When New Mexico became United States territory after the U.S. Mexican War, the army established garrisons in towns scattered along the Rio Grande to protect the area's inhabitants and travel routes. This arrangement proved unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, and in April 1851, Lt. Col. Edwin V. Sumner, commanding the Ninth Military Department (which included New Mexico Territory), was ordered "to revise the whole system of defense" for the entire territory. Among his first ads was to break up the scattered garrisons and relocate them in posts closer to the Indians. He also moved his headquarters and supply depot from Santa Fe, "that sink of vice and extravagance," to a site near the Mountain and Cimarron branches of the Santa Fe Trail, where he established Fort Union.
The first of the three forts built in this valley was begun in August 1851. For a decade, it served as the base for military operations in the area and a key station on the Santa Fe Trail, affording travelers a place to rest nearby and refit at the post sutler's store before continuing their journey. It also became the principal quartermaster depot of the Southwest.
During the 1850s, dragoons and mounted riflemen from the fort campaigned against several Indian tribes living in or around the southern Rocky Mountains that were disrupting traffic on the Santa Fe Trail. One of the earliest campaigns was directed against the Jicarilla Apaches who, in the spring of 1854, surprised and nearly wiped out a company of dragoons. The Apaches were driven into the mountains west of the Rio Grande and routed. Military operations were also conducted against Utes of southern Colorado in 1855 and against Kiowas and Comanches raiding the plains east of the fort in 1860-61.
When the Civil War began in April 1861, most of the regular troops (except those officers who joined the South) were withdrawn from Fort Union and other frontier posts and replaced by volunteer regiments. Anticipating a Confederate invasion of New Mexico, Col. Edward R.S. Canby, charged with the territory's de-fense, concentrated troops at Fort Craig on the Rio Grande and sent soldiers from Fort Union to patrol the Santa Fe Trail, now the main artery of supply for Federal forces. He also ordered construction of the second Fort Union, a star-shaped earthen fortification, to strengthen defenses.
The second fort never saw the action for which it was designed. The Confederate invasion was halted and turned back in March 1862 by a force of Colorado and New Mexico Volunteers and U.S. Regulars from Fort Union at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, about 20 miles southeast of Santa Fe. The Confederates withdrew to Texas, effectively ending Civil War activity in the Southwest, and the second Fort Union was soon thereafter abandoned.
In 1863, with New Mexico securely in Federal hands, the new departmental commander, Brig. Gen. James H. Carleton, began construction of the third (and final) Fort Union, whose ruins you see here today. This sprawling installation, which took six years to complete, was the most extensive in the territory. It included not only a military post, with all its attendant structures, but a separate quartermaster depot with warehouses, corrals, shops, offices, and quarters. The supply function overshadowed that of the military and employed far more men, mostly civilians. An ordnance depot, erected on the site of the first fort at the western edge of the valley, rounded out the complex.
Throughout the 1860s and the 1870s troops from Fort Union continued to participate in operations against Indians. Several relentless campaigns against the Apaches, Navajos, Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas, Utes, and Comanches finally brought peace to the southern Plains in the spring of 1875, albeit on the white man's terms. Though Fort Union's involvement in the Indian wars had come to an end, its garrison occasionally helped to track down outlaws, quell mob violence, and mediate feuds. The supply depot continued to flourish until 1879, when the Santa Fe Railroad replaced the Santa Fe Trail as the principal avenue of commerce. By 1891 the fort had outlived its usefulness and was abandoned.
The Santa Fe Trail ...The American portion of the Santa Fe Trail began on the west bank of the Missouri River, first at Franklin, then at Independence, later at Westport. It led west through Council Grove to Fort Dodge, Kan., where it forked, one route going southwest through the Cimarron Desert and the other continuing west into Colorado and then turning south at Bent's Fort. Both branches merged just beyond Fort Union, 75 miles from Santa Fe. The Cimarron route was the shorter and more dangerous because of infrequent waterholes and continuing Indian threats. But if a wagon train made it through the desert and managed to avoid the Indians, a trader could beat his rivals to Santa Fe and reap the first and biggest profit.
From 1821, when trader William Becknell opened it, until 1879, when the Santa Fe Railroad reached Las Vegas, the Santa Fe Trail served as a vital artery of commerce, travel, and communication. Today the crumbling adobe walls of Fort Union recall those years of frontier military activity. And the vanishing ruts cut in the prairie sod by military freight wagons (left), merchant/trader caravans, stage-coaches. And military columns recall the great flow of traffic that made the Santa Fe Trail so significant in the history of the West. Superb remains of the trail have survived throughout northeastern New Mexico, and in the vicinity of Fort Union ruts of both branches of the trail may still be viewed by today's travelers.
First Fort Union, 1851-61The fort, shown here from the bluffs to the west in Joseph Hager's 1859 drawing, consisted of a collection of shabby log buildings needing almost constant repair. It was established to protect travelers on the Santa Fe Trail and local residents from Indian threats, as well as to provide a headquarters for the Ninth Military Department (later reorganized and renamed the Military Department of New Mexico). Most traces of the fort have vanished.
The ruins there today are those of the Fort Union Ordnance Depot, constructed in the 1860s. This area is not accessible to the public.
Second Fort Union, 1861-62This massive earthwork, shown here in an 1866 photograph, was designed to help defend the Santa Fe Trail against a threatened Confederate invasion. One officer called this fortification "as fine a work of its kind as I ever saw," but the parapets soon eroded into the ditch, and the rooms were damp, unventilated, and consequently unhealthy. Most of the troops refused to live in such conditions and camped in tents outside. The second fort was abandoned after the Confederate invasion was turned back in March 1862.
Third Fort Union, 1863-91The third and last fort, part of which, the Mechanics Corral, is shown here, was almost a city in itself. Erected between 1863 and 1869, and modified somewhat during the 1870s, it consisted of the military post of Fort Union and the Fort Union Quartermaster Depot and served as the principal supply base for the Military Department of New Mexico.
Arriving from the east over the Santa Fe Trail, shipments of food, clothing, arms, and ammunition, as well as tools and building materials, were unpacked and stored in warehouses, then assigned as needed to other forts. Like most southwestern military posts, Fort Union was not enclosed by a wall or stockade.
Touring Fort Union1 - Post Officers' Quarters … The post garrison officers and their families lived in the nine houses in this row. All but the larger center building, home of the post commander, were duplexes that could house two families as needed. Quarters were assigned based on rank, with senior officers getting first choice. Junior officers got whatever was left.
2 - Post Commander's Home … This eight-room house with cellar and walled back yard was one of the finest residences at Fort Union, second only to that of the quartermaster. According to one officer's wife, the wide center hall made a perfect dancing floor when covered with stretched canvas and suitably decorated. Compare the size of these rooms with those of the smaller officers' quarters on either side, which were sometimes shared by two officers and their families.
3 - Company Quarters … Fort Union was originally designed as a four company post, with each company occupying one of these U-shaped barracks. In 1875, when the army expanded the companies to six, the buildings on the northeast and southwest ends of the corrals were altered to accommodate the additional two companies, as well as the regimental band.
4 - Guardhouse … From here sentries were posted throughout the fort with much formal ceremony. Their principal duty was to protect the fort against fire and theft.
5 - Military Prison … Murderers, deserters, and other criminals, civilian as well as military, were confined here. All that remains today is the cell block itself, which was once surrounded by an adobe building with one entrance on the north side. Two or more prisoners would often occupy each cell, sleeping on straw mats on the floor. Completed in June 1868, this was one of the last buildings constructed.
6 - Depot Officers' Quarters … These three duplex buildings housed the officers of the supply depot and their families. Built on the same generous plan as the post commander's home, each had four spacious rooms on each side of a wide central hall. Col. Randolph B. Marcy, who inspected the fort in 1867, called them "far better than any officers' quarters that I have seen at any other frontier post." The quartermaster, as commanding officer of the depot and the man in charge of all construction, had the finest residence at Fort Union. This is evident in the workmanship of the foundation stones, the arched fireplaces, the brick cellar, patio, and sidewalk leading to the privy in the rear.
7 - Commissary Office … From here the commissary officer carried out his responsibilities for feeding the troops, not only here but at other posts in the Southwest. At different times the building also served as the forage master's office and as officers' quarters. Built in late 1866 or early 1867, it was used until closed in 1889.
8 - Storehouses … As supply trains arrived from the east over the Santa Fe Trail, the tons of material needed to equip and provision troops on the frontier were unloaded, stored, repacked, and ultimately shipped from here to other southwestern forts. The large freight wagons that carried the supplies pulled in between the storehouses to unload and load. At night, large wooden gates at the ends of the buildings were locked. Bars on the windows and a posted guard usually kept the goods safe. These structures appear to have remained in use until 1891 when the fort was abandoned.
9 - Transportation Corral … This was the service area for the thousands of draft animals required each year to supply the frontier army. Half of the original corral was destroyed by fire in 1874. The army subsequently tore down the other half and rebuilt the whole complex of adobe, as shown. This new corral fulfilled the diminishing needs of the fort throughout the remainder of its military life.
10 - Hospital … Six wards, 36 beds with a maximum capacity of 60 or more, a surgeon and assistant surgeon with a staff of eight, made this one of the best hospitals in the West. Soldiers and their families received free care; civilians had to pay about 50¢ a day for their board.
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Fort Union Site brochure, National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the InteriorThe Fort Union Complete Story
In 1934, an 89-year-old woman made a trip down the old Santa Fe Trail, hoping to re-capture the memories of her youth. As a very young woman, Marian Sloan Russell lived at Fort Union, a large military post situated on the famed overland trail northeast of Santa Fe. It was there she met her future husband, Lt. Richard Russell; they were married in the fort's small military chapel in 1865. It was a place of numerous fond memories for Marian, but time had wreaked havoc on the post. "I found crumbling walls and tottering chimneys," Marian said of that last visit. "Great rooms stood roofless, their whitewashed walls open to the sky. Wild gourd vines grew inside the officers quarters ... Among a heap of rubble I found the ruins of the little chapel where I had stood-a demure, little bride in a velvet cape - and heard the preacher say, 'That which God hath joined together let no man put asunder.'
Yet instead of resigning this place to a distant past, the melting adobe walls and empty rooms seemed to evoke it. "The wind moaned among the crumbling ruins and brought with it the sound of marching feet," Marian recalled. "I saw with eyes that love to look backward, a wagon train coming along the old trail. I saw a child in a blue pinafore. It was little Maid Marian on the seat of a covered wagon." Marian's wagon was one of thousands that came to Fort Union during its 40-year existence, and her story is just one of countless others that keep the past alive at Fort Union National Monument today. (more)Download complete article ... The Fort Union Story ... (970 Kb)
Fort Union Memories by GENEVIEVE LA TOURETTE (1877-1890)FORT UNION, N. M., Up to the time of its abandonment in 1890, was one of the most important posts on the frontier. It is located on a plateau of many miles of reservation. The quarters are built of adobe-most comfortable both in winter and summer owing to the very thick walls and spacious rooms. The climate is most bracing and healthful, so conducive to health and comfort.
The line of officers' quarters consisted of eight double sets, and facing these across the parade ground were the enlisted men's quarters, mess halls, and the adjutant's office. The line of officers in the quartermaster's depot was separated from the line officers by a road leading to the post traders store and other buildings pertaining thereto. The depot, a continuation of the line officers' quarters, composed of four double sets, followed by quarters of several sets used by the quartermaster sergeants and other employees of the government, and the post quartermaster's office, were separated from the former by a fence which enclosed the q. m. depot on both sides. Opposite the depot officers quarters, across a small parade or square, were the q. m. store houses,
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Black Troops in the West: The 9th Cavalry
With the end of the Civil War, America intensified the drive to settle the remaining frontier ... a vast tract of land between the Canadian and Mexican Borders and the Missouri River and the Sierra Nevada range of California. One of the great tragedies of the westward movement was the continuous series of conflicts that pitted numerous American Indian tribes against whites and blacks.
As a result of outstanding service in the Civil War, Black Americans proved to the nation their equality as soldiers and won a place in the regular military establishment (more)Download complete article ... Black Troops in the West ... (135 Kb)
Fort Union Photo HistoryThe American occupation of New Mexico in 1846 presented the U.S. Army with a new set of old problems. Maintaining civil law and order and protecting settlements, travelers, and transportation and communication routes taxed the abilities of the area's small regular forces. Indians harassed traffic on the Santa Fe Trail, the main route into New Mexico from the East, killing travelers and destroying property.
Because no troops were stationed along the trail, military protection on the route was more wishful thinking than fact. To remedy this, Fort Union was established close to the trouble areas, strategically near the western junction of the two branches of the Santa Fe Trail. The wood, water, and grass in the area made it an ideal location. For forty years, the post served in several roles at three different locations.
Dozens of Western military posts were visited by itinerant photographers in the last half of the nineteenth century, but perhaps none of the forts were as well photographed as Fort Union. (more)Download complete article ... Fort Union - Photo History ... (135 Kb)
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Loma Parda (Ghost Town), NMThe Tale of Loma Parda ... A lost city of sin? Or a vale of bucolic innocence? Where and what was this focus of historical controversy?
The southernmost shoulder of the massive Rockies rears up near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The 12-thousand foot peaks catch the winter snows and, as the spring sun hits the eastern Banks, the ice crystals melt and tumble seaward in the sparkling waters of the Mora River.
Seven miles southwest of Fort Union, the Mora makes a U-shaped bend, encircling a few hundred acres of soft, fertile soil. Down the middle of this once verdant spot runs a single street, bordered east and west by almost forgotten ruins: adobe walls, sinking grain by grain into the soil from whence they came.
This is Loma Parda - sleeping the long sleep; blowing away bit by bit in the dry summer winds, crumbling inch by inch as rain, snow, and gravity tug at each still visible remnant.
For a century, this land bloomed with abundant crops and the cantina rang with the sounds of music and the laughter of young men and women. But now all is silence. (more)Download complete article ... Loma Parda (Ghost Town) ... (873 Kb)
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