U.S. cities have recently removed statues of Confederate heroes in a gesture against glorifying those who championed slavery. The controversy that ensued today reflects one of our most bitter divisions in history. You may not have heard of Aspen’s connections to the Civil War and feel surprised to discover a statue that honors Civil War soldiers at the Pitkin County Courthouse. A few Civil War veterans later became Aspen’s early pioneers. By at least one interpretation, the statue recognizes soldiers of both sides.
Gettysburg, Appomattox or some other eastern battlefield comes to most people’s mind when they recall what they learned about the Civil War. However, another battle took place in what is now Colorado and New Mexico, one quite important to the war.
The Colorado Gold Rush had begun just before the war. Early in the struggle both the Union and the Confederacy understood the impending cost of war. Each sought to control the country’s gold mines. During a minor skirmish in San Francisco, a group of Confederate sympathizers attempted to seize the fort at the entrance to the bay as a step toward capture of California gold mines. A tiny garrison stood as California’s only defense. At the last minute someone outed the conspirators and eliminated the element of surprise.
The South viewed the New Mexico Territory as key to access the West because a major route for commerce, the Santa Fe Trail, started there. The trail connected the Colorado Territory to Texas. Union troops based at Fort Union controlled that route from a strategic location between New Mexico and the valley below the Sangre de Christo Mountains. When the order went out for the Colorado…
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