Fort Union National Monument is situated in Mora County, New
Mexico in United States. Fort Union National Monument covers an
area of 721 acres (292 ha) of the former American fortress that
was established on the old frontier. Fort Union National
Monument was originally constructed in 1851.
History of Fort Union National Monument
The Santa Fe Trail was the most important trade
route from the populated regions of the United States on the
Missouri River through the steppes and deserts of later Kansas and
Colorado to Santa Fe, the capital of the Mexican province of Nuevo
Mexico. Trade had begun in 1822 after the independence of Mexico
from Spain in 1840s, as a result of a long conflict. Newly formed
country of Mexico started a war with the United States in 1846,
conflict that became known as the Mexican-American War, which Mexico
lost in 1848. Fllowing Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the territories
of the present US states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, parts
of Colorado and Wyoming and New Mexico went to the United States.
New Mexico belonged to the Ninth Military Department (from 1853
then New Mexico Military Department). After the war, the US Army
initially had eleven small bases distributed throughout the
southwest, which turned out to be unpractical in 1850/51;
individually they were too weak against the Apaches and Comanches,
for coordinated actions they were too far apart. In a remote region
with an extreme climate, the posts were not considered attractive.
This had negative consequences for the discipline and clout of the
troops. Then the army set up under the coordination of Lieutenant
Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner two new forts at the junctions of the
Santa Fe Trail: 1850 Fort Atkinson (later Fort Dodge) at the
northeastern branch point and 1851 Fort Union, where the two
alternative paths reunited.
As an outpost on the border of
civilization, the Military Department and its main fort were largely
independent. With orders from Washington on the road for months, the
commanders had to make their own decisions. Fort Union was an early
command in the careers of some officers who later reached high
positions. Among them were James Henry Carleton, Brevet Brigadier
General and author of military textbooks, Fort Union 1852, William
TH Brooks, Major General, Fort Union 1852, George Bibb Crittenden,
Major General, Fort Union 1860-61, John R. Brooke, Major General ,
in Fort Union 1867-68, John Irvin Gregg, Brevet Brigadier, in Fort
In its forty years (1851–1891) as a frontier post,
Fort Union had to defend itself in the courtroom as well as on the
battlefield. When the United States Army built Fort Union in the
Mora Valley in 1851, the soldiers were unaware that they had
encroached on private property, which was part of the Mora Grant.
The following year Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner expanded the fort to an
area of eight square miles by claiming the site as a military
reservation. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson declared a timber
reservation, encompassing the entire range of the Turkey Mountains
(part of the Sangre de Cristo range) and comprising an area of
fifty-three square miles, as part of the fort.
of the Mora Grant immediately challenged the government squatters
and took the case to court. By the mid-1850s, the case reached
Congress. In the next two decades, the government did not give any
favorable decision to the claimants, until 1876 when the
Surveyor-General of New Mexico reported that Fort Union was "no
doubt" located in the Mora Grant. But the army was unwilling to move
to another place or to compensate the claimants because of the cost.
The Secretary of War took "a prudential measure", protesting the
decision of the acting commissioner of the General Land Office. He
argued that the military had improved the area and should not give
it up without compensation. This stalling tactic worked; the army
stayed at the fort until its demise in 1891, not paying a single
penny to legitimate owners.