The Union Response to the Confederate Invasion of New Mexico

Distant Bugles Award


Most accounts of the Civil War’s New Mexico campaign have focused on the Confederate invasion, but Distant Bugles, Distant Drums brings to life the Union response to that invasion–especially the recruitment and training of a thousand men in the Colorado Territory’s towns, farms, ranches, and mining camps, and their epic 18-day, 400-mile march to halt the rebels at a place called Glorieta Pass, twenty miles east of Santa Fe.

On the way to capture Colorado’s rich gold and silver mines to finance the South’s war, Confederate leader Henry Hopkins Sibley and his brigade of 3,000 Texans won a series of engagements against Canby’s Union troops along the Rio Grande but the timely intervention by the Colorado regiment helped to save Colorado–and the West–for the Union.

Drawing on a host of previously over-looked diaries, letters, and contemporary newspaper accounts, Flint Whitlock tells the stories of larger-than-life Union heroes such as Colorado governor William Gilpin and Colonels John Slough, Samuel Tappan, John Chivington, Edward Canby, and Kit Carson, along with the average soldiers–men on both sides who marched, fought, and overcame immense distances and privations in the campaign that covered more territory than any other.

Distant Bugles, Distant Drums takes a detailed look at the realities of military life and a key series of engagements on the lonely western frontier, a look that has been forgotten by time. Historians and Civil War buffs will find in Distant Bugles, Distant Drums a fresh perspective on the New Mexico campaign and how the battles in this remote section of the country, while small in scale, loomed large in the Union’s ultimate victory.

On February 22, 1862–an overcast, terribly cold day in Denver City–the main body of Colonel John P. Slough’s First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers made their final preparations to depart Camp Weld. Inside and outside of the camp’s walls, the horses, mules, and oxen of the regiment stood implacably in their traces, some snorting, some pawing the ground, almost as though they, like the soldiers, were anxious to get the march underway and head off to war.

A Denver newspaper reporter captured the scene: “On Saturday evening at three o’clock, the drum beat for parade in Camp Weld, to assemble the companies of the First Regiment for their march to New Mexico. Colonel Slough addressed the soldiers and [Acting] Governor Weld made a short, patriotic farewell speech, which was received with three hearty cheers for the governor.”

With banners snapping in the biting wind and with martial music and the cheers of the citizenry filling the air, the First Colorado left Camp Weld. There were officers on horseback, waving solemnly to the crowd; soldiers in blue marching steadfastly with their odd assortment of weaponry on their shoulders; even Captain Sanborn’s colorfully outfitted company of Zouaves. The wives and sweethearts of many of the men dabbed at their eyes with lace handkerchiefs as they watched their men go and feared for their return. Among the crowd bundled against the cold were more than a few of the “soiled doves” from the McGaa Street cribs, waving with undeniable sadness at the departure of some of their best customers.

As the troops went off, with drums beating and fifes piping a marching tune, the foreboding sky began to spit flakes of snow, just a few at first, and then more and more until the soldiers’ view of the camp was completely obliterated. As the regiment followed the eastern bank of the South Platte River by way of the stagecoach road, the falling flakes increased. Soon the snowfall turned into a full-scale blizzard, preventing the men from gaining their bearings in the white-out conditions. Six miles south of town, their boots soaked and their feet freezing, the soldiers tented as best they could for the evening. Most of the officers, and many of the men, abandoned their tents and slunk back into Denver to spend the night. It was not an auspicious beginning to the great crusade.

This volume is Civil War military history at its very best….[An] engagingly crafted narrative….The author is well known for his exciting books on World War II. Here he shows himself as a master of military history from an earlier century.

James H. Nottage Blue and Gray magazine

Distant Bugles, Distant Drums is an absorbing and thoroughly researched work that sheds light on an oft forgotten yet important campaign of our Civil War.

Col. Rob Dalessandro, Director,
U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center

By focusing on the officers and men who fought for the Union in the westernmost campaign of the Civil War and turned back the Confederate invasion of the Southwest, Flint Whitlock has contributed immensely to the literature of that important military operation. Distant Bugles, Distant Drums is not only a great read but also an indispensable reference for understanding the 1861-1862 New Mexico Campaign.

Don Alberts, Author of Rebels on the Rio Grande and The Battle of Glorieta: Union Victory in the West

This well-written, solidly researched history of Colorado’s Union troops is

Tom Noel, The Rocky Mountain News (Denver)

Anyone interested in the Civil War in the Southwest will enjoy this well-written account of the New Mexico campaign with its numerous photographs and outstanding maps.

Greg Lennes, Las Cruces Sun-News

Flint Whitlock’s well-researched, well-written book provides fresh perspectives on the Civil War’s New Mexico battles.

Dallas Morning News

Worthwhile reading just for its cast of characters, many of whom merge the spirit of the Civil War with the Wild West…. Highly recommended.

Jon Guttman, Civil War Times

Whitlock is especially effective in capturing the fears, beliefs, prejudices, and heroism of average soldiers and in dramatizing the remarkable late-winter, 18-day, 400-mile march of the Colorado regiment from Denver City to Fort Union, New Mexico.

By focusing explicitly on the North’s reaction to Confederate dreams of empire in the West, Flint Whitlock adds several new insights to historical knowledge of this increasingly well-publicized theater of the Civil War.

Robert Wooster, The Journal of Southern History

A valuable, well-researched, cogently presented account of a much-neglected event in Southwest history and culture…. As an addition to the annals of Civil War history, this text is more than worthy.

Whitlock’s treatment of this much-neglected segment of Civil War history is laudable for any number of reasons, not the least of which is his fully comprehensive understanding and depiction of what might be best described as a comic opera with tragic overtones.

Clay Reynolds, Texas Books in Review

[Whitlock] is an exceptionally good writer and anyone interested in the Civil War will enjoy what he has to say.

Jerry Thompson, Western Historical Quarterly

It is frequently the case that accurate historical accounts and lively writing style are not to be found in the same work. This is decidedly not the case in Flint Whitlock’s “Distant Bugles, Distant Drums.” Whitlock has written a meticulously documented and entertaining account of a battle that has been described as “the Gettysburg of the West.”….The description of the “exploding mules” is laugh-out-loud funny. I particularly enjoyed the post-battle follow-up on the fates of the major actors in this largely unknown Civil War encounter. Additionally, for those historians looking for opportunitIes to visit the sites associated with the Battle of Glorieta, Whitlock provides updated descriptions of all the different forts and locations that played a role in the “Gettysburg of the West.” This is one terrific read.

Philip McDonald, review

… [N]icely illustrated with fifty-three photographs, many of them never before published. [Whitlock] is an exceptionally good writer and anyone interested in the Civil War will enjoy what he has to say.

Western Historical Quarterly

Many thanks to you for giving the superb program last night to our very happy audience. It was a wonderful event, and all who attended were delighted at the depth and breadth of your knowledge, your passion, and your great slides. I always enjoy working with you and hope to do so again.

Robyn Jacobs, Events Coordinator, Colorado History Museum

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ISBN: 0-87081-835-X
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