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File:Henry Hopkins Sibley.jpg

Portrait of Henry Hopkins Sibley by Mathew Brady, ca. 1865

Henry Hopkins Sibley (May 25, 1816 – August 23, 1886) was a brigadier general during the American Civil War, leading the Confederate States Army in the New Mexico Territory. His attempt to gain control of trails to California was defeated at the Battle of Glorieta. A West Point graduate, he had served with the US Army from 1838 until 1861 and the start of the Civil War, when he resigned to join the Southern Cause.

Early life and education[]

Henry Hopkins Sibley, while descended from Massachusetts Bay Colony ancestors, was born in 1816 in Natchitoches, Louisiana. His father Samuel Hopkins Sibley moved his family there from Massachusetts in 1811. He followed his own father, Dr. John Sibley, who moved to the Red River country in Louisiana before 1803.

Dr. John Sibley served as a medic in Massachusetts in the American Revolutionary War. His wife was Elizabeth Hopkins, whose family name was given as a middle name to their son Samuel and grandson Henry. After her death, Sibley moved to the French colony of Louisiana. Dr. Sibley settled on the banks of the Red River at Natchitoches, Louisiana.

In 1803 after the Louisiana Purchase, Dr. Sibley was part of an expedition to western Louisiana for the US government. In 1811 his son Samuel Hopkins Sibley and his wife followed to Natchitoches and settled there. Samuel Sibley served as a parish clerk from 1815 until his death in 1823.

After his father's death when Henry was seven years old, the boy was sent to Missouri to live with his paternal uncle George Champlin Sibley and his wife Mary Easton. They founded Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri.

U.S. Army service[]

At the age of 17, Henry was admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He graduated in 1838 and was commissioned as second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons.

He fought Seminole Indians in Florida, 1840–1841; participated in the Military Occupation of Texas, 1845–1846; and fought in the Mexican-American War, 1847–1848. Sibley was on frontier duty in Texas from 1850–1855. Sibley was a creative military man. In the 1850s, he invented the "Sibley tent", which was widely used by the Union Army during the American Civil War and for a short while afterward. The United Kingdom also adopted the design of the Sibley tent. He also invented the "Sibley stove" (also known as the Sibley tent stove), to heat the tent. The Army used tent stoves of this design until the advent of World War II.

From 1855–1857, Sibley was part of the forces trying to control conflict in Bleeding Kansas, where hundreds of new settlers arrived to vote on the question of slavery, provoked by the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act. He took part in the Utah War, 1857–1860, and was in active service in New Mexico 1860–1861. After the outbreak of the American Civil War, Sibley resigned on May 13, 1861, the day of his promotion to Major in the 1st Dragoons. Native to Louisiana, he had southern sympathhies and joined the Confederate States Army (CSA).

Union general and first Governor of Minnesota, Henry Hastings Sibley (1811–1891), was a distant cousin. His family had migrated west in the Northern Tier, which historians have called Greater New England.

Civil War[]

Sibley resigned from the US Army, as he sided with the Confederacy. Prior to his role in the western theater, he commanded forces under General Richard Taylor about Bayou Teche in south Louisiana. The historian John D. Winters reports that he blundered on several occasions, not striking when instructed, during the first phase of the war.[1]

Sibley had intended his New Mexico Campaign to control the Santa Fe Trail north to Colorado. From there he planned to gain access to the warm water ports of California.

Throughout the New Mexico Campaign, his opponent was Colonel Edward Canby, formerly a comrade in arms in the U.S. Army. Some historians have said he was Sibley's brother in law.[2] Sibley was initially successful at the Battle of Valverde, but he was forced to retreat after the Battle of Glorieta Pass when his supply train was attacked and destroyed by Union forces. This was called the "Gettysburg of the West".[3] At the same time, he had to deal with Union forces approaching from the west, the California Column. Sibley's retreat to San Antonio, Texas in 1862 ended the hopes of the Confederate nation to stretch to the Pacific Ocean and use the mineral wealth of California.

After the failure of his New Mexico Campaign, Sibley was given minor commands. He struggled with alcoholism. In 1863, he was court martialed in Louisiana. Although not convicted of cowardice, he was censured.

Postbellum career and death[]

After the war, Sibley served some time as a military adviser to the Khedive of Egypt. He died in poverty at Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is buried in the City Cemetery in Fredericksburg.

In popular media[]

  • Sibley is referred to several times in the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) directed by Sergio Leone.[4]
  • He is mentioned in the documentary The Man Who Lost The Civil War (2003), a special feature as part of MGM's release of a Leone DVD anthology in 2003.[5]


  1. John D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963, ISBN 0-8071-0834-0, pp, 221–230
  2. Kerby, The Confederate Invasion of New Mexico and Arizona, 1861–1862, pg. 52. This relation has been disputed. Taylor (1995) and Whitlock (2006) find no conclusive evidence that they were.
  3. Civil War in the American West
  4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, produced by Alberto Grimaldi in 1966. It was released as part of The Sergio Leone Anthology by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer in 2003. The Sibley figure is noted at about the 42-minute point in the 2003 extended version of the film.
  5. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, produced by Alberto Grimaldi and directed by Sergio Leone in 1966. It was released as part of The Sergio Leone Anthology by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer in 2003. Sibley is pointed out at about the 42-minute point in the 2003 film. The documentary is on the special features disk accompanying the film.

Further reading[]

  • Kerby, Robert L., The Confederate Invasion of New Mexico and Arizona, 1861–1862, Westernlore Press, 1958, 1995, ISBN 0-87026-055-3.
  • Taylor, John, Bloody Valverde: A Civil War Battle on the Rio Grande, February 21, 1862, University of New Mexico Press, 1995, ISBN 0-8263-1632-8.
  • Thompson, Jerry D., Civil War in the Southwest: Recollections of the Sibley Brigade, TAMU Press, 2001, ISBN 978-1-58544-131-0.
  • Thompson, Jerry D., Henry Hopkins Sibley: Confederate General of the West, Northwestern State University Press, 1987, ISBN 978-0-917898-15-0.
  • Whitlock, Flint, Distant Bugles, Distant Drums: The Union Response to the Confederate Invasion of New Mexico, University Press of Colorado, 2006, ISBN 0-87081-835-X.

External links[]

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