What is it, exactly, about the Howitzers on Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza that we should remember?

As is often my way, I wandered through Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza at the tail end of my Sunday morning bike ride, stopping in the shade to enjoy the slow pace and people watching of the tourists mixed with Sunday church letting out.

That time they tried to bring the institution of legalized enslavement of human beings to New Mexico

On the west side of the plaza are a couple of replica Civil War-era canons, brass rubbed shiny by kids climbing and playing. There’s a plaque with a history that here in New Mexico we like to tell cute, about the westernmost battle of the Civil War, at Glorieta Pass, to the north of Albuquerque. Union soldiers routed a Confederate expeditionary force, and the fleeing Confederate soldiers buried their cannons in a field near what we now call Old Town so the Yankees wouldn’t get them.

The plaque’s mostly about how the Confederate officer who buried the cannons came back decades later, and they dug them up and made a display, and then later made replicas, which are what the kids have now rubbed shiny.

There’s nothing about why the cannons were here.

“A multi-ethnic democracy,” Yoni Applebaum wrote today in the Atlantic, “requires grappling honestly with the past.”

I sat for a while this morning and looked at the cannons and then, as I often do on my Sunday bike rides, wrote what you are now reading, in my head, tossing around the words and themes, as I rode back across town and up the hill to my house.

The plaque tells the story cute, about pieces of physical military hardware buried in a field, dug up, polished and mounted in a town plaza. There is no mention of the blood shed at Glorieta Pass. And, as often in the telling of this story, there is no mention of why those Confederate soldiers were here. But if we’re gonna grapple, it has to be with the reality that those soldiers were here to claim what is now New Mexico for the permanent legal enslavement of one group of human beings by another.

The Confederate troops who buried those cannons were from Texas. Here is the explanation Texans gave for joining the Confederate struggle:

She (Texas) was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.

I set the idea to write this aside until I got a text this afternoon from my child about a gathering this evening at 6 p.m. in solidarity with the people of Charlottesville.

It’s being held on the Old Town Plaza.

4 Comments

  1. John, I agree with your point but it is a little New Mexico centric (is that even a word). The Confederates were supposed to go up to Colorado and seize the silver mines. New Mexico was sort of in the way, like maybe they forgot it was here (as major metropolitan dailies do from time to time).

  2. 8 p.m. vigil in Los Alamos tonight.

    Agree that we need to do more than show shiny cannons to explain history. The lack of historical grounding in this country is scary.

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