Texas & Florida

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Outcomes, and Vision 
John Quincy Adams, now a mere congressman from Massachusetts, had it right.  Florida and Texas were not little frontier fights.  They were links in a strategic system that united all parts of the continent, a system that might even bring European intervention. 

If Andrew Jackson was not the person to think systematically about world strategy, Adams stood ready to remind him of the big picture.  In May of 1836, Adams spoke to a bill for distributing rations to victims of the Creek War in the southeast. This welfare need, he said, was only one of the results of an aggressive foreign policy.  The United States was in danger of precipitating a general conflict between an "Anglo-Saxon-American" north and a "Moorish-Spanish-Mexican-American" south, a war in which European powers might intervene on the side of the Hispanic south.  A Mexican invader might mobilize Indians, or reach out to what Adams called "the native American negro, of African origin."  It would be what Adams called in his diary "the Mexican, Indian, negro, and English war."  Wars for Cuba and Puerto Rico could follow, and civil war within the United States.  And would not the war powers of the national government extend to acting on slavery?  He would vote for the rations bill, he pointed out in conclusion, for the precise reason that it would vindicate that power.  In his diagnosis, the only U.S. society that could protect itself would be one economically and morally developed, able to free and mobilize the slave population into its own ranks. 

Officials in Mexico, such as secretary of war Tornel, picked up on Adams's speech, using it in their own analyses of the Texas war. Soon it appeared in Spanish translation, and in handy pamphlet form. 
But the problems that Adams diagnosed were problems on the Mexican side as well.  Both national armies confronted strategic challenges beyond their resources at that time.  This was just as true of the dilemmas that confronted Mexico in dealing with its north, as those that confronted the United States in dealing with its south and west

The longest-range project for overcoming those challenges, a project that overleaped even the visions of Edmund P. Gaines, came from Amos Kendall, a house intellectual in the Jackson administration, who worked with a cranky anti-foreign painter on a major step in what the late 20th century would call  "globalization." 

Even as immediate military events, the conflicts in Texas and Florida formed a broad Map of Strategic Links across the middle of the continent.
In 1835, the rival Mexican and Anglo societies faced together a zone of enemy peoples, from Florida through Texas, New Mexico, and California.

These peoples had the capacity to act as armed communities.  The U.S. Army was fighting them on their eastern flank, the Texans were fighting them on the center, while the Mexican Army and militia were fighting them in the west.  If the various Anglo-American forces could not yet concentrate for any single operation, they were not much worse divided than were the Mexican units fighting separately out of Sonora and Chihuahua.

The Failures of National Armies:  (1) from Zacatecas to Texas

To cope with military expenses, Mexican governments borrowed from abroad, and accepted economic interests from abroad.  This included giving land grants in Texas to settlers who would hang on against the indios bárbaros.  But Anglo lenders sent profits back to Britain, and Anglo settlers sent loyalty back to the United States. By 1835 the overwhelming majority of non-Indian Texans consisted of U.S. white migrants and their slaves. By 1836 Texans were rebelling for independence from Mexico.

As if that were not enough:

Flush with victory and silver after 1835, Santa Anna organized an army that he took north to suppress the Anglo rebels.  Taking advantage of the vulnerability of Texas society, he called on slaves to support him, as many did.   But the Texas economy had not developed to the point where it could reliably support much of any army, rebel or Mexican, for very long.  The area was not a tempting monetary society, like Zacatecas.  There was little in Texas that motivated Santa Anna to act as effectively as he had in Zacatecas. He used his army heedlessly and wastefully.  The whole was large enough (about 6,000) that he could leave part under José Urrea to fight Texans near the coast, while he attacked those farther inland.

His initial assault on the Alamo was successful, and deceptive.  Though he had slaughtered rebels there, his own losses left him with less scope than he imagined.  Texans were fleeing in panic, in what they themselves called their great "Runaway Scrape."  Slaves were rebelling, or fleeing to Mexican lines. Some Texans, who had never renounced their loyalty to the Mexican Republic, felt.  Desertions from the Texas army, commanded by Sam Houston, reduced its numbers below 1,000.  Even after new recruits built this force back up closer to 1,300, Santa Anna felt safe in dividing his own forces.  He led one group.

Near Galveston, Santa Anna stopped by the San Jacinto River, at a wooded neck of land where his force could be approached only by one ferry and one bridge, and was relaxing into camp life -- when Houston's men seized the ferry and destroyed the bridge.  The result was still hardly a battle, more an impromptu raid, to kill or capture fleeing Mexicans.  Even more than Francisco García had been humiliated the year before, Santa Anna was now: captured, forced to sign a treaty acknowledging the independence of Texas, then shipped off to Washington to meet Andrew Jackson.

The Failures of National Armies:  (2) from Florida to Texas

Elements of the Mexican strategic dilemma could be found on the U.S. side, too.  White settlers near the frontier could be just as manipulative as any Chihuahua ranchero when it came to begging central government aid against Indians.  Army officers could think just as insistently that settlers needed to do more in their own cause.  There were never enough soldiers to allocate easily between coastal dangers and frontier challenges.  The resources of government depended on what could be scraped out of land sales and tariff collections.
But: In Florida, there lived some 4,000 of the people identified as Seminoles, many of them Creek refugees from earlier wars.  Plantation slaves, on this thinly-settled southern frontier, found it easy to flee to the Seminole country, where they found a haven as maroons, "vassals" but in autonomous villages. Whites wanted their slaves back.
During the early 1830s, Seminoles and Creeks alike began striking back at settlers.  The War Department, fearing that the two groups would join in a general offensive, sent army units to block communications between Florida and the Creek country.  In central Florida, U.S. negotiators were pressuring Seminole chiefs to move their people west, and some chiefs were beginning to accept.

But those who were determined to stay were joined by a new and aggressive leader, one of the refugees from the north:  Osceola.   He recruited his own followers especially from the black maroons within the Seminole community, and mounted a three-part attack:  first, against white settlements; second, against those Seminoles who cooperated with government policy; and finally, in 1835. against the U.S. Army.

At first, the Army acted on a confused, regional basis. All commands in the United States then were divided into the Western and Eastern Departments, by a line that ran through the middle of the Florida peninsula, then north to Lake Superior.  The Western was commanded by Edmund P. Gaines, with his headquarters in Louisiana; the Eastern, by Winfield Scott.  The 1835 attack on Army units fell on Gaines's side of the line through Florida, but Jackson gave operational command for the whole campaign to Scott.

Gaines, though, did not wait for word of this decision.  He mounted an expedition to Florida.  It failed.  Under attack from Osceola, he established a defensive position at Camp Izard, from which he barely was nearly starved out, and barely escaped.  Leaving some troops in the peninsula, he returned to Louisiana, where the Secretary of War had already directed him to see to the Texas frontier.  All during the time that Gaines was off in Florida, Santa Anna had been laying siege to the Alamo.  Gaines's scurrying back and forth revealed the inability of the Army to act coherently on two fronts at once.

After Scott too failed, the War Department sent in its quartermaster general, Thomas Jesup, who solved the immediate tactical problem by luring Osceola in under truce flag, then taking him captive. Army units  kept engaging small Seminole bands in local fights, often killing a few, occasionally capturing a few hundred to send west. Jesup managed to get much of the Seminole community out to Oklahoma intact, taking their blacks with them.

The Army brought more regulars to Florida, and more -- making over 4,000 in 1840, out of only 7,000 in all its scattered units. Given its responsibility for harbor forts and other Indian conflicts, it was in no position to undertake aggressive action toward Texas or Mexico. To regain freedom of action, it needed to pull out of Florida.
By this time the Seminole population in Florida had been reduced from several thousand to a few hundred.  In 1842, the Army simply declared the war over. Congress offered homesteads in southern Florida to settlers who would agree to actually fight. Troops began moving westward.

Telegraph to the Future

By this time the demands of the Florida war were running into conflict with the demands of the civilian economy.  Many Army officers were resigning from the army to work for canal and railroad companies.  Jackson may have thought them cowards, but they were implementing a larger strategy.  That strategy worked in the spirit of Edmund P. Gaines and John Quincy Adams -- that is, the Gaines who envisioned military railroads, and the Adams who had called forlornly for Congress to fund science and developmental planning.

It was another side of Gaines -- Gaines as the egoist of the Western Department -- who provoked one Jackson official into thinking on a longer range. From his headquarters in Louisiana, he involved himself with the groups in many southwestern states who were raising volunteers to fight in Texas. Well into 1836, after Sam Houston had captured Santa Anna at San Jacinto, Gaines fell in with a conspiracy to let Texans draw U.S. troops over the border to help them.  They would set up alarms that Mexicans were plotting with Indians to attack Americans, and Gaines would have to send troops across as a defensive measure.  This was in fact one of the periods when Mexican agents were treating with Indians in East Texas, though rather fecklessly, and with the aim of operating against Texans, not against the United States.  Gaines, with a show of believing the danger, sent a small force over from Louisiana to occupy the town of Nacogdoches.  It engaged no Mexican forces, who were then withdrawing from Texas.

But the Mexican minister in Washington protested, as did the administration's domestic enemies. Jackson blinked. While he liked what the volunteers were doing, he did not like the initiative taken out of his hands, and he did not like Gaines the cock-eyed planner.  Strongly urged by some aides, he canceled the Gaines call-up of volunteers, and ordered Gaines to preserve a neutral stance in Nacogdoches -- even while leaving the contingent in what was supposedly disputed territory.

One of those aides who restrained Jackson was Amos Kendall, a long-time adviser on domestic politics.  He wanted the administration to keep the high ground, in order not to discredit the United States in its dealings with European powers.  Texas could wait.

A few years later, after Kendall had left the government, he showed what such a broader approach could mean.  He formed an arrangement with the painter Samuel F.B. Morse, to promote the invention Morse was pushing:  the telegraph.  This was not itself a political deal.  Morse was a nativist in politics, anti-foreign, but not Jacksonian. He was the visionary, Kendall the practical manager.  It worked. The telegraph began operating in 1844, announcing to Washington the nomination of James K. Polk in Baltimore. This was the invention that would soon coordinate police and military operations.  It, the first step in all electronic networking, would realize the rapid response that Gaines anticipated from the railroad.



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