All Was Confusion: The Civil War in New Mexico Territory

All Was Confusion: The Civil War in New Mexico Territory

By Michael Block

Published Online (2002)

Introduction: While the United States spanned from sea to sea by 1861, one rarely hears of Civil War fighting west of Missouri and Kansas. Great works on the Civil War such as James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and Bruce Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War give the impression that the Far West did not matter after the Compromise of 1850 made California a state and settled the New Mexico border. While the Far West certainly played a less vital role in the War than the fighting in the East, Sibley’s invasion of New Mexico must not be ignored completely.

In February 1862, a brigade of Texans under the command of General Henry H. Sibley (U.S. Army veteran and “inventor” of the Sibley tent) crossed from Texas, through Mexico, into New Mexico Territory. As far as the Federal government was concerned, this was an invasion by hostile forces, but Sibley and the Confederacy that sent him did not see it that way. Though the troops were not from New Mexico themselves, to the Confederacy they were Confederate troops entering a territory of the Confederate States of America. The urban population, largely settlers from the South, had formed a convention a year earlier to join the Confederacy, so they actually saw the Federal garrisons of regular cavalry and infantry as intruders. Many of the U. S. Army officers in the Territory, Southerners themselves, had even defected to the Confederacy. Despite the Southern sympathy in the Territory, it was not clear what Sibley planned to do there, as when his orders were issued, “it [was] not deemed necessary to confine [him] to matters of detail which may from time to time arise. In this respect [he] will be guided by circumstances and [his] own good judgment.”

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