Civil War history significant
I recently learned of the decision by the leaders of Socorro to withhold financial support for the annual living history event highlighting the 1862 Rio Grande Campaign and the Civil War Battle of Valverde. I am the former chair of the History Department at Colorado State University-Pueblo, a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy for 10 years, a 28-year veteran of the American military and a native New Mexican. From that perspective, I was absolutely astounded that any city possessing this important history would make such a decision, especially in the midst of the current national celebration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The Civil War was the most defining war in the history of the United States and to simply decide to politically ignore it is extremely short-sighted in itself. But it appears from recent correspondence and media coverage that the decision to do so may have been based on the grounds that such a re-enactment reinforces “neo-nazism” or “white supremacy.” If so, this is very disturbing.
The battle at Valverde (near Fort Craig) was one of the most important engagements west of the Mississippi, and among the bloodiest in the Civil War in terms of casualties, as compared to the number of combatants involved. Many of the surviving wounded of the campaign, along with their units, moved through Socorro on their way north (both Union and Confederate). Many are buried in Socorro. How many other cities or towns in the West can boast such a history? To remove support on the basis of disagreeing with one side of the conflict is to ignore not only this history itself, but the sacrifices of all those Americans on both sides who died for what they believed in, whether for states’ rights, cultural values, regional loyalty or belief in a continued union of states. As anyone who has even casually studied the Civil War would admit, the conflict was not just about slavery and racism, but about dealing with multiple issues that had not been addressed after American independence from Britain — including ideological, economic, cultural and, of course, political issues.
Thus, during this 150th anniversary of the Civil War, while tens of thousands of living history participants and spectators actively recognize larger battles and campaigns back East, such as Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam, Cold Harbor, etc., the leadership of Socorro has pulled their support for recognizing the major Civil War campaign in the West. I find it ironic that other towns in New Mexico have created entire weekend festivals celebrating famous outlaw-murderers, while Socorro evidently will not actively support commemorations of local events in which principled Americans fought for what they thought was right.
In fact, most of the living history participants in the annual re-enactment of Valverde and the Rio Grande Campaign typically portray Union soldiers in general, and New Mexican Volunteers in particular. Yes, many New Mexicans were involved in this campaign to stop the Confederate expedition. Moreover, there are many descendents throughout the Southwest from soldiers on both sides of this campaign, and some live in Socorro today. What do they think of their political leaders’ decision to “avoid” the history in which their ancestors played a large role?
Others have written your paper addressing the financial aspects of what the annual re-enactment means for Socorro, and therefore the cost to local businesses for not supporting.
I would just add to that discourse my astonishment that the community would not embrace its Civil War history for tourism purposes. What better way to attract visitors than to show the importance of the Rio Grande Campaign in the overall history of the Civil War. Even the importance of Valverde has not been lost on Hollywood over the years (note: the 1960s movie “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” included the battle as a part of its story).
But more importantly, I appeal to your sense of the significance of your regional Civil War history — not just Confederate, not just Union, not just New Mexican, but the national importance of these occurrences along the Rio Grande that helped shape the country and the region that exists today. In light of all of this, I would hope that Socorro residents would contact the mayor and city council, and implore that they actively support these commemorations for the sake of history — all history, not just selected portions and aspects deemed appropriate by modern political attitudes.