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Colonel James Reily's Diplomatic Missions to Chihuahua and Sonora

by Martin Hardwick Hall*

New Mexico Historical Review
Volume 31, Number 3, p. 232-242
July, 1956

During the latter part of 1861 Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley with a force of some 3,000 men moved into Fort Bliss and the Mesilla Valley to begin a campaign to drive the Federal forces from Arizona and New Mexico. The remote and relatively unimportant Territory of New Mexico was not the real objective of the campaign. It was merely a means of attaining the real aim, the conquest of California. 1 Not only would the gold supply from the west, which was valued by the North as a source from which to pay for the prosecution of the war, 2 be diverted from Washington to Richmond, but the South would also gain two good seaports on the Pacific coast. Owing to the remoteness of this coast it would have been impossible for the Union navy to have blockaded it, 3 and thus the South would have been assured of a steady flow of supplies from the west. 4

As far as possible, General Earl Van Dorn was to supply, from the different depots under his command, the material for the armament and equipment of the brigade Sibley had raised. 5 The campaign, in the main, however, was to be self-sustaining. The brigade was to be further furnished with the arms and equipment it needed out of the contemplated supplies that might be captured from Federal depots. Negotiations for supplies and provisions were also to be opened with the governors of Chihuahua and Sonora. 6

[*233] "In view of the importance of establishing satisfactory relations with the adjacent Mexican" border states, Sibley decided to send a diplomatic agent to the governors of Chihuahua and Sonora. 7 Not only did Sibley wish to buy supplies, but he had heard reports to the effect that the Central Mexican Congress had issued a decree granting the North the privilege of transporting troops and munitions across northern Mexico to attack the Confederates, 8 and he wanted to learn from the governors whether this was true or not. He chose as his representative his second in command, Colonel James Reily of the Fourth Regiment. 9 It is interesting to note that in sending this diplomatic mission to Mexico, Sibley, a field commander, was acting on his own authority and initiative. The Department of State of the Confederate States government had no part in the proceedings.

Reily was instructed to proceed first to Chihuahua City to deliver a letter to the governor from Sibley. Sibley's letter, 10 aside from assurances of cordial and friendly relations between the Confederacy and Mexico, dealt with three main points: an interrogation concerning the rumored convention between the United States and the Central Mexican government relative to the passage of United States troops and munitions through northern Mexico, a proposition for the mutual crossing of the frontier in "hot pursuit" of hostile Indians, and a request to allow Confederate agents to buy supplies and provisions in Chihuahua. 11 Reily was also to ask the Governor of Chihuahua to order the custom-house official at El Paso to remit the duties paid by the Texans who had transported their goods across the border for purposes of safety when it had appeared that a Union invasion from New Mexico was imminent. Sibley's letter gave only a general outline of the policy and nature of the questions at hand. Reily's chief [*234] and primary duties were "to unfold that policy and to explain (the) object(ives) in detail, to further their accomplishment, to counteract any adverse influences, and to obviate any possible objections." The manner of discharging these diplomatic duties was left to his own judgment and discretion. 12

On January 2, 1862, 13 Colonel Reily, accompanied by Sibley's volunteer aide-de-camp, Captain G. Dwyer, 14 and escorted by six Mexicans, set out on the three hundred mile journey to the capital of Chihuahua. 15 Six days later Reily arrived in Chihuahua City where he took up quarters at Riddell's hotel, and notified Governor Luis Terrazas of his arrival. The next day Carlos Moyo, the governor's brother-in-law, called upon Reily to accompany him to the governor's palace. Reily, dressed in the uniform of a colonel in the Confederate cavalry and carrying his sword, was cordially received by the governor. After presenting his letter of credence and the letter from General Sibley, Reily was introduced to the Secretary of State and other high officials. Since Sibley's letter was written in English, the governor asked that he be given time to have it translated so that he could give it due and intelligent consideration. Accordingly, an appointment was made for twelve o'clock the next day. Before the audience closed, the Mexicans asked Reily many questions concerning the war between the North and the South, General Sibley, and the number and character of the Confederate troops under his command. Upon taking leave of the governor, Reily was escorted back to the hotel by Moyo. Moyo remained for some time, and Reily "found him quite a friend of the South." 16

The next day Carlos Moyo again accompanied Reily to the governor's palace. Upon arrival, Reily found that only the Secretary of State and a member of the Supreme Court were present with the governor. Shortly, Joaquin Durand, who had [*235] been requested by Reily to appear due to his fluency in the English language, made his appearance. The group then almost immediately began discussions concerning the points in Sibley's letter. 17

In regard to the supposed convention between the United States and Mexico allowing United States troops and munitions to cross northern Mexico, Terrazas maintained that he had heard nothing about such an agreement. In his formal letter to Sibley, the governor pointed out that his government would not respect such a convention unless it had been entered into legally under Article 72, Part 16, of the Mexican constitution. Under this article only the Congress of the Union could exclusively grant "the privilege of permitting or denying the entrance of foreign troops in the territory of the confederation and of consenting to the stationing of squadrons of other powers for more than one month in the waters of the republic." 18 Terrazas, however, personally informed Reily that "if even the assent of the President had come to him, sanctioned by the act of Congress, he did not think he would permit Federal troops to pass through the territory of Chihuahua to invade Texas." 19

The group next discussed the issue of the "hot pursuit" of Indians across the international border. Reily maintained that "hot pursuit" was a recognized legal principle. As an illustration, he informed the governor that in 1838 Texas troops had invaded the United States as far as Shreveport, Louisiana, while in "hot pursuit" of a band of Caddo Indians, and that this invasion had not been considered a wrongful one by the United States government. He pointed out further the precedent of Revella who, in 1858, while Governor of Chihuahua, had granted the United States the right to pursue Indians, even into the city of Chihuahua itself. 20 Reily's arguments on this point bore little fruit, though, for in his official reply to Sibley, Terrazas stated that "by that constitutional [*236] principle which it is not lawful to violate in any way nor for any consideration whatever," he could not allow the crossing of foreign troops into Chihuahua. Should the Indian depredations continue, and if he became convinced of the advantages of Sibley's plan, Terrazas promised to "take the steps necessary to act upon it before the Congress of the Union." 21

As to the right to purchase supplies in Chihuahua, Terrazas made assurances that it would be allowed and that there would be no "official intervention whatever." The governor also ordered the custom-house dues remitted, and asked Reily to deliver the letter of instruction to the appropriate official at El Paso on his return journey. 22

Reily noted "that the governor appeared to be anxious to have the best relations established and continued between" Chihuahua and the Confederate States. Terrazas even went so far as to state that "at all times whenever necessary he would be pleased to afford protection to the persons and property of the citizens of the Southern Confederacy." 23

As a colonel in the Confederate army, Governor Terrazas had "recognized, received, entertained, addressed, and recredited" Reily to Sibley. 24 The governor had invited Reily to his private residence where he was introduced to many leading citizens, and he had dined with the governor at Carlos Moyo's home. 25 Only Reily's sudden departure at the conclusion of his mission prevented him from receiving a public testimonial of the kind feelings of the people of Chihuahua. 26 Flushed with such favorable treatment in Chihuahua, Reily concluded his report on his diplomatic mission to that state by congratulating Sibley for having been instrumental in obtaining the first official recognition of the Confederate States of America by a foreign government. 27 Reily's exuberance in this matter was obviously not valid, for Terrazas had merely accepted Reily as a foreign agent, and it was [*237] not within the governor's power to recognize a foreign government.

Armed with a letter of introduction and recommendation from Terrazas to Governor Pesqueira of Sonora, 28 Reily left Chihuahua City to return temporarily to Sibley's headquarters. His mission to Chihuahua, encompassing a six hundred mile round trip parts of which took him through Apache country was accomplished in twenty-one days. 29

Returning from Chihuahua, Reily proceeded to Fort Thorn where Sibley had recently set up his temporary headquarters. 30 After about a month's stay, Reily set out again to continue his diplomatic mission to Sonora. His route took him through Tucson, and he and his two subalterns and escort of twenty troopers arrived in that town on March 1, the day after Captain Hunter had occupied it for the Confederacy. Reily spent two days in Tucson; while there, he delivered a speech in the public plaza in celebration of the raising of the Confederate flag. 31

Reily carried a letter from Sibley to Ignacio Pesqueira, Governor of Sonora, which was similar to the one he had delivered to Terrazas. After assuring the governor of the Confederacy's desire for not only peaceful relations, but of amity and good will toward Mexico, Sibley again approached the question of the convention of the United States and the Mexican government which purported to allow the passage of United States troops through northern Mexico. Sibley asked for confirmation of such a treaty, and if such were the case, he wanted to know if the governor recognized and honored it. If he did, and if the United States took advantage of it, Sibley implied that appropriate Confederate action would be taken. Again as in the letter to Terrazas, Sibley suggested mutual cooperation in action against the Indians. Sibley proposed that the troops of either the Confederate government or of the Sonoran government should be at liberty [*238] to pursue hostile Indians within the jurisdiction of the other, as long as the pursuing force reported as early as practicable their purpose and strength to the nearest military post of the country within which it entered. Sibley surmised that only through such concerted action could the hostile Indians be brought under control. Sibley also asked Pesqueira for the privilege of buying supplies for his forces. Realizing the value of a port on the Pacific, Sibley asked the governor for the right of establishing a depot in the port of Guaymas, and the right of transit from that port through Sonoran territory to Arizona. Sibley assured Pesqueira that he was prepared to give the governor, in any form that he might suggest, the amplest guarantees that such privileges would not be abused. 32

At this time the capital of Sonora was the city of Ures. On March 14, 1862, Reily was in Hermosillo on his way to the capital, and learning that the governor was at that moment in the city, he immediately made contact with him. 33 While in Hermosillo, Reily happened to come across the February 14, 1862, issue of the Herald and Mirror newspaper which was published in San Francisco, California. This journal had an article in it dealing with the Mexican-Union convention dealing with the occupation of Guaymas with Federal troops. Besides desiring a reply to the letter from General Sibley which he had delivered, Reily also asked for confirmation and the position of the governor in regard to the terms of the convention as stated in the newspaper article. 34

On March 17, three days after his arrival in Hermosillo, Reily received answers to his own notes as well as to the official letter from Sibley. 35 The letters which Pesqueira sent to Reily have not been found, but if the account of an American with Union sympathies can be trusted, Reily, before returning to his command in New Mexico, apparently boasted that [*239] he had obtained all the privileges asked for, and even more. Reily also reportedly asserted that Pesqueira was friendly to the Confederates and their cause, and was only restrained from more open demonstrations of his good will by the opposition of his people and their fears of the designs of the Confederates. 36

Reily's activities in Sonora were speedily reported to the Union commander of the Department of the Pacific, Brigadier-General George Wright, by Union civilians in Sonora. W. G. Moody, a correspondent for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, and a friend, F. H. Waterman, 37 were in Ures attending to some private business with the government of Sonora when they learned that Colonel Reily had arrived with despatches from General Sibley for the governor. Through the acquaintance of Manuel Escalante, a confidential friend of the governor and a deputy from Hermosillo to the Sonoran legislature, the two Union men were able to learn the content of Reily's despatches. Since Governor Pesqueira could apparently not read English, Reily's despatches were given to Escalante to be translated. Moody, learning of this, asked Escalante for permission to receive copies of the letters. Permission was granted and all the Confederate correspondence was copied down by the Union men. Escalante even went so far as to assure the two men that copies of Pesqueira's replies would be furnished them as well. It appears, however, that Pesqueira learned of Escalante's generosity and disapproved of his action. While the two men remained in Ures two days beyond their schedule to receive copies of Pesqueira's replies, 38 they were informed in a note penned by Escalante that Governor Pesqueira had asked him to write to the two Union gentlemen for the purpose of telling them "that it would be very convenient not to publish the copies" of Sibley's and Reily's correspondence which they already had in their possession. 39 Copies of Pesqueira's replies to the Confederates [*240] were not made available, but Escalante informed tne two that Pesqueira had denied the Confederates the privileges of pursuing Indians into Sonora, and of a depot at Guaymas. Escalante also stated that the governor had declined to answer Sibley's question concerning his respect for the convention between the United States and the Central Mexican government. 40

As soon as Brigadier-General George Wright received copies of Sibley's and Reily's letters to Pesqueira, he wrote his subordinate, Colonel James H. Carleton, in command of Fort Yuma, that he intended to write Pesqueira immediately concerning the matter. Although Wright assumed that Pesqueira had refused Sibley's requests, and that any Confederate designs on Sonora had been deferred, he nevertheless authorized Carleton to cross into Sonora should Sibley's forces invade that state. 41

Although Wright's letter to Pesqueira was couched in friendly language and expressed confidence that the governor had granted nothing to the Confederates, Wright clearly stated that he "need not point out to ... His Excellency the utter ruin and devastation which would inevitably befall the beautiful State of Sonora should the rebel forces obtain a foothold within its limits." In such an event, Wright assured the governor that he had "an army of 10,000 men ready to pass the frontier and protect . . . (the Sonoran) government and people." 42

Carleton, stationed at Fort Yuma just a short distance from the frontier of Sonora, appeared anxious to march his troops into Sonora if Pesqueira had granted the Confederates extensive privileges. Since the Central Mexican government at this time was in such dire straits with foreign powers, he even suggested that it would be a "kind act" to move in and hold Sonora until the Central government could claim it. He stated that "ethically we have the right, and I doubt very [*241] much if it is not our duty to do this." 43 As had Wright, Carleton also wrote to Pesqueira and, though expressing full confidence that Pesqueira had granted nothing to the Confederates, he warned the governor of the dangers of allowing the Confederates any concessions within the state. 44

After receiving these not-so-veiled threats from the Union commanders, Pesqueira decided to alleviate any "misapprehensions" they might have. Pesqueira informed Wright that he had nothing but friendly and sincere sympathies for the American Union, and he hoped that the Union commander would have the opportunity to see his communications to Sibley (which he had forbidden the two Union civilians in Sonora to have) so that he could see that through his "cautious management, the chief of the Southern Confederacy could not calculate upon (his) sympathies to carry out his plans." Pesqueira also maintained that any movement of Confederate troops into Sonora, for any purpose whatsoever would "be considered as an invasion by force of arms." 45

In answering Carleton, Pesqueira stated that his government considered "the assertions circulated by Mr. Reily as exaggerated, or perhaps badly interpreted." Although Reily had been offered due hospitality and the Confederacy had been given all the rights of the neutrality circular which Mexico had been compelled to adopt, Pesqueira maintained "that no arrangement nor agreement was entered into between the forces or authorities of the States called Confederate and . . . (his) government." 46

There is little doubt that Pesqueira had been quite conciliatory and friendly with Reily, and this attitude probably served as the basis for Reily's "boasting" of having obtained favorable concessions. On the other hand, Pesqueira's letters make it appear that he was quite favorably inclined toward the North. Pesqueira was in an uncomfortable situation -- [*242] being wedged between the Federals in California and Fort Yuma and the Confederates in Arizona. Finding himself between these two dangers, he therefore sought to conciliate both.

Reily's missions to the Mexican states had been one of peace and amity. Even so, he personally related that "there are no such mines in the world as are within sight of Chihuahua City," 47 and that "these mines and their soil need(ed) the inducement of capital, energy, and enterprise, which . . . (could) only be induced ... by a stable and enlightened constitutional government." 48 Exuberantly, Reily proclaimed that these lands "would improve by being under the Confederate flag," and "with Sonora and Chihuahua . . . (the South would) gain Southern (Lower) California, and by a railroad to Guaymas, render . . . (the) State of Texas the great highway of nations!" 49 Personally Reily and many other Confederates may have desired to acquire Mexican territory, but annexation was not the policy of the Confederate government at this time. 50 Annexation would have brought a declaration of war from the Juarez government, and would have incurred the displeasure of the European powers, particularly Spain and France. 51 Furthermore, Mexico served a purpose as a neutral by being an agency through which supplies from abroad could be shipped to the Confederates who were feeling the pinch of the blockade. Annexation of Mexican territory would have extended the blockade to these now free ports. If the Confederacy planned to eventually expand into Mexico, it would have to wait awhile, for it was now engaged in a war for its very existence and it could not afford to waste its strength by assuming the burden of defending additional territory. 52


* Box 12616, University Station, Baton Rouge 3, Louisiana.

1. Trevanion T. Teel, "Sibley's New Mexican Campaign Its Objects and the Causes of Its Failure," in R. U. Johnson and C. C. Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, II, 700 (New York, 1884-1885).

2. Carleton to Thomas, September 13, 1863. Condition of the Indian Tribes. Report of the Joint Special Committee Appointed Under Joint Resolution of March 3, 1865 (1867), p. 136.

3. Latham Anderson, "Canby's Services in the New Mexican Campaign," in R. U. Johnson and C. C. Buel, eds., Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, II, 697-98 (New York, 1884-1885).

4. Teel, op. cit., p. 700.

5. Cooper to Sibley, July 8, 1861. War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume IV, p. 93, cited hereafter as O. R. A.

6. Teel, op. cit., p. 700.

7. Sibley to Cooper, January 3, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 167.

8. Sibley to Governor of Sonora, December 16, 1861, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 767.

9. Sibley to Governor of Chihuahua, December 27, 1861, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 168.

10. Sibley's letter has not been found, but its context can be reasonably ascertained from Terrazas' reply. Terrazas to Sibley, January 11, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 172.

11. Ibid., p. 172.

12. Jackson to Reily, December 81. 1861, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV. p. 168.

13. Sibley to Cooper, January 3, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 167.

14. Jackson to Reily, December 31, 1861, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 168.

15. Reily to Reagan, January 26, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I. p. 826. The fact that Sibley sent his second in command and his aide-de-camp on this diplomatic mission attests to the importance which Sibley attached to it.

16. Reily to Sibley, January 20, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 173.

17. Reily to Sibley, January 20, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, pp. 173-174.

18. Terrazas to Sibley, January 11, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 172.

19. Reily to Sibley, January 20, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 174.

20. Reily to Sibley, January 20, 1862, in O. R. A,, Series I, Volume IV, p. 174. Under instructions from General Garland, then commanding in New Mexico, Judge Simeon Hart had made this application to Governor Revella in 1858.

21. Terrazas to Sibley, January 11, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 172.

22. Reily to Sibley, January 20, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 174.

23. Ibid., p. 174.

24. Reily to Sibley, January 20, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 171.

25. Reily to Sibley, January 20, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 174.

26. Reily to Sibley, January 20, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, pp. 170-71.

27. Ibid., p. 171.

28. Ibid., p. 170.

29. Reily to Reagan, January 26, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 826.

30. Ibid., p. 826.

31. Carleton to Wright, March 22, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 944.

32. Sibley to Governor of Sonora, December 16, 1861, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, pp. 766-68.

33. Reily to Pesqueira, March 14, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 1031.

34. Reily to Pesqueira, March 16, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, pp. 1031-32.

35. Reily to Pesqueira, March 18, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 1032.

36. Waterman to Wright, April 7, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 989.

37. Ibid., pp. 988-89.

38. Moody to Alden, April 7, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, pp. 990-91.

39. Escalante to Moody, April 4, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 990.

40. Waterman to Wright, April 7, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 889.

41. Wright to Carleton, April 30, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 1042.

42. Wright to Pesqueira, May 3, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part II, p. 93.

43. Carleton to Drum, May 14, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 1071.

44. Carleton to Pesqueira, May 2, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, pp. 1044-45.

45. Pesqueira to Wright, August 29, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 93. By the time of the writing of this letter, the Confederate cause in Arizona and New Mexico had failed. This, no doubt, accounts for Pesqueira's firmer pro-Union stand.

46. Pesqueira to Carleton, June 2, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 1118.

47. Reily to Reagan, January 26, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 826.

48. Reily to Sibley, January 20, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume IV, p. 174.

49. Reily to Reagan, January 26, 1862, in O. R. A., Series I, Volume L, Part I, p. 826.

60. President Davis had refused the offer of Vidaurri to annex to the Confederacy the two Mexican states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila which he controlled. James D. Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, II, p. 78.

61. Frank L. Owsley, King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America, pp. 123-24 (Chicago, 1931).

62. J. Fred Rippy, The United States and Mexico, p. 232 (New York, 1931). [See letter from Wood to author in Notes and Documents. Ed.]

Original Source for This Version

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