Colonel Canby’s Outrageous Bluff

Where Sibley was flamboyant and over-the-top, his Union counterpart was subdued and quietly cerebral. But Colonel Canby also had his unconventional side.

When he discovered that the approaching Confederates would greatly outnumber his troops protecting Fort Craig, Canby ordered his men to harvest timber along the river and quickly carve wooden “cannons” which were then darkened with oil and ash. The fake artillery were hoisted in strategic positions along Fort Craig’s walls – an intimidating site for the approaching Texans. To beef up the profile of his forces, Canby pulled military caps out of the fort’s supply room and placed them along the exterior walls. From a distance, forward observers would see a well-armed fort with a substantial force.

General Sibley decided an attack on Fort Craig would likely fail. He took his troops around the fort with the intention of cutting off Canby’s supply route from the north. Canby had anticipated that strategy and dispatched units to disrupt Sibley’s plan. After a few days of skirmishes, Canby and Sibley’s armies clashed on the Rio Grande at a crossing called Valverde.

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