The Battle for Economic Resources: The Battle of Glorieta Pass

Unfortunately, most people who study the American Civil War and how it is remembered often overlook the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Even as I typed this last sentence, the program that I am using to type does not recognize the word Glorieta, but it does recognize the word Gettysburg. Sadly, most of the people who have heard about the Battle of Glorieta Pass only recognize it as being referred to as “the Gettysburg of the West.” This title that the battle has been coined into, is what mainly caught my attention to the subject. I decided to research the Battle of Glorieta Pass and eventually came across the National Park Service (NPS) website.

The Battle of Glorieta Pass

Southwest United States 1862 – Click on Image for Larger View

Once on the NPS website, I found a summary of the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Within the summary, the description of the battle states the following, “Glorieta Pass 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 March 1862, a Confederate force of 200-300 Texans under the command of Maj. Charles L. Pyron encamped at Johnson’s Ranch, at one end of the pass. Union Maj. John M. Chivington led more than 400 soldiers to the Pass and on the morning of March 26 moved out to attack. After noon, Chivington’s men captured some Rebel advance troops and then found the main force behind them. Chivington advanced on them, but their artillery fire threw him back. He regrouped, split his force to the two sides of the pass, caught the Rebels in a crossfire, and soon forced them to retire. Pyron and his men retired about a mile and a half to a narrow section of the pass and formed a defensive line before Chivington’s men appeared. The Yankees flanked Pyron’s men again and punished them with enfilade fire. The Confederates fled again and the Union cavalry charged, capturing the rearguard. Chivington then retired and went into camp at Kozlowski’s Ranch. No fighting occurred the next day as reinforcements arrived for both sides. Lt. Col. William R. Scurry’s troops swelled the Rebel ranks to about 1,100 while Union Col. John P. Slough arrived with about 900 men. Both Slough and Scurry decided to attack and set out early on the 28th to do so. As Scurry advanced down the canyon, he saw the Union forces approaching, so he established a battle line, including his dismounted cavalry. Slough hit them before 11:00 am. The Confederates held their ground and then attacked and counterattacked throughout the afternoon. The fighting then ended as Slough retired first to Pigeon’s Ranch and then to Kozlowski’s Ranch. Scurry soon left the field also, thinking he had won the battle. Chivington’s men, how-ever, had destroyed all Scurry’s supplies and animals at Johnson’s Ranch, forcing him to retreat to Santa Fe, the first step on the long road back to San Antonio, Texas. The Federals had won and, thereby, stopped Confederate incursions into the Southwest. Glorieta Pass was the turning point of the war in the New Mexico Territory.”[1]

The Battles of Glorieta Pass and Apache Canyon – Click on Image for Larger View

In addition to the summary, I was delighted to find that the NPS website also has a section titled “Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plans.” Within this section is a lesson plan titled, “The Battle of Glorieta Pass: A Shattered Dream.” I believe that this lesson plan has the potential of being an excellent tool for teachers to use in educating students about the importance of this battle. The reason that the Battle of Glorieta Pass has been termed “the Gettysburg of the West” is for the fact that it was this battle that prevented the Confederate Army from advancing further west with the hopes of attaining the Confederacy’s much needed economic resources (gold, silver, access to seaports,etc.)[2]

In closure, I hope that teachers not only in the West, but that all American Civil War teachers study and in turn teach about the Battle of Glorieta Pass. This battle is highly important to the studying of the American Civil War because it was a major loss for the Confederacy. As a result of this loss, the Confederacy was denied advancement to the West and the economic resources that they needed to finance the Battle of Gettysburg and other battles that were yet to happen in the great American Civil War.


[1] National Parks Service, “Battle Summary: Glorieta Pass” (accessed June 28, 2012)

[2] National Parks Service, “The Battle of Glorieta Pass: A Shattered Dream” (accessed June 28, 2012)

  1. Amanda Hlavacek said:

    I agree that many of the battles that occurred in the West are sadly ignored. I was walking around downtown Albuquerque, and came across two cannons that were used by the Confederacy to defend the city during the Civil War. I had no clue that there were any battles in Albuquerque. How do you think that the public can be made more aware of the involvement of the West? Other than including it in lesson plans, is there anyway that we can make students more aware of this?

    • jmmblog said:

      I recently found out that the Confederate flag even flew over the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe after the Confederate forces took over Albuquerque.

      To answer your question, I think that the public would be more aware of the involvement of the West in the American Civil War if this battle was made into a motion picture film. If this is done I further believe that historians need to be in the forefront of the production process in order for it to be historically accurate.

      Also, here in Southern Colorado, Fort Garland has an exibit titled “Civil War in the West.” I have yet to see it, but it sounds very interesting. This would be an excellent field trip destination for students. Below is a link to the Fort Garland’s History Colorado website.

      • Kristen Epps said:

        How long is the exhibit running? I will be gone for a month, but I’d love to see it if it is still around in August.

        • jmmblog said:

          I’m not sure how long it is scheduled to be on exhibit. I do know that the Fort Garland museum scales back their hours of operation in October. So I would guess that it should be on exhibit until at least October.

  2. drobnicker said:

    I never heard about this battle.It would be a great lesson to teach the students in the Southwest area even in the Colorado history class. We always hear stories about taming the West from the Native Americans who were defending their ancestorial lands, but seldom do we hear about Civil War battles in the area. Chivington also led the raid against Native Americans at Sandcreek in 1854. Fort Garland housed many soldiers who fought in the area. Adams State conducted an archeological dig at Fort Garland a few years ago, they found some interesting artifacts from the Civil War era. Unfortunately, it was posponed because of a lack of funding.

  3. catymark said:

    Great information about the battle. I agree that too much emphasis is placed on the battles in the East. Seems to me no one really knows about this battle, or others like it in the South West. I actually went and dug out my Civil War history book from my undergrad years, “Ordeal By Fire” by McPherson, and this battle takes up a whole page of the book, but lacks any maps of the specifics and gives very little detail of the battle. The other battles of the “West” mentioned in the section of the book are those like Shiloh and the Fall of New Orleans. This was the “West” during the war, but seems to me that in this age where it seems desirable to remember everything of every major event, one would think this would be more widely taught, especially in the Western part of the country.

    • Kristen Epps said:

      Ordeal by Fire is a great book, but you’re right, even the “gods” of Civil War scholarship like McPherson give very little attention to the West. I have some serious pet peeves in this regard 🙂

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