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Hispanics, southern independence
Special to the News
By John M. Taylor
Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 through October 15 each year. Since the federal government invented the term “Hispanic,” the designation carries with it a broad meaning, one that is not necessarily based on racial or ethnic identity.
Instead, it generally includes individuals with either Spanish ethnicity or having some connection to Spanish culture, such as a surname or speaking the Spanish language. (Since Portugal is also part of the Iberian Peninsula, some consider the Portuguese people to be Hispanic.)
When viewed as a group, Hispanics have played key roles in American society; one of those roles was in the fight for Southern Independence. One example is the generally positive historical association the South maintained with Cuba. This relationship was close enough for Cuban Narisco Lopez to approach Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis in 1848 to seek American assistance with Cuba’s efforts to break away from the rule of Spain. Although serious consideration was given to the proposition, no deal was struck.
At the outset of The War for Southern Independence, Santiago Vidaurri, the governor of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, made an offer for Northern Mexico to leave greater Mexico and become part of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis declined. Davis knew certain corporate and banking factions in the North would do everything possible to deny the South’s right of self-government. He also suspected retaliation from the Union would come in the form of blockading Mexican ports. Blockades are war measures that not only impede trade but also disproportionately punish the poor. Although it never became a reality, Narcis Monturiol, an artist and engineer from Figueres, Spain, offered his advanced submarine, dubbed Ictineo, to the Confederate States to help break the Union’s blockade of Southern ports. Jules Verne’s fictional Nautilus was named after Robert Fulton’s actual Nautilus; however, some historians claim Verne was also influenced by Monturiol’s invention.
Cuban revolutionary, Ambrosio Jose Gonzalez, served under Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and assisted with the design of modern Cuban and Puerto Rican flags. Confederate Colonel Santos Benavides was a Texas Ranger who served the Confederacy as Commander of the 33rd Texas Cavalry. He led his Mexican-American unit to victory over the Union at the Battle of Laredo in 1864. Benavides, commanding Benavides Regiment, was the highest-ranking Mexican-American in Confederate service. He also had two brothers who served the Confederacy.
Lola Sanchez, of Cuban descent, passed valuable information to Confederate forces, which led to the Yankees’ loss of a general, his unit and a gunboat. Cuban female Janeta Velazquez, said she fought as a “male” Confederate soldier named Lt. Harry Buford, and even wrote a book about it: The Woman in Battle.
Historian Jerry Don Thompson has noted the number of Hispanics who fought “in the 55th Alabama Infantry, Manigault’s Battalion of South Carolina Artillery, 6th Missouri Infantry, the Chalmette Regiment of Louisiana Infantry, and the Second Texas Mounted Rifles.” Many other Confederate units featured Hispanic soldiers. Examples include the Louisiana Zouaves, the Spanish Guard (Mobile, AL), four independent New Mexico militia companies (Gonzales, Martinez, Tafolla, and Perea), and the 1st Florida Cavalry. Many of the Louisiana Hispanics had emigrated from the Canary Islands in the 1700s.
Texas left the Union in February 1861. Approximately 90,000 Texans joined the Confederacy, with many Hispanics included in those ranks. Relative to the Mexican-Texans (Tejanos), about 2,550 fought for the Confederacy and about 950 fought for the Union. In 1863, these two groups literally fought each other in Southern Texas in what amounted to a war within a war.
Captain Jose Rafael de la Garza, of San Antonio, Texas, joined the Confederate Army after his home State left the Union. He became captain of Company K, 6th Texas Infantry and later commander of the 17th Texas Infantry. Jose lost his life on May 8, 1864, at the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana, while charging Union forces; he was only twenty-six years old. The descendants of Spanish settlers were some of the first to take up arms against the Union invaders and some of the last to surrender. Many lost their lives in the struggle for Southern Independence.
The Minorcans, a Hispanic group who came from the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, settled in parts of Florida in the 1760s. Many Minorcans served in the Confederate States Army and Navy.
This brief snapshot is intended to cover a part of history that is unlikely to ever be mentioned in a government school or through government-controlled media. Thousands of Hispanics were loyal to the Confederate cause, i.e., the so-called “Lost Cause” of Southern Independence. The Confederate States of America was their country just as it was for others who resided in the South. They rose to the occasion in defense of their native lands. Indeed, the coastlines of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas were filled with Hispanics then as they are now. Their accomplishments and sacrifices should be acknowledged and their efforts should be saluted at all times, not just during “Hispanic History Month.”