I ended up with the cart a bit before the horse, but here’s the basic information on Fort Garland to go with its Civil War history.
Fort Garland was constructed in 1858 to help keep the peace between settlers in the San Luis Valley and their Apache and Ute Indian neighbors. It was actually the second fort built in the area. Soldiers had manned Fort Massachusetts for the previous six years. The original fort had a stout wooden stockade, and was similar in appearance to the common perception of a western fort. Although only six miles north of the new fort, Fort Massachusetts was at a higher elevation, and the inhabitants had been plagued by sickness, extreme cold in the winter and isolation, as the fort was over 30 miles from the closest town.
The new fort was named for brevet Brigadier General John Garland, commander of the Military District of New Mexico at the time the fort was constructed. A native of Virginia, Garland entered the army as a first lieutenant in 1813, and served stints in the 1st, 3rd and 4th U.S. Infantry before his promotion to colonel and command of the 8th U.S. Infantry Regiment. He was brevetted numerous times, though the first is one I had not seen before. He was brevetted to major on May 27, 1827 for ten years of faithful service in the same grade – captain. The brevet notwithstanding, he wasn’t promoted to major for another nine years. During the Mexican War he received additional brevets for gallant and meritorious conduct at the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, Contreras and Churubusco. He was not as well-known as his son in law, James Longstreet, who married his daughter in 1848. He remained loyal during the Civil War and was still on active duty in New York when he died on June 5, 1861.
Unlike Fort Massachusetts, Fort Garland was not constructed as a wooden stockade. Like many forts in desert areas, it was built of adobe. Soldiers took advantage of the rich clay and sand to make earthen bricks, which were coupled with wood from nearby slopes to build a very durable fort. Eventually the fort consisted of twenty two buildings, and the troops marched south from Fort Massachusetts and occupied the post. It was not a large fort with barracks buildings for an infantry company and a cavalry company, each of 50 men. The first photo below shows the plans of the fort, while the second is of a diorama currently on display at the fort. The infantry barracks are at the base of the picture, and the cavalry barracks and stables are at the top.
The mission of the fort’s garrison was to cover the entire San Luis Valley – an area 100 miles wide east to west and 75 miles long north to south. They were expected to provide protection to all of the inhabitants scattered across the valley in all seasons. Surprisingly, before the war there were frequently occasions when there were no cavalry assigned to the fort, which must have made patrolling the area difficult. Although sometimes full during the Civil War, the garrison was frequently 50 men or less during the fort’s existence. Below is a picture of the cavalry stables from across the parade field.
The fort’s primary claim to fame was that Colonel Christopher ‘Kit’ Carson commanded the fort and its garrison of New Mexico volunteers from 1866 to 1867. During its existence, it was home to companies of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th U.S. Cavalry regiments. A company of the 9th U.S. Cavalry ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ garrisoned the fort from 1876 to 1879 during a Ute uprising. Once the uprising was quelled, troop numbers dwindled until the fort was abandoned in 1883.
The post is now a museum under the management of the San Luis Valley Museum Association, and they have done a tremendous job restoring the site. Five of the original twenty two buildings still stand, and visitors can tour the parade ground, both barracks, the commandant’s house and the gift shop located in one of the former officer’s quarters buildings. The interpretive exhibits are very well done. The site is open 9am – 5pm April 1st to October 31st, and 10am – 4pm the rest of the year. It is well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area.