FORT UNION
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CHAPTER FIVE:
FORT UNION AND THE ARMY IN NEW MEXICO DURING THE CIVIL WAR (continued)

     The troops at Fort Union not only moved into new quarters; they received a new commanding officer. On December 9, 1861, Major Gabriel R. Paul was selected by New Mexico Governor Connelly to serve as the colonel of the Fourth New Mexico Volunteers (infantry). Paul then outranked Major Chapman and was assigned to command Fort Union and the eastern district of New Mexico. Paul also took charge of training volunteers at the camp of instruction at Camp Cameron. [140] Colonel Paul arrived at Fort Union and assumed command on December 13. He was not unfamiliar with the post and its environs, having served as inspector general at the camp of instruction for several months. Major Chapman departed Fort Union on December 17, traveling by stage to Missouri on the way to join his regiment. [141]

     Paul was a stickler for rules and regulations. His first official act as commanding officer at Fort Union was to issue an order requiring all volunteer officers, "when on duty at this post, to wear the uniform and insignia of their respective rank." [142] Because the military instruction of the volunteers had been "very much neglected in consequence of the constant labor of the troops on the Field work at this Post," Colonel Paul hoped to reach a point in the construction work soon which would permit the men to stop for a time so the troops could "resume their drills." All that remained to make the fieldwork secure for the time being, according to Paul, was to dig "a ditch around the quarters" and throw "so much of the dirt against the outer sides as will make them cannon proof." Then, he suggested, the work might be "suspended" until spring. [143] He wanted to see the volunteers become good soldiers, not just manual laborers. Without waiting for the suspension of construction work, Paul directed that the volunteers who were "not engaged at the works" would begin daily drills (except Sunday) on December 16. [144]

     Canby granted a temporary suspension of work for some of the volunteers so they could receive more training. Paul assigned the prisoners at Fort Union to work under guard each day at the new fort (from 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 1:15 p.m. to sunset). Others also continued to labor on the fieldwork until June 1862. Then, after the Confederate advance had been countered successfully, Captain McFerran was directed "to suspend the work of building at Fort Union until further orders." [145] One of the few descriptions of the fieldwork, the second Fort Union, was provided by a Confederate reporter. The writer was not identified but must have received information from someone who had seen the fieldwork. The report, published in the Mesilla Times, December 12, 1861, was reprinted in a New Orleans paper a few weeks later. Because this was the most comprehensive narration found, even though it overrated the defensibility of the post and made it seem quite formidable, it follows as originally printed:

     "New Fort Union, situated one mile due east of the old fort, is considering its position and the material at hand, one of the best pieces of engineering ever done in America. It is an octagon, situated on an open ridge, two miles on each slope, to the valley. The walls are double rows of large pine logs en palisade, 12 feet between the rows, and filled with sod. The ditch is 20 feet wide at the top, 16 feet at the bottom, and 12 feet deep."

     "The abattis is firmly studded with dwarf cedar trees, the branches trimmed short, case hardened with fire and sharpened to a point. These are firmly driven in, and present a bristling array upon which it would be impossible to force cavalry. The cannon enfilade the ditch at all points, and there is no cover for the approach of an attacking party within cannon shot. The magazine, quarters and all the garrison buildings are half basement, bomb-proof buildings. Some of these are entirely under ground. Four large bomb-proof ware-houses have been built, fronting the salient angles of the fort, and in the shape of a wedge. There are in this post two years supplies of all kinds for two regiments. Ten 12 pounders are mounted, and several guns of larger calibre were being mounted. [146] Kit Carson's volunteer regiment, and about a regiment of regulars are stationed at that point." [147]

     A description of the fieldwork was provided by an observer from the other side when Ovando J. Hollister, First Colorado Volunteers, arrived in March 1862:

     "A simple field-work of moderate size, with bastioned corners surrounded by dirt parapet and ditch, with a slight abattis at exposed points. The armament is poor, consisting mostly of howitzers, but the supply of ammunition is deemed sufficient for any emergency. It has bomb-proof quarters in and surrounding it forming part of the works, sufficiently large to accommodate 500 men besides the necessary room for stores." [148]

     It may have been significant that such reports claimed the fieldwork could not be easily breached. Apparently both Union and Confederate officers believed that to be true. This probably gave the garrison at the post a feeling of security, while enemy troops were led to believe that the best way to deal with the situation was to lure the command away from the post for engagement. Because the troops left Fort Union and defeated the Confederates before they could reach the post, the defensive capacity of the fieldwork was not tested in battle. It was, however, tested by a new post commander, Captain Peter William Livingston Plympton, Seventh Infantry, in June 1862.

     Plympton suspected that the fieldwork had not been moved far enough from the bluffs overlooking the original post to be safely beyond artillery fired from the cliffs. Unlike everyone connected with the relocation of the post, Plympton placed a six-pound gun and a twelve-pound howitzer in position and fired them in the direction of the fieldwork. The six-pounder was situated at the base of the hills and the twelve-pounder at the crest. Both weapons were "fired at least three times" and hurled shells beyond the fieldwork. In addition, "the work has a 'dip' towards these hills which causes its whole interior to be revealed." The shells could be lobbed over the walls into the fort. [149]

     Plympton also fired a six-pounder from the western bastion of the fieldwork toward the hills to see if it was possible to reach the positions from which the weapons had been fired at the post. "With the greatest elevation that could be given it," he reported, "the ball only reached about midway of the hills from which the howitzer was fired." [150] Clearly, the fieldwork was indefensible against artillery. Plympton studied the site and concluded that there was no way, except moving it farther away from the mesa, to make it safe. This officer was not pleased that the site had been so improperly selected, and he found much else about the fieldwork to distress him.

diagram
This representation of the design of the Fort Union fieldwork is based on archeaological evidence, aerial photography, and written descriptions. No plans for this earthwork have been found. The magazine was in the center, gun placements were around the perimeter of the central earthwork, and quarters were in the demilunes. National Park Service Drawing, Fort Union National Monument Archives.

second Fort Union
This photo of the second Fort Union, the earthwork erected during the Civil war, was taken after the new depot and third post were under construction, seen in the background. Although it is very dim, the flag is flying on the flag staff constructed of two poles at right of center. U.S. Signal Corps, courtesy National Archives.

second Fort Union structure
This is reportedly one of the structures connected with the second Fort Union or earthwork, no date. It was camouflaged with tree branches. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy Arrott Collection, New Mexico Highlands University.

     "The quarters are very objectionable, being built of unseasoned materials which are shrinking under the effects of the heat, and they are low and badly ventilated. The store houses being like the quarters, mere shells afford but little protection to their contents, and are damp and without floors. The magazine, I am informed, is unfit by reason of its dampness for the reception of ammunition; if such is the case now, what must be its condition during the rainy season?" [151]

     The second Fort Union, like the first, had been constructed in haste by unskilled soldiers using inadequate materials readily at hand, following a plan that was not carefully adapted to the environment. The fieldwork, unlike the original, was designed to meet an emergency situation in wartime. Soon after the crisis passed a more permanent, third Fort Union was begun. Undoubtedly, it was Plympton's revelations about the precarious position of the post that caused Colonel Canby to suspend further construction at the site in June 1862. Before that happened, most of the Civil War battles in New Mexico had been fought.

     After Lieutenant Colonel Baylor had taken possession of the southern part of New Mexico Territory, he proclaimed on August 1 the Confederate Territory of Arizona (comprising approximately the southern half of the present states of New Mexico and Arizona, everything south of 34° north latitude) and himself as military governor. Without sufficient troops to push northward toward the Rio Grande settlements in New Mexico, Baylor contented himself with establishing Confederate control of his new territory. The conquest of the rest of New Mexico was left for others. Brigadier General Sibley, with his "Sibley Brigade" of Texas Cavalry, was given that task.

     On December 25, 1861, Colonel Roberts, commanding at Fort Craig, informed the rest of the department that his spies had discovered the movement of approximately 2,000 Texans, "well supplied with artillery," northward from Fort Bliss. Their destination was unknown, but the enlarged invasion had apparently begun. [152] This was probably just one regiment, less than 1,000 in number, of Sibley's Brigade. They encamped about 25 miles north of Fort Bliss to await the rest of Sibley's troops.

     Colonel Canby had moved department headquarters to Fort Craig in anticipation of Confederate intrusion, hoping to stop the rebels before they could reach the rest of the Rio Grande valley. If the Texans chose to bypass the settlements and strike directly at Fort Union, the troops at Union would have to push them back. After receiving word of the pending Confederate thrust, Colonel Paul suggested to Canby, if there were too many Texans for the troops at Fort Craig to handle, that they all "fall back on Fort Union." He also assured the department commander, "I am making preparations to receive them, in case they intend to pay me a visit." As the year 1861 came to a close, the aggregate garrison at Fort Union was 733 (597 available for duty) and Paul was confident the fieldwork was virtually unassailable. [153]

     On January 1, 1862, Colonel Canby notified the department from Fort Craig that "information from below states that 1200 men with 7 pieces of artillery are on the march to this place." [154] On the same day, Canby requested Colorado Territory Governor William Gilpin to send "as large a force of the Colorado Volunteers as can possibly be spared" to Forts Wise and Garland to assist "in defending this Territory." [155] Canby was especially concerned about protection of the Santa Fe Trail, the life line without which Union forces could not hope to win in New Mexico. Colonel Canby continued to arrange his forces in the department to meet any attack the Confederates could initiate. [156]

     At Fort Union, labor continued on the fieldwork. Colonel Paul reported that "nearly all" the quartermaster and ordnance stores had been moved into the new fort. After the collapse of a lengthy tunnel (later described as "several thousand feet" long) [157] from the earthwork to a spring on Wolf Creek, a well was being dug inside the fortification to supply water for the garrison in case of siege. He remained assured that "every arrangement has been made to receive the enemy properly should they come here." [158] There was no immediate threat, as Paul reported: "Everything in this neighborhood is quiet & there is no confirmation of the presence of any enemy for many miles." [159] Supplies continued to flow through Fort Union to the rest of the department.

     Throughout New Mexico, recruitment of more volunteers continued. Everywhere the the troops were making preparations and waiting for the Texans to commit themselves to a definite line of attack. Despite continued Indian problems in the territory, most efforts were concentrated against the Texans. Canby promised to turn the attention of his troops to the Indians "as soon as the present emergency has passed away." Although it appeared Sibley was going to bring his Texas brigade up the Rio Grande and make contact with the troops at Fort Craig, there were rumors that other Texans might be coming up the Pecos and Canadian valleys. Colonel Canby, who had moved his headquarters to Belen between Fort Craig and Albuquerque, informed the adjutant general of the army that "all the different approaches to the country are closely watched by scouts and spies and I have no apprehension of the approach of the enemy without receiving several days notice." [160] Sibley concentrated his brigade at old Fort Thorn some 80 miles down river from Fort Craig. They were ready to start moving north in early February. By that time some of the New Mexican troops were getting weary from waiting and wondering when the Texans would come.

     Because the troops in New Mexico had not been paid for several months (in fact, some of the volunteers had not yet been paid at all), Canby requested that everything possible be done to get the paymaster and money to New Mexico from Fort Leavenworth. This was essential if the loyalty of New Mexicans was to be held by the Union. Canby, who placed little trust in New Mexican soldiers, made his opinions clear: "The Mexican people have no affection for the institutions of the United States; they have strong . . . hatred for the Americans as a race." In addition, "there are not wanting persons who . . . have secretly and industriously endeavored to keep alive all the elements of discontent and fan them into flames." Therefore, Canby believed, any further delay in paying them would result in "a marked and pernicious influence upon these ignorant and impulsive people." [161] Despite such pleas, many of the New Mexican troops were not paid for several more months. [162] Canby's fears were not unfounded.

     On January 16, 1862, a total of 28 men of the Second New Mexico Volunteers stationed at Socorro, all Hispanos, "mutinied and afterward deserted and fled to the mountains." The reason they gave was that "they have not been paid and clothed as they were promised." Canby believed they had been incited by Confederate sympathizers among the New Mexicans. It was feared the mutineers might join the Texans or carry information about the Union troops to Sibley's command. A patrol was sent from Fort Craig in an attempt to apprehend them. All other commanders of volunteers in the department were enjoined to watch for them and to prevent, by whatever means necessary, any more revolts. [163]

     Also on January 16, an attempted "revolt" in one of the militia companies at Fort Union was discovered and quickly suppressed by Colonel Paul. Paul was convinced "that the officers of the Company are to blame in the case, . . . although I could procure no positive proof against them." He acted quickly "to prevent the spread of the mutiny." He "set the company at hard labor until night & then" discharged the commissioned officers, reduced the non-commissioned officers to privates, and distributed "all the enlisted men among the other companies of Militia, at the post." The results were satisfactory, as Paul concluded: "I am happy to say that the excitement, very great at first, has subsided, and all appear to be ready and willing to attend to their duty." Canby assured Paul that "a sufficient force of regular troops will be kept at Fort Union to prevent or control any similar disorder in future." [164]

     In February 1862 the positioning of opposing armies in New Mexico set the stage for the most dramatic engagements of the Civil War in the Southwest. Sibley started his brigade northward from Fort Thorn on February 7 in units and approximately 2,300 Texans were concentrated a few miles below Fort Craig by February 15. At Fort Craig Canby had concentrated 3,800 Union troops. More aid was on the way. Lewis Weld, the acting governor of Colorado Territory, directed that the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers under command of Colonel John P. Slough, a Denver attorney, march to New Mexico Territory as quickly as possible. [165] They began arriving at Fort Union on March 10, the same day that an advance of the Texas Volunteers reached Santa Fe.

     The first major battle in New Mexico occurred at Valverde, near Fort Craig, on February 21. Sibley realized that he would have difficulty capturing the stronghold at Fort Craig and hoped to draw the troops away from the post for an engagement. After failing initially to lure Canby's troops into battle south of Fort Craig, the Texans decided to bypass the fort on the east side of the Rio Grande. It would be dangerous to have a large number of the enemy to the rear, but this action might draw the troops out to battle. The engagement came at Valverde ford, approximately six miles north of Fort Craig. The Confederates won the day, with heavy losses for both sides. [166] Among the dead was Union Captain Alexander McRae, Third Cavalry, a native of North Carolina who had served at Fort Union before the war. It was later reported that, the night before he was killed, McRae declared "he had nothing to live for, his family having disowned him on account of his adherence to the Union." [167] The Texans did not capture Fort Craig and the supplies they needed, however, and proceeded toward Albuquerque with what was left of Canby's command to their rear. Fort Craig, on the other hand, was cut off from its supply line. Canby calculated that he had sufficient provisions there to last until late April, if necessary. [168]

     The Confederates marched up the Rio Grande, capturing towns and supplies as they went: Socorro on February 25, Belen on March 1, Albuquerque on March 2, and Santa Fe on March 10. The Union troops located along the way attempted to destroy what supplies they could not carry with them and retreated ahead of the Texans. The federal soldiers escorted what supplies they escaped with to Fort Union, last stronghold for the Union and major objective of the Confederate forces. The leaders of both sides understood that Fort Union and its supplies held the key to the fate of the territory. [169]

     At least one Union officer realized that the territory held the key to the ultimate fate of the Confederate States of America. Acting Inspector General Gurden Chapin, Seventh Infantry, understood that the Confederate conquest of New Mexico was "a great political feature of the rebellion. It will gain the rebels a name and a prestige over Europe, and operate against the Union cause." He predicted that, if the Confederates captured New Mexico, they would "extend their conquest toward old Mexico and in the direction of Southern California." He concluded that the present threat "should not only be checked, but . . . rendered impossible." [170] A Confederate officer on Sibley's staff, Captain Trevanion T. Teel, First Regiment of Texas Artillery, later confirmed Chapin's fears. According to Teel, Sibley intended to use New Mexico as a base for the conquest of California and northern Mexico. [171] What might have happened if that had occurred would be pure speculation, but there is no need to hypothesize. The troops from Fort Union stopped Sibley before he could even subdue New Mexico. [172]

     The staff at Fort Union received news of the battle at Valverde on February 25. Colonel Paul immediately sent three companies from the garrison to proceed to the front and provide whatever assistance they could. He directed the troops at Hatch's Ranch to evacuate that outpost and fall back to Fort Union, bringing their supplies with them. [173] Major Donaldson, commanding at Santa Fe, directed all the supply trains heading south to turn around and return to Fort Union with their cargoes. He planned to ship all the supplies from Santa Fe to Fort Union as quickly as possible. Donaldson also sent an express to Denver to request that the Colorado Volunteers be marched to Fort Union as fast as possible. [174] When Santa Fe was abandoned by Union troops, Governor Connelly and the territorial government moved to Las Vegas. [175]

     Because Canby was still at the isolated Fort Craig, Colonel Paul assumed command of all the Union troops in the department "not under the immediate command of . . . Canby." This was to be in effect "during the present emergency and until communication be re-established with" Canby. [176] Paul sent Major Donaldson to Washington, D.C., "to represent in person the interests of the department of New Mexico, and to urge upon the President of the United States the necessity of immediate and prompt measures for its relief from present embarassments." During Donaldson's absence, Captain McFerran was to serve as chief quartermaster and Captain Herbert M. Enos, quartermaster department, was placed in charge of the depot at Fort Union. [177]

     Paul continued to make preparations to resist the impending Confederate attack. [178] A light battery was organized at Fort Union to be sent into the field against the Texans if needed. Commanded by Captain John F. Ritter, Fifteenth Infantry, it was comprised of a total of 49 officers and men detailed from various companies of regular troops at the post. They were assigned two six-pounder guns and two twelve-pounder howitzers. The horses were taken from the Second Cavalry. [179] A few days later another battery, with four mountain howitzers, was organized under command of Lieutenant Ira W. Claflin, Sixth Cavalry. It had a total of 30 officers and men. [180] Captain William H. Lewis, Fifth Infantry, was assigned immediate command of the fieldwork and the troops garrisoned in it. [181] Other changes were made, especially after it was learned the Texans had occupied Santa Fe and the Colorado Volunteers arrived at the post.

     Two of the Colorado Volunteers, Privates Ovando Hollister and Charles Gardner, reported that the weary soldiers in their unit were happy to reach Fort Union after a forced march of 90 miles with very little rest along the way. They were not impressed with their reception. Gardner explained that "our very obliging and considerate Col. [Slough] rode ahead and told the Commandant of the post (who was having tents pitched and supper prepared) that it was entirely unnecessary; for his men were all old mountaineers and accustomed to all kinds of hardships & privations." Hollister explained that the Colorado troops were marched to the front of Colonel Paul's quarters, where both Paul "and Governor Conelly [Connelly] welcomed us in rather unintelligible words to their assistance." According to Hollister, "they commended the zeal with which we had accomplished the march from Denver, but said nothing of the battle of Val Verde or of the whereabouts of the enemy at present; subjects that might naturally be supposed to slightly interest us." [182]

     Hollister probably expressed the sentiment of all his comrades when he declared, "I thought they might as well have permitted the boys, hungry and tired, to go to their camp near the fortification as to have perpetrated this farce." Because Colonel Slough had stopped Colonel Paul's efforts to have tents and supper waiting, Gardner disclosed, "we were compelled to lie out all night, exposed to a severe, cold March wind, without a mouthful to eat." Because the exhausted volunteers complained about conditions, each company was provided with three gallons of whiskey. Hollister claimed that the Colorado Volunteers spent much of their time at Fort Union finding whiskey and getting drunk. [183]

     A tragic incident occurred during their brief stay at Fort Union when Lieutenant Isaac Gray, Company B, First Colorado Volunteers, attempted to arrest Sergeant Darias Philbrook for drunkenness. Philbrook shot Gray in the face. According to Hollister, Philbrook shot five times and hit Gray once. Gray survived but Philbrook was sentenced to death by a court-martial board. [184] The night before the Colorado troops departed to meet the Texans, Hollister wrote, "the boys broke into the sutler's cellar and gobbled a lot of whisky, wine, canned fruit, oysters, etc." [185] Keeping the volunteers sober was not the only problem for the post commander.

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