Yesterday we went to Fort Union National Monument, it is about 25 miles north east of Las Vegas. In order to talk about the fort you have to talk about the Santa Fe trail. It ran for about 1200 miles from Franklin Missouri to Santa Fe New Mexico, where other trails were. Just like the Oregon trail, it was fraught with danger from Indians, bandits, the heat, lack of water, you name it. A journey of three months or so, by wagon train, pulled by oxen. There were many stops, and Las Vegas at the bottom of the Rockies, became one that grew into a thriving town in the 1820’s. After the Mexican war was over, the U. S. decided it needed a military presence in the area, and Fort Union was born. Built in 1851, mostly of wood, and only about twelve acres in size, it was built at a split in the Santa Fe trail, as it came down to Las Vegas. The first fort helped protect immigrants, wagon trains and the like from attack. Nothing of this fort is left.
What the 1st old fort looked like and also the post commanders quarters
In 1860 with the civil war looming it was decided to build a bigger fort. In August of 1861, A star shaped earthen fort is built on about twenty three acres, over a thousand men worked 24 hours a day in four hour shifts. In February 1862, the fort was completed. It has 28 cannon on it’s parapets, officer’s quarters, enlisted barracks, storerooms, powder magazine dotting it’s interior. Even a tunnel leading out to the creek, so fresh water could be brought in. Even as the fort was being built those in charge thought it was being built in the wrong area. A high bluff was only about a mile and a half away, thoughts were that cannon atop the bluffs could hit the fort. The new commander decided to test it out. Cannon were placed atop the bluff and fired down to the fort area, sure enough the cannon shot could reach the interior of the fort and beyond. Cannon fired from the fort however could not reach the heights on the bluff. The fort was a sitting duck if attached. The confederates at this time took Santa Fe ,and were on the march toward the fort, however troops from the fort intercepted them at Glorieta pass, near Santa Fe and attached and burned all the wagon trains loaded with supplies. The fort never fired a shot or was attacked.
What the 2nd fort looked like
In 1863, not even two years old it was decided to build a larger stronger fort. The third Fort Union, was massive at least a half mile, by half mile and bigger. Built better with adobe, fire brick, lumber, tin, this fort would replace the earthen fort and become the largest military outpost west of the Mississippi. It was a little city and grew and grew. It was the hub of the west. Wagon trains, military goods, people all had to pass through Fort Union before heading west. For almost 27 years until 1891 the fort was the guardian of the trail and territory. then the railroad came and it was all over. Ordered closed in February of 1891, it is then abandoned. Soon after the fort falls prey to relic hunters , salvagers, and even the army helps demolish parts of the fort. In 1938 Marian Sloan Russel, visit’s the fort, she is dismayed at the decay and destruction. Now in her early sixties, she was born in Fort Union, at the peak of it’s time. She starts a movement to save the fort. Even though she only lives for two more years, the movement gains strength and in 1954 the Fort is declared a national monument. Even though much of it is gone this was an impressive sight to see, and learn about.
We began our walk outside on Fort Union’s Grounds
We headed out where the first & second forts were.
A cannon was placed right where the 2nd fort would have been.
What it looked like once upon a time . . . sitting on their porches
For 24 years the officer in command of the cavalry and infantry troops at Fort Union lived here. The post commandant issued the orders that determined the daily duties and routines for hundreds of enlisted men, non-commissioned officers, officers, and civilian employees. He made the decisions about who would patrol the Santa Fe Trail — and for how long.
From 1867-1891 over 100 Regular Army officers held this command. Some served as little as one week in this position. Some stayed in charge as long as 36 months. Some captains, majors, and colonels only held command once. Other commandants returned to duty at Fort Union as many as 14 times.
They have an accurate sun dial that was built here in 1871
Looked a little different back when.
The cistern now and before
Calvary solider & his horse in Mechanics Corral and depot office and quarters
Imagine 2,000 to 3,000 freight wagons a year being off-loaded into these enormous buildings. In these five warehouses, the United States Army stored, inventoried, organized, and redistributed thousands of tons of food and equipment to support the troops operating in the Southwest.
Here you would have seen both civilian storekeepers and enlisted personnel bustling and toting an endless stream of crates, boxes, and barrels of salted meat and fish, hardtack, coffee, tea, sugar, salt, vinegar, hominy, corn meal, onions, potatoes, canned foods, bottled foods, flour, clothing, bedding, tents, cooking gear, paper and ink, heating stoves, furniture, lamps, lanterns, tools, and building materials. In 1870 there were 100 civilian employees here at Fort Union. About 40 were teamsters driving wagons to deliver the supplies from these warehouses to distant outlying posts.
This section had a “privy” to put their unwanted items, and the military band had their quarters here
Here you get one night in bed… tonight you are on Guard, tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock you get relieved… one hour after coming off Guard You have to Saddle up and go on Herd. Come in with the Herd at 4 p.m., spend one hour grooming your horse, then get your supper. At sundown the Bugle calls you to Retreat to answer your name, and hear who are detailed for Guard on the morrow… from Retreat till Tattoo (2 hours) you have to shine your belts, clean your gun and brasses so they shine like a gold piece in the dark. Next morning at break of day you fall in ranks for Reveille, answer your name, and then march to the stables, spend half hour on the… horses, come back, swallow your Breakfast, and then put on all your good clothes, comb your hair… put on all your Belts, shoulder your Carbine, and then you are ready for Guard Mount… At the first sound of the Bugle, you rush in ranks to be inspected first by your First Sergeant … [then by] the Sergeant Major… [who] opens your shirt collar to see if that bit of apparel has been to the Laundresses in the course of a couple of months… the Band strikes up those patriotic tunes… You are then marched to. William Walton Private Company F, 10th U.S. Infantry
1887the Guardhouse. During the day you escort prisoners around camp, emptying swill barrels &c. At night you… guard over a stable, lots of wagons &c with these orders ‘take charge of this Post, and all Government property in view’… That is soldiering, in a nut shell.”
—Eddie Matthews, private, 8th U.S. Cavalry, 1870
Oh no! Look who’s in jail!
front and back of hospital
hospital courtyard and lecture room.
Their caseload was overwhelming: blisters, boils, burns, cuts, colds, coughs, childbirth, fevers, flu, pneumonia, ulcers, gonorrhea, syphilis, scurvy, scarlet fever, typhoid, small-pox, diarrhea, delirium, opium overdose, alcoholism, rheumatism, broken bones, and gunshot and arrow wounds. In December 1876 — a typical month — Fort Union’s medical staff treated 425 patients, of whom 166 were hospitalized. About 40 percent of the people who lay in these hospital beds were civilians — who had to pay 50¢ a day for treatment.
The Chaplin’s quarters, he had a nice place.
As Dave mentioned, this was definitely an impressive place to visit. I know we learned a lot about being here, as well as were in awe of just how much went on in the fort, even on one particular day, and how much everyone needed the fort for their survival. It was their whole lives, most of them worked there, ate there as well as slept and even played here, they even had a baseball team. Heck, It served the whole South West area for a long while.
2 thoughts on “FORT UNION & SANTA FE TRAIL”
You could seriously be a history teacher if you ever retire from retirement!
Sandy is right. Or run travel tours for people