Christmas 1861 at Fort Garland, Colorado

Ferdinand Ickis was among the tens of thousands of Civil War soldiers on both sides who found themselves far from home during the Christmas of 1861. After being recruited out of the gold mines of the Colorado Rockies, Ickis and his company of Colorado Volunteers mustered into Federal service at Fort Garland. It’s worth noting that the fort was named for a pre-war Army officer and Confederate General Longstreet’s father-in-law, not the Christmas decoration.

It was at Fort Garland, in the dreary and largely empty desert of southern Colorado, that they got their first taste of the soldier’s most common pastime: waiting.

Stereograph, via the Library of Congress, of the quarters at Fort Garland, with Blanca Peak in the background, towering over the San Luis Valley at more than 14,000’. Many of the buildings at Fort Garland are still standing today, and have been carefully preserved by History Colorado.

Ickis spent more than two months idling in Colorado. Writing in his diary on Christmas Day, 1861, he griped about the poor mail (a theme throughout his service in the New Mexico Territory), and was clearly more than a little homesick:

“Wrote three letters home and several to friends in Ohio, have not heard from home since I left Kents Gulch, which seems a year to me. Why I cannot get a letter from home I would give my boots to know.

Thought more of home within the last month than ever before. This is a gloomy Christmas to me some of the boys are a little boozy but civil. O! How i should love to sit down to a Christmas Dinner in the States today but here I am and can not be in more than one place at a time so here is the place. Are daily expecting orders to go to Santa Fe as we hear the Texas Rangers are coming up the Rio Grande.”[1]

Ickis was right about what the future held. On January 3, 1862, the company received orders to march to Santa Fe, and then on to Fort Craig. The following month they fought with distinction at Valverde, the largest Civil War battle fought in the Southwest. Ickis survived the fighting at Valverde and served throughout the Trans-Mississippi theater over the course of his three year enlistment. He mustered out at Fort Leavenworth in late 1864.

Colonel Edward R.S. Canby commanded Union forces at Valverde. Ickis took a cautiously positive view of him before the battle, but was much more skeptical after they were defeated. Photo via Library of Congress

As to why his brothers in arms were “a little boozy”, we only have to go back one entry earlier. On Christmas Eve, he recorded that after a dress parade, “the Old Major complimented Dodd’s Co of Col Vol. [Company of Colorado Volunteers] says we are the best 90 men in the service. Ordered a gill of rot for each tomorrow which elevates the Major in our estimate fifty percent.”[2]

So this Christmas, raise a “gill of rot” (or your drink of choice) to Ferdinand Ickis and the thousands of other volunteers who spent the holidays away from home to preserve the Union.

1. Mumey, Nolie. Bloody Trails Along the Rio Grande: A Day-by-day Diary of Alonzo Ferdinand Ickis. The Old West Publishing Company. 1958. 55.
2. Mumey, Nolie. Bloody Trails Along the Rio Grande: A Day-by-day Diary of Alonzo Ferdinand Ickis. The Old West Publishing Company. 1958. 55.

2 Responses to Christmas 1861 at Fort Garland, Colorado

  1. Bob, we know for sure from his diary that he wasn’t at Glorieta Pass, and I’m fairly confident he wasn’t at Sand Creek.

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