that it would take his army one day to reach the Valverde Ford, some six
miles upriver from Fort Craig, where the Rebel army could then be able
recross the river. Slowed by deep sand and rough terrain, the Texans were
forced to make a dry camp on the evening of February 20.
In the summer of 1861 Lt. Col. John R. Baylor
led a small band of Texans in occupying the Mesilla Valley in southern
New Mexico when it was joined by a much larger 3,000-man Confederate
Army. In command of the Confederate Army of New Mexico was Brig.
Gen. Henry H. Sibley, a twenty-two year veteran of the antebellum
army, who had been stationed in New Mexico prior to the war. Sibley's
objective was to capture Colorado and eventually California, thus
making the Confederacy a transcontinental nation more likely to
win diplomatic recognition in Europe.
In early 1862 Sibley moved against Fort Craig,
a Federal bastion in south-central New Mexico. By February 16th
the Texan army had pushed to within a mile of the post. At the fort,
a Union force of 1,250 Regulars and 1,350 hastily recruited New
Mexico volunteers and militia, commanded by Col. Edward Canby, awaited
the Rebel advance. Realizing that Fort Craig was too well fortified
to be taken by assault, Sibley offered battle on the open plain
south of the fort. When Canby refused, Sibley decided to bypass
the fort by retreating downriver some seven miles to the village
of Paraje, where the Rebels crossed over to the east bank of the Rio Grande.
Realizing that the Valverde Ford was Sibley's objective,
Canby sent a battery of artillery and two regiments of volunteers across
the river to impede the Texan advance. Although Canby ordered his army
into battle position and sent out skirmishers, the Union force was driven
off by the Rebel artillery and small arms fire. The Union's first attempt
at a guided bomb, a mule with explosives strapped to it, was also unsuccessful.
At daybreak on Friday, February 21, 1862, Sibley
sent Maj. Charles L. Pyron with 180 men to reconnoiter a road to Valverde.
He was followed by Maj. Henry R. Raguet with five companies. They rode
north along the eastern extremities of Black Mesa before turning west
along the north edge of the escarpment, following it to the river. There
they reached a small cottonwood grove near the ford when Pyron discovered
a force of Federal cavalry in his front. As the Texans took cover in the
sandy bottom, a fierce firefight erupted. In response, Canby hurried Col.
Benjamin S. Roberts with regular and volunteer cavalry to the scene. Hearing
the same gunfire, Major Raguet, joined by Col. William R. Scurry and the
remainder of the Rebel Fourth Regiment, also raced for the river.
With the Union line in disarray other Union troops
fled for the Rio Grande, many dropping their weapons in their haste. A
large number of the Federals were killed while attempting to cross the
river. As the Union forces retreated to the safety of Fort Craig, Colonel
Canby sent a white flag into the Rebel lines. Rebel commanders at first
thought Canby was offering to surrender, but he asked only for a cessation
of hostilities to remove the Federal dead and wounded. Union casualties
at Valverde amounted to 222 men killed and wounded, while the Confederates
lost 183. On the day following the battle, the Rebel dead were wrapped
in blankets and buried in trenches. Federal dead were interred at Fort
This is a sketch of the battle
as drawn by Sgt Peticolas (5th Sgt; Co C, 4th Texas Mounted Volunteers)
shortly after the Battle of Valverde (2/21/1862). TABLE MT. As shown
on the sketch is Black Mesa. Image is oriented such that south is
at the top of the sketch The sketch depicts the Confederate and
Union battlelines on the left and right, respectively, and shows
the military situation early in the battle.
By ten o'clock, Capt. Trevanion T. Teel's
artillery had also reached Valverde. Several times the Texans advanced
toward the river, only to be driven off by a heavy Union artillery
bombardment. About this time Union forces moved to envelop the Rebel
right by crossing the Rio Grande upriver from Valverde. Such a move
forced Scurry to divide his command and lengthen the Confederate
line. On the Union's left flank, Capt. Alexander McRae started to
pound the Rebel position on the east bank with his artillery.
By eleven o'clock the Rebels retreated from
the bosque and the east bank of the river, taking refuge behind
a low ridge of sandhills that paralleled the east bank of the river.
By midday the tide of battle was clearly swinging in favor of the
At one o'clock, as additional units, both
Union and Confederate, raced for Valverde, General Sibley had become
so ill, exhausted, and drunk that he had retired to an ambulance
in the Confederate rear and the Confederate army was turned over
to Col. Thomas Green. On the Confederate's right flank, Capt. Willis
L. Lang, with a company armed only with lances, launched a courageous
attack against a company of Colorado Volunteers. The Coloradoans
held their fire until the Lancers were within a few yards of the
Federal line and then fired a deadly volley into the charging Rebels.
In the suicidal attack, the Lancers, Company B of the Fifth Regiment,
suffered a greater loss of life than any other company in the Army
of New Mexico. Captain Lang was so severely wounded that he later
committed suicide. Lt. Demetrius M. Bass, Lang's second in command,
was wounded several times and died several days later.
Shortly after three in the afternoon, Colonel
Canby arrived on the battlefield and decided to advance his right
and center while using his left as a pivot, concentrating on the
Confederate's left flank. Meanwhile, Green, concealed by the sandhills,
advanced on the Union center as Colonel Raguet moved against a Federal
battery firing on the Confederate's left flank. Raguet's cavalry
advanced to within 100 yards of the Union guns before being driven
off. Green's advance on the right, however, proved to be the decisive
maneuver of the battle. Although McRae's battery poured a deadly
fire of grapeshot into the charging Texans, the Rebels fell upon
the Union artillery with a hand-to-hand savagery rarely seen in
the annals of American military history. Within eight minutes the
Texans had overrun the Union guns. McRae and half of his men died
at their guns. Eighty percent of the men killed and wounded in the
Federal ranks fell at or near McRae's battery.
This charge was made for eight hundred yards, under
a most galling fire. The enemy fought desperately, and their dead lay
in heaps about the guns of the battery. The battle was fiercely contested,
and one of the severest of the present war, as desperate as any on record
for the amount of men engaged. The roar of small-arms, of shell, canister,
grape and round shot, is described as having been terrific, and individual
instances of great bravery and gallantry, numberless, while our whole
army fought like veterans and patriots.
The Blue Whistler was a Civil War
era cannon that made a distinctive whistle when fired and thus its
name. It saw duty, on the Union side, at the battle and was one
of the guns captured by the Rebels.
From the Messilla Times of
March 27,1862, paragraphs relative of the Battle of Valverde.
The long expected engagement
in New Mexico, came off at Valverde, on the east bank of the Rio
Grande, four miles above Fort Craig on Friday, February 21. The
battle commenced at eight o'clock in the morning and lasted until
sunset. The action was commenced by a portion of Col. Baylor's
regiment, 200 strong, under command of Major Pyron, who were ordered
to flank the enemy. Upon reaching the river valley, they discovered
the enemy on the left. Major Pyron's command charged to a good
position, where they were covered by timber and a wide slough.
They held this position for nearly an hour, under a heavy fire
of small-arms, shell, grape, and round shot, before they were
They were then reinforced
by the first regiment under Lieut. Col. Scurry, and then Capt.
Teel's battery came into action, and afterwards the 2nd regiment
came into position. The enemy first attempted to turn our flank,
when Major Lockridge came to their assistance, and nobley did
he do it. Then they made several attempts all along our lines,
but without effect. Then again they made a concentrated attack
upon our left, with such vigor as to compel our forces to fall
back from their first position to another.
While in this position, and late in the evening, the enemy crossed
the river with their battery, which proved fatal to them. The
Confederate reserve (Col. Steele's command), some 450 men, now
joined in the action. A charge was made at the battery of the
enemy, and along their whole line, and the battery was taken at
revolver and shotgun, after a desperate struggle, when the enemy
fled with great slaughter. The enemy suffered the most while retreating
across the river, when the slaughter was truly terrible.
The day was fiercely contested throughout, and until
the latter part of the day, the enemy had gained some advantages. Firing
had ceased upon both sides, for over an hour, when the Federal General,
deeming our forces routed, crossed the river in force and with his battery,
to complete his victory, when the gallant charge was made which crowned
our arms with success. In the terrible retreat of the enemy across the
Rio Grande, many sank Dead and wounded beneath its turbid and bloody waters,
to rise no more forever. The current was strong, and the channel narrow,
consequently to be wounded was but to meet death.
The loss of the enemy has not been accurately ascertained,
but their killed and wounded, must have been over five hundred. It was
impossible to ascertain how many of the Federals perished in the river.
Col. Kit Carson's regiment of New Mexico Volunteers
were covering the retreat, when a shell was thrown into their ranks, killing
and wounding some twent, when they became panic stricken and fled to the
The regulars fought with great bravery, and before the action both officers
and men were sanguine of success.
The retreat across the river exhibited a perfect Leesburg rout, but the
regulars of the enemy, formed upon the opposite bank, under a galling
fire, and retreated to the fort in the perfect order of a dress parade.
The victory, though achieved gloriously over double our numbers, was dearly
won, we we have to mourn the loss of 46 heroes, and have 115 wounded.
Photographs from the Battle
Reenactment (not the actual battlefield)
on the thumbnail to view the larger image
We have heard one story from a local ranch hand
who claims that he had a headless Confederate infantryman shot at him
one night just before dusk. Other than this one account, we decided to
have a look at the battlefield due to the frequency of hauntings at other
Civil War battlefields.
The battlefield itself lies in wilderness and is
mostly unmarked. The first problem was locating where the events of 1861
occurred. Adding to this problem is the river itself which has changed
it's course several times over the years.
With the assistance of a local historian and archeologist,
we were able to locate the location where McRae's battery was over run.
This was our objective since it was where the greatest loss of life occurred.
At 4:00pm we set out to perform a reconnaissance
of the area marked on our map and to locate the old riverbed. Cody was
able to locate the old riverbed and the site where McRae's guns were captured.
During this time several unusual phenomena were observed. The sounds of
footsteps seemed to move around the area and were unexplainable, despite
several attempts to explain them. Voices could also be heard in the distance
that were to muttered to understand. They seemed to move in conjunction
with the investigator and seemed unusual for a wilderness area such as
the battlefield. Several strange pictures were taken during this initial
trip which would be cut short due to storms approaching from the southwest.
View from the railroad tracks
The Old Riverbed
Approximate location of McRae's
Second odd shadow
Greenish tint to this one
Greenish mist to the left
Greenish mist shifts to the right
View from the top of the mesa
We returned to the battlefield at 11:00pm. The
storm had passed but the site was very wet. We decided to continue with
the ghost hunt regardless.
We arrived on the north side of the site and began
to take EM measurements and photographs. As we began moving south, we
started getting a few readings that varied between 3 and 6 nanotesla on
the Trifield meter. Photographs taken when these readings were present
show an unusual "black mist" that obscures some of the investigators
in the photo. The highest reading we obtained in this area register at
After we were unable to relocate any other abnormal
EM fields, we moved south again. This time the group heard what could
of been footsteps which seemed to be originating from the location we
just left. However, it was difficult to tell if what we were hearing footsteps
or drops of rain falling off of trees around us.
It was also during this time that two of the investigators
noticed faint red lights that appeared in the distance salt cedars. The
lights were in their peripheral vision and disappeared when you tried
to focus on one of them. The lights were described as appearing like "someone
smoking a cigarette".
Due to the apparent activity in this particular
location, electronic voice phenomena samples (EVP) was done here. Afterwards
the team began the muddy trek back to the cars.
Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP)
Who are you?
Who is your Commanding Officer?
Sounds like "Captain
How many of you are there?
Sounds like "many"
What year is it?
Hard to make out but "six"
is audible (1861?)
Although the natural EM fields were unsettled,
they could not explain the unusually high readings that we recorded on
the Trifield meter. The EVP samples are interesting as the answers correlate
to events and people relevant to the site's history.
The site also seemed more "active" when
the storm was approaching. Could the negative ions in the air have an
effect on the phenomena at the location?