Colorado Military Units and Battles

The First Colorado

Immediately upon the receipt of the news at Denver of Sibley’s advance from Fort Bliss, an attempt was made to induce Gen. David Hunter, commander of Fort Leavenworth and of the military division of which Colorado was a part. to order more of the Colorado troops to the assistance of General Canby. Several weeks passed by before any definite action was taken, then, on February lo, 1862, Acting Governor Weld of Colorado Territory received the following instructions:

“Send all available forces you can possibly spare to reinforce Colonel Canby, commanding Department of New Mexico, and to keep open his communication through Fort Wise. Act promptly and with all the discretion of your latest information as to what may be necessary and where the troops of Colorado can do most service.”

In Colorado, the seven companies at Camp Weld and the three at Fort Wise received this news with great enthusiasm, and preparations for departure were quickly made. The seven companies left Denver on February 22d and those from Fort Wise marched out on March 3d, the two divisions under orders to join forces in the south part of the territory and proceed to Fort Union with all despatch. This meeting occurred near Trinidad. On the way down the south part of Raton Pass a messenger from Fort Union met them, carrying the news of Canby’s defeat, and urging all haste toward Fort Union. Then forced marches became the rule, one of which was for the distance of sixty-seven miles. Arrival at Fort Union was made on the evening of March loth. Colonel Slough took charge of the post and made all preparations to resist Sibley’s army when it appeared.

On March 22d the decision was made and put into effect to hunt the enemy instead of waiting for him. Colonel Slough assembled the whole First Colorado, Ford’s company, a portion of one company of the Fourth New Mexico, a battalion of regular infantry, three small detachments of Federal Cavalry and two light batteries consisting of four guns each. This made a force of about 1,342 men, 75 per cent of whom were Colorado volunteers. This army moved out of Fort Union on the 22d, as stated, and two days later were at Bernal Springs, about fifty miles southwest of the fort.

The Confederates were, in the meantime, looking forward eagerly to the capture of Fort Union, which feat they considered to be easy, not knowing of the presence of Colorado troops on New Mexican soil. Canby and his men had been left at Fort Craig and from him Sibley anticipated no interference, or not until he had his men safely behind the walls of Fort Union. Most of Sibley’s troops were at Galisteo, but an advance force was encamped about thirty-five miles northwest of Bernal Springs, at the western end of La Glorieta Pass.

First Battle Of La Glorieta Pass

On March 25th, Major Chivington, of the First Colorado Regiment, with a force of 440 infantry and cavalry troops, marched from Bernal Springs to the relief of Santa Fe, where, it was reported; about a hundred Confederates were in control. On the 25th, while at a ranch house owned by M. Kozlowski, half way between Bernal Springs and La Glorieta Pass, Chivington first learned of the presence of the enemy in the neighborhood. Rebel scouts had been at the ranch just before him and had gone in the direction of the pass. He immediately sent out twenty-one of his men to capture these Confederates, which they did that night at the entrance to the pass, at a point known as Pigeon’s Ranch. They were brought back to the Union camp and interrogated, with the result that Chivington learned of Sibley’s advance force, consisting of 800 men, which was encamped at the eastern end of the pass. He ordered the assembly blown and shortly the whole force moved forward, with the intention of striking the enemy before he had a chance to leave.

In the fore part of the afternoon of the 26th the Federals crossed the top of the pass and soon afterward entered Apache Cañon, where they met Sibley’s advance force in command of Major Pyron. The latter was marching to Fort Union, and was taken wholly by surprise, and, although of superior force, was compelled to retreat before the fire of the Colorado troops. The Confederates retired to a more favorable position a mile farther down the canyon. The Federals poured a stream of bullets into their ranks from the front and from the mountain-sides, finally charging the gray ranks and scattering the rebels in every direction. A wild retreat was made down the canyon toward their former camping place, the dead and wounded, also eighty prisoners, being left in Chivington’s hands. In the evening, and by request of the Confederate commander, an armistice was declared to permit the burial of the dead and removal of the wounded.

Chivingston’s official report of the battle gave the casualty list as five dead and fourteen wounded, although the correct figure was slightly in excess of this. Four Colorado men were killed and seven wounded. Capt. Samuel H. Cook was one of the wounded and Lieut. William F. Marshall was killed by the accidental discharge of a gun after the battle was over. The Confederate loss was very heavy.

The Federal forces returned through the pass to the ranch where they had captured the enemy scouts, and there buried their dead. On the 27th they marched to Kozlowski’s Ranch and joined the remainder of the Federal command under Colonel Slough, which had moved to that point while Chivington engaged the enemy in the pass.

The Second Battle

When the fight in Apache Canon had just begun, Major Pyron sent word to the remainder of the Confederates at Galisteo, under Col. William R. Scurry (Sibley being temporarily absent), asking for immediate reinforcements. In an incredibly short time Scurry had his command on the march and by the next morning had joined Pyron and his shattered troops at the western entrance to La Glorieta Pass, a distance of fourteen miles from Galisteo. On the morning of the 28th fully 1,100 Confederates started up the pass, leaving 300 men to guard the wagon trains and supplies. Scurry was aware of the presence of Federal troops at Kozlowski’s Ranch, but anticipated an easy victory and uninterrupted progress to Fort Union.

Colonel Slough, having been apprised of the approach of the enemy in augmented force, enacted a clever piece of strategy. He and his officers formulated a plan whereby Chivington, with a third of the force, was to ascend the ridge at the south of the pass, march along this ridge to the rear of the enemy, and then descend in his rear, while Colonel Slough was to hurl the larger part of the command directly in the face of the enemy. These two divisions, with a small reinforcement from Fort Union, set out on the morning of the 28th, as usual leaving a detachment in guard of the supplies at the ranch. Slough’s men halted at Pigeon’s Ranch for water and while resting the Confederate advance posts were discovered up the pass. An advance was immediately made and the Confederate resistance met within a half mile. The following authoritative account of the ensuing battle is taken from Hall’s History of Colorado:

“About l0 o’clock, while making his way through the scrub pine and cedar brush in the mountains, Major Chivington and his command heard cannonading to their right and were thereby apprised that Colonel Slough and his men had met the enemy. At 12 o’clock he arrived with his men on the summit of the mountain which overlooked the enemy’s supply wagons, which had been left in the charge of a strong guard with one piece of artillery mounted on an elevation commanding the camp and the mouth of the canyon. With great difficulty Chivington descended the precipitous mountains, charged, took and spiked the gun, ran together the enemy’s supply wagons of commissary, quartermaster, and ordnance stores, set them on fire, blew and burnt them up, bayoneted his mules in corral, took the guard prisoners and rescinded the mountain, where about dark he was met by Lieutenant Cobb, aide-de-camp on Colonel Slough’s staff, with the information that Slough and his men had been defeated and fallen back to Kozlowski’s. Upon the supposition that this information was correct, Chivington, under the guidance of a French Catholic priest, in the intense darkness, with great difficulty made his way with his command through the mountains without a road or trail, and joined Colonel Slough about midnight.

“Meanwhile, after Chivington and his detachment had left in the morning. Colonel Slough with the main body, preceded up the canyon, and arriving at Pigeon’s Ranch, gave orders for the troops to stack arms in the road and to supply their canteens with water, as that would be the last opportunity before reaching the further end of Apache Cañon. While thus supplying themselves with water and visiting the wounded in the hospital at Pigeon’s Ranch, being entirely off their guard, they were suddenly startled by a courier from the advance column dashing down the road at full speed and informing them that the enemy was close at hand. Orders were immediately given to fall in and take arms, but before the order could be obeyed the enemy had formed battery and commenced shelling them. They formed as quickly as possible, the colonel ordering Captain Downing with Company D, First Colorado Volunteers, to advance on the left, and Captain Kerber, with Company L First Colorado, to advance on the right. In the meantime Ritter and Claflin opened a return fire on the enemy with their batteries. Captain Downing advanced and fought desperately, meeting a largely superior force in point of numbers, until he was almost overpowered and sur-rounded; when, happily. Captain Wilder of Company G, of the First Colorado, with a detachment of his command, came to his relief, and extricated him and that portion of his company not already slaughtered. While on the opposite side, the right Company I had advanced into an open space, feeling the enemy, and ambitious of capturing his battery, when they were surprised by a detachment which was concealed in an arroyo, and which, when Kerber and his men were within forty feet of it, opened a galling fire upon them. Kerber lost heavily; Lieutenant Baker being wounded fell back. In the meantime the enemy massed, and made five successive charges on our batteries, determined to capture them as they had captured Canby’s at Valverde. At one time they were within forty yards of Slough’s batteries, their slouch hats drawn down over their faces, and rushing on with deafening yells. It seemed inevitable that they would make the capture, when Captain Claflin gave the order to cease firing, and Capt. Samuel Robbins, with his Company K of the First Colorado, arose from the ground like ghosts, delivered a galling fire, charged bayonets, and on the double-quick put the rebels to flight.

“During the whole of this time the cavalry, under Captain Howland, was held in reserve, never moving except to fall back and keep out of danger, with the exception of Captain Cook’s men, who dismounted and fought as infantry. From the opening of the battle to its close odds were against Colonel Slough and his forces; the enemy being greatly superior in numbers, with a better armament of artillery, and equally well armed otherwise. But every inch of ground was stubbornly contested. In no instance did Slough’s forces fall back until they were in danger of being flanked and surrounded, and for nine hours, without rest or refreshment, the battle raged incessantly. At one time Claflin gave orders to double-shot his guns, they being nothing but little brass howitzers, and he counted ^One, two, three, four,’ until one of his own carriages capsized and fell down into the gulch; from which place Capt. Samuel Robbins and his Company K extricated it and saved it from falling into the enemy’s hands.

“Having been compelled to give ground all day, Colonel Slough, between 5 and 6 o’clock in the afternoon, issued orders to retreat. About the same time General Sibley received information from the rear of the destruction of his supply trains, and ordered a flag of truce to be sent to Colonel Slough, which did not reach him, however, until he arrived at Koslowskie’s. A truce was entered into until 9 o’clock the next morning, which was afterward extended to twenty-four hours, and under which Sibley with his demoralized forces fell back to Santa Fe, laying that town under tribute to supply his forces.

“The 29th was spent in burying the dead, as well as those of the Confederates which they had left on the field, and caring for the wounded. Orders were received from General Canby directing Colonel Slough to fall back to Fort Union, which so incensed him that while obeying the order he forwarded his resignation, and soon after left the command.”

Colonel Slough estimated that his losses had been twenty-eight killed and forty wounded, but the official records of the First Colorado Regiment, of which one-third had been with Chivington on the day of the battle, show that the dead of this regiment numbered forty-three and the wounded fifty-eight. Lieut. Clark Chambers of Company C and Lieut. John Baker of Company I were among the killed. Companies D and I were the heaviest losers, the former with sixteen killed and twenty wounded and the latter with fifteen killed and fifteen wounded. It is thought that the Confederates lost more men that the Federals, although no exact statistics of this are available.

Had not Canby sent his foolhardy order to Colonel Slough it is probable that the whole Confederate force could have been captured or scattered by the Union men, but orders from a superior officer meant obedience and Slough was compelled to accede to them, although he resigned at the time of so doing. He afterward went east and was placed in command of the Military District of Alexandria, Virginia, with the rank of brigadier general.

The coup accomplished by Chivington during the second battle of La Glorieta Pass completely defeated the ambitions of the Confederates in the Southwest.

Their dreams of a union with the Far West and the control of New Mexico and Colorado territories were rudely dispelled and they were compelled to retreat ignominiously to Santa Fe, where preparations were made for the withdrawal of the entire Confederate force from the Rio Grande Valley to Fort Bliss.

The Retreat and Pursuit

Major Chivington succeeded Colonel Slough at the head of the First Colorado and Captain Wynkoop, of Company A, was advanced to the former’s rank of major.

Sibley evacuated Santa Fe on April 5th and 6th, leaving his wounded behind. On the 1st, Canby, with a force of 1,200 men, including Dodd’s Colorado company, had advanced up the Rio Grande Valley from Fort Craig and had sent an order to Fort Union for the First Colorado to join him.

Canby met the retreating Confederates at old Albuquerque on the 8th, skirmished desultorily all day and then retired to Tijeras, fifteen miles northeast, leaving the rebels in possession of the town. On the 12th the greater part of Sibley’s force crossed the Rio Grande to Los Lunas, twenty miles below, to wait for the others. On the 13th Sibley evacuated Albuquerque and marched down the river valley to Peralta, opposite Los Lunas. Canby placed no obstacle in the path of this movement, which was as defiant as it was daring. On the evening of the same day the First Colorado joined Canby at Tijeras, whereupon Canby thought best to go in “pursuit,” which he did, marching down the east side of the Rio Grande thirty-five miles to a point within a short distance of Sibley’s encampment at Peralta. Had Chivington been in command at this juncture, it is reason-able to suppose that an immediate attack would have been made and the Con-federates routed, for they were distinctly in a “groggy” condition. However, for some reason, Canby refused to attack, claiming that it was an unnecessary risk and that he cared not if the Confederates escaped, as it would lessen the drain upon the provisions. On the 15th, the following day, Canby made a slight advance upon the enemy, which resulted in a half-hearted engagement which lasted until evening. Four Colorado boys were killed this day and many others wounded.

That night, under the very nose of Canby, Sibley withdrew his men across the river to Los Lunas, thence the next morning down the valley. Canby followed on the east, opposite, side of the river, all the time within sight of the re-treating enemy, but made no effort to attack, although his force was much superior. Whether or not the fact that Canby and Sibley were brothers-in-law had anything to do with this strange behavior is left for the reader to judge. Sibley detoured past Fort Craig a short distance below Socorro, returned to the river thirty miles below the fort and, after many hardships and the loss of the greater part of his men, reached Fort Bliss about the 1st of May. Canby went only as far as Fort Craig.

Canby played a negligible part in the campaign against the Sibley forces; in fact, it would have been a shorter and less expensive campaign if he had effaced himself entirely. He worked at variance with Slough when actual fighting was occurring and when he had his chance to deal a lasting blow to the Confederates was too indifferent, to use a polite term, to take advantage of his opportunity.

The glory of expelling the enemy from New Mexican Territory belongs to the gallant Colorado volunteers, who were in the thickest of the conflict at all times and suffered heavily. All the casualties had not been recorded, but these excepted, there were fifty-six killed and ninety-one wounded, about fifteen per cent of their total strength. Such a loss in proportion in the great battles of the war, Gettysburg, Antietam or Missionary Ridge, would have been beyond belief.

Disposal Of The First Colorado

After Sibley’s escape down the Valley of the Rio Grande, Canby’s men, including the First Colorado, were stationed at Fort Craig, where a long and tiresome period of inactivity was undergone. In May, 1862, Canby, with the regulars and the New Mexican volunteers, went to Santa Fe, Chivington being left in charge of southern New Mexico, with headquarters at Fort Craig. Chivington stood this irksome duty until July 4th, then was relieved at his own request and marched the First back to Fort Union. Having arrived at this post, Chivington obtained leave of absence and went to Washington, to attempt to secure a more active berth for his “crack” regiment. He asked to have the First changed to a regiment of cavalry and also assignment in one of the great eastern armies, preferably the Army of the Potomac. His request was only partially granted. In October the War Department directed that the First Regiment, or the Second Colorado which had been formed early in the year, be made into a cavalry regiment for western service only. Governor Evans to select one of the two units for the change.

In recognition of their services, the First Regiment soldiers were awarded the change by Evans, who ordered Chivington to assemble the regiment at Colorado City and attend to the details. Cavalry equipment and mounts were difficult to obtain and not until the first of January, 1863, was the transformation from infantry to cavalry effected completely. The regiment, resplendent with new uniforms, sabers and pennons, marched into Denver January 13th and there received a joyous and liberal welcome from the proud citizens.

This was the last time the First Colorado appeared in service as a unit. The companies were separated and in small detachments were assigned duty in different parts of the territory, also in western Kansas and Nebraska. The Indian depredations began about this time and it fell to the lot of the brave First to guard the trails and fight the roving bands of savages. In this manner the First served the country during the later years of the Rebellion.

The Second Colorado Volunteer Infantry

It has been stated before that the two companies of infantry recruited by Dodd and Ford were to constitute the nucleus of the proposed Second Regiment of Colorado Volunteers. In February, 1862, Jesse H. Leavenworth, son of Col. Henry Leavenworth for whom Fort Leavenworth was named, was commissioned by the War Department to organize the Second Regiment, he to have the office of colonel. Leavenworth came to Denver on May 12, 1862, bringing with him a six-gun battery that had seen service at Fort Donelson in the Confederate cause, and which was in charge of a few Wisconsin volunteer artillery-men.

Recruiting offices were soon opened in the larger communities of the territory and regimental headquarters were established at Camp Weld. The first of the next month the following were appointed captains of the six companies in the process of organization: E. D. Boyd, William H. Green, L. D. Rowell, J. Nelson Smith, S. W. Wagoner and George West. The authorities at Washington made provisions for the formation of only six additional companies, which, with those of Ford and Dodd, would make only eight to the regiment; this error resulting from the general belief of the department that there were four companies in Colorado ready to become part of the Second Regiment. By August fully two-thirds of the total strength of the regiment had been acquired. Capt. Theodore H. Dodd and Capt. James H. Ford had been given high offices in the Second, the former that of lieutenant colonel and the latter major.

The Second left Camp Weld August 22nd and marched to Fort Lyon, arriving on the 29th. A number of additional volunteers, composed of men who had enlisted from southern Colorado for service in a New Mexican regiment, were sent to Fort Lyon and entered into the ranks of the Second. In April, 1863, after several months of weary camp life, the Second was enlarged by the arrival of the two veteran companies under Dodd and Ford.

At this same time six companies of the Second were ordered to Fort Leaven-worth, the remainder of the regiment to remain at Fort Lyon. The six companies named, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Dodd, left Fort Lyon on the 6th of April, marching eastward. At Fort Riley, 135 miles west of Fort Leavenworth, Dodd received new orders, directing him to go to Fort Scott, in the southeastern part of Kansas. Here, with a number of Kansas colored troops, the companies of the Second Colorado were made the escort of a huge wagon train to Fort Gibson, in the Indian Territory. Upon the route a small battle was fought with a mixed force of Indians and Confederates, led by Standwatie, a Cherokee Indian with a brigadier general’s commission. Twenty-three men of the Union forces were killed or wounded, while the enemy lost considerably more.

Having arrived at Fort Gibson, the Colorado companies were attached to the command of Gen. James G. Blunt, then preparing to meet the Confederate army under Gen. Douglass H. Cooper, who was approaching along the north side of the Arkansas River. Cooper’s force was estimated then to be about six thousand of nondescript character, Indians, Confederates, renegades and general flotsam and jetsam of the frontier. The Federal army, comprising 2,500 men and twelve pieces of field artillery, left Fort Gibson and met Cooper’s advance on July 17th, at Honey Springs, near the mouth of Elk Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas. The ensuing battle lasted barely two hours, but in that time the well-trained and courageous Union soldiers completely routed the enemy. Blunt lost seventeen killed and about fifty wounded, while the Confederates, and Indians, lost fully 150 killed and 400 wounded. The supply train of the enemy was burned by Cooper to prevent it falling into the hands of the Federals. Five weeks later, General Blunt occupied the post at Fort Smith, Arkansas.

In the meantime. Colonel Leavenworth was succeeded as colonel of the Second by Lieutenant Colonel Dodd. Leavenworth, through a small technicality, was dismissed from the service, but quickly reinstated. However, his pride caused him to resign his commission.

Other Volunteer Organizations

In 1862 the organization of two more volunteer units in the Territory of Colorado was begun. One of these was the Third Regiment of Colorado Volunteer Infantry, of which William Larimer was to be colonel, and the other was a battery of field artillery, to be commanded by William D. McLain. Recruiting was enthusiastically begun in the fall of the year, but the number of recruits was small. A sufficient number to form a few companies, however, had entered by December ist and these were taken to Camp Weld, then having been renamed Camp Elbert, in honor of Samuel H. Elbert, then Secretary of the Territory. Lieut. Col. Samuel S. Curtis had been appointed to the regiment and he assumed charge of the camp, with the task of whipping the “rookies” into shape. General Larimer resigned from the regiment. No further enlistments of any importance were secured and by the first of February, 1863, there were only enough soldiers for five companies. A, B, C, D and E, under Capts. R. R. Harbour, E. W. Kingsbury, E. P. Elmer, G. W. Morton and Thomas Moses, Jr., respectively. An order had been received in January to proceed to Fort Leavenworth, but de-lay of supplies and equipment prevented the start until March 3d. At this time five companies, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Curtis, began their march down the Platte to Fort Leavenworth, arriving April 23d.

The battery which was raised by Captain McLain developed into a four-piece organization. Besides the captain, the officers were: George S. Eayre, first lieutenant; and H. W. Baldwin, second lieutenant. This battery was also sent to Fort Leavenworth and later participated in the military operations in eastern Kansas and Missouri.

The five companies which constituted the embryonic Third Colorado remained at Leavenworth but a short time. During the latter part of April they were despatched to St. Louis by boat, thence to Sulphur Springs, twenty miles farther south. Here they remained until the latter part of May, then were ordered to Pilot Knob, Missouri, there becoming a part of Schofield’s Army of the Frontier. Under this command they remained during the summer and autumn months.

History of Colorado

Source: History of Colorado, Wilbur Fisk Stone, Editor, Volume I, Chicago, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918

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