The Fort Craig site was approximately 1,050 feet east-west by 600 feet north-south (320 by 180 m) and was located on 40 acres (16 hectares).
Before Fort Craig
The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo outlined plans for the construction of a series of forts along the new boundaries of Mexico and the United States. Apaches and other Indian groups were reportedly and harassing settlers and travelers on both sides of the border.
In 1849, an initial garrison was established at Socorro, New Mexico, then replaced by a fort, Fort Conrad, was established along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro at the north end of the Jornada del Muerto in 1851. It only operated for a short while. Although it was an ideal location from which to launch military campaigns against the Apache and Navajo, it was beset by construction problems and was under constant threat of flash floods.
The following year, 1853, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment began construction of a new fort on a bluff five miles away from Fort Conrad. The new fort, named in honor of Captain Louis S. Craig, a popular young officer of the Mexican-American War, was garrisoned in 1854 with troops from Fort Conrad.
Life at remote Fort Craig was uncomfortable and lonely at best and deadly at worst. The buildings were a constant source of misery to the soldiers and records reveal litanies of complaints about leaky roofs, crumbling walls and chimneys, crowded conditions and filth from crumbling dirt roofs and muddy floors.
By July 1861, Fort Craig had become the largest fort in the Southwest, with over 2,000 soldiers. That same year, several regiments of New Mexico Volunteers were established to handle the new threat—the Confederate Army of New Mexico.
In September 1861, a cavalry force of about 100 men set out from Fort Craig and skirmished with rebels at Canada Alamosa. This engagement is known as the Battle of Canada Alamosa, one of several small battles to occur in Confederate Arizona.
After capturing several military installations in the newly established Confederate Territory of Arizona, Brigadier General Sibley led his enthusiastic but poorly equipped brigade of about 2,500 Confederate Army of New Mexico. On February 7, 1862, the Army of New Mexico left Fort Fillmore and headed north towards Fort Craig but marched well around the fort.
On Fort Craig's massive gravel bastions were mounted "Quaker guns" (fake wooden cannons) with empty soldiers' caps alongside the real cannons and real Union troops. This impressive ruse squelched Sibley's plans for a direct assault on Fort Craig.
On February 21, 1862, the Union troops led by Colonel Edward Canby and the Confederate Army of New Mexico of Brigadier General Sibley first met at the Battle of Valverde, a crossing of the Rio Grande just north of the fort. Both sides took heavy casualties. At the end of the day, the Confederates held the field of battle, but the Union still held Fort Craig.
The Battle of Valverde is considered a Confederate victory and forced a Union tactical retreat. The New Mexico Volunteers, under the command of Colonel Miguel Pino, found the Confederates' supply wagons and burned them. Without the supplies he had hoped to take from Fort Craig, Sibley was forced to march further north. On February 23, 1862, the Confederate forces marched around the Union Army and headed for Albuquerque.
Between 1863 and 1865, Fort Craig was headquarters for U.S. Army campaigns against the Gila and Mimbres Apaches.
Fort Craig was permanently abandoned in 1885.
Fort Craig National Historic Site
In 1894, Fort Craig was sold at auction to the only bidder, the Valverde Land and Irrigation Company. Fort Craig was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The property was eventually donated to Archaeological Conservancy by the Oppenheimer family and transferred to the Bureau of Land Management in 1981.
In 2008, it emerged that 20 bodies had been looted from the cemetery at Fort Craig, and 67 were exhumed and removed by Federal archaeologists to prevent further looting.The exhumations conducted from August to October removed 67 skeletons—39 men, 2 women and 26 infants and children.
Fort Craig is located 105 miles (170 km) north of Las Cruces, New Mexico and 32 miles (52 km) south of Socorro, New Mexico, between Exits 115 and 124 along Interstate 25. A small visitor center is located at the Fort Craig National Historic Site.
- Bureau of Land Management Fort Craig site
- Fort Craig, New Mexico
- Fort Craig National Historic Site (sic, but note it is not a National Historic Site, webpage with multiple recent photos)
- Fort Tours Fort Craig history page
- FORT CRAIG UNITS, 1854-1884