Texas & Florida
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
V. Gómez Farías
Wm. Lyon Mackenzie
A. L. de Santa Anna
Puebla & Charleston
Guanajuato & Bravo
Loot & development
Texas & Florida
Guatemala & Carrera
The Huasteca, & North
The Costa Grande
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.
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.
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.
As if that were not enough:
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
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.
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
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