|Battle of Valverde|
|Part of the American Civil War|
|22x20px United States||22x20px Confederate States|
|Edward Canby||Henry Hopkins Sibley|
~6 artillery pieces
|Casualties and losses|
204 captured or missing,
6 artillery pieces captured
|150-230 killed or wounded (disputed)|
The Battle of Valverde, or the Battle of Valverde Ford from February 20 to February 21, 1862, was fought near the town of Valverde at a ford of Valverde Creek in Confederate Arizona. It was a major Confederate success in the New Mexico Campaign of the American Civil War. The opposing forces were Confederate cavalry from Texas and several companies of Arizona militia versus U.S. Army regulars and Union militia from northern New Mexico.
Overview[edit | edit source]
The battle was the first to occur during the New Mexico Campaign; the Confederates hoped to capture Fort Craig both to eliminate the Union garrison as a threat to their rear and to capture the supplies in the fort. Although they were able to drive the Federals from the battlefied, the Union commander, Colonel Edward Canby, refused to surrender the fort.
Background[edit | edit source]
Confederate Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley led his brigade of about 2,500 men to within fifteen miles south of Fort Craig during the evening of February 13. Judging the fort to be too strong to be taken by assault, Sibley deployed his brigade in a line for the next three days, hoping to lure the Federals into the open, but Canby, not trusting his volunteer troops, refused to attack.
Since they were down to a few days rations, the Confederates could not wait indefinitely, so at a council of war on the 18th, Sibley ordered the army to cross the Rio Grande and move up the eastern side of the river to the ford near Valverde, north of Fort Craig, hoping to cut Union communications between the fort and their headquarters in Santa Fe north of the border.
By the 20th the Confederate army, under cover of the hills between it and the river, was opposite Fort Craig. [Confederate Col. Thomas] Green attempted to place artillery on the heights overlooking the river and fort, but Canby had anticipated the move ... [forcing] the Texans to make a 'dry camp' on the night of the 20th.
About midnight, [Union] Captain [James] Craydon tried to blow up a few rebel picket posts by sending mules loaded with barrels of fused gunpowder into the Confederate lines, but the faithful old army mules insisted on wandering back toward the Union camp before blowing to bits. Although the only casualties were two mules, the explosions stampeded a herd of Confederate beef cattle into the Union's lines, so depriving Green's troops of some much-needed provisions.
In the morning, Sibley sent an advance party consisting of four companies of the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles under the command of Major Charles Pyron to scout ahead to the ford, with the 4th Texas Mounted Rifles under Lieutenant Colonel William R. Scurry following close behind. The rest of the brigade remained in camp, intending to follow later.
Union scouts informed Canby of the Confederate movements towards the north. Canby then sent a mixed force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery to the ford under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin S. Roberts of the 5th New Mexico Infantry. The infantry and artillery slowed the column down, so Roberts sent Major Thomas Duncan ahead with the cavalry to secure the ford. Following Roberts' departure, Canby sent additional reinforcements from the fort's garrison, and assigned several companies of New Mexico militia to "watch the movements of the enemy, threaten his flanks and rear, and impede his movements as much as possible."
Battle[edit | edit source]
The Confederates were unaware that Union forces guarded the ford until they arrived at the river. Pyron sent for reinforcements from the 4th Texas while his men took cover in an old river bed, which served as an excellent defensive position. At first, despite having a numerical advantage, the Union cavalry deployed in a skirmish line instead of trying to drive the Confederates out of their position. This forced the Union artillery to remain on the western bank of the Rio Grande.
When Scurry arrived, he deployed his regiment to Pyron's right, with the regimental artillery on the Confederate left. Despite a numerical superiority, the Confederates were mostly armed with short range shotguns and pistols, which couldn't reach the Union positions three hundred yards away; the Confederate howitzers also couldn't reach the Union artillery on the far bank of the river. Meanwhile, Canby ordered most of the remaining garrison at Fort Craig to march to Valverde, leaving behind some militia to guard the fort. When he arrived, Canby moved most of his command, including the artillery, to the eastern bank, leaving the 1st New Mexico Infantry and 2nd New Mexico Infantry on the western bank as a reserve.
By early afternoon, the remainder of the Confederate force, the 5th Texas Mounted Rifles under Colonel Tom Green and a battalion of the 7th Texas Mounted Rifles under Lieutenant Colonel John Sutton, arrived at the ford. Sibley, who during the morning had remained with the wagons, relinquished command of the brigade and Green took over, who then handed command of the 5th Texas over to Major Samuel Lockridge. Around 2:00 pm, Green authorized a lancer company to attempt a charge on what they thought was an inexperienced New Mexico company on the Union extreme right; however, the company turned out to be a Colorado company who was able to defeat the charge without breaking. Twenty of the lancers were killed and wounded during the charge, with almost all of the horses disabled or killed as well. When it returned to the Confederate line, the lancer company rearmed itself with pistols and shotguns and continued fighting in the battle.
By late afternoon, Canby decided that a massive frontal assault would fail and instead decided to attack the Confederate left; to do so, he ordered one of his batteries to redeploy closer to the Confederate line and moved several companies to his right, including the 1st New Mexico. However, this repositioning of the troops left the center of the Union line around the battery weak, with only untested New Mexico volunteers supporting the battery. Hoping to stall the Union attack, Green ordered Raguet to attack the Union right with his battalion; this attack was repulsed by frontal fire and a flank attack from the 1st New Mexico, and the Union right advanced after the retreating Confederates.
At this time, Green ordered the Confederate right wing under the command of Scurry to charge the Union center; the attack force of 750 men was arranged into three successive waves. The shock of the charge caused over half of battery's supporting force to rout; Lockrige was mortally wounded during the attack. The Federals countered with a cavalry charge, but the main Confederate force continued to press their assault on Canby's left flank, capturing a battery of six artillery pieces and breaking the Union battle line, which soon turned into a rout. Canby quickly managed to reorganize his men and ordered a retreat back to the fort. Sibley was about to order another attack, when Canby sent a white flag asking for a truce to remove the bodies of the dead and wounded, to which Sibley gentlemanly agreed.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
Left in possession of the battlefield, the Confederates claimed victory but had suffered heavy casualties, losing 230 men killed and wounded out of 2,590 men engaged, about nine percent. Although some accounts say only about 150 Confederates were wounded and none killed while the Union sustained about 80 dead and 150 wounded. Others say 46 rebels were killed and just over 150 wounded and the Union suffered at least 500 dead and wounded. Canby reported that his forces had 3 officers and 65 men killed/3 officers and 157 men wounded/1 officer and 35 men missing for a total of 263  Sibley claimed his losses at about 40 killed and about a 100 wounded Due to the strength of the fort's walls, Sibley decided to abandon his attempt to capture the fort and instead continued northwards towards Albuquerque and Santa Fe, where he hoped to capture much needed supplies. However, he was severely hampered by the losses in horses and mules from the battle, which forced him to dismount the 4th Texas as infantry and to destroy some supplies and wagons. Canby had also lost heavily during the battle, suffering a 17 percent casualty rate, 475 men out of 2,800 men engaged. He blamed his militia regiments for the retreat from the ford. Considering himself to be outnumbered, he chose not to pursue Sibley, instead sending mounted detachments of New Mexico volunteers against the Confederates' rear for harassment. He would remain with the main body at Fort Craig to cut off the Confederates' supply line and to intercept reinforcements for Sibley, eventually hoping to pin the main Confederate main body between himself and Union reinforcements from Fort Union.
The battle represented Canby's low point in his military career and Sibley's high point. Both men would go opposite directions to the terms of reputation after the battle. It was rumored following the battle that the two commanders of these battles, Canby and Sibley, who had been allies and trained together earlier, might have actually been brothers-in-law. However, research showed that there is little if any evidence that they were related by marriage.
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Taylor 1995, p. 127.
- Taylor 1995, p. 124.
- Taylor 1995, p. 142.
- Taylor 1995, p. 136.
- Frazier 1995, p. 150.
- Frazier 1995, pp. 152–153.
- Taylor 1995, p. 31.
- Kerby 1958,1995, pp. 66–67.
- Taylor 1995, pp. 40–42.
- Frazier 1995, p. 156.
- Whitlock 2006, pp. 113–115.
- Taylor 1995, p. 46.
- Frazier 1995, p. 163.
- Taylor 1995, p. 67–70.
- Whitlock 2006, p. 130.
- Frazier 1995, pp. 173–174.
- Taylor 1995, p. 84.
- Taylor 1995, p. 92.
- Official Records of the War of the Rebellion .p.493
- Official records of the war of the Rebellion.p.506 A breakdown of losses show them to have been 36 killed/150 wounded/1 missing ibid.p.521
- Frazier 1995, p. 182.
- Taylor 1995, p. 104.
- Taylor 1995, p. 114.
- Josephy 1991, p. 74.
- Taylor 1995, p. 100.
- Whitlock 2006, pp. 147–148.
References[edit | edit source]
- Frazier, Donald S. (1995), Blood & Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest, College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 0890966397
- Josephy, Alvin M. (1991), The Civil War in the American West, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0394564820
- Kerby, Robert L. (1958,1995), The Confederate Invasion of New Mexico and Arizona, 1861-1862, Tucson, AZ: Westernlore Press, ISBN 0-87026-055-3
- Taylor, John (1995), Bloody Valverde: A Civil War Battle on the Rio Grande, February 21, 1862, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, ISBN 0826316328
- Whitlock, Flint (2006), Distant Bugles, Distant Drums: The Union Response to the Confederate Invasion of New Mexico, Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, ISBN 087081835X
[edit | edit source]
- National Park Service battle summary
- Fort Craig National Historic Site
- Civil War Today: Fort Craig and the Battle of Valverde