Once the largest army post in the southwest, Fort Union is now little more than a shadow of its former self set among beautiful grasslands north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. For 40 years in the second half of the 19th century, it was the Santa Fe Trail equivalent of an interstate truck stop and regional warehouse.
When New Mexico became United States territory after the U.S.- Mexican War, the army established garrisons in towns scattered along the Rio Grande to protect the area’s inhabitants and travel routes. This arrangement proved unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, and in April 1851, Lt. Col. Edwin V. Sumner, commanding Military Department No. 9 (which included New Mexico Territory), was ordered “to revise the whole system of defense” for the entire territory. Among his first acts was to break up the scattered garrisons and relocate them in posts closer to the Indians. He also moved his headquarters and supply depot from Santa Fe, “that sink of vice and extravagance,” to a site near the Mountain and Cimarron branches of the Santa Fe Trail, where he established Fort Union.
Photos were taken four years ago yesterday with iPhone 3G.