1st Colorado Volunteer Cavalry, 1st New Mexico Cavalry, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, 3rd U.S. Cavalry, Civil War, E.R.S. Canby, Fort Garland
Work sent me over to the San Luis Valley of Colorado a couple of months ago. Normally the valley isn’t much of a tourist destination, with the exception of land-locked natives in search of sand dunes and alligators. But it’s also the site of the first and second forts constructed in Colorado Territory, Fort Massachusetts and Fort Garland. While the former was quickly abandoned in the 1850s, the second figured slightly in the Civil War. This proved too long for a single post, so this one will focus on the fort’s Civil War history and I’ll do another on the fort itself.
At the beginning of 1861, the fort was garrisoned by three companies of regulars: Companies A and F, 10th Infantry and Company G, 2nd Dragoons. The post was commanded by Captain Cuvier Grover of the 10th Infantry, and Lieutenant Ebenezar Gay commanded Company G. In February Company G was ordered to Taos, New Mexico, and in March to Fort Union. Major E.R.S. Canby, 10th Infantry, rejoined from an expedition into Navajo county in March, and resumed command of the post.
Edward Richard Sprague Canby, a native of Kentucky, graduated from West Point in 1835. He served in the 2nd U.S. Infantry until 1855, when he was promoted to major in the 10th Infantry. During the Mexican War, he earned brevet promotions to major at Churubusco and Contreras and to lieutenant colonel at Belen Gate, Mexico City for gallantry in action. Major Canby was ordered south to Fort Union in May, and Major Daniel P. Whiting, also of the 10th Infantry, arrived June 15th to assume command of the two infantry companies and the post.
David Powers Whiting graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1828, 28th in his class. He served in the 7th U.S. Infantry as a lieutenant and captain, and earned a brevet promotion to major during the Mexican War for gallant and meritorious conduct during the battle of Cerro Gordo. He was promoted to major in the 10th Infantry on December 20, 1860, and was a year senior to Canby.
Company F, 10th Infantry was ordered to Fort Union July 9th, leaving the understrength Company A to garrison the fort. First Lieutenant William H. Russell commanded the 22 enlisted men present for duty, as well as serving as the post’s acting assistant quartermaster and acting assistant of commisary services. Company I, 2nd U.S. Cavalry arrived at the post on October 9th. Captain T.J. Durnin of the 16th Infantry commanded the 30 enlisted men of the company present for duty.
Thomas James Durnin enlisted in Company G, 2nd U.S. Dragoons on June 14, 1855. He was promoted to corporal, sergeant and first sergeant in the company by the war’s outbreak. He was appointed a second lieutenant in the 16th Infantry in the orders expanding the regular army on May 14, 1861. Interestingly, though identified as a captain in numerous post returns, he was not promoted to first lieutenant until October, and was not actually a captain until December 1864.
The garrison remained unchanged for Major Whiting until December, which was a busy month for the post. Company A, 10th Infantry departed on the 10th for Santa Fe. Captain Theodore H. Dodd’s company of Colorado volunteers arrived on the 14th, followed seven days later by Captain James H. Ford’s company of Colorado volunteers.
Garrison changes continued through the early months of 1862. Dodd’s Company stayed only long enough to recover from its long march and reprovision, departing January 3rd for Santa Fe. Ford’s Company left a month later, on February 5th. Company I, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, still commanded by Captain Durnin, was the post’s only garrison through spring and early summer.
In March 1862 the post was finally assigned medical staff. Civilian Lewis B. McLain was assigned as the acting assistant surgeon by the district’s medical director in Santa Fe.
July 1862 was another month of great change for the small fort. Major A.H. Mayer, 1st New Mexico Volunteers, arrived to take command of the post on July 17th. Daniel Whiting, now a lieutenant colonel in the 10th U.S. Infantry, departed to join his regiment on the 26th. He was the last regular army officer to command the post for several years. Company I, 2nd U.S. Cavalry was joined in garrison by Company D, 1st New Mexico Volunteers on July 30th.
Company I and Captain Durnin departed the post for Fort Union on August 9th, replaced two weeks later by Company H, 2nd Colorado Volunteers on August 24th. Company H and Company D, 1st New Mexico Volunteers departed on a ten day scout September 5th, marching 242 miles before returning to post on the 15th. They were joined by four additional companies the following month, raising the garrison to its largest size during the war. Company C, 3rd U.S. Cavalry arrived from Fort Union on September 24th, followed three days later by Company M, 1st New Mexico Volunteers. Companies H and K, 1st Colorado Volunteers, arrived under Major Edward W. Wynkoop on September 29th, bringing the garrison to 370 enlisted men by the end of the month. With only two company-sized barracks buildings, many of the men must have lived under canvas.
The garrison thinned considerably in October. Company C, 3rd U.S. Cavalry departed for Fort Lyon on the 3rd. Major Wynkoop left for Denver with Companies H and K, 1st Colorado Cavalry on the 26th, accompanied by Company H, 2nd Colorado Cavalry. Company D, 1st New Mexico Volunteers remained the sole garrison for the next few months, though the post commander changed several times.
Major Mayer left the post on December 10th, ostensibly on 60 days leave, but he never returned. Captain Ethan W. Eaton of Company D, 1st New Mexico assumed command. The remainder of the winter was quiet, broken only by an expedition of 2 officers and 28 enlisted men to Conejos ordered by the Department of New Mexico in February. Captain Eaton established the garrison at Conejos under Lieutenant Moore and returned to the post.
April was evidently a confusing month for the post. Post returns at the time were filed every ten days instead of the usual monthly requirement. Early in the month, Captain Joseph B. Davidson and Company C, 1st Colorado Cavalry arrived at the post. Captain Davidson assumed command on the 16th, but on the 20th both he and Captain Eaton filed post returns stating they were in command. Closer examination revealed that Captain Eaton had been absent without leave until April 18th, and had apparently been submitting returns in absentia. When this started is unclear, but the May return shows that Captain Eaton was dismissed from the service by War Department Special Order 63, April 9, 1863. Captain Davidson remained in command of the post, and Captain Birney arrived to take command of Company D on May 30th.
There was also a murder on the post in May. According to the post return, “Private Lujan of Co. D 1st New Mexico Vol was Shot by Private Cambojar while asleep in his quarters.” It is unclear what the outcome of this event was, but the company was relieved from duty at the post the next month, departing under Captain Birney for regimental headquarters on June 6th. Company E, 1st Colorado Cavalry arrived on July 12th, bringing the present for duty strength of the garrison to 52 enlisted men.
August 1863 was a very active month for the post. Reporting requirements changed, with orders now coming to the post from the District of Colorado rather than the Department of New Mexico. Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Tappan of the 1st Colorado Volunteers arrived to take command of the post on August 12th. Colorado also sent additional forces to garrison the fort. The 45 enlisted men of Company F, 3rd Colorado Volunteers under 2nd Lieutenant Albert S. Gooding arrived from Denver on the 21st, and the 26 enlisted men of the Right Section, 1st Colorado Battery under 2nd Lieutenant Horace W. Baldwin arrived five days later. Lieutenant S.N. Crane of the 1st Colorado Cavalry and 30 men relieved 1st Lieutenant Moore’s garrison at Conejos, and he returned to the post and assumed command of the squadron on the 16th.
At the end of September, Governor John Lewis and Colonel Chivington briefly visited the fort while sending troops into the field against the Indians. Although there had been no issues near the fort, an expedition departed on the 29th. Lieutenant Colonel Tappan commanded a battalion consisting of Companies C and E, 1st Colorado Cavalry and the Right Section, 1st Colorado Battery. 2nd Lieutenant Gooding served as the battalion adjutant, and 1st Lieutenant David R. Wright assumed command of Company F, 3rd Colorado Volunteers and the post.
Tappan, Company E and the artillery section returned on October 10th, followed by Company C the next day. Company C was ordered to Denver on the 17th, and Company F of the 3rd Colorado was relieved and ordered to Fort Lyon on the 28th. There was apparently some difficulty with the artillery section during the expedition, as 2nd Lieutenant Baldwin was dismissed from the service at the end of the month.
Company E was reinforced by Company A, 1st Colorado Cavalry under Lieutenant Edward A. Jacobs on November 9th, bringing the squadron strength to 60 enlisted men. The Right Section, 1st Colorado Battery was commanded by a noncommissioned officer, and had only 10 enlisted men present for duty and no serviceable horses. This likely had something to do with Lt. Baldwin’s dismissal. On the 24th Lieutenant Moore and 40 men were dispatched to assist a supply train reach the post, most likely over La Veta pass.
The winter of 1863-1864 was a quiet one for Lieutenant Colonel Tappan and the small garrison. In February, Lieutenant Baldwin returned to the artillery section, and in March the section changed from the right section to the left section. This appears to have simply been a change of designation, as no new troops arrived and Lt. Baldwin remained in charge of the section. The section departed for Camp Fillmore, Colorado Territory on April 16th.
On June 1st, Captain Charles Kerber’s Company I, 1st Colorado Cavalry relieved Companies A and E as the post garrison. With a strength of only 2 officers and 33 enlisted men, there was plenty of room for the newcomers. Captain Isaac Gray and Company E departed the same day for Spring Bottom on the Arkansas River, followed on the 14th by Lieutenant Jacobs and Company A. Captain Kerber assumed command of the post from Lieutenant Colonel Tappan on June 19th.
Despite the increasing hostilities with Indians elsewhere in the state that culminated in the Sand Creek Massacre in November, the remainder of 1864 was very quiet for the post’s small garrison. The company’s strength waned in the final months of the year. On November 1st, civilian F.R. Waggoner assumed duties as the post’s acting assistant surgeon, relieving Lewis McLain, the post longest tenured wartime resident. By December, the 37 enlisted men present for duty were nearly outnumbered by the post’s 24 civilian employees – a quartermaster clerk, a commissary clerk, two storekeepers, a wagon master, a saddler, a chief herder, two herders, , a cook, a butcher, eight teamsters and six laborers.
1865 was uneventful for the post. Captain Kerber remained in command of the fort through the end of the war. In February, Company I was designated as “Squadron B, Veteran Battalion, 1st Colorado Cavalry.” Although the garrison’s strength had increased to 72 men present for duty by April, no new units arrived at the fort.
The wartime regular army commanders of Fort Garland did not fare well after the war. Canby, promoted to general in the interim, was killed by Modoc Indians during a peace conference in California in 1873. David P. Whiting retired before the war ended, on November 4, 1863. Thomas J. Durnin was transferred to the 25th Infantry Regiment as part of an expansion of the regular army on September 21, 1866. He was cashiered exactly one year from that date.
The following post will examine the post itself, and the efforts of a dedicated few to preserve it for future generations.
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903.
Henry, Guy V. Military Record of Civilian Appointments in the United States Army, 2 volumes. New York: George W. Carleton, 1869.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 2nd U.S. Cavalry
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Military Posts: Fort Garland, CO
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914