New Mexico logo

Date of visit:
September 12, 2000

For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
 Location of Fort Craig ...

We rate this site a:

Site Highlights:
 No visitor center
 Open to the public
 No entry fees
 Self guided tours
 Walk the ruins
 Few visitors
 Middle of nowhere
 Little to see


[ Home ] [ Travel Page ] [ VLA ] [ Kelly Mine ]
Go to first part of day trip - Very Large Array
Go to second part of day trip - Kelly Mine
Fort Craig
Indian Campaigns and the Civil War
At the fort
( #1 location on sitemap )
In the mid-1800s the territory of New Mexico was crossed by a large number of trails. Located along the travel routes were numerous military forts, designed to protect travelers and settlers. These outposts played a key role in the settlement of the American frontier.

Fort Craig was one of the largest forts constructed in the West and it played a crucial role in Indian campaigns and the Civil War. Etablished in 1854, the primary function of the fort was to control Apache and Navajo raiding and to protect the central portion of the Camino Real, which stretched from northern Mexico to Taos, 70 miles north of Santa Fe.

Military excursions from the fort pursued such notable Apache leaders as Geroninio, Victorio, and Nana.
Looking North from Fort Craig
( #2 location on sitemap )
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Fort Craig remained a Union Army Post manned by regular army troops.

In 1862, troops under the command of General H.H Sibley continued up the Rio Grande after capturirg military installations to the south.

On February 21, 1862, Sibley's Confederate troops engaged Union troops led by Colonel R.S. Canby. The Battle of Valverde took place upstream from Fort Craig at Valverde Crossing.

Although many consider the battle to have been a Confederate victory, Union forces succeeded in holding the fort and half of the Confederate's supply wagons were destroyed. The loss of the remaining supplies at the Battle of Glorieta, east of Santa Fe, on March 28, 1862 forced the Confederates to retreat back to Texas and ended southern aspirations for military conquest in the West.

By the late 1870s, efforts began to succeed to control Indian raiding and the surrounding valley prospered under military protection. The fort was temporarily closed from 1873 to 1880 and, because the fort's military function was no longer necessary, the fort was permanently abandoned in 1885. Nine years late Fort Craig was sold at auction to the Valverde Land and Irrigation Company, the only bidder. The property was eventually donated to The Archaeological Conservancy by the Oppenheimer family and transferred to the Bureau of Land Management in 1981. The site is a BILM Special Management Area and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

About Valverde ...
Soldiers Quarters
( #3 location on sitemap )
Valverde was the scene of the bloodiest Civil War battle in the Southwest.

In 1862 the battlefield was a sandy flood plain covered with grasses and cottonwood copses. Sibley's men were poorly equipped, had little winter clothing, and a high incidence of disease.

On the Union side, Canby's men included regular troops, untried militia volunteers, and conscripts mustered by force. Canby sought to protect Fort Craig and Fort Union to control the Rio Grande Valley and planned to fight only under favorable conditions. Thus when Sibley tried to lure the Union soldiers out of Fort Craig, Canby refused battle.

This placed the rebels in a quandary. They were not strong enough to assault the fort, but the success of Sibley's campaign was dependent on the capture of Union supplies before continuing their march northward. Eventually, the Confederates crossed the river north of the fort in hopes of cutting off supply lines and luring Union forces into battle. On February 20, Canby sent troops across the river to attack the enemy flank, but his men panicked under fire. Canby then sent his regular cavalry to deny the thirsty Confederates access to the river. The next morning Union forces collided with the Confederates and the battle was on.

Officers Quarters
( #4 location on sitemap )
The Confederate troops left their supply trains lightly guarded and the Union militia destroyed most of them.

On the verge of disaster, the Confederates launched a last ditch effort on Captain Alexander McRae's battery and the poorly trained Volunteers broke and ran.

Canby, having more to lose than Sibley, withdrew to the fort.

Though the Confederates possessed the field of battle, it is debatable whether they really won the engagement. The Confederate logistical supplies were insufficient and Sibley's brigade was too lightly equipped to be anything more than a large raiding party. Losses in animals and supply trains made their situation even worse and there were none of the expected fruits of victory. Facing starvation, the Confederates could not invest further efforts in Fort Craig and they abandoned the battlefield and marched north.

Canby went on to a distinguished military career, and was the only general officer to die in the Indian Wars. Sibley was relieved from his command in 1863 and faded into obscurity.

[ Home ] [ Travel Page ] [ VLA ] [ Kelly Mine ]