On this day 150 years ago the most significant Civil War battlefield in New Mexico and the Southwest was finally quiet. Three days of back-and-forth bloodletting at the Battle of Glorieta Pass was over.
By the end the South narrowly remained on the field after the North moved back down the valley. But the Confederate troops were soon forced to retreat to Santa Fe, about 25 miles away. Union forces had found and burned the rebels' 80-wagon supply train.
The 1862 battle of March 26-28 was remembered in a memorial service held Wednesday morning at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. There, amid the rows of white crosses guarding the graves of thousands of other veterans, members of the Colorado and New Mexico National Guard honored the dead, missing and wounded from the fight some termed the “Gettysburg of the West.”
In numbers, Glorieta Pass pales alongside those of the three-day killing fields of eastern Pennsylvania. Only 2,400 troops fought for both armies in Glorieta Pass. Gettysburg, fought from July 1-3 of 1863, involved 165,620 soldiers. Combined totals were 101 killed in action and 158 wounded out west versus 44,286 dead and 27,224 wounded back east.
Yet the outcome from both battles each shaped the Civil War in vitally important ways.
Gettysburg represented the beginning of the end for the South's insurgency. The victory signaled to the North and embattled President Abe Lincoln that the war could be won.
Glorieta Pass blocked the cash-strapped rebels from reaching the lucrative gold and silver mines of Colorado and California, denied them use of southern California's shipping ports, and sent them back to Texas. A different outcome in New Mexico could have helped fuel a different outcome to the war — and perhaps a much-different America today.