Smoke and black powder: the Blue and the Gray mix it up
The sounds and smoke of muskets, cannonade and other weapons used in the Civil War will be filling the air this weekend at an encampment where the Escondida Bridge crosses the Rio Grande.
Re-enactors will turn the clock back to the 1860s as Confederate soldiers attack New Mexico volunteers in the 16th annual Battle for Socorro. The event commemorates New Mexico’s early involvement in the war between the states — a brief but important period of the Confederate Army’s attempt to control the Southwest.
“This year marks the 152nd anniversary of the taking of Socorro and the Battle of Valverde,” Civil Was enthusiast Charles Mandeville said.”We have people coming in from El Paso, Las Cruces, Albuquerque and Alamogordo, and possibly from Arizona and Colorado.”
On Feb. 16, 1862, the Confederate 5th Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers formed a battle line, heading for Fort Craig, which was garrisoned eight years before to protect settlers and homesteaders from Apache raids. The Union army’s Col. Edward Canby stationed a battery of guns and howitzers outside south-facing walls of Fort Craig. The Confederates then called off the attack and withdrew.
Three days later, the Confederates, under the command of Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley, moved north to control the ford on the Rio Grande at Valverde, driving the Union soldiers back to Fort Craig to meet them.
The next day, Feb. 21, 1862, the two armies clashed near the river. The Battle of Valverde ended in a tactical victory for the Confederacy, but failed to capture Fort Craig.
Two days later, the Confederates broke camp and easily captured Socorro. The capture of Albuquerque and Santa Fe followed.
After losing a battle at Glorieta Pass, southeast of Santa Fe, Sibley decided to take his Confederate troops back to Texas on a roundabout route. Worn out and short on supplies and ammunition, Sibley’s army veered west at Ladron and then south, passing between the Magdalena and San Mateo mountain ranges in order to avoid getting too close to Fort Craig. “They weren’t in any shape for another battle and needed to stay out of sight of the Union Army,” Mandeville said.
Confederate uniform buttons and other artifacts have been discovered along that route, specifically in Pueblo Springs, north of Magdalena.
Mandeville said he hopes the annual event attracts more interest in Socorro’s diverse history.
“One of our goals is to try to expand their living history, beyond the Civil War re-enactment,” Mandeville said. “There’s a period fashion show, a ladies tea and a fandango at the opera house.”
He said many local families are descendants of those who fought the Rebels as part of the New Mexico militia.
“Both the city and county have a unique place in Civil War history,” Mandeville said. “The retreat of the Texas Volunteers stopped the Confederacy from taking the Southwest — from New Mexico, the gold fields of Colorado and all the way to the California coast. It could have happened if not for their losses suffered at Valverde and their retreat after the Battle of Glorieta Pass.”
Volunteers spent last weekend preparing the battlefield area and the redoubt at Escondida Bridge.
The wooded area east of the battlefield was cleared, giving re-enactors more options, especially with cannon fire and cavalry charges.
“It’s all about tactics,” Mandeville said of the two battles scheduled. “The two commanders are going to do their own scenarios. They dream up all sorts of things, and it promises to be very exciting. Neither side will know what the other will do.”
The encampment on the north side of the bridge opens late Friday afternoon; the battles are scheduled on Saturday and Sunday.