Squirrel Hunting the Rebels at Glorieta Pass

Private Charles H. Farrar served in Co. G of the 1st Colorado Infantry under Captain William F. Wilder, a unit that had a unique and interesting history. The regiment entered service in the fall of 1861 but was not accepted for service by the Federal government. Regardless, the regiment was organized under territorial authority and set out to battle the Confederacy among the plains, deserts, and mountains of the far West.

A Confederate army of Texan and New Mexican volunteers under General Henry H. Sibley marched north from Texas in early 1862 aiming to secure control of the southwestern territories for the Confederacy and were confronted by a small Union army led by Colonel Edward R.S. Canby. Canby's force, a mixed bag of New Mexico volunteers, U.S. Regulars, and two regiments of Colorado infantry, among them the 1st Colorado controlled northern New Mexico. The true prize for the Confederacy was control of the Colorado, Nevada, and California gold and silver mining districts; Canby’s mission was to simply maintain Union control of the area. 

After much maneuvering, the two forces clashed at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, New Mexico on March 28, 1862, a battle known as the “Gettysburg of the West.” The two armies of roughly 1,000 men each pitched into one another in a long swirling fight through the canyon, and at the end the Confederate forces held the field. But during the battle a Union detachment torched the Rebel supply train, without which further military action was impossible; this forced the Confederates to retreat back to Santa Fe the next day and plunked the mantle of victory into the Union’s lap.

Private Farrar’s account picks up the story in late February 1862 and explains the events of the campaign as he experienced it within the ranks of the 1st Colorado. The native born Vermonter served with the 1st Colorado into 1863, then returned home to Iowa where he served as a sergeant in the 9th Iowa Cavalry. Farrar died November 10, 1915 and is buried at Forestvale Cemetery in Helena, Montana. His letter was published in the May 3, 1862 issue of the Burlington Hawk-Eye in Burlington, Iowa.


Battle of Glorieta Pass, New Mexico, March 28, 1862
Roy Anderson

Fort Union, New Mexico

April 4, 1862

          We left Camp Well on February 22, 1862 en route to Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory. We had a fine time, good weather, and good health throughout the regiment. Everything went smoothly until we got within 150 miles of Fort Union when we heard that Colonel Canby had had a battle with the Rebels and was defeated, and that the Rebels were marching on Fort Union. [The Battle of Valverde was fought on February 20, 1862] We marched 30 miles that day, stopped on the Red River and got some supper, unloaded our wagons, and leaving behind a guard of 100 men to take care of the baggage and beef cattle, we jumped into the wagons and away we went as fast as mule flesh could carry us. We traveled until 2 o’clock in the morning when we stopped, made some coffee and took a bite, and away we went, traveling all day before we came to a Mexican town where we stopped and stayed all night. We started out in the morning before daylight and heard that the Rebels were within 45 miles of Fort Union; we lost no time and at sundown were landed in the fort.

          We soon learned that we were not in any danger- the men in the fort had gotten scared and got up this report. We remained in Fort Union until the boys we left back came up. We drew a suit of clothing and exchanged our old guns for new ones. We were beginning to get tired of staying at Fort Union when there was an order read on dress parade at night that we should be ready to march in the morning with a pair of blankets to the men and just the clothing we had on our backs.

Interpretive sign from the battlefield showing the progress of the battle as it moved from Apache Canyon to Johnson's Ranch, then Pigeon Ranch where the 1st Colorado was most heavily engaged.
(National Park Service)

          So, we started with about 60 wagons of grub and ammunition and four pieces of heavy artillery and four pieces of light artillery. We traveled three days and camp, hearing news that the enemy was advancing upon us. Major [John M.] Chivington, at the head of about 300 men, started to meet them (by the way, they were 40 miles ahead of Chivington) The enemy had taken their position in a canyon [Apache Canyon], one of the best positions in the world for a defense. The Major marched into the canyon, found the enemy ready for him, who fired their cannon and musketry but did little damage, the shots going over their heads. So, the Major ordered his boys to make a bold charge; no sooner said than done. The Rebels saw the boys coming with blood in their eyes, took to their heels and away they went, leaving their dead and wounded on the field. It is not known how many they lost but it is supposed about 70. Our loss was four men.

          The Major gathered up all the guns they left behind and broke them over the rocks. The Rebels sent in a flag of truce. The Major sent a dispatch to us and retreated about eight miles and took his stand. You can bet we were not long in getting ready. We marched all night and came to the Major’s camp before sun-up, ate some breakfast, got ready, and started to meet the devils. They had advanced on us and taken their position at a place called Pigeon’s Ranch right in a canyon covered with trees and bushes [Glorieta Pass]. It so happened that my company was detailed to support one of the batteries and we had to march in rear of the battalion. We had not gone far before we could hear the booming of the cannon and well knew that the fun had commenced.

Glorieta Pass battlefield is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; its primary feature was that it was the western leg of the Santa Fe trail that led east to the high plains. The National Park Srrvice preserves two portions of the battlefield as part of Pecos National Historical Park. 
(New Mexico Land Conservancy)

          My Captain, William F. Wilder, came riding up and we took a double quick and soon came to the scene of the action; one of our batteries had taken its stand. As we came up to our battery, the bullets from the enemy whistled all around us and one of our boys fell, shot through both legs. We took our stand behind our artillery which we were ordered to support. We laid down on our bellies and the Rebels would shoot over us every time. We could not see the enemy, the bushes were so thick, and the devils undertook to flank around us and come in and get our guns, so our Captain was ordered to take the first platoon of his men and go upon the hill and cut them off. I went with him. We took our stand upon a ledge of rocks where we had a good chance to give them the contents of our guns. We were within 200 feet of them and when they would stick their heads over the rock, we would give them hell. We lost one man at the rocks, but he was not killed instantly and two more wounded, and on the side of the rocks where the Rebels were there were 50 killed and wounded. It put me in the mind of squirrel hunting.

          While we were peppering it to them at the rocks, the other boys were giving it to them down in the canyon. The devils made a charge on our battery, but our boys who had remained back with the battery made a rush at them and they ran. There was a continued roar of cannon intermingled with musketry when they made the rush at our battery; our gunners discharged their four guns amongst them and it mowed them down right and left. After fighting six hours, we discovered about 300 Texans coming over the rocks where we were and the captain thought it was useless for so few of us to fight hand to hand, so he ordered us to retreat and as we did so, they poured a volley of musketry into us which wounded one of our boys, but they did not get him; I was by his side and helped him along.

Major John S. Chivington
1st Colorado Infantry

When we got down where our battery was, we found our men on the retreat. They retreated a little ways, made a stand, and waited for them to come up, but they retreated the other way. So, we went into camp and the Rebels sent a flag of truce; they wanted a truce for three days, but our Colonel would not grant it longer than the next forenoon. The best of the joke was that while we were fighting, Major Chivington took between 300-400 men, went over the mountains, came to where they had left their train of 64 wagons of provisions, ammunition, clothing, etc., set fire to them, and burnt them to ashes, killed a lot of mules, and destroyed two pieces of artillery. The Rebels who were guarding the train fired on the Major with both guns but did no harm, and having accomplished his object, he returned to our camp.

The loss of the enemy, according to their own account, was 400 but we think it was much larger. [Official losses were 222 Confederates killed, wounded, and captured, 147 Union for the entire engagement.] We expected they would attack us again the next day, but as soon as they got their dead buried, they left for Santa Fe.

For a lengthier discussion on the 1st Colorado at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, check out this superb article from the Iron Brigader


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