Fort Union was the largest U.S. military installation in the Southwest during the 19th century. The ruins that can be seen at the site are of the third fort built after the Civil War in 1863.
It was a city in itself consisting of a military post, a Quartermaster Depot, and a supply base. Shipments arrived over the Santa Fe Trail and were stored in the warehouses. Other forts were then supplied from these stocks.
The first fort was built after the Mexican War in 1851 to protect travelers on the Santa Fe Trail and residents from Indian attacks. Built of logs, it soon rotted. It was one of several garrisons scattered among the towns along the Rio Grande.
It was later decided that these garrisons should be all relocated to a central location. Fort Union was chosen for this central site to be the headquarters of the New Mexico military. Its location near the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail and its distance from Santa Fe, "that sink of vice and extravagance" gave it favored status. Constructed in 1861 as a dug out, it was completed by the New Mexico Volunteers.
In 1862 there was a Confederate invasion of New Mexico.
The fort had been prepared for just such an event but it was volunteers from Colorado who turned back the first invasion, and New Mexico volunteers who fought in the Battle of Glorieta Pass. The Confederates then returned to Texas and the second Fort Union was abandoned.
The last fort was an extensive installation introducing "Territorial Architecture" to the southwest. Details combined Greek Revival architecture with the brick and adobe buildings brought by the Spanish. These structures were called "Greek temples in the desert".
Several campaigns in 1875 against the Apaches, Navajos, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, Utes, and Comanches brought an end to attacks. Soon after, the Santa Fe Railroad arrived making the Santa Fe Trail obsolete. Soon the fort became unnecessary and was eventually abandoned in the early 1890s.
Back to History Article List