In 1864, Denver’s Colonel John Chivington led what is widely considered the most murderous campaign ever perpetrated against American Indians—the Sand Creek Massacre. It was not his first display of ruthlessness and violence. In fact, just a few short years earlier, Chivington had marched with 1,000 Union volunteers from Colorado to New Mexico to fight an invading army of Texas Confederates. The Coloradans’ long trek south is one of the most spectacular—and seldom-told—feats of the Civil War.
On the snowy day of March 13, 1862, Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley entered Santa Fe without a ?ght and ordered his starving Rebels to hoist the stars-and-bars over the plaza for the Confederacy, and for Texas. Santa Fe was largely abandoned, its Hispanic residents dreading the prospect of Sibley’s Tejanos living in their midst. Many of the Union spouses had stayed behind in Santa Fe to treat the casualties they expected to come in war’s wake. But the territorial government had picked up and moved 70 miles east to the tiny village of Las Vegas.
Occupying Santa Fe did much for the army’s morale—this was the prize Texans had sought for generations—but it did little to satiate the men’s hunger. The Rebels were dismayed to ?nd that most of the Federal supplies at Santa Fe had either been destroyed or transported to another important Army stronghold, located 25 miles beyond Las Vegas on the Santa Fe Trail, called Fort Union. In anticipation of the Confederate invasion, the Federals had strengthened the battlements of this “star fort” set on the edge of the plains in northeastern New Mexico. An of?cer stationed at the new and improved Fort Union judged it to be impregnable, boasting that “all Texas can’t take it!”