Established in 1853 by the United States Army, Fort Craig served an important role in the incorporation of New Mexico Territory into the United States. The fort, made mostly of adobe, was a sturdy and restful stop located within the Jornada del Muerto on el Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. Today Fort Craig is a infrequently visited National Historic Site and is a short drive from I-25 and located in between Socorro and Truth or Consequences.
Fort Craig was originally built due to the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which called for forts near the newly formed borderlands to protect the incoming American colonists from the marauding Native Americans. However, its most important contribution to history was during the Civil War. By 1862, Fort Craig had around 2,000 soldiers, many of whom were the New Mexico Volunteers.
After the Confederates took power in Mesilla, New Mexico, with little resistance, General Henry Sibley thought it would be relatively easy to march onward to Colorado and California. The belief by the Rebels was that if they could somehow secure the gold and silver located within the mines of Colorado and California, the CSA could continue the war and its own westward expansion. Thank goodness things did not end up as the racists had hoped.
In February of 1862, the Sibley Brigade marched towards the Fort but decided against attacking the Fort directly because of what appeared to be large cannons on the defensive bastions. Instead, the Confederates marched around the Fort and north to the Rio Grande. A little less than five miles north from Fort Craig, on the 21st of February, the Battle of Valverde ensued under the leadership of Sibley and Colonel Edward Canby. The battle itself was either a draw or a slight CSA victory, though the New Mexican Volunteers found Sibley’s supply wagons and burned them. Nonetheless, because Sibley had very few provisions and was unable to take the Fort, Sibley’s subsequent Battle of Glorieta Pass was not as successful.
After the Civil war, the Fort housed a large population of Buffalo Soldiers – named by the Native Americans – who largely served as soldiers in the ‘Indian Wars’ against the nearby Apaches. Interestingly, Buffalo Soldiers had the lowest desertion rate of any soldiers during that time period. The Fort was decommissioned and abandoned by 1885.
Today the Fort is an official National Historic Site and is located between exits 115 and 124 on I-25. Follow the signs, or the map below, to get there, or click through below for more information.