Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Those Wild Colorado Volunteers

Last night, I returned from a wonderful vacation to Taos, New Mexico. It was a relief to escape the heat on the Oklahoma prairies! Of course, I managed to work in a bit of sightseeing to Civil War related sites so look for a couple of future postings about those.

For now, I will offer some brief reflections about a book that I recently purchased at the Dickson Street bookstore in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Often cited in works about the 1862 New Mexico campaign, Ovando J. Hollister’s History Of The First Regiment Of Colorado Volunteers was published in 1863; my copy is a reprint edition published by The Lakeside Press in 1962 and edited by Richard Harwell. At that time it was retitled as Colorado Volunteers In New Mexico. One unusual feature of the book is the fact that it was originally published during the war. Of course this adds more immediacy to the book, and it also is more raw, blunt, and opinionated than many accounts published after the war. Books like Hollister’s remind the reader of the emotions of the time and the fact that the war was very much a young man’s war.

Hollister himself was in his late twenties when he enlisted in the 1st Colorado Volunteers. A native of Massachusetts, Hollister drifted westward as a young man and arrived “in the mining district of South Clear Creek, Colorado” near the beginning of the war (p. xx). So far, I am most struck by the wildness and undisciplined nature of these young Colorado volunteers, although there is evidence of Hollister maturing as a soldier and recognizing the importance of discipline. The following passage dated March 22, 1862 is a good description of the behavior of these soldiers:

“About noon we succeeded in getting under way. A party started ahead early, to secure the plunder stolen from the sutler last night. A squad of regulars were sent after them, but they had no inclination to interfere with the volunteers and took care to discover nothing. The boys concealed some, drank more, lost and sold the balance. What was drunk immediately under the eyes of the sutler was about all the good they got of it; a doubtful good certainly, for the command was scattered from Dan to Beersheba, burying plunder, drinking, fighting and carousing with Mexican women, at the Lome, a small ‘Sodom’ five or six miles from [Fort] Union. There were a dozen of us too drunk to know friends from foes, consequently most provokingly troublesome. Many came in during the night with rough usage painted on their faces in unmistakable colors” (p. 88-89).

Four days later, part of the 1st Colorado Volunteers saw combat at Apache Canyon followed on March 28th by the battle at Pigeon’s Ranch (Glorieta).


  1. Hi, Jane ! I read your blog every day!I have learned a lot about the Civil War. I feel in any way connected to the stories of the brave Confederate soldiers. I imagine how difficult it was living at that time !
    Thanks for keeping searching !Thank you for sharing your wonderful work !

    Neusa Maria Wingeter di Santis - Brazil

  2. Thanks for that brilliant passage from Hollister's book. It's pretty evocative. My wife and I love Taos, ever since passing through there on our honeymoon 25 years ago. Did you pay your respects to Kit Carson?


  3. I'm glad that you enjoyed the Hollister quote. I finished reading his book last night and discovered fodder for several postings in it. Taos is a wonderful place indeed, and, yes, I said "howdy" to Kit several times as our B&B was practically next door to his place.