History Today: February 21
On February 21, 1862, during the Civil War, the Battle of Valverde was fought in present day New Mexico between the Confederate forces of General Henry Sibley and the Union troops of Colonel Edward Canby. Early in the Civil War, the Confederate government put together a very ambitious plan designed to add significant amounts of capital to the Confederate treasury as well as add territory. It called for an invasion of the New Mexico territory, followed by a takeover of Colorado, and potentially an invasion of California. The objective was chiefly to secure the gold fields of both Colorado and California.
The man chosen to lead this audacious invasion for the Confederacy was General Henry Sibley, a subpar commander with an alcohol problem. He and his men, mostly Texans, started out from San Antonio, Texas and proceeded toward their first major objective, the Union strong point of Fort Craig in New Mexico. While scouting north of the fort on February 21, a small group of Sibley’s Texans were ambushed by Union troops under Colonel Edward Canby.
The men were pinned in a ravine and would have been overrun but timely reinforcements arrived under the command of Colonel Tom Green. Green was filling in for Sibley who claimed to be ill at the time but, he was drunk. Green launched multiple counterattacks on the Union lines, including a mounted charge by a company of lance-wielding Texans, the only such charge of the entire Civil War. The Union men were quickly sent in retreat with the Confederates having won their first and only victory of the ambitious campaign, a campaign which would eventually end in disaster for the Southerners at Glorieta Pass a little over one month later.
Also, on this day in U.S. history:
1792: The Presidential Succession Act is passed by Congress.
1852: George Bancroft, known as “The Father of U.S. History,” becomes the first president of the American Geographical Society.
1885: In Washington, D.C., The Washington Monument is dedicated.