The Gettysburg of the West: A Missed Opportunity

Glorieta Pass[1]

The Gettysburg of the West: A Missed Opportunity

By: Jacob McCloud

Beginning on March 26, 1862, one of the most overlooked battles of the Civil War took place. Early on in the war, the Confederate states were trying to expand their territory in order to gain more supplies and support. The reason they needed these things had to do with the fact that the Union held a superior number in both of these categories, and the Confederate states had been cut off with a naval blockade. These events led to a Southern invasion of New Mexico and eventually the defeat of the Southern soldiers at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, which proved to be costly for the Confederate states.

After Jefferson Davis approved the campaign, Henry Sibley, a Confederate leader, raised a brigade of three mounted regiments, the 4th, 5th and 7th Texas Mounted Volunteers, along with supporting artillery and supply units.[2]  After leaving San Antonio, the Rebels moved into southern New Mexico, capturing the towns of Mesilla, Dona Ana, and Tucson, and continued their advancement north.[3] After defeating the Union forces at Fort Craig on February 21, Sibley left some of his army to occupy Albuquerque and Santa Fe while the rest of his troops headed east of Santa Fe along the Pecos River towards Fort Union. [4] The Union and Confederate forces eventually met at Pigeon’s Ranch near Glorieta Pass where Colonel John Slough and his 1,300 men clashed with Sibley’s men.[5] The Confederate forces pushed the Union forces further down the pass, but nightfall forced the Confederates to halt their advancement.[6] The turning point of this battle occurred when “Major John Chivington led an attack on the Confederate supply train, burning 90 wagons and killing 800 animals.”[7] Chivington’s raid eliminated the supplies necessary to continue the Confederate’s attack on the North, so they were forced to retreat.[8] Although there were not many casualties, the victory at Glorieta Pass marked the end of Confederate involvement in the westernmost front of the Civil War.[9]

The Gettysburg of the West was not a major turning point during the Civil War, but the impact it had on the South proved to be costly.  The reason the Battle of Glorieta Pass proved to be so costly had to do with what the Confederates missed out on when they were defeated. Not only were men killed, but also, they lost their opportunity to take over new lands for the Confederacy, which is what they desperately needed. If the Confederates would have succeeded in their overall plan, they would have taken New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and eventually parts of California. These lands would have given them more room for agriculture to provide food for the people of the Confederacy that were limited by the blockade. Also, the lands would have provided the South with more supplies and territory to fuel the war effort. Some examples include the rich mines of the Colorado territory, filled with silver and gold, which would have boosted the South’s economy, and the sea ports in Los Angeles and San Francisco, which would have stretched the Union’s blockade and possibly established a Confederate naval system and trade.[10] Also, if they would have acquired all of these lands, they would have been able to increase the manpower of their army. Although there would have been conflicts between slave and non-slave states, it is reasonable to assume that many would have joined the war effort. Lastly, the South would have gained control of the transcontinental railroad, which would have hindered the North’s travel to the west while giving the Confederates a way to deliver supplies and travel through their newly acquired territory.[11]

In the end, the South was forced out, but it is always interesting to see what could have happened in the most western theater of the Civil War. For further discussion, what if the South would have won? If they would have won this battle and eventually pushed the Union soldiers out of the area, the Confederate states would have gained access to an immense amount of land and supplies. Would that have changed the war? It is hard to decide if this would have changed the war, but it is fairly obvious that the Confederates would have put up a better fight and would have possibly made the war last longer. Why is this battle so overlooked? Obviously, the eastern and main western front grabs most of the attention because of the importance of the areas being fought over, and the massive amount of supplies, soldiers, and fatalities involved. Overall, the Battle of Glorieta Pass hurt the Confederate’s chances of gaining territory and supplies that would have benefited their war effort.

[1] Picture from http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/91glorieta/91glorieta.htm.

[2] “The Battle of Glorieta Pass: Union Victory in the Far West,” Civil War Trust, accessed November 12, 2014, http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/glorietapass/glorieta-pass-history-articles/glorietaalberts.html.

[3] “Rebels Turn Back Yankees at Glorieta Pass,” This Day in History, accessed November 12, 2014, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-glorieta-pass.

[4] “Rebels Turn Back Yankees at Glorieta Pass,” This Day in History.

[5] “Rebels Turn Back Yankees at Glorieta Pass,” This Day in History.

[6] “Rebels Turn Back Yankees at Glorieta Pass,” This Day in History.

[7] “Rebels Turn Back Yankees at Glorieta Pass,” This Day in History.

[8] “Rebels Turn Back Yankees at Glorieta Pass,” This Day in History.

[9] “Rebels Turn Back Yankees at Glorieta Pass,” This Day in History.

[10] “The Battle of Glorieta Pass,” Civil War Trust.

[11] “The Battle of Glorieta Pass,” Civil War Trust.

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17 thoughts on “The Gettysburg of the West: A Missed Opportunity

  1. bgoodin1 says:

    Jacob, great post! I do like the interesting “what if” this battle gives us. I am like you, I don’t believe that the outcome of the war would have been any different. I do believe that the war would have last a little while longer because the Union would have to stretch their forces all the way across to the west cost. It would have ended with a Union victory but it would have for sure made it a little harder on them. As for it being so overlooked, I think it is just like most battles west of the Mississippi River, just doesn’t get the same recognition like a Gettysburg and Shiloh. Before this class, I didn’t even know that they had battles that far out west, I think it is all about how where you live and how it is remembered. Being in the South, we here about a lot of Southern battles, and General Lee. It’s a sad that battles such as this don’t get covered in your every day History class.

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    • jmccloud1993 says:

      You bring up a very good point about location. People from the South will remember Southern battles while the people of the North will remember Northern battles. Because the far western front was not heavily populated during the Civil War, it is far less remembered. This is a shame because the people who lost their lives there deserve to be remembered.

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  2. mmillsapuca says:

    I think you call attention to an often overlooked aspect of early modern warfare–that of supply lines. The fact that Sibley’s push North was not halted until Chivington’s calvary cut off the Confederate from their supplies suggests that war is more often than not about boots and blankets instead of bullets and battles. Obviously, the fights have to be won but your article illustrates the both Grant’s ineffective strategy of stretching his army thin in order to protect every state as well as the importance of the non-combatant participation in terms of food and other supplies.

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    • jmccloud1993 says:

      I agree that the aspect of supply lines has been overlooked. During the Battle of Glorieta Pass, the Confederates had the upper hand, but once Chivington took out his supply line, his army had to retreat. I am not sure if there were any other battles where taking out the enemy’s supply line was the main objective, but I am sure it was considered after the Battle of Glorieta Pass. This definitely a topic somebody should blog about.

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  3. gkamarunas1 says:

    This is so interesting. This is very thought provoking. The west was little thought of by the south and the north. Yet it could have been a key to success. However, I do not think that it would have been that helpful due to the lack of infrastructure and industrialized cities/towns out west to provide the south with what it needed. Great post.

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    • jmccloud1993 says:

      I agree with the fact that there were not many industrialized cities to the far west, but I do believe that they would have benefited from the land and resources that would have been available to them if they would have won.

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  4. moonsierra says:

    I am glad you did an in-depth post about the western arena. Prior to this class, I had never really thought of states like New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and California as important to the Civil War effort since they were so far removed from the main action. I do wonder if the men who fought the Battle at Glorieta Pass would have been needed more in the eastern theater. From what we have discussed in class, the Confederacy needed all the men they could find to defend key areas, like Richmond and Atlanta. It seems odd that men were expended to an area so far from the east, when it was not guaranteed that the Confederacy would gain anything from it. Also, I wonder if the Confederacy had won and pushed farther west if they would have been able to secure ports. I do not know how much Confederate sympathy in those areas, so I am not sure if the people there would have been receptive to the Rebel army. Was Glorieta Pass the only major engagement between Confederacy and Union in the west? Were people in the west sympathetic to the Union or Confederate cause, or were they indifferent?

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    • jmccloud1993 says:

      From what I have gathered, the Battle of Glorieta Pass was the only major engagement. There were multiple skirmishes leading to this battle, but they did not have a big impact. After Glorieta Pass, the Confederate states did not return to the most western front. I believe that the majority of the people in the west were sympathetic to the Union cause.

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  5. wreed1 says:

    I agree that it’s always interesting to speculate what would have happened had the Confederates emerged victorious at Glorieta Pass. Despite all the possible notion of what would happen, I think it is hard to decide what would have truly happened had the Confederates made strides in the West. I think the battle is overlooked because it took place the in early portion of the war and ended the Confederates short amount of time west of Texas.

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    • jmccloud1993 says:

      I agree that we will never be able to truly understand the “what ifs” of history, but it is still interesting to think about. I also agree that the time it was fought and the people who fought in it did not contribute to its popularity.

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  6. I don’t think anyone really thinks of the west in terms of the civil war. We really only think of the South and North. The Western frontier was more of a foreign area. This battle was very influential, and really can be called the Gettysburg of the west, but since the West wasn’t really considered crucial, I can see how it isn’t really remembered, though it should be.

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  7. mpthomas10 says:

    Very interesting post! I enjoy reading about all of the “what-ifs” of the Civil War. Something that I found very thought provoking was that you mentioned the possibility for a Confederate naval presence on the Western coast to antagonize the Union Blockade and to be used for trade purposes. Since the Panama Canal was not there, the only practical trading partner at the time would have been China. It would be very interesting to see how this would have changed the race and social structure of the South.

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    • jmccloud1993 says:

      It is interesting to think about the possibilities these ports would have provided the Confederacy. Because of the distance between these ports and the main two fronts, it would have been hard for the South to move goods back and forth, but I do believe it would have impacted the Union’s blockade. It is also interesting to think about the possibility of trade with possibly China or other countries.

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  8. Terra Lain Votaw says:

    I am glad you wrote more about the Western states as well. I was born and raised East Coast, and it has really limited the perspective on what I learned about the Civil War. I think it is so interesting how even though the country was fighting itself as a whole, it was still really sectioned off by location! The geography created even more divides, and of course created the need for a different western battle strategy.

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  9. jacobaloweryuca says:

    This was a really great post, man! This is a great case to study through counterfactuals, as you brought up in all of your questions at the end. Had the Confederates been able to efficiently and successfully execute their plans in the Western theater, they might have to been able to alleviate some of the damage and losses they were experiencing in the East. If the Confederacy would have been able to stretch Union forces farther west, while simultaneously suppressing those forces, the eastern front might not have taken so much damage in the later stages of the war. Also, had the Confederacy been able to win the Battle of Glorieta Pass, the availability of replenished land and resources would have helped sustain an army on the descend through the opportunity of new resources, supply lines, and man power. I thought that was a great point about the finding new lands and Confederate opportunity to cultivate it for agricultural resources. There was a lot of good analysis in this post that made for a great read!

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