Sunday, February 05, 2012
Fort Union, the largest Army fort and supply depot in the southwest, was so critical that it was built three times starting in 1851. The first couple of times the soldiers did it themselves with green wood and greener skills. The successful construction of the third fort in the traditional “Territorial” style employed skilled Hispano craftsmen using aged native lumber, clay and stone and a strong local cash economy emerged.
Without stockades or ramparts the fort looked more like a small frontier town with streets set at right angles and a population of soldiers, officers and their families. A substantial hospital served not only the military community but the local population.
Fort Union was emblematic of “Manifest Destiny” and heralded American expansionism in the southwest during the mid-nineteenth century. It was first established to defend Indian attacks that threatened the westward thrust of pioneers along the Santa Fe Trail and several rutted pathways where buckboards and prairie schooners once passed are visible crossing the fort’s 53 square miles of grassland.
Knowingly or otherwise Fort Union was built on private land within the Mora Land Grant and despite twenty years of legal challenges the rightful owners were paid exactly zero for their property, a result not entirely unprecedented in the annals of our Westward Ho moment.
Then In a pithy turnabout is fair play episode early in the Civil War Confederate forces that had already occupied Santa Fe wanted to capture Fort Union. They marched eastward before being intercepted and beaten by a garrison from the fort and militiamen from southern Colorado. And so The Battle of Glorietta Pass ended the Confederate incursion into New Mexico and its troops retreated back to Texas.
Fort Union lies just north of Watrous and about five miles west of I-25, the main route between Albuquerque and Denver. Hold on to your hat. It blows like a banshee.