Glorieta Pass Civil War Battlefield Finally Gets an Interpretive Trail

A living history encampment was held in association with the dedication of the first public trail at the Glorieta Pass Civil War Battlefield. NPS Photo

New Mexico’s Pecos National Historical Park has formally dedicated the first public trail for its Glorieta Pass Civil War Battlefield unit. A living history encampment was held in association with the June 13-14 dedication.

The new interpretive foot trail provides public access to battlefield overlooks and has stops with interpretive signs and trail guide information. Trailhead parking and associated access road improvement facilitate convenient access to the site.

With the trail completed, visitors are now able to take self-guided tours of the battlefield on their own schedule. In the past, people who wanted to visit the battlefield could only take scheduled tours guided by rangers and volunteers.

The Civil War trail project at Glorieta Pass was made possible through the efforts of a broadly-based partnership that included:

Friends of Pecos National Historical Park
Glorieta Battlefield Coalition
Civil War Preservation Trust
United Daughters of the Confederacy
New Mexico Confederate Historical Society
Student Conservation Association
Western National Parks Association
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps
New Mexico State Parks
NPS Connecting Trails to Parks
Eker Family
Vordermark/Teel Family
Don Alberts
Numerous other donors and volunteers

Only limited information on the battle is provided at the visitor center, so battlefield visitors who want more in-depth understanding of what happened (and why) at this battlefield will want to consult detailed accounts of the battle and its aftermath.

The short of it is this: Early in 1862, a military operation dubbed the New Mexico Campaign sent a Confederate army into northern New Mexico Territory in an attempt to seize control of the Southwest. Sustained operations would open a new theater of the war, and success would gain important resources for the Confederacy (including the Colorado goldfields and the ports and goldfields of California). A key Confederate objective was to capture Fort Union, a Union stronghold on the Santa Fe Trail in northern New Mexico. Taking Fort Union would compel Union forces to abandon northern New Mexico, retreat into Colorado Territory, and cede control of the High Plains. To get at Fort Union, the Confederates would have to advance eastward and northward along the Santa Fe Trail and overcome any resistance they met.

The ambitious New Mexico Campaign came to nothing when Union troops turned the Confederates back near Glorieta Pass, a chokepoint on the Santa Fe Trail at the southern tip of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe. Because it marked the high point of Confederate military operations in the region, many historians have dubbed the Battle of Glorieta “the Gettysburg of the West.”

The key sites of the Glorieta Pass Civil War Battlefield are strung out a good bit because battles or skirmishes were fought at several different sites on different days. The opening battle was fought at Apache Canyon on March 26, then the main battle was fought on March 28 at Glorieta Pass. Although the Confederates didn’t actually lose at Glorieta Pass (when the smoke cleared, they still held the field), the destruction of their baggage train at Johnson's Ranch left them with no choice but to retreat to Santa Fe. The New Mexico Campaign was doomed, and as it turned out, so was the Confederate presence in New Mexico Territory.

Postscript: One “t” or two? Whether it’s spelled Glorieta or Glorietta seems to depend on which authoritative source you consult. And even then you can’t be sure. Pecos National Historical Park, the mother park for the battlefield, spells it with two “t’s” on their home page, and with one “t” on their Battle of Glorieta page and their FAQs page. Glorieta Battlefield Coalition uses one “t”. Nearly all of the various books written about the battle use one "t". Some other sources use one “t” on some occasions and two “t’s” on other occasions. The battle is variously referred to as the Battle of Glorieta, the Battle of Glorietta, the Battle of Glorietta Pass, and the Battle of Glorieta Pass. I like one "t". At the least, it saves keystrokes and ink.

And another thing
: Like most other websites for NPS units, the one for Pecos National Historical Park is not updated as frequently as it should be. As of this writing, more than two full weeks after the new interpretive trail was opened to the public at the Glorieta Battlefield, the FAQs page for Pecos still includes this item:

Q: Is the Glorietta Battlefield open to the Public?
A: The Civil War Battlefied [sic] is not open to the public. It is open only via a guided tour. Please contact the visitor center for more information about tour times and dates.

This piece of misinformation is very prominently displayed, being one of only two items in the FAQs section.

Comments

Apparently, "most other websites for NPS units" clearly lack the inspiration that accounts for the excellence of National Parks Traveler! Heh, only two Q's in their FAQ's. Hopefully the park itself is more inspirational (thought- and question-provoking) than that!

I took the ranger-led tour of the Glorieta battlefield three years ago. It was interesting enough, but the most memorable thing about it was the ranger -- a real contrarian who delighted in poking holes in all my (admittedly limited) historical understandings of the West, the Civil War, the United States, etc.

At that time, the park was struggling to preserve a ranch building along the side of the road that was one of the few remaining historical structures from the battle era. I believe it was used as shelter and hospital during and after the fight. I was told the building was slated to be demolished for a road widening project. Does anyone know if they were successful in preserving the site?

Preston: I recently spoke with Kathy Billings, the superintendent of Pecos NHP, and asked her about the fate of the historic building associated with the 1862 battle fought near Glorietta Pass. There is no ranch house from that era, although a 1925 ranch building, Forked Lightning Ranch, is a component of Pecos NHP. The ranch was donated to the park in the 1990s; ranger-guided tours are available by reservation. A much older structure called the Trading Post (once a stagecoach stop) was indeed present at the time of the 1862 battle. It is being repaired and will eventually provide office space and also serve as a visitor contact station for trailhead-related services.

The building you refer to sits less than 3 feet from the edge of Highway 50. It got a new shake shingle roof last year and had some archeologists digging around for building footings last summer. I can verify all this as I actually live on Pigeons Ranch Road, which is the road that climbs into the mountains on the edge of the property. The property, used by both sides at various times during the battle was know as Pigeons Ranch. By the way, Glorieta is spelled with one "t".