New Mexico Fort Ruins

 

The state of New Mexico is home to a great many historic sites. The rich history of New Mexico includes the Native Pueblo peoples of the southwest, it’s occupation by the Spaniards followed by the Mexicans and beginning in 1846 the occupation by the United States. This mixture of cultures is why New Mexico is such a fascinating state to visit.

fort selden new mexico

Fort Selden, NM ruins

Old Military Forts

When New Mexico was made a territory of the U.S., military outposts were established along the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande generally followed the main travel route between the capital of Santa Fe and Mexico. This was the El Camino Real, the trail carved out by the Spanish Conquistadors. It was the lifeline for supplies between Mexico City and Nuevo Mexico.

It was only natural for military forts to be established along this route. The forts and their garrisons would be key to the U.S. settlement of the territory including protection against Indian raids.

Two Historic Western Forts and Their Ruins

Traveling south to north from Las Cruces along Interstate-25 will take you past two old U.S. Army forts which today lay in ruins. While today the fort’s are in ruins we’re fortunate that the sites have been preserved so that they can be explored by future generations.

fort selden ruins

Fort Selden

Fort Selden

The ruins of Fort Selden, located about thirteen miles north of Las Cruces New Mexico and just west of Interstate 25 near the Rio Grande, is today a New Mexico State Monument. Visiting historic Fort Selden, viewing the ruins and exploring through the Visitors Center, will paint a good picture of what life was like for the soldiers stationed at this frontier fort.

Buffalo Soldiers comprising eight companies of the 125th Infantry were sent to New Mexico Territory. These troops were the first stationed at Fort Selden and would eventually serve at seven forts throughout the territory. At Fort Selden, these Buffalo Soldiers along with others would go on to construct the buildings including the army hospital. Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry stationed at Fort Selden played a major role in chasing down the Apache leader Victorio who was leading many of the deadly raids in southern New Mexico.

Fort Selden, located just west of Interstate-25 is very easy to reach from the Interstate and makes an excellent addition to your New Mexico road trip planner. The state monument is open Wednesday through Monday. The site is closed on Tuesday. Take Exit 19 off of Interstate-25 about thirteen miles north of Las Cruces. The fort is located in the town of Radium Springs, NM.

fort craig new mexico

Fort Craig ruins

Fort Craig

Fort Craig is a National Historic Site which was taken over by the BLM in 1981. The site consists of a Visitors Center and the ruins of the once large and proud military fort. Fort Craig was named for U.S. Army Captain Louis S. Craig who was murdered by deserters in California in 1852.

Fort Craig was built in 1854 and was considered one of the largest and most important frontier forts in the West. Fort Craig played a big role in both the New Mexico Indian campaigns as well as in the American Civil War. Fort Craig was home to the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry and 38th and 125th Infantry.

battle of valverde map

Battle of Valverde Map

Fort Craig lies adjacent to the site of what many believe was the largest Civil War battle in the southwest. This was the Battle of Valverde fought on February 21, 1862. The batttle lasted the entire day. While the Confederates (mostly Texans) prevailed in this battle, and were thus able to thrust further north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, they were later defeated at the Battle of Glorieta Pass just to the east of Santa Fe. The site of the Battle of Valverde is just to the northeast of Fort Craig on private ranch land. The site is visible from the fort.

Links below are to two additional Trips Into History photo articles you’ll enjoy.

Buffalo Soldiers of West Texas

Santa Fe Trail Wagon Ruts at Fort Union

Barrio de Analco and America’s Oldest House

Could Be The Best Hiking Trail in Sedona Arizona

Visit Fort Craig New Mexico

Fort Craig is located just to the east of Interstate 25 about 44 miles south of Socorro New Mexico and on the west side of the Rio Grande.

From the north, take I-25 to the San Marcial exit, then east over the Interstate, and south on old Highway 1 (about 11 miles). Then follow the signs to Fort Craig. (If traveling on I-25 from the south, take exit 115.) The fort is to the east of NM 1, which parallels the freeway thru some lovely scenery and towns, and will also take you to the entrance of Bosque Apache Wildlife Area and the turnoff to the El Camino Real Museum.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)

 

 

 

Military Cannon

During the 1800’s several forts built on the U.S. West Coast are now great sites to see the various types of military cannon exhibits once employed for protection. Two of these forts are popular tourist destinations and each is at the mouth of a major water inlet. One is Fort Point which has the distinction of now being located directly under the Golden Gate Bridge at the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Fort Point was put into service in 1861 and was built to hold 126 powerful cannons. Interestingly enough, Fort Point never had to fire a cannon during the Civil War. The other is Fort Stevens, located west of Astoria Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River. In the case of Fort Stevens, it has the distinction of being fired upon by a Japanese submarine during World Wat Two. That certainly is unique history.

napolean 12 pound cannon

Napolean 12 Pound Cannon 1857 Model

The military cannon shown at left is a Napolean 12 Pounder 1857 Model on display at Fort Point in San Francisco. This piece was also a part of Civil War artillery. In fact, this was the most used smoothbore cannon during the American Civil War. The cannon was also referred to as the “light 12 pounder gun“.This cannon was obviously quite portable and was usually pulled by horse or mule. The gun was known for it’s power and reliability.

san martin cannon

San Martin Cannon

This next military cannon shown at right is the “San Martin” which was cast in Peru in 1684 and used by the Spanish military in California. This cannon was discovered by Captain John B. Montgomery in 1846 as it had been buried at the Presidio in San Francisco. Montgomery had taken over the fort which was then named “Castillo de San Joaquin” without a fight. The fort had been abandoned and was in disrepair as were it’s cannon. The Captain was able to put the cannon back in working order and along with two others brought down from Sonoma placed them in the new battery. This military cannon also on display at Fort Point has a Spanish crest engraved on the top on the rear third of the barrel.

m1897 artillery gun

M1897 Artillery Gun

The military cannon shown left is on display at Fort Stevens State Park, west of Astoria Oregon on the Pacific coast. The cannon can be seen at the Pratt Battery pointing out toward the Columbia River. The gun is a 75 MM M1897 artillery piece. Interestingly enough, this model gun had a life expectancy of about 10,000 rounds. This gun or more appropriately, cannon, weighs 16,216 pounds, fired a 104 pound projectile with a range of nine miles. Muzzle velocity was 2,600 feet per second using a 30 pound nitrocellulose powder charge. An interesting fact about the Japanese submarine shelling Fort Stevens during the war was that the shore batteries didn’t return fire. The story is that the post commander of Fort Stevens decided that returning fire during the midnight attack would only serve to give the submarine a better target. As it turned out, the Japanese shells were flying everywhere and the only official damage reported was to a baseball field backstop. While the attack was not significant in any way, it did liven things up at old Fort Stevens.

10 inch rodman cannon

10 Inch Rodman Smooth Bore Cannon

The cannon on the right is a replica 10 Inch Rodman Smooth Bore Model. It’s on display at Fort Stevens. This model cannon was reported to cost $1,795 in the year 1865. The cannons were made in 8 inch, 10 inch, 15 inch and 20 inch diameters. It took 20 pounds of gunpowder to fire a 125 pound projectile with a range of about three miles. Several of these can be found around coastal batteries in the San Francisco Bay Area as well. The gun weighs 15,400 lbs and was the most popular coastal cannon between the mid 1860’s to the 1890’s. The guns were so popular that many of the 10 inch models were later sleeved to 8 inches to help prolong their lifespan. The Rodman Guns were developed by Thomas J. Rodman who used a patented hollow core and water cooled method in their construction.

pre civil wat mortar

US Pre-Civil War Mortar

The small cannon shown at left is at Fort Point and is a Mortar Cannon. The Mortar Cannon essentially is made to fire low velocity projectiles over relatively short distances. This type of small muzzle loading cannon has been around for centuries, dating back to the 1400’s. Their small size can make them hard to aim especially if they are fired on unstable soil or snow. This particular mortar is a reproduction of a  pre-Civil War mortar which was mounted on the tiers of seacoast forts. It is identical to weapons used in posts all around the San Francisco Bay area.

Links to two additional articles we’ve published that you’ll enjoy are the Mountain Howitzer and on our Western Trips site, 1800’s Frontier Firearms.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)