Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Visit to Fort Union National Monument

“The country around Fort Union is pretty—by far the nicest in the Territory. The streams have formed deep narrow canons, the borders of which are rocky and timbered. The prairie is swelling, smooth, and covered with excellent grass. Small mountains and wooded points give variety, and it only wants seasonable rains to vie with any place in the world for beauty and salubrity” (p. 220). So wrote Ovando J. Hollister of the 1st Regiment of Colorado Volunteers in his book Colorado Volunteers in New Mexico: 1862.

This blogster visited Fort Union National Monument last month, a mere 149 years after Hollister’s visit. Like Hollister, I thought the area was quite pretty, and I would guess that the countryside around Fort Union has changed little since Hollister’s visit.

Fort Union, approximately twenty-eight miles north of Las Vegas, New Mexico, was established in 1851 by Lieutenant Colonel Edwin V. Sumner, the commander of the Ninth Military Department. Situated near the Santa Fe Trail, the fort was well placed to provide supplies to travelers and as a base for military activities. Hastily constructed with green wood, the buildings often were in need of repair. Once the war started, Fort Union morphed into an important supply point for Union forces, and soldiers labored on a large star shaped fortification. In 1863, construction began on the third and final phase of the fort: most of the surviving fort dates from this final phase. The fort survived until the military abandoned it in 1891.

On June 25th, my mom, a friend, and I pulled into a nearly full parking lot; this was a surprise as Fort Union is a bit off the “beaten track.” It turns out that we happened in on a living history event featuring guest speakers, reenactors, and exhibitors. The reenactors below represent men of the 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry—the presenter pointed out that many Americans today do not realize that the New Mexico Territory even fielded troops during the Civil War.

Freight wagons played a vital role in supply:

In the postwar period, residents of Fort Union could make use of the sun dial:

And even know the elevation: “6835.423 Above Tidewater Aug. 1867”

The ruins were fascinating to me—and a bit haunting:


  1. Nice photos and thank you for the post. The event was our annual Cultural Encounters. The soldiers next to the supply wagon are from the Artillery Company of New Mexico, out of Albuquerque NM.
    The Sergeant in the 1st picture is me, Don Bovia.
    The soldiers are, from left to right, Rick, Shawn Havgood, Greg Baker and Ron Harvey.
    Again thank you, not to many people know we are out here.

  2. Hi Don,
    Thanks so much for contacting me and telling me the identity of those in the photograph! Fort Union is a wonderful place to visit, and it is a shame that more people don't visit. I wish you well with your living history events.