout the Ninth Military Department. [79]

     Pope also, as directed by Sumner, located a route from the Rock Crossing of the Canadian to the Bent's Fort or Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail (also called the Fort Leavenworth Road, which creates confusion for historians), connecting at the Big Timbers in present eastern Colorado, a road that was used by military freight contractors during the early 1870s when the railroads built into Colorado Territory. [80] Pope also attempted to find a better and shorter route for freight wagons between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Union by following the Smoky Hill River into present western Kansas before heading south to the Arkansas River at Chouteau's Island (in present Kearny County, Kansas), but such a road was not developed. [81]

     While a shorter route between Fort Union and the Missouri River was being explored, Sumner had Captain Sibley, department quartermaster, open a more direct route southward to Las Vegas. It is not clear how this route differed from the major Santa Fe Trail between the Mora Valley and the town of Las Vegas, but Colonel Mansfield observed that it saved "several miles in distance." Upon completion of these improvements, Mansfield reported that "this post is now directly on the shortest road to Santa Fe." [82] With the establishment of Fort Union as a supply depot, Sumner had affected the routing of a good portion of the traffic on the Santa Fe Trail.

     Sumner's primary consideration, after arranging for the reorganization of the department and establishing Fort Union, was to deal with the Indians in New Mexico. In addition to planning the upcoming campaign against the Navajos, Sumner had arranged for better protection of the Santa Fe Trail. On August 2, 1851, in the same order naming Fort Union, Sumner directed that "in order to afford protection to travel and commerce between the Missouri frontier and this territory, Major Carleton's Company K 1st Dragoons, will be kept in motion this summer and fall along the Cimarron route, between this place and the post below the crossing of the Arkansas river [Fort Atkinson], returning finally to this post." [83] The primary mission of these patrols was protection of the stagecoaches and mail they carried, giving some protection directly or indirectly to other travelers and freight caravans on the trail.

     Later, when the possibility of Indian attacks on the mail coaches threatened, the patrols were replaced with escorts which accompanied the eastbound mails from Fort Union to the Arkansas River in Kansas Territory and the westbound coaches (if connections were made) from the Arkansas River to Fort Union. Sometimes the escort of approximately 20 soldiers was mounted and rode near the mail wagons or coaches; other times the escort rode in wagons which accompanied the mails. Only rarely were these armed patrols or escorts attacked by Indians. Beginning with Carleton's first patrol in 1851, military commanders considered these efforts successful in protecting the Santa Fe Trail.

     Carleton and his command left Fort Union on August 3, 1851, and followed the Cimarron Route to Fort Atkinson on the Arkansas River, where a mail station had been established. He was instructed to move slowly along the Santa Fe Trail, remain at Fort Atkinson for one week, and return at a leisurely pace over the same route. He was to watch for Indians along the way, show "great kindness" to those who were peaceable, and promptly punish any who were considered hostile. After recuperating at Fort Union for approximately 10 days after making the first trip, the same troops were to make a second patrol under the same directions. [84]

     Sumner reported several weeks later, "that no depredations, whatever, have been committed on the road to Missouri, since Major Carleton has been upon it." [85] This system of patrols operated until November 4, 1851, when Carleton's command returned to Fort Union for the winter months, and was repeated during part of the following summer. Later, when escorts replaced patrols, the troops from Fort Union operated in conjunction with Fort Atkinson until that post was abandoned, October 2, 1854. After Fort Larned was established in Kansas Territory in 1859, a system of escorts was coordinated between that post and Fort Union. In this way, one of the missions of the Fort Union garrison, protection for the Santa Fe Trail, was achieved.

     The Santa Fe Trail may have been clear of Indian raids in the summer of 1851, but much of the Territory of New Mexico was without adequate protection. Sumner led a large force against the Navajos on August 17 and established Fort Defiance near their homeland on September 18, but members of that tribe slipped around those troops in the field and raided unprotected settlements near the Rio Grande Valley. [86] Before Sumner returned from the Navajo campaign, which failed to engage the enemy, additional attacks were made on New Mexican settlements. [87] Governor Calhoun, fearing the regular army could not protect the far-flung settlements of the territory, called up a mounted militia on October 24, 1851, to serve for six months. Some of these militiamen, led by Brigadier General Manuel Herrera of Ojitos Frios (a village ten miles southwest of Las Vegas), carried out several expeditions against Apache and Ute Indians. They apparently operated independently of the regular army. [88]

     After Sumner returned to Fort Union, New Mexico Governor Calhoun, in response to citizen requests, asked Sumner to authorize the issue of federal military arms for a volunteer militia unit in the territory so the people could better protect themselves from destruction at the hands of Indians. After some delay, Sumner authorized Captain Shoemaker to issue 75 flintlock muskets, with ammunition and necessary accouterments, to the governor for the use of a militia unit to be led by Captain Preston Beck, a rancher in the Pecos Valley below Anton Chico. [89] Sumner placed two restrictions on the "loan" of arms; one, that they would "be immediately returned whenever demanded by the Commanding Officer of the 9th Dept., and secondly that they are never to be used in making hostile incursions into the Indian Country unless this volunteer company is acting in conjunction with the regular troops." [90]

     These restrictions were unacceptable to Captain Beck, and the arms were refused. [91] A period of strained relations between Sumner and Calhoun followed. [92] Sumner was busy traveling around the department and spent little time at the new post at Los Pozos.

     On January 1, 1852, Sumner, just back at Fort Union from an inspection tour that took him to El Paso, declared that "I find it indispensably necessary to remove my headquarters from this post to Albuquerque, on the Rio Grande, in order to be nearer the new posts in the Indian Country. Circumstances might arise which would make it important that I should be within striking distance of these posts." [93] Fort Union did not seem to be in Indian country, although the presence of the troops as well as the season may have accounted for the lack of activity in the vicinity. Katie Bowen noted that "the Apaches seem friendly enough in this part of the country and hunt over these mountains without giving any trouble." [94] The headquarters were transferred on February 1, 1852. [95]

     Sumner, ever mindful of his orders to reduce expenses in the department, also began 1852 with another order to economize: "No Officer will be continued in command of a post in this Department, who does not manifest great zeal and ability in carrying out the orders of the government, relating to agriculture, and the reduction of army expenses." [96] In the long run Sumner's drive to economize probably did more harm than good in the department, but he was convinced it was the right thing to do.

     As he prepared to leave Fort Union for his new headquarters, Sumner painted a rosy picture of conditions in New Mexico six months after he took command of the department. The new posts he had established were "exercising a favorable influence in our Indian relations." He believed the placing of troops near the Indians homelands prevented them from making "distant hostile expeditions" for fear that their families and property might be attacked by the troops located nearby. Sumner recommended that a small military post be established on the Cimarron River, about midway between Fort Union and the Arkansas River, to protect traffic on the Santa Fe Trail. He expected an era of unprecedented peace to follow. [97] This report was naive; conditions were soon to change in the territory; and Indian problems were far from being resolved. In the meantime, since the troops arrived to establish Fort Union in July, the construction of the post was partially completed.

     Colonel Alexander had wasted no time in getting soldiers to work on the erection of quarters and storehouses under the immediate direction of the post quartermaster, Captain Sibley (who arrived at the new post on August 6), so troops and supplies could be secured and protected before winter arrived. Traditionally, frontier military establishments were constructed by civilian laborers and skilled craftsmen employed by the quartermaster department. In New Mexico, because of the great attention to economize everywhere possible, Sumner turned to the soldiers for construction labor. Unfortunately, few soldiers possessed the skills of carpentry and masonry which, accompanied by the rush to complete structures as quickly as possible, resulted in shoddy buildings that were deteriorating almost as soon as completed for occupation. Because of the available timber, Fort Union was constructed of pine logs. In the haste to get the structures up before winter, the bark was not even removed from the green logs which were "laid on the ground without any durable foundation." [98] Stone was quarried near the post for the construction of fireplaces and chimneys. [99]

     Sibley admitted that "the buildings are, however, confessedly of a temporary character." He recommended that if the new posts established in the department, including Fort Union, were to be considered "permanent, sound economy would prescribe that the necessary buildings should be permanent also." [100] Fort Union, then, became a permanent establishment with temporary buildings because of the need to reduce expenditures. Katie Bowen, who was among the first to live in the quarters at Fort Union, was critical of what she called Sumner's "excessive economy," [101] and a few years later the post surgeon, Jonathan Letterman, referred to the failure to provide adequate structures at Fort Union as "short-sighted and extravagant economy." [102] The "temporary" buildings were repaired over the years, but they were not replaced for at least a decade.

     The officers and troops at Fort Union lived in tents while they constructed the buildings, and they apparently spent most of their time erecting quarters in an attempt to have adequate housing before winter. By August 20, less than four weeks after the first troops arrived at the site of Fort Union, the walls for two company quarters and the hospital were completed, and the roof was being placed on one set of company quarters. The commanding officer's quarters were under construction, the log walls expected to be completed within three more days. Sibley then planned to build other officers' quarters until all officers of the staff and command were housed. Work on storehouses would wait until the quarters were finished. [103]

     The major obstacle in the way of having quarters completed before winter was "the want of lumber." The boards from Rayado were being brought in, but the sawmill apparently had not been moved. A supply train from Fort Leavenworth, under command of Captain Isaac Bowen, was also bringing a horse-powered sawmill. According to Sibley, on August 20, "Bowen's train is in sight, & if he has the machine with him, we will have mules in readiness to saw lumber in a very short time." The nearby Turkey Mountains had sufficient timber "to cut enough for our purposes before winter sets in." [104]

     A few days later Katie Bowen informed her mother that "we are putting up quarters as fast as possible." The company quarters, commanding officer's quarters, and the hospital were "well advanced" and work had begun on Sibley's quarters. "Next comes ours," she wrote, "as all are built according to rank, and Col Sumner ordered that all the married officers houses should be built first." [105]

     By September 2 Sibley stated that "we are progressing rapidly in the erection of buildings," and reported the log walls were up for two company quarters, one for infantry and one for dragoons, for the hospital, and four officers' quarters. He expected the new sawmill to be ready the following day, and it would be used to saw lumber for roofs and floors. He concluded that, if no accidents occurred, "the quarters will be in readiness to receive the troops by the 1st day of November." [106] As it turned out, however, the sawmills broke down so often that an adequate supply of lumber could not be sawed at the post. [107]

     Despite the problems of equipment failures and unskilled soldier-builders, the quarters, hospital, offices, storehouses, and related buildings at Fort Union were going up on an area of approximately 80 acres. According to Post Surgeon Letterman, writing in 1856, "the buildings being, of necessity, widely separated, cause the post to present more the appearance of a village, whose houses have been built with little regard to order, than a military post." Letterman pointed out that the terrain on which the post was built presented a drainage problem, "the water during a heavy rain not unfrequently running into and through some of the buildings." [108]

     Fort Union, like many western posts, had no protective perimeter wall nor any fortification (until the second post was built during the Civil War). It was a base for supplies and men, but not a defensive work. There was apparently no concern that Indians would attack or besiege the post. "We never think of Indians," wrote Katie Bowen, "and I have not heard that any were near." [109] A defensive earthwork was constructed early in the Civil War when Confederate troops invaded New Mexico. Except for that field work, Fort Union served no defensive purpose except as a base for troops and supplies.

     Because of trouble with the sawmills, which Sibley complained "are incessantly requiring repairs," the workers had to construct roofs on most of the buildings "with earth, the custom of the country." This was "only considered temporary," and later, when lumber was available, board roofs would be placed over the top of the earthen ones. By October 3 the walls were erected for all the buildings planned to be completed in 1851, and the roofs were being constructed. [110] On November 3 Captain Shoemaker, in charge of the ordnance depot, noted in his monthly report to the chief of ordnance in Washington, D.C., that "the work of building Quarters & Storerooms is all that has been done since our arrival here, except the usual receipts & issues." He predicted that the quarters at the post, although "very temporary ones" which were only "partially completed," would be ready for occupancy within 10 or 12 more days. [111]

     On December 3 Sibley announced that all the officers and men were in the new buildings, "although the quarters are not fully completed." Because the structure designed to serve as the post hospital did "not exactly answer the purposes for which it was intended," a new hospital was under construction and the old one was to be converted into a storehouse. This would make it possible to move the public stores from under canvas into a secure facility. [112] Work on these and additional buildings continued into the spring of 1852.

     By April 1, 1852, only a few shops and a storehouse of the original plan remained to be erected, and soldiers were working on those as well as finishing the other buildings. "I hope," wrote Sibley, "by the close of the ensuing summer to be able to announce to you that everything has been done that was originally contemplated." In order to reduce "to some extent the expenses of the Q'master Department in this Territory," enlisted men continued to provide all the labor on the buildings and they were sawing all the lumber and operating a lime kiln to produce plaster and mortar. [113] He failed to mention that they were mostly unskilled and the quality of their work was inadequate for the needs of garrison. The belief that these were only temporary structures probably influenced the level of workmanship as well as the grade of materials used. The caliber of the buildings also apparently suffered from Sibley's inability to design reliable structures for the New Mexico climate. The combination of circumstances resulted in inferior quarters and storehouses.

     Although the quality of construction was much criticized in the future and major repairs were required almost as quickly as the buildings were occupied, an entire complement of log structures was reported by Captain Sibley as nearly completed by the end of June 1852. [114] In some of the buildings the logs were placed upright, and in others they were laid horizontally in the typical log-cabin style. Because they were, as Surgeon Letterman explained, "unseasoned, unhewn, and unbarked pine logs," placed on the ground without foundations, he found them a few years later "rapidly decaying." Of the house he occupied, Letterman said that "in many of the logs . . . an ordinary sized nail will not hold, to such an extent has the timber decayed, although several feet above the ground." [115] Given the abundance of stone near the site, it is difficult to understand why some was not used for foundations. The only plausible explanations seem to be that there was not time to do that before winter arrived and these were considered to be temporary buildings at the time of construction.

     There were in June 1852, when Sibley made his annual report for the department, nine sets of officers' quarters at Fort Union, all identical except a larger building for the commanding officer, each apparently having four rooms. The yard around each of the officers' quarters was enclosed, giving some privacy and a place for an outhouse, chicken coop, pig pen, stable for cows and horses, and family garden plot if desired. In the haste to complete these quarters before winter began in 1851, as noted, they all had flat, earthen roofs placed on a framework of logs. As lumber was sawed at the post, gabled board roofs were placed over the earthen roofs to provide better protection from precipitation. [116]

     Katie Bowen described her quarters as having two rooms in front and a kitchen and servant's quarters in the rear. "Our rooms," she wrote to her parents, "are very tidy and comfortable having large stone fireplaces that give us genial warmth and cheerfulness." [117] She later noted that the roofs leaked: "No one in garrison, except Maj. Sibley, has anything but a mud roof and a heavy shower would give our carpets and fixins a beautiful color." She saw little hope for improvement soon, declaring that "the old worn out mills break down two or three times a day and there is no telling when the rest of us will get boards for our houses." [118] The Bowen quarters received a board roof a few weeks later, and Katie found a thorough housecleaning was a necessary result. "I was in hopes that the house was clean for the summer, but in putting up the board roofs, so much dirt scattered through the logs that I will be obliged to take up carpets." She had mixed emotions about the new roof. "Now we are secure against wet, though I feel rather timid respecting fire." [119] She later found that the quarters were little protection from rodents. "The mice bother us to death," she grumbled in the summer of 1852, and "last night they ate both laces out of my boots and cut my curtains all to pieces." [120]

     There were two company barracks completed by June 1852, each 140 feet long and 18 feet wide, with two wings 50 feet long by 16 feet wide. These had board roofs, and included kitchens and mess rooms as well as squad rooms and quarters for sergeants. A third set of barracks was added later in 1852 or in 1853. None of these barracks, it turned out, was well constructed.

plan of Fort Union
Plan of Fort Union, 1853. Source: Robert M. Utley, Fort Union National Monument (Washington: National Park Service, 1962), 12.
(click on image for an enlargement)

     Although Inspector General Mansfield reported in August 1853 that "the quarters occupied by the respective companies were in a good state of police and the comfort of the troops studied in all the details," [121] Surgeon Letterman described them in 1856 as not fit for habitation. "One set of the so-called barracks," he reported, "have lately been torn down to prevent any untoward accidents that were liable at any moment to happen from the falling of the building; and yet this building was erected in 1852." Not only were they dangerous, according to Surgeon Letterman, they were uncomfortable. "The unbarked logs afford excellent hiding places for that annoying and disgusting insect the cimex lectularius [bed bug], so common in this country, which it is by no means backward in taking advantage of, to the evident discomfort of those who occupy the buildings—the men almost universally sleeping in the open air when the weather will permit." [122]

     Earlier in 1856 Captain J. C. McFerran, post quartermaster, had inspected the buildings and found that the walls of one of the company quarters, probably the one torn down, had to be "propped up, outside & in, to prevent them falling and all of the quarters & public buildings, at the post, are very much decayed, out of repair, unsafe & filled with insects & vermin." He concluded "that it is absolutely necessary that immediate steps should be taken to rebuild the entire post, before the rainy season begins." [123] McFerran's recommendations were not followed, partly because of lack of funds and partly because of periodic consideration of proposals to close the post in favor of another position, and the original buildings were used until the Civil War.

     The state of those structures was described by Lieutenant Herbert M. Enos, post quartermaster, in 1861. "They are with scarcely a single exception," he reported, "rotting down; the majority of them almost unfit for occupation and in fact, all of them in such a dilapidated state as to require continual and extensive repairs to keep them in an habitable condition. The Hospital, Commissary and Quarter Master's Buildings are entirely unfit for the purposes for which they are required." He stated that "several companies of troops now here are occupying tents because of the lack of quarters." Enos reported that almost no repairs had been made at Fort Union during the previous year. [124] The reason, which he did not state, was that plans were well underway to close the post and establish Fort Butler. Those plans were changed with the coming of the Civil War, and Fort Union was given a new importance and the second post was built.

     The post hospital, second building erected for that purpose in late 1851 or early 1852, was 48 feet by 18 feet with a wing 46 feet by 16 feet. It had an earthen roof covered with a board roof. Mansfield reported that the hospital was "comfortable" in 1853. [125] Like the rest of the buildings at the post, however, it was poorly constructed and often in need of repairs. Almost every surgeon commented on problems of the roof leaking. Dr. Letterman declared in 1856 that the hospital "has not a room which remained dry during the rain in the latter part of September last, and I was obliged to use tents and canvass to protect the property from damage." [126]

the officers' quarters
One of the officers' quarters at the first Fort Union, photo probably taken after the Civil War. The bluffs in the background indicate that this may have been the commanding officer's home prior to the Civil War. Courtesy Museum of New Mexico, negative no. 38174.

     Only one storehouse (originally used as the hospital) was completed by June 1852, 100 feet long and 22 feet wide with a wing 45 feet by 22 feet, supporting a board roof. It apparently was shared by the quartermaster and commissary departments, although some of their stores may still have been outside under canvas. By the summer of 1853 a separate storehouse for the commissary department, approximately 100 feet x 22 feet and no wing, was located east of the first storehouse. The ordnance depot, built around four sides of a 100-foot square, was also completed by 1853, although the earthen roofs were not replaced with lumber until 1855. Because of the danger of fire in the log depot, Captain Shoemaker expressed a desire to build a "fire proof adobe arsenal." Meanwhile, he ordered lightning rods to help protect the powder magazine and everything else kept in the ordnance depot. He kept requesting funds and authorization to build a new depot, but nothing beyond repairs was done until 1859 when an adobe magazine was finally built. [127]

     Other buildings reported by Captain Sibley as completed or nearly finished by the end of June 1852 included the commanding officer's office and court-martial room (48 x 18), office building for quartermaster and commissary departments (38 x 18), smokehouse (100 x 22), guardhouse and prison (42 x 18), blacksmith and wheelwright shop (50 x 18), bake house (31 x 17), ice house (20 x 30), [128] and laundresses' quarters (114 x 14 with six rooms). In addition yards at five sets of officers' quarters were enclosed and two corrals had been completed, one for the quartermaster department and the other for the dragoons. Not only had the soldiers done all the work in constructing these buildings, they had also sawed most of the lumber. Sibley declared that all but approximately 15,000 feet of the lumber used at the post had been sawed there. [129] It was a remarkable achievement for a garrison required to perform many other duties. [130]

building at Fort Union
This is believed to be a photograph of one of the buildings at the first Fort Union, possibly an enlisted men's barracks. it was probably taken during the period that the site served as the district arsenal or later when troops were temporarily housed there. From Arrott Collection, New Mexico Highlands University.

     Not all the soldiers were engaged in construction in 1851, for some had been sent to patrol along the Santa Fe Trail, and Sibley reported others were transporting to Fort Union the public property from the old posts at Rayado, Las Vegas, and Santa Fe. A few soldiers had been sent to cut hay on Ocate Creek, approximately 23 miles to the north where the post farm was located, and haul it in wagons to Fort Union. It is not clear why grass closer to the new post could not be cut for hay, unless it was being preserved for grazing, and Sibley feared there would not be sufficient grass at Ocate to supply the needs of the livestock during the coming winter. [131]

     In addition to the horses, mules, and beef cattle at the post, Major Rucker brought hogs and sheep from Fort Leavenworth. Most of the sheep died of disease along the way (only three survived the trip), but the hogs came through in good shape despite the loss of "only eight or ten." In addition to the forage brought from Ocate and purchased locally ("twenty to fifty miles" away), there was need to buy corn in the local market to help feed the livestock. Most of the officers kept some livestock, including milk cows, hogs, and chickens, and they could purchase corn and forage from the army for their private stock. Sibley requested Sumner's directions regarding the procurement of corn and forage. [132] Because of the economy measures in force and Sumner's strict orders that he approve all expenditures, Sibley would not contract for any item without the department commander's instructions. The purchase of supplies in the area was one way the army and Fort Union affected the economy of New Mexico, providing a cash market for commodities that otherwise could not have been sold. The departmental depots were in a position to spend more money locally than was any single military post. As depot quartermaster, Sibley had numerous responsibilities, not the least of which was providing adequate protection for commodities.

sketch of first Fort Union
Sketch of the first Fort Union by Captain Joseph Horace Eaton, Third Infantry, 1856, for publication in W. H. Davis, El Gringo: New Mexico and Her People (New York: Harper, 1857), 50. View is looking southeast from the bluffs. The cluster in left foreground apparently depicts a company of infantry formation.

     Lieutenant Colonel Swords's concern about the protection of stores moved to Fort Union before storehouses were built was noted above. Sibley made every effort to secure all commodities stored outside under canvas and to move everything possible into buildings as soon as storage rooms were available. He understood that Swords was unhappy with the way quartermaster supplies were handled at the new post. [133]

     Swords was much more complimentary and, as events were to prove, far too optimistic regarding the other steps Sumner had taken to save money and deal with the Indians. He believed the removal of the troops from the towns would result in effective control of the Indians in New Mexico, something that would not be accomplished until many years later.

     Swords believed that the new locations for troops would open additional areas to settlement, thereby increasing the prosperity of the territory and making provisions less expensive for the army. He predicted that the army's new plan to have the soldiers become farmers and grow some of their own needs would be successful where the new forts were situated. [134] The Fort Union farm was one of those experiments, and it was far from successful.

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