Monday, January 16, 2017

A Short History of the Expedition

The Cross of Burgundy, the Spanish Imperial Flag in 1810
The Mexican Revolution began on September 16, 1810, with the cry of Independence of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. The governor of Texas, Manuel María de Salcedo, decided to take preemptive action against the revolution by marching South to meet Hidalgo’s forces. This precipitated a revolt in Texas among Spanish officers led by Captain Juan Bautista de Las Casas, on January 22, 1811. The Spanish royalist officials were captured and Casas joined the larger rebellion.
The Texas revolt, however, was short-lived and Salcedo was freed and re-established royal authority in March. Casas was captured, executed and his head publically displayed in San Antonio. The revolution to the South was floundering too, and Hidalgo commissioned José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, a native of Revilla, one of the towns along the lower Rio Grande valley, to appeal to the United
José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara
States for aid. The Madison administration encouraged, but would not officially support the rebels. It had already sent to Cuba a special agent to the Mexican Revolution, the Connecticut captain William Shaler. Finding the rebellion in Mexico unsuccessful and with no way to enter the country, Shaler sailed from Havana to New Orleans to await events. He was there when Gutiérrez arrived and offered to take the revolutionary under his wing. Whether Shaler assisted in the formation of the filibuster or simply helped Gutiérrez with propaganda has been the source of much debate, but is outside the scope of this work. Nonetheless, Gutiérrez created a filibuster force of volunteers under a former American army lieutenant, Augustus Magee, and moved into Texas in August 1812.
Magee’s force won a brief skirmish at Salitre Prairie, just across the Sabine River and then moved quickly on Nacogdoches, where almost the entire Spanish garrison defected to the rebels. Marching into the second-largest settlement in Texas, the expedition captured a wealth of supplies and was
The Old Stone Fort in Nacogdoches, home of the trader
Samuel Peter Davenport, who joined the expedition when
it took the city in August, 1812.
greeted warmly by the citizens. This initial success was so surprising that even more Americans began to flock to the budding army. The numbers of troops would ebb and flow throughout the campaign, with the filibuster army reaching perhaps as many as 500 Americans at its peak and around 300 at the end.
The army moved on the capital of Texas, San Antonio de Béxar, but spies informed Magee that the Spanish were planning an ambush along the main road. The republican forces then shifted southward and surprised the Spanish garrison at La Bahía (present-day Goliad). The royalist forces then regrouped and laid siege to the republicans in Presidio La Bahía for four months. Republican fortunes dimmed and Magee even
considered surrendering, but his troops would not hear it. Soon after, in early February 1813, Magee died of an illness (or poison, according to some), and command passed to Samuel Kemper. The siege was hard on the Spaniards, too. Their supplies were low, and in their absence from San Antonio, the Comanches had launched a series of devastating raids on the city, killing 55 citizens and stealing large numbers of livestock. Finally, a week after Magee’s death and following a series of royalist defeats in skirmishes and defections to the republicans, the Spaniards lifted the siege and retreated to San Antonio. The republicans followed a few days later and when the royalists turned to fight them, defeated them at the Battle of Rosillo on March 29, 1813. Salcedo and his military commander, Simón de Herrera, surrendered their army and the Republican Army of the North marched into San Antonio on April 1, 1813.
Gutiérrez created a government and wrote a constitution so undemocratic that most Americans thought it a farce. But what most angered the American participants was the brutal murder, on April 3, 1813, of Governor Salcedo, General Herrera, and 12 other royalist prisoners. This event began a slow breakdown of the army’s unity, which also suffered from inaction as the revolution seemed to stall in San Antonio. Many Americans accused Gutiérrez of running the country like an Eastern
Presidio La Bahia, where the Gutiérrez-Magee filibusters
were besieged for four months in 1812-13. It played a role
in the 1836 revolution as well.
potentate. Soon thereafter, General Toledo arrived in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where Shaler saw in him an answer to the problem of Gutiérrez. If Shaler had only been a cheerleader before, he definitely crossed the line now and meddled in the revolution, pushing Toledo and undermining Gutiérrez. Eventually, with the American soldiers refusing to continue under Gutiérrez, some Mexican rebels also embraced Toledo, who entered San Antonio on August 1. Gutiérrez, out of options, relented and went to the United States, leaving the army to Toledo. However, as this power struggle was taking place, Spanish General Joaquín de Arredondo was hurrying to Texas with an army intent on crushing the revolution.
At first, the republicans seemed ready to meet the challenge. Under a new commander, Col. Henry Perry, the Americans surprised Toledo’s advanced guard under Lt. Col. Ignacio Elizondo, and sent it retreating. But Arredondo continued onward, and the Republican Army of the North, now more Mexican in character than American, sallied out of San Antonio to meet it. At the Battle of Medina, fought near the river of that name south of San Antonio, the two armies clashed. At first the battle was going the way of the republicans, but at the crucial moment, the rebels charged into an exposed position and the Spanish crushed the attack, turning the tables and leading to a rout of the rebels. The survivors fled towards the United States. Most of them did not make it and were killed in the pursuit, or were captured and imprisoned by the Spanish. By the time those survivors made it across into Louisiana, the Spanish had launched a brutal reprisal against their own citizens who had embraced the revolt.
The Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition was a major news story in the United States and was, indeed, the first time the American people truly learned about the region known as Texas. The Spanish on their frontiers, long an abstraction, became a reality, Painted in a brush colored by war, they became identified with brutality, betrayal, and hostility to republican values. It was a failed revolt that would have implications for both sides of the border far into the future, and it was understood by Americans through the eyes of private citizens who created an army for republicanism and briefly pushed back the boundaries of monarchical colonialism.

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