Robert E. Lee’s birthday celebrated with shoot-out


Socorro County
On Saturday Jan. 18, uniformed participants from around the state practiced for and competed in an annual shooting competition commemorating Robert E. Lee’s Birthday which was officially on Jan. 19, 1807. The event was held at the local gun range south of Socorro chosen because of its location central to New Mexico. The event is called The New Mexico Civil War Live Fire.

The targets for the event on the range were prepared by Range Master Sergeant Michael Bilbo, 8th Regiment, U. S. Infantry of the Socorro Garrison and Assistant Range Master Sergeant Charles Mandeville, Co. B, 5th Regiment, Texas Volunteers, also of Socorro. Shooters are required to wear period clothing and use a period piece, muzzle loaded muskets and rifles used in the Civil War.

A model 1860 Cannon III provided the center piece of the practice/demonstration.

Polo C’ de Baca/For El Defensor Chieftain: A crew from Albuquerque demonstrate a model 1860 Cannon III for the practice and shooting competition at the Socorro Gun Range Jan. 18. Tom Dvorak, Ken Dusenberry, Bill Reass and Rick Lohsen represent the Albuquerque Civil War reenactors who brought the cannon down to Socorro.

“The Roman numerals describing the cannon’s model were for the benefit of the soldiers who couldn’t read,” Ken Dusenberry a retired police officer of Albuquerque said. “This is a fun thing; companies from throughout the state participate. It’s officially a shoot and they do award prizes. I expect that approximately 25 people will show up including some from Albuquerque, Los Alamos, Las Cruces and other places.”

Dusenberry, who teaches and demonstrates the use of the cannon, said he has been a student of history for many years and that there had been two or three times that he got so into the moment and so involved that he forgot where he was and forgotten that he was a 21st century man.
“One of the things that I truly enjoy doing is teaching history to people,” Dusenberry said. “Doing it while wearing the uniform and talking about what I’m carrying is the best way I think I can bring history alive to the spectator.

“I like to have different people shoot the cannon so that everybody has a feel what its like to fire the cannon. We are offering a service to teach people about the United States and the history of New Mexico, particularly of the soldiers of the 19th century.”

New Mexico played a decisive historic role in the Civil War. According to the web site Glorieta Pass was the turning point of the war in the New Mexico Territory. It was a strategic location, situated at the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, southeast of Santa Fe, and on the Santa Fe Trail.

In early 1862, Confederate forces under Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley began pushing west from Texas into the New Mexico Territory. His goal was to occupy the Santa Fe Trail as far north as Colorado with the intention of opening a line of communication with California. Advancing west, Sibley initially sought to capture Fort Craig near the Rio Grande.

On February 20-21, he defeated a Union force under the command of Colonel Edward Canby at the Battle of Valverde. Retreating, Canby’s force took refuge at Fort Craig. Electing not to attack the fortified Union troops, Sibley pressed on leaving them in his rear. Moving up the Rio Grande Valley, he established his headquarters at Albuquerque. Sending his forces forward, they occupied Santa Fe on March 10. Shortly thereafter, Sibley pushed an advance force of between 200 and 300 Texans, under Major Charles L. Pyron, over the Glorieta Pass at the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The capture of the pass would allow Sibley to advance and capture Fort Union, a key base along the Santa Fe Trail.