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Fort Union National Monument

Fort Union National Monument




Location: Mora County, NM  Map

Built: 1851

Area: 721 acres (292 ha)




Description of Fort Union National Monument

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 Union 1870-73.


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.

The claimants 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.





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