Civil War in the Southwest: Recollections of the Sibley Brigade

Civil War in the Southwest: Recollections of the Sibley Brigade

Civil War in the Southwest: Recollections of the Sibley Brigade

Civil War in the Southwest: Recollections of the Sibley Brigade


In 1861 and 1862, in the vast deserts and rugged mountains of the Southwest, eighteen hundred miles from Washington and Richmond, the Civil War raged in a struggle that could have decided the fate of the nation.

In the summer and fall of 1861, Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley raised a brigade of young and zealous Texans to invade New Mexico Territory as a step toward the conquest of Colorado and California and the creation of a Confederate empire in the Southwest. Of the Sibley Brigade's sixteen major battles during the war, their most excruciating experiences came during the ill-fated New Mexico Campaign.

Civil War in the Southwest tells the dramatic story of that campaign in the words of some of the actual participants. Noted Civil War scholar Jerry Thompson has edited and annotated eighteen episodes written by William Lott "Old Bill" Davidson and six other members of Sibley's Brigade that were originally published in a small East Texas newspaper, the Overton Sharp Shooter, in 1887-88.

Written "to set the record straight," these veterans' stories provide colorful accounts of the bloody battles of Valverde, Glorieta, and Peralta, as well as details of the soldiers' tragic and painful retreat back to Texas in the summer of 1862. With his extensive knowledge of Sibley's campaign, Thompson has provided context for the eyewitness accounts-and corrections where needed-to produce a campaign history that is intimate and passionate, yet accurate in the smallest detail.

History readers will find much to ponder in these unique first-person recollections of a campaign that, had it succeeded, would have radically altered the history of the Southern Confederacy and the United States.


William Lott Davidson was an interesting character. Coming to Texas as a teenager, he settled along the Texas frontier and as a young man made a name for himself as an Indian fighter while earning a living as a lawyer. When the Civil War began, he was among the first to heed the call of his state. Seeing service in New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, Davidson survived the war and resumed a civilian’s life in Texas afterward. As a mature man he, with the encouragement and assistance of fellow veterans from the Texas brigade, determined to write for posterity a history of the Texas brigade organized and led by Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley. Published serially in an East Texas newspaper during the 1880s, these reminiscences together compose a treasury of primary sources that highlight the role Texans played in the New Mexico Campaign of 1862. The veterans’ writings reveal a romantic view of the world and their dedication to the cause that consumed Davidson’s youth. However, never gathered into the book Davidson and his comrades hoped to publish, the articles thereafter remained all but forgotten for over a century.

In 1988 I started graduate school at Texas Christian University after having worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for four years. While searching for a topic of scholarly inquiry, I became fascinated by Sibley’s Brigade, Tom Green, and the Civil War in New Mexico and Louisiana. One of the books I happened across in my explorations was the thin edited dairy of Pvt. William Craig entitled West Of The River With Waller’s 13th Texas CavAlry Battalion, CSA, published some years before by Hill College Press. The work only covered a half-year of the war, the diarist chronicling the formation of the 13th Texas Battalion and its early service in Louisiana. I contacted the editor, Dr. Charles Spurlin of Victoria College, to inquire if he had additional material on the unit. He did.

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