Friday, July 17, 2015

Lone Star Rising -- The Texas Revolution Against Mexico

I just finished reading Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic by William C. Davis. I have posted three times before on this book:
If your ideas of the revolution that established the Lone Star Republic of Texas were formed by movies like The Alamo, this book tells a radically different story.

A sparsely settled area near the Gulf coast of the Caribbean in northern Mexico attracted settlers from the southern United States, seeking free land on which they could grow cotton using slave labor. They cared little that slavery was outlawed by the Mexican government, and they ignored requirements for receiving land grants such as loyalty to the government of the region and accepting the Catholic religion. The Anglo settlers, not unusual for their time,  were racists, with strong prejudice against people of African ancestry and Indians, not to mention Mexicans (who they saw as having European, African and Indian blood). The Mexicans, and perhaps the Criollos (those of Spanish ancestry who still dominated Mexican society) were also prejudiced against the Anglo settlers in the North (accepting them if they became more Mexican, created useful economic activities, and served as a barrier to the hostile Indian raiders).

We should remember how sparsely populated the state was at the time of the 1835-36 revolution (primarily of the Anglo settlers against the Mexican government). I quote from this source:
By 1750 some Indian tribes were using Spanish horses and French rifles to raid Spanish settlements in Texas. The plundering helps to explain why Texas was one of the most sparsely populated provinces on the northern frontier of New Spain. In 1790 the total population in Texas was 2,510, while in New Mexico it exceeded 20,000. At the same time, Indians thwarted efforts to establish catholic missions. In contrast to Texas, 40 percent of California’s Indian population had embraced Catholicism by 1803.....
Between 1821 and 1836 an estimated 38,000 settlers, on promise of 4,000 acres (1,620 hectares) per family for small fees, trekked from the United States into the territory.......
In eastern Texas 20,000 settlers and 1,000 slaves outnumbered the 5,000 Mexicans in the area by 1830.......Later the immigration was stopped. The Mexican government grew alarmed at the immigration threatening to engulf the province. Military troops were moved to the border to enforce the policy. Still there was illegal immigration. Immigrants crossed the border easily and by 1835 there were ten times as many Americans (30,000) as Mexicans. The settlers demanded greater representation and more power from the Mexican Government.
Author Davis points out that few of the people living in east Texas (the small area where the revolution took place) had experience in government (Sam Houston excepted; Davy Crockett, who had been a member of the U.S. Congress was killed at the Alamo). There were few lawyers (William Travis was an exception, but he too was to die at the Alamo), and indeed few professionals of any kind. A government and a military had to be created on the fly at the beginning of the revolution, and not surprisingly they were not created very well, nor were they to be very effective.

While Mexico was more populated, it too was seeking to establish new forms of government and had a weak military (albeit strong enough to impose its will through coups from time to time). Moreover, Mexico was seeking to establish governance over a large area with many diverse populations. Northern regions between Mexico City (and the seat of government) and the revolutionary area of Texas were in frank revolt against the central government. General Santa Anna was the strong man in control of the Government in 1835.

So Davis presents something of a "tragedy of errors" as the history of the revolution, a revolution fought on a tiny scale in a area that would have had little importance except for future events such as the Mexican American War.

SourceL Wikipedia
A convention of Anglos living in Texas -- having real issues relating to distant rule from the state capital of Coahuila y Tejas and from the national capital of Mexico City -- dithered among three alternatives: redress of grievances, separation of Texas from Coahila in Mexico, or independence of (some part of the Mexican territory of) Texas. A small military force of volunteer Texans (mostly Anglos) fought small Mexican garrisons at Goliad and San Antonio de Bexar, wining both in 1835.

General (and President) Santa Anna led a Mexican Army force to put down the Texas insurrection. With a corps of professional soldiers, the number in the force was increased by forced enlistments to 6,500. One can only imagine the state at which that army arrived at San Antonio after the long march, with limited provisions available from the areas through which it marched (which were themselves in economic trouble). Santa Anna:
  • Declared that there would be no quarter given to insurgents;
  • Began a siege of the Alamo which killed all the occupying Texans, but also resulted in the loss of a large portion of the professional troops in the Mexican force;
  • Divided his remaining force into several smaller forces, to be separated in the field, each with a different mission.
Following the Alamo, one of the Mexican forces took the town of Goliad, and after the surrender of the insurgent garrison, massacred the prisoners. The Alamo and Goliad massacres aroused anger and fear among the Anglo Texans, who were reinforced by volunteers from the United States.

There followed a retreat of the insurgents to the west, towards the Louisiana border, and of the civilian population; this disordered retreat came to be known as the Runaway Scrape; it apparently served to convince Santa Anna that he had little more to fear from the insurgent irregulars.

Contrary to Santa Anna's expectations, a force of insurgents comparable to his own portion of the Mexican invasion army confronted Santa Anna's force at San Jacinto. Apparently, the Mexican forces chose to take a siesta in the afternoon of April 21st, 1836 and the Texans chose that time to attack, winning a great victory; many Mexican troops were captured, including eventually General Santa Anna himself. Bargaining for his freedom and his life, Santa Anna ordered the rest of the Mexican troops to leave the disputed area, and signed a treaty. The Texas Revolution was effectively over.

Davis estimates (page 302) that some 700 Texas troops died, or about one-fifth of the total army of the Revolution. He estimates that as many as 1000 Mexican troops died and 500 more were wounded. Compared with the horrendous totals of the U.S. Civil War, this total campaign might count as a minor skirmish.

The Texas Lone Star Republic lasted until Texas became a state in 1845, and the territorial dispute that the Revolution left in its wake served as a pretext for the Mexican-American War, and the acquisition by the USA of  a huge block of what is now South Western states.

Disputed Territory
Source: Wikipedia
Territory in the upper right hand portion of the map is part of the USA
The history here is quite different than that of California (see my recent post on Father Junipero Serra). I have also posted on the administration of President Polk, including the Mexican-American War. I have tried to make the point that the history of the portions of the United States acquired from Mexico is quite different than that of the East Coast of the country.

I came away from the book disliking the protagonists of the Texas insurgency. Of course, they appear incompetent, but that was perhaps to be expected when civilians are asked to create a government and an army. As described by author Davis, the key members of the cast were self serving, duplicitous, and often greedy. The exception was the men who fought to the death at the Alamo, resisting the much larger Mexican army. To top it off, the constitution that they wrote for their new republic corrected what they saw as the principal failure of its model, the U.S. Constitution; the Lone Star Republic of Texas constitution made the institution of slavery permanent in that country -- no surprise that Texas entered the United States as a slave state, and seceded in to join the Confederacy.

I suppose that there is an audience who want endless details about the people who led and participated in the Lone Star rising, but I found too many names that I would not remember. Still, the book was very interesting, if only because it suggested how a small conflict in an out of the way corner of the world can affect later events, and how that conflict can be inflated in local memory.

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