I was very glad to get a letter from you and should have answered it before this but I had to march for New Mexico. Col Canby2 who has command of the Union troops in N.M. has had a terrible encounter3 with Sibley4 of the Texas Rangers. Canby had only eight hundred white men and one Reg of Mexicans under the renowned Kit Carson5. Sibley had three thousand men our white men done all the fighting for the Mexicans broke and ran at the first fire our men fought like tigers one company of Pikes Peak Boys6 was cut to peases only seventeen survived the fight they emptied thirty five Texas saddles the first fire and loss of killed and wounded was about 225 the Texans about 400 as soon as we heard of the battle we made a forced march to the rescue and marched a Reg of men 350 miles in 14 days we marched 120 miles in three days and 80 miles in 24 hours. I think we made the biggest march on record, we understood that Sibley was making an attack on Fort Union7 the word came to us about sundown after the men had marched 40 miles and had not had their supper and they threw their hats in the air and swore they would march 40 miles farther before they slept and they did they started off singing the Star spangled banner, Red White & Blue and Yankee doodle so you can imagine what kind of material this Reg is composed of we are now at Ft Union without a fight but start in three days to attack Sibley where I expect we shall have as great a battle as ever was known.
Soldiering suits me although it is rather rough at present. we have travelled through mountains and plains and seen many amusing things we have a splendid chance to study human nature for we have all kinds of men in the Reg we are within one hundred miles of Santa Fe which I suppose is taken by the Texans by this time. men women and children and thousands of head of stock arrive here dailey from that country they are all glad to see the soldiers thre or four companies of the 5th infantry Regulars will march with us we go abreast to Santa Fe. I am afraid this letter will not be very interesting for I dont feel like writing
direct to Lieut S.S. Soule 1st Reg Col[orado] Vols Santa Fe New Mexico
The text presented here is derived from Charley Shively, ed., Drum Beats: Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers (San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1989). For a detailed description of discrepancies between this electronic edition and the print source, see our statement of editorial policy.
The manuscript of this letter, dated March 12, 1862, is held in the Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
1. Silas S. Soule (1838-1865) was raised by an abolitionist father, Amasa Soule, who moved the Soule family to Kansas to help fight for Kansas's anti-slavery status. With his father and brother William, Silas was a member of the "Jayhawkers," a band of abolitionists who assisted slaves through the Underground Railroad. Silas was among the Kansas team assembled and brought to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania by Richard Swinton to break John Brown's accomplices Albert Hazlett and Aaron Stevens out of jail in Charlestown, Virginia (now West Virginia). In Harrisburg he would have met William W. Thayer, who helped Richard Hinton and Thomas Wentworth Higginson plan the jailbreak. On February 18, 1860, Soule went to Charlestown from Harrisburg and faked public intoxication in order to be imprisoned in the same jail as Hazlett and Stevens, only to be talked out of the jailbreak by them. Soule attended a public memorial for Hazlett and Stevens in Boston, where Thayer and Eldridge were in attendance. After the death of his father in 1860, Soule followed the gold rush to Denver, but enlisted in the Union army as soon as news of the war reached him. In 1864 Soule defied orders by refusing to join Colonel John M. Chivington's attack on a group of unarmed native americans, which later came to be known as the Sand Creek Massacre. Soule would later testify against Chivington in hearings in Denver. Soule married Hersa Coberly, the daughter of a pioneer family, on April 1, 1865. Three weeks later he was murdered on the streets of downtown Denver by a private from the Second Colarado infantry and an accomplice. (Back)
2. Edward R. S. Canby was commander of the Military Department of New Mexico for the Union. (Back)
3. The Battle of Valverde was fought near Fort Craig, New Mexico, on February 21, 1862. (Back)
4. Henry Hopkins Sibley was appointed by Jefferson Davis in 1861 to occupy the southwestern territories for the confederacy. (Back)
5. Col. Christopher "Kit" Carson and his First New Mexico Volunteer regiment assisted Edward Canby in the Battle of Valverde, New Mexico, February 21, 1862. (Back)
6. Pikes Peak refers to the gold mining area of Colorado where Silas S. Soule had settled before enlisting in the Union army. (Back)
7. Fort Union, Albuquerque, was Henry Hopkins Sibley's next target after the Battle of Valverde, February 21, 1862. On March 26, 1862, the Confederate Texas Rangers met the Union forces led by Major John Chivington in a conflict later to be called the Battle of Apache Canyon. On the March 28, 1862, Chivington won a significant victory for the Union in the Battle of Glorieta Pass. (Back)