Texas and New Mexico in the American Civil War

By Rob Morgan

Now I have to admit at the outset, that my knowledge of the ‘western theatre’ of the ACW is limited to two films: ‘Major Dundee,’ which would itself make a splendid solo wargame, and, of course, that middle part of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,’ where Clint Eastwood gets captured during Sibley’s withdrawal. So, when Mike Crane, who will, I’ve no doubt, add more to this comment, sent me a copy of Steve Cottrell’s ‘Civil War in Texas and New Mexico Territory’, an excellent volume dealing with a (still) overlooked campaign of the war, I read it at a sitting. And read it again.

This isn’t a review, but I found a couple of very interesting wargame units hidden within the chapter entitled ‘Desert Empire’, and it’s information is well worth passing on: In Federal service were a number of New Mexico militia units. T he book mentions two particular units, 1st New Mexico Regiment and the 2nd New Mexico Volunteers, described as consisting of ‘Hispanic’(?) soldiers. There’s an excellent line drawing of an infantryman of these units on page 42 of the book. Clad in white cotton trousers with waist length white jacket and wide straw hat, and light equipment, cartridge box over one shoulder, slung canteen and US army belt. With a rifle or carbine, and though not illustrated, probably a bayonet.

These New Mexico units were active during General H.H. Sibley’s campaign of 1861-1862, and there were at least seven battles in the campaign, many more skirmishes and sieges (of sorts) between Fort Bliss and Santa Fe., and these different ‘Mexican-clad’ figures could make an addition to an ACW army.

Availability of figures is not a problem. Try Peter Pig’s 15mm range, 15 Western. The Mexicans at packs 35 and 36 will do nicely, and packs 37 and 42 will provide a light gun crew, and 39 a decent mounted officer. Or QRF’s FreiKorps 15 range — their Mexican Wars provide Mex14, and 17 in straw hats, and Mex 1, Texan Volunteers, which will all suit. There are some decent buildings too.  The book suggests that the militia were considered as less than effective by Regular US officers, but the Federal armies and commanders, even in the Eastern theatres of war, performed, shall we say, under par for much of the first year or so of the war. I asked Mike if there were specific flags related to these forces, and his reply will make an interesting note I’m sure, and if there was a flag or emblem used by local forces, someone will know!

The second unit is Confederate, and mentioned in one action where it suffered badly, at the Battle of Valverde in February 1862. Two companies of the 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers were lancers, armed with 9-foot long lances tipped with 3-inch wide spear points, and decorated with a red pennon. There were it seems 50 lancers in each company, but few survived the charge against Federal infantry — now that seems remarkable in itself. Another simple addition to a wargames army. It hardly needs any modelling suggestion. The Peter Pig 15mm ACW range provides Confederate cavalry at packs 100-104, and they only need the carbine or shotgun trimmed away and a long pin inserted with a sliver of paper for the pennon. I’d heard of a Federal Lancer unit (from Pennsylvania?) but not of the Texans.

Incidentally, this valuable volume gives additional wargames options. The Federal columns were harassed by Apache warriors. You’ll find these at Peter Pig’s Western range packs 21,22, and 23. Or FreiKorps 15’s IW09 and IW23. There were bandits too, especially towards the end of the war, Mexican and American, to contend with. The same ranges will provide these, and wagons and artillery too, by the way. Plenty of solo options there, and figures can be found in the same sources.

An excellent book. Thanks Mike!

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3 Responses to Texas and New Mexico in the American Civil War

  1. The Civil War west of the Mississippi is really the only bit worth bothering about 🙂

  2. David says:

    The biggest mistake I have seen over the years with New Mexico scenarios is the width of the Rio Grande. I usually see these scenarios back east at conventions. It is obvious that the GM had never been to New Mexico because usually the Rio Grande is represented as being the size of the Mississippi. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    The Rio Grande would be considered a stream back east. You can usually throw a rock across it to the other side. During the summer you can walk across and might get your ankles damp. This is particularly true as you get close to Santa Fe.

    So much of the river is diverted by farmers that there is little else left. The farmers have been doing this for about 300 years or so. Albuquerque and Santa Fe derive their water from it. Then if you put that with the desert climate, you don’t have that huge a river.

    I know all of this because I’ve driven across it to work these past 13 years. It does get wider during the monsoon season in New Mexico (roughly July through Sept.) But most of the time it is more like a large stream than a mighty river. At least in New Mexico. The River is much bigger in Texas as is everything else there.

  3. Mike Crane says:

    David’s observation is very interesting. I was amazed when I saw the Rio Grande north of Santa Fe one winter. It was hard to believe that it was the same river as the Rio Grande in Texas. David is right. The river is not huge but it is a mighty fine one–at least in the winter.
    Re-reading the article written by Rob Morgan was as profitable as reading it the first time. There is always something to learn from his writing; for example, the uniforms of the Hispanic soldiers and the list of appropriate figures and their makers.
    Thanks for writing this comment, David. It was both enlightning and enjoyable.

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