By John Larson
SOCORRO – Amidst the smoke of cannonading and musket fire, Civil War re-enactors will battle it out in Socorro and Escondida next weekend for the 13th annual Battle For Socorro.
Three battles will be fought over the weekend. In between, the public will have a chance to mingle with the soldiers and others involved in the event.
The most conspicuous event is the battle fought in the center of Socorro, when rebel forces – Texas Volunteers – attack Federals defending the Plaza. The Siege of Socorro will commence at 5 p.m. Saturday in the area of Spring and California, and proceed - muskets and cannons blazing - along Center Street. The rebels will push the Federals to a final skirmish at the Plaza.
‘Of all the re-creations of Civil War battles around the country, not one uses city streets,” Civil War enthusiast and re-enactor Charles Mandeville said. “We’re doing it on the actual site of the original battle.”
The taking of Socorro by the Texans will be formalized with the surrender of the Union troops and the raising of the Confederate flag at City Hall.
“Texan Confederates move against the rear guard of the Second Regiment, New Mexico Militia, to capture the town and liberate it from the Union,” Mandeville said. “The surrender will take place at the Baca House [occupied now by the Stage Door Grill] where we are led to believe it actually took place.”
Earlier in the day period music, demonstrations, and tours will be given Saturday in and around Fort Escondida - a redoubt to represent Fort Craig - at the Rio Grande bridge. This where the re-enactment of the Battle of Valverde will take place.
The re-enactment will attract about 200 re-enactors.
Mandeville said the Battles of Socorro weekend is one of the premier re-enactment events in the four states of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.
“We’ll have a fairly large contingent,” Mandeville said. “We have people coming in from El Paso, Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and Alamogordo and others from Arizona and Colorado.”
Volunteers have been preparing the fort and the battlefield for the past few weeks. A wooded area east of the battlefield has been cleared, giving re-enactors more options, especially with cannon fire and cavalry charges.
“We’ve been clearing out a lot of salt cedar to give us room to recreate the lancer charge at Valverde,” he said. “It was the only lancer charge in the Civil War.”
He said seven cannons will be present. Cannons will fire and buried charges will explode at various places in the field.
“There are always some surprises, even to the re-enactors,” Mandeville said. “Last year, they were surprised by the appearance of a Gatling gun. It was very realistic.”
The Battle of Valverde in 1862 was fought Feb. 20-21 near the town of Valverde, which no longer exists, located about 30 miles south of Socorro on the Rio Grande. Confederate forces, led by Sibley, needed to capture Union forces at the fort to clear supply lines to Santa Fe.
Some walls and features of Fort Craig, which was established to protect settlers from Apache and Navajo raids, can still be seen today. It was one of the largest Union forts constructed in the west.
Mandeville said the Battle of Valverde will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, and last until about noon. Spectators can line up on the Escondida Bridge to view the action, and listen to a narration of the battle from Don Alberts, Civil War historian and author of the book, Rebels On The Rio Grande.
The Socorro chapter of the DAV will be selling hamburgers and hot dogs for the hungry, he said.
Following the conclusion of the battle, visitors can take advantage of various medical, artillery, cavalry and infantry demonstrations until 4 p.m.
A third battle, the Battle of Escondida, a mock battle – not an actual re-creation – will begin at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Mandeville said the battle will exemplify typical tactics and movements used in the Civil War. “This year, the rebels will be the defenders,” Mandeville said. “It should wind up around noon. Before that, a period church service will be held.”
“Also we’d like to see people come out to visit the encampments at Escondida Saturday and Sunday mornings, beginning at 8 a.m.,” he said.
Weekend activities also include:
Lantern Tour – 5 p.m. Friday, Fort Escondida
Escondida camps open to the public – 8 a.m. Sat. and Sun.
Victorian Fashion Show and Ladies Tea – 3 p.m. Saturday, Garcia Opera House
Fandango with the New Mexico Territorial Brass Band – 7 p.m. Saturday, Garcia Opera House
Period Church Service – 9 a.m. Sunday, Fort Escondida