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Reenacting in the West: Part I Glorieta

Posted on Friday, November 6, 2015 at 7:57 am

GlorietaIn the November/December, 2009 issue of the Camp Chase Gazette, Connie Payne talks about her experience at a timeline event in Belmont, Michigan and what a great cross-cultural experience timeline events can be.

Not only are they educational for living historians/reenactors and spectators alike, but they are also a great recruiting tool. I have been involved in the hobby since 1995 when I drove a weapons carrier in the VJ Day commemoration parade in Denver, Colorado with the Association of Living History. At that time we were only focused on WWII while representing the 2nd Armored Division. We had a tank and a half-track in the group and Civil War reenacting was the furthest thing from my mind.

The following year we started marching as a timeline in various parades in Colorado, though we still represented WWII from time to time. In 1997 we marched as a timeline in the Inaugural Parade in Washington, DC. We had to practice more than usual and since we had more time to talk I became more interested in other time periods. It was easy to put together a Korean or Vietnam War impression and I started putting together a Spanish-American War kit when I got laid off and had to abandon the idea. I had also gone to my first reenactment, a Pacific island invasion scenario, in Galveston, Texas and had great time despite spraining my ankle on the “invasion beach.”

In 2003 a member of the Association suggested I go to the Glorieta Pass reenactment just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Wait. There are Civil War reenactments out here too? He loaned me his Confederate kit, including his brand new Enfield, taught me the rudiments of cartridge rolling (I learned on my own that grocery bags make lousy “paper ladies” unless you have the bite of a moray eel!) and gave me directions to the tiny suburb of Santa Fe called La Cienega, the home of El Rancho de las Golondrinas (The Ranch of the Swallows). This 40 acre living history park is steeped in over 400 years of history sitting as it does on the old “Camino Royale.” It’s only a 6 or 7 hour drive from Denver and has become a staple of my living history/reenacting life. I reached the Santa Fe  and then wended my way through the serpentine roads of La Cienega to find Golondrinas.

Having been in a few WWII reenactments, I had some idea what to expect and was far more excited than apprehensive. I had no clue about the 19th Century Manual of Arms (let alone who Casey, Scott or Hardee were), but I knew someone would teach me. I parked in Golondrinas’ gravel lot and changed into a Texan as quickly and discreetly as I could.

As I strode into the gate with my Enfield carelessly thrown on my shoulder, I saw a Union officer and enlisted man and a Confederate officer walking in my direction. I surmised the lanky man in the short grey jacket was an officer due to his sidearm. Before I had a chance to assume a more disciplined bearing he barked at me: “Private, port arms. (Oh crap, is he going to be like that one officer at the Galveston event?) Follow me.” I fell in behind him and saw that I was going to be his escort while the Union officer and he went over the particulars of that afternoon’s battle. After their meeting I had a chance to speak to the officer, Ponch, whose geniality belied his earlier gruffness and I told him that it was my first Civil War event. He directed me to Sergeant Jennings, who kindly gave me a crash course in Hardee’s. While we were wrapping up my lesson, we got the call to fall in and I got an even “crashier” course in counting twos and facings!

We set off in two columns down the dirt road leading into the heart of the park. There was a fellow playing a button box on the side of the road as we marched by and the skirmishers’ muskets popped and rattled down by the creek and in the fields.

“This is so cool,” I thought.

I fell into the rhythm of loading and firing (and vowing to never roll cartridges out of grocery bags ever again.) when we engaged the enemy and felt right at home even though jeeps, tanks and planes were conspicuously absent no and one was wearing olive drab. We chased the Yankees across the creek and to the main spectator field where each year the action reaches its climax. We may have been pushed back and routed, I don’t remember. I knew that I was hooked, and I would be adding blue and butternut to my wardrobe and a musket to my small arsenal. At camp I found my fellow “Texans” very welcoming and patient with this “fresh fish. “ That afternoon and the next morning blue and grey got together for drill so the officers and non-coms could get more practice in moving larger bodies of soldiers in formation. I shuffled and jogged through “company into line” and jostled through wheels and whatever else would shovel New Mexico dust into my boots.

I was a little bleary-eyed by the fitful sleep I’d gotten in my car after the medicine show the night before, but I wasn’t going to miss the second battle and the chance to get some pictures. I took a hit while we were retreating to the field in front of the main body of spectators (the action takes place over many of the park’s winding trails and roads) and lay still as the Federal troops marched over me.

“Pretty good dead guy,” one of the Federals remarked.

I didn’t stay dead, though. After the infantry went by I got up and snapped some pictures of the Federal artillery as they clattered by. I snuck back around and rejoined my formation so I could burn more powder. Another fellow took a dramatic hit and went down screaming for effect. He was actually bleeding. He’d hit the back of his head on someone’s musket lock when he dropped to the ground.

The mountain howitzers of both sides banged away at each other and the mounted Texans wheeled their mounts and emptied their pistols and shotguns at the Federals. It was over all too quickly.

I still don’t remember who won that day either, but I was sad to go. The camaraderie I had experienced that weekend in May of 2003 helped “seal the deal” on my getting involved in Civil War reenacting and living history. As a result, I’ve learned more about Colorado’s and New Mexico’s history. I had had no idea that Blue and Grey had fought this far west. In 2008 at 145th Gettysburg (my first big reenactment) I found out that many experienced reenactors back East have no idea that battles took place this far west. In fact, the westernmost battle took place at Picacho Pass near Tucson, Arizona a short time after the battle of Glorieta Pass.

In early 1862 General Sibley, led a force of 2,500-3,000 men from Texas up the Rio Grande into the New Mexico Territory to push out the Federal troops there, capture supplies at Fort Union and then push on into Colorado for gold for the Confederacy. Despite his initial success, his forces beating the Union troops at Valverde (leaving them behind the walls at Fort Craig) and his occupation of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Sibley would never reach Fort Union. A regiment of Colorado Volunteers had marched from Denver and after they had rested and had been re-equipped at Fort Union they marched south and met the Texans at Glorieta.

During the three days of March 26 to March 28, the Confederate forces slowly pushed the Colorado “Pike’s Peakers” before them. Colonel Chivington (who would later gain infamy at the Sand Creek Massacre), led by Lt. Colonel Manuel Chaves of the 2nd New Mexico Volunteers took a force of Colorado Volunteers around the Confederate rear over Glorieta Mesa and destroyed the Confederate baggage train. Since Sibley wasn’t able to live off the land like he had planned and Union troops had destroyed much of their stores in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the Texans began their arduous retreat. They had to bypass the garrison at Fort Craig adding miles to their trek; many stragglers succumbed to the elements, starvation and Indians dogging their trail. The last Confederate troops left the New Mexico Territory by the summer of 1862.

Not only did the Glorieta reenactment at El Rancho de las Golondrinas spark my interest in the Civil War, but it expanded my circle of friends and allowed me to further appreciate the Southwest. Up until that time I was seriously considering moving back to Upstate, N.Y. where I was born and lived until I graduated from college. My new circle of friends brought me closer to Susan, the woman who would become my wife in 2009. We started dating in 2006 and I found out that though she lived in Denver, she had grown up in Santa Fe and had done Mexican folk dance at the very park where I had joined in my first Civil War event.

-By Sven Hillring

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