Welcome back to our yearly spotlight series, highlighting speakers and topics for our upcoming symposium. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to feature previews of our speaker’s presentations for the 2022 Emerging Civil War Symposium. We’ll also be sharing suggested titles that you may want to read in preparation for these programs. This week we feature Phill Greenwalt.
New Mexico. Arizona. Colorado. Names of territories that one usually does not associate with the Confederate States of America nor the American Civil War in general. In the late winter of 1861-1862 though, newly minted Confederate Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley had those territories in mind along with an even more ambitious plan.
With a force of Texas soldiers, optimistically called the Army of New Mexico, but numbering approximately 2,500 men, Sibley would invade New Mexico, break the United States presence in the territory, live off captured supplies, and embark on an expedition to the Pacific Ocean. In the process, through envoys sent by Sibley, Mexican provincial representatives would be approached to discuss transportation of supplies, use of Pacific Ocean ports, and allowing Confederate soldiers to enter into Mexico for specific purposes.
If all went well, Sibley hoped to create a Confederate version of “Manifest Destiny” and extend the Confederacy from “sea to shining sea.” Yet, dreams and ambitions do not compensate for a lack of logistics and organization. Sibley’s campaign entered New Mexico at the wrong time of the year, was unprepared for the arduous crossing of the Jornada del Muerto Desert and when Federal forces at Fort Craig defied them, the trouble for the Southerners had just begun. What would become a pyrrhic victory at Valverde (or Valverde Ford) on February 20-21, 1862, set the stage for further issues in New Mexico.
Sibley’s dream, though, vanished completely before leaving the territory of New Mexico due to numerous factors, including a defeat of part of his forces at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, nicknamed the “Gettysburg of the West” fought on March 26-28, 1862. A long retreat to Texas ensued and the last serious effort for the Confederates in the southwest was over.
Yet, what if he had been successful? The vibrations from the southwest could have been felt as far away as the streets of London, England or the avenues of Paris besides just Pennsylvania Avenue and within the walls of the White House. Confederate conquest in the New Mexico and/or Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and even California would have impacted multiple avenues of the war effort. With the theme of “what if” for the 2022 Emerging Civil War Symposium, this topic, of if the Confederates had been successful in the southwest, will be discussed in depth.