March 31, 2002
Section: New Mexico & The West
Fritz Thompson Journal Staff Writer
History buff believes Confederate soldiers lie in unmarked Socorro graves
SOCORRO The bodies of 25 Confederate soldiers, long dead from
wounds they suffered during one of the biggest Civil War battles
in New Mexico, are buried somewhere in the city limits of Socorro.
Charles Mandeville thinks he knows where they are and he would like to dig them up.
"We know all their names and when they died, we just can't confirm where the cemetery was," Mandeville said. "I'm 95 percent certain it's under this empty lot on the west side of town. But it's private property, and the owners have said they don't want us looking around. We just want to exhume the soldiers and rebury them in a more appropriate place," he said.
Mandeville fears the site, if it indeed is the present resting place of the Confederates, has not been treated appropriately.
"In about 1986, a bulldozer flattened all the mounds and scraped away the little wrought-iron fences and the stones," he said. "On the surface, you can't tell it was a graveyard anymore."
The person that a spokeswoman for the Socorro County Assessor's Office said is the owner of the property did not return telephone calls from the Journal regarding ownership of the property or Mandeville's quest.
Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker, for one, thinks Mandeville is correct about the presence of Confederate remains in town. "He's got some pretty good documentation," Bhasker said. "We've supported him, and we think there's something up there."
At least one other amateur historian agrees the soldiers are buried in Socorro, but he thinks the exact location is uncertain. "We know those soldiers are buried somewhere in Socorro," said Paul Harden, who works as an engineer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, west of Socorro. "But the diaries the soldiers left behind don't say exactly where." Harden said there's always the chance the Confederates could have been buried somewhere other than where Mandeville thinks they are. "I admire his fervor, but you've got to have some evidence," Harden said.
Mandeville said no site is specifically mentioned in the records and the diaries from 1862. But he's relying on a 1940s aerial photo and the word of a 110-year-old woman who died in December. "The aerial photo was taken before the empty lot was scraped off," he said. "You can see the dim outlines of what look like graves. They were arranged in the shape of a cross, which was what the Confederates did in their cemeteries."
Mandeville said he also had a conversation with Anne Olsen, then about 90, who had lived almost all her life in Socorro. "She remembered seeing a cemetery at that place (the empty lot) and being told by her parents and others that Civil War soldiers were buried there," he said. "I offered to drive her up there just to make sure we were talking about the same place, but she said 'No, I know where it is.' ''
The 25 Confederate soldiers whose bodies are missing were among those wounded at the Battle of Valverde, which occurred when an invading army of Texans moved up the Rio Grande with plans to conquer New Mexico (which in 1862 included most of Arizona) and Colorado for the Confederacy.
Defeating Union forces at Valverde, the Confederates continued to march north toward Socorro, almost 30 miles away. They carried about 150 wounded men with them. Soldiers who died along the way were wrapped in blankets and buried in trenches.
The Confederates ousted the Union Army from Socorro and took over the town's hospital for their wounded. Within days, men began to die of their wounds. Mandeville has an official hospital roster, showing how the men were wounded and when they died.
Since the deaths occurred far from the heat of battle, Mandeville believes the Confederates had the time to bury the men in wooden coffins.
For the record, the 1862 Confederate campaign failed in New Mexico when the army's supplies were destroyed during a fierce battle, farther north, at Glorieta Pass.
In 1987, the bodies of 30 Confederate soldiers who died at Glorieta Pass were accidentally unearthed by a man digging a foundation ditch. Those bodies eventually were exhumed and reburied in ceremonies at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe.
Mandeville owns the historic Valverde Hotel in Socorro and is locally recognized as an authority on the town's Civil War history. He has been instrumental in organizing annual re-enactments of Civil War battles that took place on the Rio Grande in present-day Socorro County.
He participates in other Civil War re-enactments around the country. As a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans he is unabashedly pro-Confederacy, although he said he also had ancestors who fought for Union forces. He said his efforts to exhume and rebury the 25 Confederate soldiers in Socorro is stymied. That may now be the situation on all fronts.
"We haven't done anything," Bhasker said. "We've kind of been waiting for him to push it."
Above copyright text displayed with pemission of the Albuquerque Journal granted 4/26/02
Believed Socorro burial site of Confederate soldiers who died from wounds in Battle of Valverde
2/21/1862 -- photo taken 2/10/02
This image shows another view of burial site and was taken 12/19/02. The white mobile structure
in the middle of image was installed since the 2/10/2002 image was taken.
This image shows another view of burial site and was taken 6/21/03. The current property occupants
continue to despoil the burial site -- indifferent to the fact that its (was) a cemetery.