Fort Marcy was built at the start of the Mexican American War in 1846 and served to solidify American rule over present-day New Mexico. It offered protection and shelter to the people of Santa Fe, to the troops that were stationed there, and to the travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Fort Marcy has played a role in many important aspects of American history, including the Mexican American War, the American Civil War, and westward migration.
Fort Marcy was an adobe fortification built by General Stephen W. Kearny during the Mexican American War. On August 19, 1846, New Mexico was annexed and Mexican Governor Juan Bautista Vigil y Alarid peacefully surrendered New Mexico to the United States. Soon after, Kearny was sent to occupy Santa Fe and ordered the construction of Fort Marcy on August 26, 1846.1 General Kearny named the fort after the U.S. Secretary of War, William L. Marcy. Lieutenant William H. Emory and Jeremy F. Gilmer, Kearny’s subordinates, determined that the best place for the fort was on top of a large hill overlooking Santa Fe just 600 yards north from the Santa Fe Plaza.2 This was ideal for General Kearny as he needed to both secure the United States rule over New Mexico and to guard against an uprising from the people. Lieutenant William H. Emory stated that the fort’s site was “the only point which commands the entire town and which itself is commanded by no other”.3
In 1846 General Kearny wrote a report to the Adjutant General of the Army in Washington that stated:
A large number of the troops are daily employed under the direction of Lieutenant Gilmer of the Engineers in erecting a fort for the defense and protection of the city, and as this is the capital of the Territory, a new acquisition to the United States, the fort will be an important and permanent one, and I have this day named it Fort Marcy, and now ask for a confirmation of it.4
General Kearny’s words illustrate that Fort Marcy was the key to the newly acquired land and was the most important building in the area–a symbol of American rule over the territory. On January 19, 1847, Colonel Sterling Price–the commander at Fort Marcy–received word that Charles Bent, the Governor of New Mexico, had been killed in the Taos Revolt by Hispano and Puebloan adversaries of American rule. Colonel Price sent the 1st Dragoons from Fort Marcy to successfully quell the rebellion.5
Like many of the other fortifications in the area, Fort Marcy helped protect travelers on the Santa Fe Trail and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro from Native American raids. Fort Craig, almost two hundred miles south near Socorro, was the “base for Indian operations” during the late nineteenth century; its commanders send armed escorts with traders as they traveled northward toward Santa Fe along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.6 Fort Marcy would serve a similar function as it was a combat post at the cross section of two major arteries, the Santa Fe Trail and el Camino Real de Tierra Adentro trail.7
After the Mexican American War, traffic along the Santa Fe Trail increased dramatically; much of the trade along the trail consisted of military supplies for the occupied region. Fort Marcy thus played a major role in Santa Fe’s economic development and the eventual formation of New Mexico Territory in 1850.
Adobe walls nine feet tall and five feet thick formed Fort Marcy’s unique star-shaped outline. The fort also had a moat approximately eight feet deep running along its walls and a log building that served as a powder house.8 Roughly 270’ x 80’, Fort Union could hold up to one thousand soldiers.9
After a while, the fort’s walls began to erode. Visitors today can only see several tall mounds of earth where the walls used to be; the moat that ran around the fort is barely visible10. A lack of maintenance after the U.S. took control of present-day New Mexico ensured the fort’s degradation.11
The Old Fort Marcy Park is a half-mile walk from the Santa Fe Plaza. Some other interesting places of note in the area include the Palace of the Govenernors, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and the Loretto Chapel.
Above Hillside Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico. 617 Paseo de Peralta Santa Fe NM USA Santa Fe.
Miller, Darlis A. Captain Jack Crawford: Buckskin Poet, Scout, and Showman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993.
Piper, Mary J. (ed.) The History and Archaeology of the Historic Fort Marcy Earthworks, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe: City of Santa Fe Planning and Land Use Department, 1996.
Prince, L. Bradford. Old Fort Marcy, Santa Fe, New Mexico: Historical Sketch and Panoramic View of Santa Fe and its Vicinity. Santa Fe: New Mexican Printing Co., 1912.
Purdy, James H. “Fort Marcy Ruins.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form. Santa Fe, N. Mex: State Records Center and Archives, 1973.