Battle of Cieneguilla

Battle of Cieneguilla

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Cieneguilla

date=March 30, 1854
place=Near Pilar, New Mexico
result=Jicarilla Apache victory [cite book |last=Utley |first=Robert M. |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title=Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848-1865 |origdate= |origyear=1981 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= |series= |date= |year= |month= |publisher=University of Nebraska Press |location= |language= |isbn=0-8032-9550-2 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages= |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote=Cooke was already on the march. He heard of Davidson's defeat by messenger on the morning of March 31... ]
combatant1=Jicarilla Apache
commander2=John W. Davidson
strength1=200-300 fighters [ Gorenfeld< Will, "The Battle of Cieneguilla", Wild West magazine, Feb., 2008 ]
strength2=60 dragoons
casualties1=about 50 killed, [ Gorenfeld< Will, "The Battle of Cieneguilla", Wild West magazine, Feb., 2008 ] Unknown number wounded
casualties2=22 killed, 36 wounded [Utley, "Frontiersmen in Blue" pg. 144; Messervy to Manypenny, April 29, 1854, LR, N-269-1854]

Battle of Cieneguilla (pronounced sienna-GEE-ya; English: small swamp) was an engagement fought between a group of Jicarilla Apaches and the U.S. 1st Cavalry Regiment on March 30, 1854 [ Rajtar, Steve, "Indian War Sites: A Guidebook to Battlefields, Monuments, and Memorials", McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson , North Carolina, 1999 ] near what is now Pilar, New Mexico. "Santa Fe Weekly Gazette" reported that the action "was one of the severest battles that ever took place between American troops and Indians."


The regiment of the First Dragoons camped at Cantonment Burgwin, an army post 10 miles southeast of Taos. This prompted an unauthorized attack on the Jicarilla Apache encampment near Pilar, then known as Cieneguilla after First Lieutenant John Wynn Davidson exceeded the orders of his superior Major Blake.

Course of the battle

A combined force of Apaches and Utes, about 250 [cite book |last=Davidson |first=Homer K. |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title=Black Jack Davidson, A Cavalry Commander on the Western Frontier: The Life of General John W. Davidson |origdate= |origyear=1974 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= |series= |date= |year= |month= |publisher=A. H. Clark Co. |location= |language= |isbn=0-8706-2109-2 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages=72 |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote= ] in number, laid an ambush for the dragoons. In his report two days after the battle, Davidson stated that " [He] came upon the Apaches near the Cieneguilla who at once sounded the war whoop." [cite book |last=Davidson |first=Homer K. |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title=Black Jack Davidson, A Cavalry Commander on the Western Frontier: The Life of General John W. Davidson |origdate= |origyear=1974 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= |series= |date= |year= |month= |publisher=A. H. Clark Co. |location= |language= |isbn=0-8706-2109-2 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages=70 |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote= ] According to Pvt. James A. Bennett, (aka James Bronson) a Sergeant who survived the ambush, the battle lasted for about 4 hours. It started around 8 a.m. and ended when the Dragoons' regiments retreated at 12 p.m. to Ranchos de Taos. The Apache warriors used flintlock rifles and arrows. [cite book |last=Brooks |first=Clinton E. |authorlink= |coauthors=Frank D. Reeve, James A. Bennett |editor= |others= |title=Forts and Forays: James A. Bennett, A Dragoon in New Mexico, 1850—1856. |origdate= |origyear=1996 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= |series= |date= |year= |month= |publisher=University of New Mexico Press |location= |language= |isbn=0-8263-1690-5 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages= |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote= ] Of the 60 dragoons present, the U.S. suffered 22 killed and a further 36 wounded, along with a loss of 22 horses and much of the troops' supplies.cite web
title=Chapter Three: Military Operations Before the Civil War
work=Fort Union: Historic Resource Study
publisher=United States National Park Service
] [ "A losing battle"] - The Albuquerque Tribune]

Another version of the fight [ Gorenfeld, Will, "The Battle of Cieneguilla", Wild West magazine, Feb., 2008 ] presents the view that Davidson and his troops were not ambushed, but rather were taunted by the Apaches into attacking a superior force, one that also employed superior tactics. This modern version (not written by Davidson's grandson like to one quoted above) also has the duration of the fight being closer to 2 hours than the 4 that Davidson and Bennett were to claim.


The role of Lieutenant Davidson

thumb|right|150px|The_First_Regiment_of_Dragoons_were_renamed_the_1st Cavalry Regiment in 1861] Much of the blame for the loss of life was put on Lt. Davidson. Lt. David Bell accused Davidson of risking the lives of his soldiers when he could avoid the ambush. [Orders No. 1, HQ DNM, Feb. 9, 1856, DNM Orders, v. 36, p. 346, USAC, RG 393, NA.] However, Brig. Gen. John Garland praised Davidson when stated that "The troops displayed a gallantry seldom equalled in this, or any other country and the Officer in Command, Lieut. Davidson, has given evidence of soldiership in the highest degree creditable to him. To have sustained a deadly control of three hours when he was so greatly outnumbered, and to have retired with the fragment of a company, crippled up, is amazing and calls for the admiration of every true soldier." [Garland to Thomas, April 1, 1854, Sen. Ex. Doc. No. 1, 33 Cong., 1 sess. (Serial 747), pt. 2, pp. 33-34.]

Court of inquiry

On March 10, 1856, John Garland called a court of inquiry to meet at Taos, New Mexico. [Orders No. 1, HQ DNM, Feb. 9, 1856, DNM Orders, v. 36, p. 346, USAC, RG 393, NA.] After many witnessing declarations, the Court declared that Davidson could not have avoided the confrontation and "that in the battle he exhibited skill in his mode of attacking a greatly superior force of hostile Indians; and prudence, and coolness, and courage, throughout a protracted engagement; and finally, when he was obliged to retire from the field, owing to the great odds opposing him, the losses he had sustained, and the scarcity of ammunition; his exertions to bring off the wounded men merit high praise." [Orders No. 3, HQ DNM, Mar. 26, 1856, ibid., 348-349.]

Archaelogical surveys

Carson National Forest received a grant of a value of $35,400 from the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program. The grant was aimed to perform an archaeological excavation at the site of the Battle of Cieneguilla. It took a year to locate the battlefield. [ [ "Jicarilla Apache Nation, New Mexico"] - indian (July 04, 2001)] Although some artifacts were found on the battlefield, the surveys' final findings may be found in Douglas Scott's Fields of Conflict, vol. 2. The findings support most of Lt. Bell's criticisms of Lt. Davidson's tactics and his conclusion that the command had been thoroughly routed.

ee also

* Apache Wars
* Taos Revolt
* Battle of the Little Bighorn
* Battle of Apache Pass

External links

* [ Fort Union: Chapter Three: Military Operations Before the Civil War]
* [ Jicarilla Apache Nation, New Mexico]
* [ National Park Service Awards Grants for Protection of Battlefield Lands]
* [ First Dragoons: Muster Rolls Battle of Cieneguilla 30 March 1854]

Notes and references

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