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

     Governor Meriwether left New Mexico in May 1857 although his term did not end until October. He may have been furnished an escort for his trip. Acting Governor W. W. H. Davis departed from Fort Union for the states in October with the eastbound mail. Lieutenant J. H. Edson and 25 mounted riflemen escorted the mail coach and governor from the Canadian at least as far as the Arkansas River. The new governor, Abraham Rencher from North Carolina, arrived in Santa Fe with his family on November 12, having traveled over the Santa Fe Trail with a military escort comprised largely of dragoon recruits for the department, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Griffin, Second Artillery. Other recruits for New Mexico, under command of Major Daniel T. Chandler, Third Infantry, arrived at Fort Union where Brigadier General Garland met them on November 4 and distributed them among the companies stationed in the department. [271]

     General Garland, because of ill health, relinquished command of the department to Colonel Bonneville in September 1858. [272] Garland had planned, when he left New Mexico, to return as soon as his health improved. He was not sent back although he lived until 1861. Bonneville served as "temporary" department commander from September 15, 1858, to October 25, 1859, when Colonel Fauntleroy returned to the department as the commanding officer. Garland, as noted, had never been satisfied with the location of Fort Union and had done little to improve conditions there. During Bonneville's tenure Quartermaster General Jesup informed him that funds had been appropriated to repair or rebuild Fort Union, and Captain Fred Myers, post and subdepot quartermaster, prepared plans to rebuild the post. Bonneville appointed a board of three officers (Colonel Loring, Major James L. Donaldson of the quartermaster department, and Captain John G. Walker, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen) to examine the plans and estimates, determine if the funds available ($13,400) were sufficient for the work planned, and to make recommendations regarding the site for the new post. [273]

     This board reported within a week that the funds appropriated were, in their opinion, "sufficient for the completion of the necessary quarters, barracks and store houses, . . . provided the plans . . . are strictly adhered to." They had modified the plans to fit the funds available. They recommended that the new post be built approximately four miles from the original site which they believed had an inadequate supply of water from the spring on which the garrison was dependent, especially for the purpose of fighting fires at a post comprised of buildings which were virtual tinderboxes. The cost of hauling water in wagons from the spring to the post "at a considerable expense" could be saved. They also argued that the present post was too far removed from good timber, which was hauled from the Turkey Mountains, and that the situation of the post in a depression in Wolf Creek valley was poorly drained during the rainy season. They saw nothing but advantages to be gained by relocation to their recommended site. [274]

     "The location we recommend is immediately upon the bank of the Moro creek, a beautiful Mountain Stream which will afford in addition to an accessible abundance of water for all the ordinary purposes of a large post, would furnish an abundance of water power for propelling mills and other machinery. The hills overhanging the stream are clothed with an abundance of pine timber suitable for fuel and lumber for building. Stone for building can be procured within a few hundred yards of the post, and lime can be burned near at hand. The grass is excellent, and during the past summer a large part of the stock of the post was driven to the vicinity of the proposed post and kept there during the summer, in preference to herding near the post."

     "As an additional reason for the proposed removal we would mention that buildings of the Ordnance Depot are falling into decay, and altho' there has been for some time past money on hand for repairing the buildings here, Fort Union has been considered so unsuitable a place that it has not been thought advisable to expend the funds in this manner. In the event of the post being removed as we recommend, a site for the Depot or Arsenal will be secured, which for convenience of water power and abundance of all necessary material, cannot be excelled we believe in the Department. In addition, it would have the advantage of being a Depot where it would be possible to keep the stores of the Ordnance Department, without endangering the lives of an entire garrison."

     "In regard to the practicality of procuring a sufficiency of land for the purposes of the post, we have from good authority that the owners of the land upon which we propose to have the post erected, are willing to donate perpetually to the United States a quantity sufficient for all the purposes of the Post and Ordnance Depot."

     "In conclusion we beg leave to call the attention of the Colonel Comd to the dilapidated condition of the Quarters here and to express the hope that such prompt, action may be taken in the matter as to insure the speedy completion of the post on the site we have recommended, and as any delay in this matter will necessarily postpone the completion of buildings so much needed for the health and comfort of the troops, until the return of the building season next year, we earnestly recommend the building be commenced at once." [275]

     Of all the places recommended over the years for the relocation of Fort Union, this was probably the best one offered. Even so, the post was neither moved nor rebuilt in 1859. Bonneville, who agreed that Fort Union was in such a state of disrepair as to be almost uninhabitable, hoped to find a site where the garrison and the ordnance, quartermaster, and commissary depots could all be located, convenient for the receiving and transshipment of stores, suitable for repair shops to maintain government supply trains, and, if possible, on public rather than private land. Colonel Joseph E. Johnston was sent in the summer of 1859 to inspect the posts in the Department of New Mexico and to determine if Fort Union should be rebuilt or relocated. [276]

     Johnston spent July 7 and 8, 1859, at Fort Union where the buildings, except for the ordnance magazine and the quartermaster storehouse, were in such bad condition that they were not "worth repairing." The magazine was the only building not in need of repair. The quartermaster storehouse, still "worth repairing," was in its present condition "an unfit depository for valuable property." He recommended against rebuilding the post and for relocation. He considered the proposed site on the Mora River a better position than the one occupied by the post, but neither placed troops where they could provide better protection for frontier settlements such as the ranches developing along the Pecos and Canadian river valleys. He suggested it would be best to find a site near the Pecos so the garrison could protect the settlers from the Comanches. [277]

     General in Chief Winfield Scott made his views known through an endorsement by his adjutant, Lorenzo Thomas, on a letter from Bonneville to Thomas: "Fort Union presents no very important bearing upon any of the Indian relations of New Mexico, and the troops could be better employed at a more suitable position within the Department, perhaps on the Pecos, as suggested by Col. Johnston." [278] Colonel Fauntleroy, who arrived to command the department in October of that year, was at Fort Union from October 29 to 31. [279] He did not want to rebuild Fort Union at the original site or the site recommended by the board of officers. He planned to reorganize the department and build a new post to replace Fort Union and a build a new depot someplace else at a site to be determined, perhaps on the Canadian or Pecos. The result was further delay and further deterioration at Fort Union.

     Post Commander Robert M. Morris requested authority from department headquarters in August to employ "citizen mechanics" to make necessary repairs to quarters and "make this post habitable." He was informed that reports regarding the rebuilding of the post had been sent to army headquarters and all improvements to present structures were suspended until instructions were received from Washington. Morris apparently thought the condition of the buildings was not understood at Santa Fe, and responded that the quarters for Company G, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, was in such a dangerous condition that the building had been vacated. The troops from that company were temporarily housed in the quarters of Company H which was then in the field. When this company returned, the men of Company G would be forced to live in tents or be sent to another post for the winter unless repairs were made. Post Quartermaster William K. Van Bokkelen wrote a similar letter. Departmental Chief Quartermaster Donaldson was sent to Fort Union to see what could be done. What repairs were made, if any, has not been determined. In December 1859 one company of the garrison was transferred from the post. [280]

     While Fort Union awaited improvements, the topographical engineers, under Captain J. N. Macomb, improved the road from Fort Union to Santa Fe. This included widening, grading, and the construction of bridges. Travel for army freight wagons as well as for civilian freighters and travelers was made easier by these improvements. During the spring of 1859 destitute emigrants who were part of the Colorado Gold Rush began to arrive at Fort Union, many in need of food and medical care. Major John Smith Simonson requested authority to provide relief. Authorization in this instance was not located, but it was common practice for the army to give aid under such circumstances. Civilians were treated at the post hospital in 1859. [281]

     In June and July 1860 Captain McFerran, Lieutenant John Pegram of the Second Dragoons, Lieutenant Joseph G. Tilford of the Regiment of of Mounted Riflemen, and Second Lieutenant William Kearny of the Tenth Infantry brought 48 recruits (29 dragoons and 19 infantry) and 158 horses for the mounted service in New Mexico. They had left two dragoon recruits "in the town jail at Leavenworth City" and had lost two horses along the way. They arrived at Fort Union on July 5. The department was still in need of 289 horses for the mounted troops (dragoons and riflemen). [282]

     It soon appeared almost certain that, at last, Fort Union would be relocated or abandoned and replaced. Colonel Fauntleroy intended, as noted, to make major changes in the organization of the Department of New Mexico, and he would have done so had not a combination of Indian campaigns, insufficient funds, and the outbreak of the Civil War forestalled his efforts. Following recommendations made by Garland, Bonneville, and Johnston, Fauntleroy intended to retain only four of the twelve posts in the department. He planned to abandon four others and relocate the remaining four, including Fort Union. Almost no one since Sumner had defended the position of Fort Union, and Fauntleroy, who had commanded the post, was determined to replace it with two new posts, the exact location of each to be determined by thorough exploration. One would be a garrison post at some point along the Canadian River (where Sumner had sent Ewell to investigate in 1851 and no suitable place had been found) to provide protection to both major routes of the Santa Fe Trail, protect the settlements in northeastern New Mexico Territory (including part of present Colorado), and help bring the hostile Indians of the plains under control. The other, located farther down the Canadian near the mouth of Ute Creek, would serve as the department depot for quartermaster, commissary, medical, and ordnance stores, provide protection to the Fort Smith road, protect settlements in the Canadian and Pecos river valleys, and deal with the Kiowas and Comanches. [283]

     Fauntleroy's recommendations found favor at army headquarters, and in March 1860 orders were issued by General Winfield Scott, among other things, to abandon Fort Union and replace it with a new post (although the location of the new post seemed somewhat undecided): "A post will be established on the Gallinas, at or near where the Fort Smith road crosses that stream, or, preferably, if a suitable location can be found, east of that point, on or near the Canadian. It will be the depot for the Department, have a garrison of four mounted and two Infantry companies, and be called Fort Butler." [284] Colonel Fauntleroy wasted no time in implementing the order. On April 10 he designated two companies (E and K) of the Eighth Infantry "to form the infantry garrison of Fort Butler" and directed them to "proceed to Hatch's Ranch and await further instructions." [285]

     During April 1860 Fauntleroy, along with several officers on his staff, examined the Gallinas, Pecos, and Canadian river valleys to "select a site for the contemplated post of Fort Butler." Before leaving he declared a ten-mile square military reserve at the junction of Ute Creek with the Canadian River. In his search he, like others before him, did not find a suitable position, but he found many places that would not fulfill the requirements. The Gallinas River where the Fort Smith road crossed "is wholly unsuited on account of the total deficiency of wood for any purpose whatever, and a frequent deficit of water." The Pecos River where Tecolote Creek joins "would not answer for a post as it is desirable to have it located as much to the east as possible & this would be about fifteen miles within the Gallinas." The Canadian River "has not sufficient timber either for buildings or fire wood and the position will not suit, so far from the posts of the Dept, either on the score of convenience or economy." [286] The reserve on the Canadian was reduced from 100 square miles to 18 square miles. [287]

     Although only one post had been authorized to replace Fort Union, Fauntleroy returned to his idea of two posts. The depot could be placed at the community of Tecolote, where the road to Santa Fe crossed Tecolote Creek southwest of Las Vegas, or at the abandoned Pecos Pueblo west of the Pecos River, also on the road to Santa Fe. What advantage either of these locations held over the Mora River valley was not stated. Storehouses would have to be erected at either location. The military post could be located at Hatch's Ranch which might be rented or purchased. Alexander Hatch had a ranch a few miles above the junction of the Gallinas and Pecos rivers, approximately eight miles above the point where the Fort Smith road crossed the Gallinas, on the Antonio Ortiz Grant. It frequently served as an outpost for troops from Fort Union, sometimes for months at a time. Fauntleroy believed that the "extensive buildings" there could "be made to accomodate six companies." The buildings could provide storerooms to safeguard supplies until additional structures were erected. Fauntleroy asked permission to rent Hatch's Ranch "for even a year" during which time the search could continue for a more desirable location. [288]

     When a proposal to locate the ordnance depot on the Mora River and expand it into an arsenal reached Fauntleroy, he was adamant in his opposition. "The Moro is not the place under any circumstances, either from the special locality or its general position with regard to the Department intended to be supplied, which should be selected for one moment as the site of the arsenal." He claimed that the river ceased to flow during the season "when water is most required." The location was "the greatest distance from the greatest number of posts in a most exposed situation & wholly unsafe without troops." A garrison located there would be a considerable and unnecessary expense. [289] Despite such opposition Fort Union remained and a few years later the department arsenal was reconstructed along side the first Fort Union.

     Fauntleroy's recommendations were not implemented. On closer investigation it was determined that Hatch's Ranch did not have sufficient water or space for a post and depot, and a clear title to the property appeared impossible to obtain. The point where Tecolote Creek entered the Pecos River, Tecolotita, about three miles north of Anton Chico and fifteen miles west of where the Fort Smith road crossed the Gallinas, was considered too far removed from the settlements needing protection, and there were too many settler claims in the area to permit the selection of a suitable site for a post. Fauntleroy lamented the fact that it appeared to be "impossible to determine the site for Fort Butler in time to commence [building it] this season." A combination of circumstances, including a severe drought which caused prices to rise, two expensive Indian campaigns (one against the Kiowas and Comanches and the other against the Navajos), and the increase in costs to maintain more troops in the department, forced further delay of reorganization plans. Because of the drought Fauntleroy reported a "scarcity of grain" and stated that "the poor people of the Territory are said to be in a starving condition." [290]

     Despite the shortages and high prices, contracts were let to furnish provisions for the proposed Fort Butler, and a sutler was appointed. Fort Union Sutler William H. Moore, who was apparently to be the sutler for the new post, raised a pregnant question when he inquired of Major Donaldson, "Where is Fort Butler?" [291] The post had a garrison, reservation, supplies, and a sutler, but a location had not been selected. [292] When Fauntleroy was informed in November that funds for the construction of a new post were not available, he declared he was at a loss of what to do. "I was this very day," he wrote Adjutant General Cooper, "on the even of departure for the Red [Canadian] River and that region of the country with the view of at once, locating Fort Butler and putting it in the most active state of erection. . . . I had fully determined to proceed forthwith with the establishment of the Post mentioned, somewhere, so as to meet the requirements of your Orders, at once, all effort having failed to procure the site which I preferred. . . . The cost, however, of the post must now compel me to pause, and to ask instructions." [293]

     Fauntleroy did not give up on Fort Butler; he apparently did not wait for instructions. On November 11, 1860, he directed Captain Benjamin S. Roberts, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, to take his company from Hatch's Ranch to locate a site for Fort Butler along the Canadian River, near the Fort Smith road, and "within about sixty miles of Hatch's Ranch." If he succeeded in finding a suitable site for a six-company post and the department supply depot, he was to mark off a ten-mile square reserve and report to the department commander. Fauntleroy later sent word to Roberts not to take time to lay out a reservation but return to Hatch's Ranch and report. [294]

     Roberts selected a place on the Canadian River near Mesa Rica, approximately 60 miles east of Hatch's Ranch, about 10 miles downstream from where the Fort Smith road crossed the river, and about seven miles from that road. This was a suitable location for a military post, but Roberts stated it was not a good place for a depot. He suggested that Hatch's Ranch was a much better location for storing and distributing military provisions. As soon as he reported to Fauntleroy, Roberts was directed to "take measures at once for establishing the Troops under your Command" at Fort Butler. He was instructed to "make out your estimates for all that you will now require" and draw supplies from Fort Union. In addition 40 soldiers from Fort Union were sent to reenforce Roberts's command. [295]

     Fauntleroy, on the basis of Roberts's investigation and ignoring the captain's recommendation that the depot should be someplace else, declared that an abundance of water, grass, and fuel were present at Fort Butler, all of "excellent quality." Everything needed to build and maintain a large post, including a depot, was there "except perhaps, building timber." This was the same area which Fauntleroy had described in April as deficient in timber for any purpose and too far from the other forts in New Mexico to serve efficiently as a depot. As he had said of the Mora Valley, the colonel might also have described the site chosen for Fort Butler as "the greatest distance from the greatest number of posts" in the department. Fauntleroy seemed almost relieved to have settled on a long-sought location for Fort Butler "which seems to me to meet the views of the Department better than any others thereabouts." A "large military reserve" (120 square miles) was set aside, and he expected to have adequate storehouses built by the time supplies were shipped to the department the following spring and summer. [296]

     Roberts was apparently delayed in moving his command to Fort Butler because of Indian troubles in the area. Then the companies of the Eighth Infantry which were to comprise part of the garrison of the new post were transferred to Texas. On January 20, 1861, Fautnleroy ordered Roberts to "suspend for the present all measures whatever with reference to the establishing and building of Fort Butler." Two weeks later Lieutenant Colonel George B. Crittenden, commanding at Fort Union, requested that the 40 men sent from his garrison the previous December to help establish Fort Butler be returned. Only 30 were sent back, and the other 10 were kept at Hatch's Ranch. In February a company of the Fifth Infantry was moved to Hatch's Ranch, "intended to form part of the Garrison of Fort Butler." [297] There was still the unresolved problem of inadequate funds to establish the new post. Before the plans could be carried into effect, Fauntleroy was relieved of command of the department and the secession of some states, followed by the outbreak of the Civil War, disrupted most of his grand design. Colonel William W. Loring, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, who had previously commanded Fort Union, replaced Fauntleroy as commander of the department on March 22, 1861. Fauntleroy resigned from the army a few weeks later and fought for the South. Loring also resigned to join the Confederates, and Colonel Edward R. S. Canby, Nineteenth Infantry, became commander of the Department of New Mexico on June 23, 1861. [298]

     Colonel Loring directed the removal of the troops and supplies at Hatch's Ranch to Fort Union. He considered the site of the proposed Fort Butler to be an "excellent" location for a military post "on account of the influence it will give us over the Comanches," but he requested authority to find a better place for the depot. Meanwhile he sent Lieutenant Alexander McRae, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, and 25 men of his regiment from Fort Union to establish a temporary camp east of Hatch's Ranch to protect the settlers of the area. [299] The Civil War changed everything. Colonel Canby considered Fort Union of more importance to the department than anyone had since Sumner established the post, and in July 1861 Canby directed that the general supply depot for the department (except for the medical depot which was placed at Santa Fe) be established at Fort Union. Albuquerque would remain a subdepot. Fort Butler was forgotten in the shuffle. [300]

     Fort Butler was a phantom fort to which troops were sent and supplies were shipped, it even appeared on maps, but it never really existed except on paper. Fort Union, condemned to oblivion by the same order which created Fort Butler, survived for 31 more years. It gained renewed importance with the coming of the Civil War, when a new defensive earthwork was built. Fort Union had been established in 1851 to serve as more than the departmental supply depot and headquarters. Its garrison was to help protect the Santa Fe Trail and settlements of the region from Indians. The military operations of the troops at the first Fort Union, when they were not engaged in the construction and maintenance of the post, were of prime importance in the history of Fort Union and the army in the Southwest.


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