The War of the South

Real War
   Grounded Networks
      The Plains
      Custom, & the Ports 
      Nat Turner, & Others
      The Islands
      The Southern Slopes
      The Mission Coasts
  Control Networks
      Mills & Planters
      Silver & opium
      Alamán & Calhoun
      Rancheros & Pilots
      The War of the South
      Siege & Contagion
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
   Liberal Projects
   Conservative Demagogues
   Fight Scenes
  Grounded Reaction
Outcomes, and Vision
Warfare, like the "War of the South" fought in 1830, in the region between Mexico City and Acapulco, was one instrument for imposing control.  Narrow as that theater of war was, around the old home country of Vicente Guerrero, it broke out in wider fields, and ended wider. 
  • Bustamante, as acting president, brought Lucas Alamán back to influence, as the secretary of foreign and federal relations.  Soon Alamán was taking measures to silence the critics of the regime.  Hostile politicians, in Congress and in state legislatures, were often jailed or sent into exile.  Newspapers were harassed with heavy fines. 
  • Juan José Codallos, military commander in the State of Michoacán, came out  against Bustamante in March of 1830, demanding either the removal of the regime, or a military coalition of states against it. 
  • Guerrero seconded this plan, as did Col. Juan Álvarez, his old comrade in the Insurgency.  Government leaders in Mexico City then declared that Guerrero was inciting Indians to a "race war."
  • Bustamante named Nicolás Bravo military commander in the south.  Bravo defeated the Álvarez men in the action of Venta Vieja, and occupied Acapulco.
  • But the Guerrero and Álvarez forces, recovering, moved against Bravo in his own stronghold of Chilpancingo.  Defeated there, and it seemed decisively, they nevertheless took up a new position in Acapulco itself, with a base in the nearby Álvarez lands.  Using maritime resources, they were now trying to reorganize resistance in the Costa Grande.
  • In this situation, the government received proposals from the sea-captain Francisco Picaluga, who had employed his vessel in Guerrero's service.  Receiving Guerrero as a visitor on board, in the bay of Acapulco, he made him prisoner.  With Álvarez watching helpless on shore, Picaluga headed out to sea, then down to the Oaxaca coast, where he turned Guerrero over to government authorities in the port of Huatulco.  After a quick trial and guilty verdict, the fate of Guerrero depended on what Bustamante's cabinet would decide.  He was shot, on February 14, 1831.
  • Codallos remained in the hills of Michoacán, in a running duel of ambush and flight, against the government commander Esteban Moctezuma.  Wounded in the canyons, he was captured.  Although he was given courteous treatment in Moctezuma's camp, his fate too depended on decision in Mexico City.  He, and 14 of his followers, were shot.  (A country boy under 15, captured in the same batch, was spared.) The popular phase of the War of the South was over.
Or perhaps the end of the War came only a month later, as far away as the State of Virginia.  That was when Nat Turner was caught, tried, and hanged. 
 The outcome of the War of the South was determined by two evaluations of strength.  The first of these evaluations revealed the power of cooperation between the central government and the landholding interests of a patria chica -- in this case between the Bustamante government and the regional activity of the Bravo family. The geography of this cooperation was one more expression of a strategic pattern that had developed over many generations of Spanish domination in Mexico:

To the Battle of Chilpancingo

Against  Guerrero and Álvarez, the government at first sent a small force under Gabriel Armijo, burning villages and executing any Indian found with firearms.  When Álvarez defeated this force near Acapulco, Armijo and a remnant were trapped in a canyon, and hacked to death with machetes.

The government then found an agent in Nicolás Bravo.  To him it gave command of army forces in the South -- his own area, where he was a rival to Guerrero and Álvarez for personal influence.  From one point of view, Bravo and Álvarez were so much alike that it was hard to account for their mutual hostility, except as a matter of competition.  To Bravo himself, though, the two represented very different strategies for managing the life of the region.  Three different kinds of leader acted as intermediaries between their area and the Mexican economy -- and the world economy beyond that.  Earlier, the coordination had been provided by Spanish merchants, who imported consumer goods, but who also made credit advances to growers against future crops of cotton (or sugar).  Another kind of coordination was provided by some of the larger growers, who gave credit to tenants and neighbors at hacienda stores, and who sometimes kept up a paternalistic leadership in the local area.  A more concrete coordination, closely allied in style to military action, was provided by the mule-drivers, who were sometimes hacendados with large herds of animals.  During and after the War of Independence, the Spanish merchants came under repeated attack from their rivals, and from debtors who felt exploited.   The decline of these merchants opened up a space for the formation of new social policy.  Some people, like Guerrero and Álvarez, thought more in terms of maintaining concrete personal relations, including the transportation of goods as a basis for credit.  Other people, like Alamán within the Bustamante cabinet, and also like Bravo in Chilpancingo,  wanted to promote banking, with a credit system based on actual money advances.  It was a question of what kind of society would replace the old Spanish mercantile system:  a society based on paternalistic leadership and concrete needs, or a society looking to monetary transformation, tying Mexico into the world economy.  It was not that the Bravo family wanted to give up its personal status in local society, but that they were reaching to a top-down vision of development, rather than to a vision that would be grown outward from a local base.  In a report to the directors of Alamán's Development Bank (Banco de Avío), an associate of Bravo's lamented the way that social agitation in the South had cut into cotton harvests, the labor supply, and the profits of those who made capital advances.  To which Bravo himself added:

Before the 1810 revolution, there were capitalists in the Costa Grande who promoted the cultivation of this staple, which received a strong push from their advances; but because of the various changes that the Republic has suffered, not only were they finished off, but the communities have suffered demoralization. Now the Directors might do well to make their own collections, sending intelligent agents in, to move through the country with adequate supplies of hard cash; for although many dealers pursue this enterprise, they do it by offering goods, not cash.
Parallel to Alamán's financial vision, the Bustamante government pursued a strategy of central coordination, which depended on an  axis of communications extending from Veracruz through Mexico City and west to Guadalajara.  From this line it could send forces against Codallos in Michoacan, or down the Acapulco highway against Álvarez, or by various routes to concentrate against local rebels in the Mixteca.  Because these "interior lines" were themselves only a loose system, the social cohesion of the whole did depend on the commercial connections of which leaders like Bravo were so fully aware.

Against this monetary vision, with its strategy of central coordination, Álvarez and Guerrero were reacting rather in the manner of Andrew Jackson's fight against the Bank of the United States.  Their constituency, though, reached  through the indigenous and mulatto populations of the Costa Grande,  without anything like Jackson's commitment to white-settler greed.

Bravo was more than ready to show that he could conduct a campaign against Guerrero, who had inflicted a humiliating defeat on  him in an earlier conflict.  After the encounter at Venta Vieja, in which he could claim victory, he confronted an array of small, separately organized bands, any one of which had only to escape from Bravo's regulars in order to count as "winning."  Against this, he could only turn on its head the traditional guerrilla strategy, avoiding combat except when he could strike a blow on his own terms.  He kept track of where the main opposition forces were, waiting till he could maneuver them into a narrow terrain where they would have to stand as a group.  His opportunity came when Álvarez and Guerrero moved to attack him.

Álvarez and Guerrero, after Venta Vieja, had little difficulty re-establishing contact with other resistance groups, along the roads that by-passed Acapulco, extending down the coast range toward Oaxaca.  Still, they needed to push back Bravo, who occupied his own lands in Chilpancingo, and threatening to block Guerrero's home ground in Tixtla, a scant 10 miles over the hills.  Guerrero had not kept up a secure control there, for all his knowledge of the terrain and his ability to raise some men of the kind who had made up his network.  He was depending now on a hacienda he had nearer the coast, and on the resources of Álvarez west of Acapulco.

The two, with a force of 2000, marched north from the coast.  A few miles short of Chilpancingo, they left the main highway, heading across fields and local roads, to position themselves on the height of land between that town and Tixtla.

But Bravo had his dependents, friends, and spies, in addition to some small regular units sent in by Bustamante.  With advance warning of his enemies' movements, he left guards not only in Chilpancingo, but also around Tixtla.  Before Álvarez and Guerrero discovered what was happening, Bravo moved with his main force, by creeks and arroyos north of Chilpancingo, then around to a line between the enemy forces and Tixtla.

In this new situation, rebel lines of retreat were vulnerable to Bravo's horsemen.  There was no way to avoid a bitter fight.  With the two sides perhaps equal in numbers, the Álvarez forces had only the scant topographical advantage of occupying slightly higher ground.  Desperation kept them going for a few hours.  No more.

Bravo reported that his people found more than 300 corpses left by those who fled off in all directions, through the hills and trails. There was little left of the rebel forces in the South.

Guerrero's  resources, for all of his hacienda holdings, depended mainly on the social  ties embodied in his network of dealings through the area. That had amounted to a lot, when he was allying himself with the social groups that supported Iturbide.  Backed only by leaders like Álvarez, in much the same social situation as himself,  it was not enough.

Picaluga and Guerrero

The second evaluation of forces revealed just how much a national government could offer, in a market that was still mainly rural.

The secretary of war, José Antonio Facio, found a secret ally in the coasting ship-captain Francisco Picaluga, who came up from Acapulco to Mexico City, to take care of some customs problems.  There, Picaluga also reached an understanding about his operations.  For the sum of 50,000 pesos, as Facio later described the deal, the captain was to withhold his services from Guerrero.  What Picaluga actually did was head back south, visiting with Guerrero outside Chilpancingo before the battle there. When both men reached Acapulco afterwards, he invited Guerrero on board his vessel to dine and consult -- and made him captive.  Delivered to army officers down the coast, Guerrero was quickly tried and condemned to death.  The final decision on the sentence went up to the cabinet.  It voted to execute.

This outcome was not just a local treachery, but a playing-out of wider conflicts.

Picaluga was not Mexican, but Italian -- a Genoese ship-captain who ventured far from his home waters in search of trades that he could serve.  He and Guerrero came out of similar situations, for all the differences between Old World and New, or between sea and land.  In their world, still dominated by large-scale  traditional commerce, one universal method for creating a new "sub-world" was to undertake transportation business, at first local, but then extended into a new network.  The social relations that made up such a  network then gave its organizers a power to mobilize political and military support.  If it happened that way for the Tixtla mule-driver, it happened also among the ship-captains along the coast of Liguria, around Genoa.  In such places, the local (later regional) entrepreneur could offer services to landholders and military leaders, even though they distrusted him. After all, a too-autonomous mule-driver might turn bandit, just as an individualistic ship-captain might turn pirate or smuggler.

These transportation chieftains had their own reasons to sense danger within the world of high policy.  The Republic of Genoa, promised its independence as a goal in the wars against Napoleon, was betrayed, turned over by the Congress of Vienna to form part of the Kingdom of Savoy.  During the 1820s, republicanism and commercial self-sufficiency (and smuggling) were mixed together in coastal thought.  This outlook took one form in the long voyages of someone like Picaluga, another in the exploits and rebelliousness of the young Giuseppe Garibaldi.  Even Garibaldi, in exile in South America toward the end of the 1830s, was sometimes considered the "pirate."  Fighting in a local war marked by the picturesque role of Uruguayan gauchos, he could also join land and water by employing local mule-drivers to haul his vessel across hills between bay and lake, to short-cut the vigilance set up by the authorities.

Picaluga was another version of the same thing, less ideological, more vulnerable to the rhetoric of "respectable" leaders.  He acted at first as if he was offended when Facio suggested that he betray Guerrero for money.  According to the later account of Carlos María Bustamante, he was brought around by increases in the amount offered by government negotiators, who described "the great service he would be giving to the Mexican nation, whose friendship was preferable to Guerrero's."  Persuaded, he headed back south.  In Acapulco, he got some help from the local militia in the actual capture of Guerrero. Whether the nation was a republic, as in Mexico, or a kingdom, as in Savoy, its "respectable men" found themselves dealing with the mixed motives of the transportation sub-culture.

Of course, even in Savoy the coastal people could find ways to protest against the power of the national capital. Five years later, the maritime court of Genoa took up as a criminal case the question of Picaluga's actions in Mexico.  It condemned him to death -- in absentia.
In the death of Guerrero, the question at issue was whether political life -- not just for Mexico, but for the whole continent -- would be open to popular and indigenous culture, or whether it would maintain its decisive focus on criollo, white-settler strategy.  Facio, accusing Guerrero of inciting race war, linked him to the horror case of Haiti:  the insurgent leader was supposedly offering to Indians.
the properties of any Mexicans who opposed his schemes, and endeavoring to arouse in them the same barbarous,  inhuman, and ferocious hatreds that have devastated a neighbor island.
(Later that year, Virginians would compare the slave rebel Nat Turner to free blacks who had incited the Haitian Revolution.)

Juan Álvarez, surviving, managed to keep his regional, heavily indigenous clientele, but quickly made his peace with Bravo and the government in order to avoid being isolated.  Codallos, still pursued in the hills of Michoacán, was so isolated, even from news of the Álvarez deal, that he kept on fighting when he might have sought amnesty himself.  He was captured in the hills of Michoacan by the young general Esteban Moctezuma, who moved dutifully to execute the rebel.  Popular causes were being eliminated from mainstream liberal politics, for the whole continent and the whole century.

Everywhere, conservatives undertook repressive measures. After the execution of Codallos (in Michoacán) and Turner (in Virginia), these measures gathered into:

Within the political class of Mexico, these measures cleared a space, into which an aggressive opposition leader might move, even if he had no program at all.  For that, Santa Anna was ready.  Though he had failed to come to Guerrero's defense, neither had he committed himself to Bustamante.

A turning-point came when one more military leader came out in rebellion against Bustamante.  Esteban Moctezuma,  he who had obeyed the order to execute Codallos, broke with the very people who had sponsored his rise in the Army.  His "ingratitude" seemed, to conservative commentators, just what they could expect from an upstart. To them the conflict was becoming a Civil War between reliability and vulgarity.

Perhaps.  But on the scale of grand strategy it would also be a war between old property and new, between rival policies on how to exploit the continent, even between rival networks for conducting trade..


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