Hand color tinted photo of Henry Hopkins Sibley, Confederate Brigadier General 1865
Henry Hopkins Sibley (May 25, 1816 – August 23, 1886) was a brigadier general during the American Civil War, fighting in the Confederate States Army in the New Mexico Territory.
The Sibley family emigrated from the Dorset area of England. In 1629 they had come to America with the Winthrop Expedition and settled in Massachusetts. Henry’s grandfather Dr. John Sibley had served as a medic in the War of Independence. After the death of his first wife Elizabeth Hopkins, to which son and grandson owe their middle name, he moved to Louisiana. Dr. John Sibley settled down on the banks of the Red River at Natchitoches. In 1803 he conducted an expedition of Western Louisiana for the federal government. In 1811 his son Samuel Hopkins Sibley followed him to Natchitoches, where he served as a parish clerk from 1815 on until his death in 1823.
When Henry Hopkins Sibley was seven years old he was sent to live with his uncle George Champlin Sibley and his wife Mary Easton. They founded the Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri. At the age of 17 Henry entered the United States Military Academy at West Point.
He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1838 and was commissioned as second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons.
He fought in the 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, and then helped control the disturbances in Kansas provoked by the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, 1855-1857. He took part in the Utah War, 1857-1860, and was in active service in New Mexico 1860-1861 until resigning the day of his promotion to Major in the 1st Dragoons on May 13, 1861.
In the 1850s, he invented the “Sibley tent”, which was widely used in during the Civil War and for a short while thereafter. He also invented the “Sibley stove,” which was used until the advent of World War II.
During the American Civil War he sided with the Confederacy. His unsuccessful New Mexico Campaign was intended to control the Santa Fe Trail up to Colorado and from there gain access to the warm water ports of California. His opponent throughout the New Mexico Campaign had been Colonel Edward Canby, formerly a comrade in arms in the U.S. Army. Sibley was initially successful at the Battle of Valverde, but he was forced to retreat after the Battle of Glorieta Pass (called “Gettysburg of the West”), when he lost his supply train. At the same time, he faced the approach of Union forces from the west, known as the California Column. Sibley’s retreat to San Antonio in 1862 ended the aspirations of the Confederate nation to stretch to the Pacific Ocean and utilize the mineral wealth of California.
After the failure of his New Mexico Campaign, Sibley was given minor commands and struggled with alcoholism. In 1863, he was court martialed in Louisiana. Although not convicted of cowardice, he was censured. After the war, he served as a military advisor to the Khedive of Egypt before returning to the United States where he died at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in poverty. He is buried in the City Cemetery at Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Union General and Governor of Minnesota, Henry Hastings Sibley, was a distant cousin.
Sibley is referred to several times in the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He is also seen briefly at the start of the sequence in which the character “Tuco” tries to surprise “Blondie” at a hotel under the cover of the noise of a Confederate retreat.