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Bloody Valverde

A Civil War Battle on the Rio Grande, February 21, 1862

John Taylor

Publication Year: 1999

When Jefferson Davis commissioned Henry H. Sibley a brigadier general in the Confederate army in the summer of 1861, he gave him a daring mission: to capture the gold fields of Colorado and California for the South. Their grand scheme, premised on crushing the Union forces in New Mexico and then moving unimpeded north and west, began to unravel along the sandy banks of the Rio Grande late in the winter of 1862. At Valverde ford, in a day-long battle between about 2,600 Texan Confederates and some 3,800 Union troops stationed at Fort Craig, the Confederates barely prevailed. However, the cost exacted in men and matériel doomed them as they moved into northern New Mexico.

Carefully reconstructed in this book is the first full account of what happened on both sides of the line before, during, and after the battle. On the Confederate side, a drunken Sibley turned over command to Colonel Tom Green early in the afternoon. Battlefield maneuvers included a disastrous lancer charge by cavalry--the only one during the entire Civil War. The Union army, under the cautious Colonel Edward R. S. Canby, fielded a superior number of troops, the majority of whom were Hispanic New Mexican volunteers.

"The definitive study of the Battle of Valverde."--Jerry Thompson, author of Henry Hopkins Sibley

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vi

List of Maps

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

ON FEBRUARY 21, 1862, SOME 1,700 MILES WEST OF RICHMOND AND Washington, far from the blood-stained fields of Virginia, two American armies clashed in combat beneath a blackened volcanic mesa along the sandy banks of the Rio Grande. Although the men who fought and died at Valverde late...

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pp. xii

MANY PEOPLE HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE SUCCESS OF THIS EFFORT. I owe particular thanks to my parents, Clem and Betty Taylor, for instilling in me a love of reading; my Thacher School English teachers, especially David Lavender and Jack Huyler, for instilling in me a love of writing; and the best...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-8

RENOWNED BATTLES OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR—GETTYSBURG, Antietam, and Chancellorsville, to name just a few—conjure images of armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands struggling in mortal combat. The images include field artillery deployed hub-to-hub among the green, rolling...

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2. Origins

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pp. 9-16

VALVERDE is TWENTY-FIVE MILES SOUTH OF SOCORRO, NEW MEXICO. The battlefield itself lies in the river bottom four miles southeast of Interstate 25 at the San Marcial exit and about three miles west-southwest of the ruins of the village of Valverde for which the area was named. In 1862, the...

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3. Prelude to a Fight

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pp. 17-30

BY WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 1862, SIBLEY'S NORTHBOUND ARMY stretched over almost sixty miles. Tom Green, a forty-seven-year-old Texas lawyer and Mexican War veteran, commanded the Fifth Regiment. The nearly 930 men of this group, with Teel's artillery in the van, had camped about twenty-four...

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4. Opening Gambits

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pp. 31-40

THE ALMOST-FIGHT ON THE SIXTEENTH HAD BEEN A TRUE BAPTISM OF fire for only a few. However, the minor encounter confirmed Sibley's suspicions that it would be ill advised to attack Fort Craig in a frontal assault. The Federals had a 1.3:1 numerical advantage. Moreover, they enjoyed an advantage..

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5. The Battle Is Joined

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pp. 41-54

BECAUSE OF THE OPEN ANIMOSITY BETWEEN BAYLOR AND SIBLEY, Major Charles Pyron had been placed in command of the detachment of the Second Texas Mounted Rifles, known as "Baylor's Command," during the invasion of New Mexico. Baylor himself was occupied in governing Confederate..

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6. Apparent Victory

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pp. 55-66

MAJOR DUNCAN AND THE ELEVEN COMPANIES IN HIS UNION BATTALION were spread over several hundred yards of east-bank bosque about 180 yards east of the river.1 Lieutenant Ira Claflin (later to be breveted for gallantry at Gettysburg), who had first detected the movement of the Texas cavalry...

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7. Change of Command

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pp. 67-74

ALTHOUGH THE UNION ADVANCE AT THE CENTER AND RIGHT HAD slowed, the Union left continued to move steadily toward Scurry's thinned ranks on the extreme Confederate right. Peering through the battlefield haze toward this Federal advance, the Confederates now thought they saw uniforms...

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8. The Tide Turns

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pp. 75-84

MAJOR SAMUEL LOCKRIDGE RECOGNIZED THAT HE FACED EVERworsening odds. Both he and Raguet had asked Green for reinforcements, but the intensity of the action on the north end of the battlefield not only prevented Green from diverting troops to reinforce Raguet but necessitated the..

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9. The Field Is Lost

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pp. 85-96

THE MEN OF COMPANY G OF THE SECOND U.S. CAVALRY AND Company I of the Third U.S. Cavalry, who had been merged in November of 1861 to form McRae's battery, were mostly young and inexperienced. There may have been a few veterans who had experienced pitched battles during...

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10. A Pyrrhic Victory

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pp. 97-106

THE SCENE ON THE WEST BANK WAS NOT A PRETTY ONE FOR COLONEL Canby. Although Selden's battalion had managed to cross the river and form a skirmish line at the middle ford, the rest of the Federal army appeared badly disorganized. Some of the terrified men from Hubbell's, Mortimore's, and...

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11. Retrospective

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pp. 107-122

ALTHOUGH THIS BOOK HAS FOCUSED ON THE BATTLE OF VALVERDE, it is appropriate to at least summarize the rest of Sibley's ill-fated New Mexico campaign. The Texans broke camp at Valverde at about noon on February 23. Because of their loss of animals, they were forced to burn some "saddles and old clothes" before...

Appendix: Unit Strengths and Casualties at Valverde

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pp. 123-144


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pp. 145-170


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pp. 171-176


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pp. 177-185

E-ISBN-13: 9780826330017
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826321480

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 1999