Battle of Canada Alamosa
|Battle of Canada Alamosa|
|Part of American Civil War|
The Canada Alamosa battlefield
|Confederate States||United States|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Bethel Coopwood||John H. Minks|
|112 cavalry||~100 cavalry|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Canada Alamosa was a skirmish of the American Civil War on the late evening and morning of September 24 and 25, 1861. Several small battles occurred in Confederate Arizona near the border with Union New Mexico Territory, this one being the largest.
The battle occurred about forty miles south of Fort Craig at the village of Canada Alamosa, near the Rio Grande. Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor, who had led the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles into New Mexico Territory one month earlier, defeated the Union garrison at the First Battle of Mesilla, proclaimed the area to be Confederate Arizona, and appointed himself its governor, sent patrols up the Rio Grande to keep watch on the Union post at Fort Craig near the 34th parallel, the proposed northern border of the new territory. The Union Army, specifically the 3d Cavalry Regiment, had launched a reconnaissance mission and stopped at Canada Alamosa to build a camp next to the village. The camp consisted of a corral and breastworks, to subdue a possible and immediate Confederate counterattack.
Before the corral and breastworks were finished on September 24, at about 5:00 pm, the Union force of around 100 and under Captain John H. Minks, received information that mounted rebels had been seen in a southern direction from the camp. A six men cavalry troop with a Mexican scout was dispatched who returned saying the sighted men were Union deserters who evaded capture. Later that night, Union troops at the Canada Alamosa camp reported another sighting of armed men. Some said the unknown men in the dark fired into the town but this has never been confirmed. In response, Captain Morris put his troops on high alert.
At this same time a few horses escaped the corral, about ten men were ordered to bring them back but some thirty ended up in the chase before Minks could prevent it, most of the thirty men deserted into the desert. A terrible native American yell was heard, which had the Union troops thinking they were under attack by Indians. Then came the sound of cavalry and the shout "Here's their camp; give them hell!" At that moment the Union force knew they were not being attacked by Apaches but by twelve to fifteen Confederate troops, commanded by Captain Bethel Coopwood, from Mesilla.
The firing commenced, the rebel cavalry first attacked the Union Army's main line. After this attack was repulsed, the rebels fell back to the town. The dozen Confederate cavalrymen had attempted to rout the Union army with the cover of nightfall but failed due to the lack of firepower. Shooting stopped for a short while, this made the Captain and his men think the rebels had retreated or were playing a ruse to lure Minks' men into a more effective range.
So Captain Minks and a number of his men slowly advanced into town on foot, leaving his main body at camp. Not seeing anything, the force withdrew to find that even more Union troops had deserted. Lieutenant Sanches, of the Union, was ordered to bring the deserters back, then Minks attacked. The attack was made to drive the rebels out of town or to set fire to the perimeter houses which provided cover for the Confederates. The United States cavalry advanced, with wood and matches.
Unfortunately for the Union, the Confederate force was larger than Minks had anticipated, 112 strong, they had also taken the houses Minks intended to burn. The advance was stopped by volleys of musket fire and after ten minutes the Union force had retreated back near camp at which they started from. By this time the Confederates had taken a hill next to the road which led to Fort Craig.
Fighting continued for a long while, at almost daybreak. Captain John Minks had found his men reduced to the number ten. The ten and the Captain fought off the Confederates at long range for a few hours more while trying to communicate with the main force in camp, once again, the main body had deserted or withdrew thinking Minks and his assault party had been massacred. The Captain realized this and decided to fight as long as possible in order to prevent the pursuit and capture of his retreating main body. Looking through his spy-glass, Minks witnessed about sixty mounted rebels, ready to attack.
Typical in colonial age warfare, Minks surrendered between 7:00 and 8:00 am, in order to prevent further casualties to his remaining ten men. The retreating main body made its way back to their fort and then followed up their defeat with another patrol farther south of Canada Alamosa. Minks reported that only one of the remaining ten men was wounded. Confederate reports say four other men were killed and six wounded. The ten men and Captain Minks were taken to Mesilla as prisoners, twelve other troops, deserters or not, were also captured by the rebel cavalry. At least three Confederates were wounded, none were reported killed. The rebels also captured a good size amount of supplies and a few horses and wagons.
The next day on August 26, 1861, after the battle of Canada Alamosa was over, the Union cavalry patrol under Captain Robert M. Morris, skirmished successfully with Confederates involved in the Alamosa engagement. This thirty miles south of the town at the north end of Mesilla Valley near Fort Thorn.
Interestingly, Union Colonel Edward Canby, in his report of the engagement, said ten Confederates were killed and over thirty wounded in a fight that lasted one hour and forty-two minutes long. The rebel commander Coopwood in his report to LtCol Baylor reported two of the men were killed and seven others wounded.
Captain Minks confirmed this with his report of the two skirmishes, written in captivity and allowed to be sent to his superiors. Union casualties were reported to be six wounded, this was one of the several other small battles in the region.
Two days before the engagement at Canada Alamosa, on the 23rd of 1861, Confederate troops captured nine men from the New Mexico Volunteers, after a brief skirmish due north of Fort Craig. The force was questioned and the Confederates learned that 350 men garrisoned the fort with no artillery.
- Thompson, Jerry Don, Colonel John Robert Baylor: Texas Indian Fighter and Confederate Soldier. Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1971.
- Katheder, Thomas, The Baylors of Newmarket: The Decline and Fall of a Virginia Planter Family. New York and Bloomington, Ind., 2009.
- Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. (1986). War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books. ISBN 0-8094-4780-0.