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The express rider galloped through the dusty streets of Santa Fe on the last day of July 1861, dismounting in front of Union army headquarters. He handed lieutenant colonel Edward R. S. Canby a dispatch and the Mexican War veteran quickly scanned the report. Canby then penned a note to William Chapman, the commander at Fort Union. “The express has just been received from Major Lynde,” he wrote, “reporting an engagement with the Texans near Fort Fillmore.” The dispatch bore the news that “Lynde has abandoned and burned Fort Fillmore and was moving in the direction of Fort Stanton. i do not consider this rumor reliable, but it is given for your information.”1 Canby’s suspicion of this report was not unwarranted; in the far western territories in 1861, half-truths and lies whipped through Union camps and forts like dust devils. Fort Fillmore was the Union’s southernmost military installation in New Mexico, just outside of Las Cruces. Canby had sent men, cattle, and provisions to Fort Fillmore several weeks before, in an effort to concentrate Union forces and prepare them to defend the territory against Confederate incursions. Maj. isaac Lynde, another Mexican War veteran, was in command, and had seven companies of the 7th U.S. infantry (regulars) and three companies of Mounted Rifles under his authority. Lynde had reported in late June that he did not anticipate “a force from Texas will pass Fort Fillmore to attack any Post west of that point.” Everything seemed under control.2 When around four hundred paroled Union soldiers staggered into Fort Craig on August 6, the rumors proved true and Canby realized that the Union army was about to lose southern New Mexico to the Confederates. Lynde’s men, desperate for food and water, ate and drank their fill and TWo The Difficulties and Seductions of the Desert” Landscapes of War in 1861 New Mexico M E GAN kATE N E LS o N “ “Difficulties and Seductions” 35 then told their stories. The week before they had skirmished with Confederate lieutenant colonel John Baylor’s 2nd Texas in the tiny town of Mesilla. The engagement was brief and indecisive; Lynde withdrew to Fort Fillmore but then gave the order to retreat. Sometime after 1:00 a.m. on July 27, around six hundred soldiers, women, and children left Fillmore , moving northward along the Rio Grande toward Fort Craig, more than one hundred miles away. As they neared the town of Las Cruces, however, Lynde ordered the column to take the road to Fort Stanton, which headed off across the high desert valley to the east. When the sun rose, they were clearly visible to Baylor, who then pursued, catching up with the stragglers at a pass in the organ Mountains and driving them into the mining town of San Augustin Springs. Lynde was already there, trying to rally his exhausted men. When he could only form one company in defense, Lynde sent word to Baylor, asking for the terms of surrender.3 After their arrival at Fort Craig, Lynde’s subordinate officers filed irate reports attesting to the major’s cowardice, his apparent fear of the mounted Texans, his tolerance of women and children at Fillmore (who slowed the pace of the march), and his mercurial behavior in the moments before the surrender. Both his men and other officers in the Union army—in addition to Union politicians in Washington—deemed Lynde’s actions “unaccountable ” and potentially treasonous.4 They could not believe that he would capitulate to Baylor when his soldiers outnumbered the Texans three to one. “it was not possible to conceive of such a disgraceful surrender,” one officer reported in disgust, “than was made at San Augustin Springs.”5 After several months of accusations and affidavits, Union general-in-chief George McClellan, in a rare moment of agreement with President Lincoln , dropped isaac Lynde from the rolls of the army for “abandoning his post—Fort Fillmore, N. Mex.—on the 27th of July, 1861, and subsequently surrendering his command to an inferior force of insurgents.”6 However, the official reports of the retreat, Union and Confederate officers ’ letters and memoirs, and testimony regarding Lynde’s dismissal all reveal that it was not the major’s cowardice that had led to the federals ’ surrender. instead, from the moment Lynde decided to abandon Fort Fillmore to the last, limping steps his soldiers took into Fort Craig ten days later, what Edward Canby later termed the “difficulties and seductions...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820347752
Related ISBN
9780820347141
MARC Record
OCLC
898770323
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-23
Language
English
Open Access
No
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