March of the U.S. 7th Infantry;

Fort Bridger to New Mexico, June - August 1860

In the late spring of 1860, the entire U.S. 7th Infantry Regiment, about 600 men, was ordered from its posting at several forts in Utah Territory to New Mexico Territory. Private Lewis F. Roe, a farmboy from Illinois, kept a diary of their march. All of the official reports of this journey seem to have disappeared over the years.

 

 

Private Roe's company (F) was stationed at Fort Bridger in what is now southwestern Wyoming, and started on June 8th. They initially followed an overland route called the Cherokee Trail, which led eastward along a series of desert streams; Ham's Fork, Green River and Bitter Creek; past the sites of the modern communities of Green River, Rock Springs and Point of Rocks, Wyoming.

Original Officers Quarters built in 1858, now

Fort Bridger State Historic Site.

Several days out, they camped near a spring issuing from a cliff face where many of the soldiers carved their names above the spring. Some of those names remain there today, at

what is now known as Sulphur Spring.

 

They continued south and east along an unfamiliar route until they came to a place now bypassed by time. Bridger's Pass, named for frontiersman Jim Bridger. Here they crossed the Continental Divide.

 

Bridger's Pass

The troops crossed more high-desert country

and a few small rivers. Eventually they reach-

ed Cheyenne Pass, a gap in a ridge line at the western edge of the High Plains. The date was July 4.

 

 

 

 

 

At this point the regiment rested for a day, then bore to the right and marched southward, along an unnamed trail that paralleled the North Park Mountains, now called the Front Range. They passed the small settlement of Colona, now La Porte, Colorado, crossed the Cache la Poudre River, and noted a new stage station at St. Vrain. They met a few Indians and overland travelers who were heading further west. On July 14th they passed through Denver City and camped three miles beyond. Denver, not yet two years old, had begun as a gold camp but was already a bustling city with some very fine Brick buildings. They rested for a day and headed south along the Cherokee Trail, paralleling Cherry Creek.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Cherry Creek they continued downstream along the Fountaine qui Bouille or Fountain Creek, now following the base of the South Park Mountains. At the later site of Pueblo, Colorado, they crossed the Arkansas River on a new bridge and then passed Greenhorns Ranch where a few New Mexicans were living. They forded the Huerfano River and on July 26th stood at the base of Sangre de Cristo Pass. This had long been the principal route from northern New Mexico across the Rocky Mountains to the High Plains, traversed by traders visiting plains Indian tribes. It was a horse and mule passage, not intended for wagons, and the 7th Infantry men pushed, pulled, and yelled mightily to get their wagons up the steep slope.

Cheyenne Pass

Denver, Colorado, ca. 1860

Courtesy Colorado Historical Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the top, they stood on the crest of a broad caldera, or as Roe put it, "We found ourselves in a beautiful valley about one mile square". The mountains around were covered with groves of pine. Letting the wagons down with ropes, they crossed the mountain valley and then followed Sangre de Cristo Creek down a narrow canyon to Fort Garland, which at that time lay in New Mexico Territory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They arrived at Fort Garland on July 27th and rested there for a week, mainly to allow the oxen who pulled their wagons to recuperate. At Fort Garland, Colonel Pitcairn Morrison wrote his only letter on this expedition, in which he complained about nearly everything that had been done in preparation for the march. Nonetheless there had been only a single casualty, a soldier who drowned while crossing one of the rivers in Wyoming. Morrison blamed the slow pace on the use of oxen provided by the Quartermaster Department instead of mules as draft animals. Lewis Roe, on the other hand, made very few complaints.

 

Sangre de Cristo Pass , 1853

Tinted lithograph by John Mix Stanley

 

The beautiful valley at the head of Sangre de Cristo Pass. John Mix Stanley lithograph

 

lsberg and Amberg wagon train in Santa Fe plaza, October 1861. Courtesy of Museum of New Mexico photo archives.

 

Fort Craig as it looked in Lewis Roe's time; view across the parade ground towards the enlisted men's quarters. National Archives photo

Fort Garland, Colorado

Courtesy of Colorado Historical Society

 

 

 

On August 5th the regiment started on its next leg, south along the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They passed a number of small Hispanic com-munities, whose residents impressed Roe as "quite a gay race of people." Culebra, Costillo, Red River and Taos with their irrigated farms soon lay behind, and on the 10th the column came to the recently abandoned post of Camp Burgwin. Another week and they were at Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico Territory. Roe was not impressed by Santa Fe " Streets very crooked. The plaza looks more like a cow yard than anything else."

 

Here the regiment was divided, with two companies sent to Albuquerque, two more to Fort Buchanan in southern Arizona, and three companies (E, F, and Roe's Co. F) to Fort Craig, which lay along the Rio Grande about 110 miles south of Santa Fe.

 

 

Fort Craig as the site appears today. Albuquerque Journal photograph by Richard Pipes

 

The march down the Rio Grande was uneventful. Roe, with his Midwestern background, had approved of Denver with its brick buildings, but he found Albuquerque even less impressive than the capital city This place is even worse than Santa Fe. The troops crossed to the west bank of the river and passed through more settlements: Los Lunas, an Indian pueblo, and Socorro, which he described as "quite a large town". Twenty-five miles beyond they camped at "Whiskey Point", a name that he did not explain, but which should have been at the location of an abandoned military post, Fort Conrad. On August 30th the troops made their final short march and arrived at the destination, Fort Craig, after some three months en route and 1067 miles by foot from Fort Bridger.

 

Lewis Roe would remain at Fort Craig for nearly two years, during which time he witnessed the oncoming of the Civil War and the appearance of a Confederate Army under Brig. Gen. H.H. Sibley in southern New Mexico, after a march from San Antonio, Texas. In early February 1862 Gen. Sibley led the ca. 2700 men of his Sibley Brigade up the river to meet a smaller opposing force of Union soldiers mustered at Fort Craig to stop the invasion. On February 21st the two forces met at a ford called Valverde, several miles from Fort Craig, and after a day-long battle the Confederates were victorious. Roe's Company F fought as part of Plympton's Battalion, principally in defense of an artillery unit called McRae's Battery. The company held its ground until forced to retreat, taking an incredible casualty rate of an estimated 73 percent! The Union general, E.R.S. Canby, was short of officers and he had placed two sergeants in charge of Company F; both of them died on the battlefield. Lewis Roe was commended for bravery and immediately promoted to sergeant. He remained in New Mexico until his discharge on March 4, 1863, then returned home to Illinois.

 

To read Lewis Roe's daily diary of this march to New Mexico and the journal covering his experiences with the 50th Illinois Volunteer Infantry and their campaign with General Sherman through Georgia and the Carolinas in 1864 and 1865, see From Western Deserts to Carolina Swamps: A Civil War Soldier's journals and Letters Home, edited by John P. Wilson; University of New Mexico Press, 280 pp. (2012).




Click here to follow Lewis Roe through Georgia and the Carolinas

 

From Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (2003 reprint of 1891-1895 ed.)