Buttoned-up engineering, unbuttoned.
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By Dennis Coello
During the War Between the States, Confederate generals Henry Hopkins Sibley, Sterling Price and John Hunt Morgan each led invasions to places not usually thought of as parts of that historic conflict Santa Fe, Kansas City and northern Ohio.
Santa Fes historic buildings quietly witnessed Confederate invasion forces passing on their way to battle.
All three expeditionary routes were more than 1,000 miles long. Today, following them leads to great scenery, national parks and monuments, small towns and bustling urban centers.
General Sibley’s New Mexico CampaignFollowing Brigadier Henry Hopkins Sibley’s expedition gives you the opportunity to visit the Alamo and stroll San Antonio’s famed Riverwalk. While all the fighting took place in New Mexico (where most of its evidence remains), the expedition started in San Antonio in October 1861. The Seventh Regiment of Texas Mounted Volunteers paraded through town and began the long trek westward along the upper branch of the old San Antonio-El Paso Road.
You will probably enjoy the desert scenery – the mountains and the rolling plains – more than did Sibley’s 3,200 men. They couldn’t travel as a single body for fear of depleting the few known water holes along the route. Fort Davis, in far west Texas, provided supplies for the Texan forces.
Centuries old even at the time of the Civil War, the Indian pueblo at today’s Pecos National Historic Park was near a three-day battle between North and South.
From there, some historians believe Sibley intended to move into Colorado to take its gold fields for the South’s war effort. Others think he planned to head west to extend the Confederacy to the Pacific or east to aid General Sterling Price in Missouri.
Fort Craig was an obstacle. Thick-walled ruins and deep entrenchments at Fort Craig National Historic Site show how it was strongly fortified. So Sibley, no matter what his army’s needs, chose to bypass it. As he moved north, the Union forces attacked and, in a tough fight, lost the ensuing Battle of Valverde. Though victorious, the Confederates still could not take Fort Craig, and they continued their march north.
Hungry and cold, the Confederates moved on. They took Albuquerque (where today you can see their howitzers on the Plaza in Old Town), only to find its warehouses burned. However, in Santa Fe they located enough provisions to load 70-odd wagons with the food, clothing, ammunition and surgical supplies needed for their march toward Fort Union. Not 20 miles out of town, in Apache Canyon and on through Glorieta Pass toward the centuries-old (even then!) Indian pueblo at today’s Pecos National Historical Park, they fought and won a three-day battle. But their ability to continue was lost when Union Major Chivington took 430 men into the mountains around the battling armies, rappelled down the steep defiles to the poorly guarded wagon train and burned all the wagons.
With supplies gone and more Northern forces gathering, there seemed no alternative but to retreat – all the way back to Texas. A full 1,000 Confederates never reached home.
In the summer of 1864, former Missouri governor – and now General – Sterling Price invaded the state from his base in southern Arkansas. His goal was to capture St. Louis and the capital at Jefferson City and change Missouri’s border-state status to solid gray. These times were rough for the people in the expedition’s path through four states and the Indian Territory of Oklahoma.
General Price left Camden, Arkansas (only 50 miles from the Louisiana border), in September 1864 at the head of a 12,000-man cavalry invasion force. The first big battle took place only 90 miles from St. Louis, at the earthen-walled Fort Davidson. Price sent wave after wave of brave but unlucky soldiers across open fields and into the killing zone of the dry moat dug around the fort, headlong into the withering musket and cannon fire of 1,000 Union troops. The Confederates were bloodily repulsed each time. Then, under cover of darkness and lighting a long-burning fuse to ignite the powder magazine, approximately 800 Union survivors escaped to safety. Price had suffered eight times as many casualties – some 1,500 killed and wounded. With them, he lost hope of capturing St. Louis.
The Missouri River marks part of the trail followed by Confederate General Sterling Price and his troops.
Price’s troops next rode north and west to the Missouri River, following it to Jefferson City but avoiding an engagement there when its surrounding hills were seen to be stoutly defended. On to Kansas City next, trailing a long wagon train that slowed their progress and fighting occasional skirmishes while raiding towns and farms for food and fresh horses. Union armies prepared a trap for Price at Westport (in today’s Kansas City), which turned into the largest Civil War battle west of the Mississippi with some 45,000 troops involved. Price escaped, barely, due primarily to Union blunders, but at the cost of another 1,000 casualties.
Caught again 100 miles south by Colonel Frederick Benteen, Price was forced into the only major engagement of the war fought on Kansas soil – the Battle of Mine Creek. At the cost of eight cannons, 300 casualties and 900 men captured, the Confederates escaped once more. Then the single goal of this army, reduced in size by a full two-thirds, was to return alive to its base in Arkansas.
General John Hunt Morgan’s “Great Raid”At the midpoint of the four-year struggle – June 1863 – General Morgan set off from McMinnville, Tennessee, with 2,400 cavalrymen. Known well to Union opponents for his earlier and highly successful guerilla hit-and-run tactics in Kentucky, Morgan planned to blaze a path of destruction beyond the border states, through southern Indiana and Ohio, then re-cross the Ohio River to safety in West Virginia.
Morgan’s route in Tennessee and Kentucky can be followed on today’s winding back roads and state highways, through quiet, rolling green farmland and acres of tobacco. Be prepared for the summer conditions that nourish this fertile region – heat and humidity – and also for the cool, early morning mists hanging over the many creeks and rivers. Occasional skirmishes with small Union contingents at railheads and bridges are well marked today with explanatory signs, especially in Kentucky – at Lebanon, Bardstown and Tebbs Bend in the Green River, near Campbellsville, where the youngest of the expedition’s four Morgan brothers was shot through the heart.
Morgan’s men rode north and east, spending all day and sometimes all night in the saddle – winding through parts of today’s Wayne National Forest and scores of small towns. Each has its own story of Morgan’s visit.
This southeastern part of Ohio is known as the Appalachian Plateau, an area missed by the glaciers and thus steeply hilled. It wore out Morgan’s men and animals, and at this point they were in too much of a hurry to tear up railroad tracks and burn all the depots and bridges.
Ohioans felled trees in Morgan’s path to slow the Confederates so that the Federals could catch them. The Confederates were captured near the town of West Point, less than 90 miles from Lake Erie.
Take to the Road!The expeditions led by the three Confederate generals played important roles in our nation’s past. Today, their routes provide more than 3,000 miles of scenery, history, hiking, shopping and everything else involved in a good summer road trip.