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American Civil War West of the Mississippi

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Sibley's New Mexico Campaign: Its Objectives and the Causes of its Failure

by Trevanion T. Teel, Major, C.S.A.

Battles and Leaders of the Civil War
p. 700

The object of his campaign in New Mexico was explained in detail by General H. H. Sibley to the writer in a conversation which occurred just after the former had assumed command of the army. His plans were in substance as follows: While in the United States army and stationed in Arizona, he had acquired full information as to the resources of that Territory and of New Mexico; and as to the condition of the United States forces in those Territories, the quantity of Government stores, supplies, transportation, etc. He had informed President Davis of these things, and had submitted to him the plan of campaign. President Davis had authorized him to enlist three regiments in Texas, to constitute a brigade to be mounted and mustered into the service, with such arms as could be obtained in Texas, and, upon arriving in New Mexico, the brigade was to be furnished with arms and equipments out of the supply already captured or that might be captured. His campaign was to be self-sustaining; President Davis knew that Colonel John R. Baylor, with less than five hundred troops, had captured large supplies and was in possession of all of Arizona and the lower part of New Mexico; Sibley was to utilize the results of Baylor's successes, make Mesilla the base of operations, and with the enlistment of men from New Mexico, California, Arizona, and Colorado form an army which would effect the ultimate aim of the campaign, for there were scattered all over the Western States and Territories Southern men who were anxiously awaiting an opportunity to join the Confederate army. Upon the arrival of his brigade at Mesilla, Sibley was to open negotiations with the governors of Chihuahua, Sonora, and Lower California, for supplies, etc. The objective aim and design of the campaign was the conquest of California, and as soon as the Confederate army should occupy the Territory of New Mexico, an army of advance would be organized, and "On to San Francisco" would be the watchword; California had to be conquered, so that there would be an outlet for slavery, the boundaries of the Confederacy, as they then existed, including none of the Territories, but with New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Utah there would be plenty of room for the extension of slavery, which would greatly strengthen the Confederate States. If the Confederates succeeded in occupying California, New Mexico, and Arizona, negotiations to secure Chihuahua, Sonora, and Lower California, either by purchase or by conquest, would be opened; the state of affairs in Mexico made it an easy thing to take those States, and the Mexican President would be glad to get rid of them and at the same time improve his exchequer. In addition to all this, General Sibley intimated that there was a secret understanding between the Mexican and the Confederate authorities, and that, as soon as our occupation of the said states was assured, a transfer of those Mexican states would be made to the Confederacy. Juarez, the President of the Republic (so called), was then in the City of Mexico with a small army under his command, hardly sufficient to keep him in his position. That date (1862) was the darkest hour in the annals of our sister republic, but it was the brightest of the Confederacy, and General Sibley thought that he would have little difficulty in consummating the ends so devoutly wished by the Confederate Government.

The direct cause of our discomfiture and the failure of our campaign was the want of supplies of all kinds for the use of our army. The territory which we occupied was no storehouse. Colonel Canby's order to destroy everything that would be of use to the Confederates had been fully enforced. Thus we were situated in the very heart of the enemy's country, with well-equipped forces in our front and rear.

General Sibley was not a good administrative officer. He did not husband his resources, and was too prone to let the morrow take care of itself. But for this the expedition never would have been undertaken, nor would he have left the enemy between him and his base of supplies, a mistake which he made at Fort Craig. The other reasons for the failure of the campaign were want of supplies, ammunition, discipline, and confidence. Under such circumstances failure was inevitable. Had Colonel John R. Baylor continued to command, the result might have been different.

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