Fort Craig Historic Site
Fort Craig Historic Site: walls of an old storehouse
Established in 1854, Fort Craig became one of the largest and most important frontier forts in New Mexico. It was one of 8 forts built by the US Army along the old El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road to the Interior Lands), a 1,200-mile long Spanish colonial trail that connected Santa Fe with El Paso, Chihuahua and Mexico City. Fort Craig played a role in the Civil War and then, after the war, was home to the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry and to the predominantly Hispanic New Mexico Volunteers and New Mexico Militia of the 38th and 125th Infantries. Mentioned prominently with the history of Fort Craig were folks like Rafael Chacon, Kit Carson and Captain Jack Crawford. Troops from Fort Craig were also central to the pursuit and capture of Apache chiefs like Victorio, Geronimo and Nana.
Fort Craig was about 1,050 feet long, east-west, 600 feet wide, north-south, and located on 40 acres atop a bluff near the northern end of the Jornada del Muerto. The fort was named for Captain Louis S. Craig, a popular officer during the Mexican-American War. As large as Fort Craig was, it was very poorly built and the records are full of complaints about the crowded conditions, leaky roofs, muddy floors and crumbling walls and chimneys.
On February 7, 1862, Brigadier General Sibley sent his Confederate Army of New Mexico north from Fort Fillmore intent on making a direct assault on Fort Craig. However, the Union Army at Fort Craig had placed "Quaker guns" (fake wooden cannons) next to empty soldiers hats and in between the real cannons along the massive gravel bastions of the fort. The ruse succeeded in convincing General Sibley to march his troops well around Fort Craig.
On February 21, 1862, thousands of Confederate troops came up against thousands of Union Army troops (many of them New Mexico Volunteers under the command of Colonel Miguel Pino) in the largest Civil War battle fought in the southwestern states. The battle was fought upstream of Fort Craig at Valverde Crossing. The fighting happened far enough away that the Union forces easily succeeded in holding the fort while destroying half the Confederate supply wagons at Valverde. When it became clear no more damage could be done, the Union forces retreated back to Fort Craig. Because of that retreat, historians call the Battle of Valverde a win for the Confederates. However, the Confederates ran north to hunt out supplies and finally came to Apache Canyon and Glorieta when Union forces succeeded in destroying the rest of their supply wagons while fighting the troops to a standstill. After that the Confederate troops essentially ran back to El Paso and never entered New Mexico again.
After the war, troops stationed at Fort Craig were primarily engaged in controlling Indian raids. By the late 1870s, they had pretty much worked themselves out of a job. The fort was permanently abandoned in 1885. The property was sold at auction to the Valverde Land and Irrigation Company in 1894 and, after several transfers, was finally donated to the Archaeological Conservancy who transferred it to the BLM in 1981.
Today, Fort Craig is the site of Civil War reenactments and the scene for Chautauqua programs: events in which appropriately costumed actors recount events from the time in the participants' own words and language. The Chautauqua experience provides a platform from which we today can get a closer look at the actual experience of the historical persona being reenacted.
Fort Craig Historic Site is open year round and there are no fees involved.
Maps: BLM - San Mateo Mountains
What's left of a dug-in warehouse
Valverde was located at the foot of the black lava slopes across the Rio Grande