The Battle of Glorieta Pass – Thomas S. Edrington & John Taylor

A gettysburg in the west, March 26-28, 1862

One of the lesser known incidents in the American Civil War was the Confederate attempt to secure western territories beyond Texas – and perhaps secure part of California, thus establishing themselves on the Pacific coast.  This might seem far fetched, but in the Mexican War less than 20 years before small forces had similarly secured the region for the United States.

The key to the situation was the New Mexico territory – which consists of the current states of New Mexico and Arizona.  The Confederates claimed the southern half of the territory as their own, calling it the Arizona territory.  The dividing line was east-west, rather than north-south as it is today.

The Rio Grande flows north after leaving the southern border of Texas, splitting the eastern part of the territory and providing a sure source of water, a requirement in this arid region.  The Santa Fe Trail leaves the river in the northern, hilly part of the area and curves into Colorado and Kansas, back to the North.  To hold the current state of New Mexico, this road would have to be blocked.

The Confederate General Sibley faced the Union General Canby.  Canby had concentrated his forces in Fort Craig, on the Rio Grande in the center of New Mexico.  Here he awaited reinforcements. But Sibley advanced to Valverde, near the fort and to the north of it.   Canby met him in battle and was defeated.  But rather than try and retreat north ahead of Sibley, he elected to retire into the fort.  The Texans were superior in cavalry and could probably have broken up his force if he had tried to move north.

Sibley left him to move north. capturing Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  Another fort lay ahead, Fort Union, but reinforcements had arrived from Colorado – the 1st Colorado volunteers, recruited from the mining district around Denver.  They were inexperienced, but willing, and the Santa Fe trail passed along canyons where the Confederate cavalry would have less use.

The two sides met in Glorieta Pass, fighting a skirmish at Apache Canyon and Pidgeon’s Ranch.  The Confederates got rather the better of the Coloradans, but they did not break them.  Then a disaster struck – a small force of Coloradans under Major Chivington had passed through the hills above the pass, into the rear and captured and destroyed the supply and ammunition wagons.  It then retreated back the way it came.

The Coloradans had retired north, but this news forced the Texans to retire south to the Rio Grande and water.  Now, with the Coloradans to the north and Canby moving up from the south,. the retreat would have to continue all the way to Texas.

For a time, Canby shadowed Sibley across the river.  But as Ft Craig neared, Sibley decided to leave the river and circle around it into the desert.  Canby let him go, as the waterless 15 day, 100 mile trek did a better job of breaking up the force than his green troops could.  The retreat didn’t end until El Paso, Texas.

There were  no other attempts to take New Mexico from the north.  The South would continue to find the limits of their giddy view of their situation – before the war they imagined there would be no war, or that the fight would be quick and easy.  Now it was seeming less easy with each passing month, and that the South itself was not as unified as they wished.


Twilight of the Hellenistic World – Roberts and Bennett

Since Alexander rewrote the map of the eastern Mediterranean and the near East in the 330s BC, the history of that region was a story of contending states – Egypt under the Ptolemies, Syria, Macedonia – under Greek leadership.  Little in the 220s predicted that it would all be swept away and be replaced by a universal empire under Rome.  Histories of the period often get ahead of themselves and write the history as if this future was apparent from the start, or they just avoid the period and move on to a history of Rome from a Roman point of view.

At this time. Rome was looking to italy and the West, as the second Punic War versus Hannibal was in full swing.  The cities and states of Alexander’s successors had divided up his empire, but no one thought that matters were settled and anyone who thought they could have the power made attempts to carve out an empire of their own.  In Greece, Sparta was finally crushed as a power, and the other city-states formed leagues to attempt to keep up with the power of the states around them.  This was soon found to be a case of too-little, too-late and these leagues would fall under the domination of more powerful neighbors – such as Rome.

There were some major battles – Raphia, where Syria failed to defeat Egypt.  Instead Syria under Antiochus the Great moved East and subdued many of the provinces in Persia as Alexander had done.  Macedonia tried to put Greece under its heel with mixed success, and also tried to create an Empire to the north in the Balkans.

None of these states had any idea that within the next thirty years Rome would change the dynamics entirely – and neither did Rome itself.  It all goes to show that there usually isn’t a master plan for history.

Road to Manzikert – Carey, Allfree, Cairns

Byzantine and Islamic Warfare, 527-1071

Since I didn’t have the space to give the authors’ names in full, I’ll start with that. Brian Todd Carey is the author, Joshua B. Allfree is the tactical map illustrator, and John Cairns is the regional map illustrator.  From that, I guess you can infer that there are a lot of maps in this book.  This is true.

The book consists of a series of chapters giving a short history of the wars of eiher Byzantium or Islam.  In the early chapters they don’t intersect much, but the final set on the Manzikert campaign brings both together.  In each chapter major battles are illustrated by a series of tactical maps showing the phases of the battle – a half dozen or more.  This gives a lot more insight into the progress of the battle than most books.

The text is not long but it does give a lot of information on the current campaign and the political and military developments between the wars.

A fact that is new to me that they emphasize is that the Battle of Manzikert, a Byzantine disaster in 1071 that led to the loss of a good part of Asia Minor, probably wasn’t that big of a disaster in military terms.  Rather than the common representation that the army was destroyed, it probably only suffered moderate losses.  The real disaster was the capture of the Emperor, and the civil war that followed the battle that negated any recovery for years and gave the Seljuk Turks a free hand in Anatolia.

Byzantium had always been able to play off its two “hearllands’ of Thrace and Anatolia and use the resources of one to eventually drive off invaders of the other.  Now it hand threats to both and few resources to recover either.  The Crusades helped a little, but were not an unmixed blessing as “Crusaders” would eventually sack Constantinople in a few hundred years and weaken the state to the point of death.  Only the fortunate rise of Tamurlane and his subjection of the Turks for a short space gave them some relief.  After that, the Turks rose again and sliced part after part away until the final fall of the city of Constantinople in 1453.

This is a nice little volume and I like the style of detailing the battles as much as can be done.