The Old Town Skirmish


During the Civil War, New Mexico was not, really, to be truthful, an important field of operations.  At least, not much, and not for long.  We did indeed see some action — the Confederates invaded the territory with the goal of, eventually, controlling the gold in Colorado (sort of a latter-day Seven Cities of Gold action, really). 

They left from Texas, that being a Confederate state, and marched up the Rio Grande.  They waged a successful battle at Valverde, and headed on up towards Santa Fe, near where they again waged a successful battle at Glorieta Pass. Well, a successful battle after they lost the first one.

So that was exciting, but in the meantime their supply train was decimated (by New Mexican Volunteer forces led by Lt. Col. Manuel Chavez, who is my new hero), so they had to go home. End of Confederate attempt to take the Southwest.

Did you notice that I did not, in that little retelling, mention Albuquerque?  If you’re following the Rio Grande from Texas to Santa Fe, you go through Albuquerque — at least you walk through Old Town, which at that time had far fewer tourist attractions, though certainly I suggest it now to all the visitors, as you can buy all the t-shirts and turquoise jewelry you want. So you’d think that really, Albuquerque would rightfully see some action.

No, I did not mention Albuquerque, as nobody ever does, really.

Till now!

We are currently having a Discussion in Albuquerque as to what to do with the Confederate flag hanging in the Old Town Plaza.  All of America is involved in taking down public Confederate flags, or at least arguing about it.  So what the hell are we doing with a Confederate flag on our plaza in Old Town?

Well, what we are doing with it is that it is part of the “Five Flags Over Albuquerque” display, these five flags representing Spain, Mexico, The United States, New Mexico, and the Confederacy.  (Notice, in the picture above, that the Confederate flag being flown is, in actuality, the Confederate flag, not the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which is the one that is being taken down now off government buildings in the South, where it was raised to represent segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.)

So it’s marking an historical event — it’s not honoring the Confederacy so much as acknowledging that for 6 weeks it occupied what’s now New Mexico.  Which it did. 

So I’m not, myself, concerned about taking that particular flag down.

But! Here’s what I’m bothered by!

I want the plaques removed.  The plaques commemorate, and honor, The Skirmish of Albuquerque, which you have never heard of, and I haven’t either, having apparently missed that little bit of history while I was down in Old Town buying pinon incense and ice cream. 

On April 8, 1862, the Confederate forces, which had been hightailing it back from Glorieta Pass without supplies (see above), were holed up in Albuquerque, where there was some water and some farms, though, really, attempting to live off the land as an army in New Mexico is called “dying in the desert” — it’s not like you’re attempting to forage near Gettysburg.  The Union forces bombarded Old Town.  One Confederate officer got wounded.  Then the Confederates trudged, sans food and water, back down to Texas, and on that trip they did indeed lose soldiers, due to the lack of food and water.  The end.

So I say we get rid of the plaques on the plaza that commemorate the Skirmish (which Wikipedia calls a Battle, but I think that’s pushing it).  One says that the Confederates repulsed the Union forces and retained command of the town, which, since they hightailed it out of town right afterwards seems to me to be misleading — sort of how they won at Glorieta Pass but lost all their supplies, so therefore were not rousingly winners.  And the second commemorates the Confederate dead who are buried in the plaza.  Of which there are none, cause nobody died in Albuquerque.   Descendants of Confederate veterans put those plaques up, and I think they romanticized things a little bit.  No, sorry.  A lot.

So, for my money, we keep the flag but lose the plaques.  There you are.


Ok, here’s a little wrinkle.  There’s no record of any deaths in the Skirmish of Albuquerque, though as a I said, there were some Confederates wounded.  but.  No dead, no buried dead, none, nada, nothing.

So, why is the plaza haunted by some ghost in a Confederate uniform?