Bloodshed at Valverde

The Valverde fight was chaotic and bloody, and in many ways unconventional. The Texans had come with a couple of units with peculiar weapons choices.

One group was armed entirely with shotguns, which they used to deadly effect, and another with lances.

The mounted lancers didn’t fare as well. Apparently, somebody in Texas had been impressed by the performance of the Mexican lancers during the Mexican-American War of 1848. But when the fifty Texas lancers charged Union infantry at Valverde, they were promptly mowed down by musket fire.

Most of the fighting, including artillery barrages, was conducted at close quarters, some of it hand-to-hand. One Union artillery officer blew himself up to prevent the rebels from capturing his cannon and munitions. At one point, another Union officer attempted to bomb the Confederate camp by sending two mules loaded with dynamite and lit fuses in the rebels’ direction. The mules, however, turned back toward Union lines nearly making it home before being blown to smithereens.

Among the Union forces was an untested volunteer force comprised entirely of non-English speaking New Mexicans led by the famed U.S. Army scout Kit Carson. Carson’s volunteers fought bravely at Valverde, despite their inexperience. Colonel Canby personally commanded his units on the battlefield; Sibley, on the other hand, was hitting the bottle so heavily that he had to issue his orders from a hospital wagon. The Confederate general’s inebriation nearly cost him the loyalty of his troops, some of whom began grumbling about a possible mutiny.

By nightfall, both sides agreed to a truce while they collected their dead and dying. While the casualty rates from the Battle of Valverde have long been in dispute, Canby and Sibley each suffered between one- and two-hundred dead and wounded. One poignant aspect was that both sides cared for enemy wounded that they had accidentally retrieved from the darkened battlefield. Back at Fort Craig, Union surgeons worked to save as many lives as they could, but many of their patients succumbed to their wounds. Ultimately, the Union casualties from the battle of Valverde were buried in graves in the Fort Craig Cemetery. A century later Dee Brecheisen, AKA Gravedigger, would arrive at that cemetery with a shovel.

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