Guanajuato & Bravo

Real War
    Grounded Networks
    Control Networks
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
   Liberal Projects
      J.R. Poinsett
      Levi Woodbury
      Francisco Morazán
      V. Gómez Farías 
      Wm. Lyon Mackenzie
   Conservative Demagogues
      Andrew Jackson
      A. L. de Santa Anna
   Fight Scenes
      El Gallinero
      Puebla & Charleston 
      Guanajuato & Bravo
      Loot & development
      Texas & Florida
  Grounded Reaction
      Guatemala & Carrera
      Lower Canada
      The Huasteca, & North
      The Costa Grande 
Outcomes, and Vision
It did not matter that a liberal political victory (Zavaleta) was supposed to end the Civil War in Mexico.  The war continued, as soon as conservative generals had a chance to re-group.  It "ended" again, in the spring of 1835, when conservative forces again defeated liberal civic militia, this time on the approaches to  Zacatecas.  The victorious liberal general at Zavaleta had been Antonio López de Santa Anna.  The victorious conservative general at Zacatecas would be Antonio López de Santa Anna. 

With his sword, or with his facility at making political deals, he had turned over the political soil of the country.  How come?  And what did the transformation mean for how civil wars worked, in the continent as a whole? 

Along the way, windows of deception opened on one falsity after another:

  • Santa Anna, kidnapped in 1833 by conservative generals who wanted him to support their cause, "escaped" and rejoined the liberal cause.  But what had been the tone of the captive conversations?
  • Pursuing these same generals, Santa Anna sloughed into a "mud march" and lost half his first army to the international cholera epidemic.  When he finally slogged through to Guanajuato, he depended heavily on the city population for help. Yet his final report on the battle described a neat professional victory. 
  • In April of 1834, government forces obtained the capitulation of Nicolás Bravo and the last conservative forces in the South of Mexico.  Yet the War Ministry had already dropped the liberal José Antonio Mejía from command of this campaign.  Only one week after the capitulation, Santa Anna announced his own revolution against "his" liberal government.
Santa Anna was not just taking shifty individual positions between a well-defined "liberal side" and a well-defined "conservative side."  Through all the confusions and even fakeries, he was working to build the connections of a new political network, based on loyalty to him as military leader. 

The machinery by which he did this showed in the fighting itself.

The Captive President

Zavaleta left the way open for Santa Anna to become President.  His vice-president would be Valentín Gómez Farías, a liberal friendly to the Zacatecas interests on which Santa Anna had depended..  For months Santa Anna left the administration in the hands of Gómez Farías, who promoted a new militia law that would, among other things, allow Zacatecas to keep its own autonomous force that, on paper, could mobilize a substantial part of its population.  Other measures, under preparation, would restrict the operations and economic interests of the Church.

Quickly, the Gómez Farías program aroused opposition from the most conservative interests.   Both the Church as an institution, and the Army as an institution, had each its own legal jurisdiction, called fuero, which carried exemption from trial in civil courts. Both groups had economic and career interests at stake.

From early in this period, Santa Anna used a mixed language.  He continued to defend the memory of Vicente Guerrero, and damned the "tyranny" of Anastasio Bustamante.  He signed a bill of attainder (the ley de caso) that would exile, without trial, Bustamante and a whole host of other conservatives.  But he also went out of his way to use conventional  religious language in his statements, and to talk vaguely about his own political ideals -- in the first person singular -- without endorsing the Gómez Farías social program.  Soon enough, the clerics and generals who criticized that program were pointedly not naming Santa Anna in their denunciations.

Still,  although Santa Anna had the power to resume office at any time, for season after season he made only vague conservative gestures, leaving his liberal vice-president firmly in control of policy.  He did not finally oust Gómez Farías until April of 1834.

Why did he not act sooner?

During the first months of reaction against Gómez Farías, the conspiratorial lead was taken by Mariano Arista and Gabriel Durán, who had been among the principal commanders under Bustamante at the victory of El Gallinero.  (Durán had also been the government's agent in delivering its pay to Picaluga after the capture of Vicente Guerrero.) The Zavaleta agreement had let them stay as members of the whole network of army officers.  Now they raised the slogan of "Religión y Fueros."  In an interview with Santa Anna, they detained him -- courteously, of course -- and urged that he proclaim himself dictator.  But he did not like the idea of a dictatorial power that depended on sponsorship by others.  Since the conspirators did not dare make the detention harsh, he was able to escape.  No matter how amicable the conversations among the three might have been, Santa Anna was going to stick by his liberals for the time being.

Arista and Durán proceeded to organize a resistance movement in the state of Puebla, then headed west, to hole up in the old mining center of Guanajuato.  Santa Anna undertook to pursue them.

Mud, Cholera & Guanajuato

At that point natural disasters intervened: In this situation, strategy needed to be a continuation of medicine by other means. The Mud March of 1833 (not yet the 1863 March in Virginia), was literally a march through all the stickiest of a historical conjuncture.  Nobody understood the scientific facts. Nobody understood the aims of President Santa Anna.  Everybody understood the ambitions of the man Santa Anna.

August 1833 was a month of turnings and withdrawals -- and of deaths, up to half of all Santa Anna's men.

During the interval before the campaign was rejoined, help arrived for Santa Anna: forces from San Luis Potosí under Esteban Moctezuma, and from Zacatecas.  This brought his numbers from 3500 up to 6000. Toward the end of September, they moved up to Guanajuato, to attack the rebels.  These defenders numbered only a little more than 3000 -- enough to resist Santa Anna's original force, but inadequate against his reinforced army.

Arista took measures to raise regiments of "volunteers" in Guanajuato, and to manufacture gunpowder.  Perhaps he was counting on popular resistance against the party of heresy.  But the people of the city were thinking less about ideology than about concrete experience.  They refused to enlist.  A mining suburb, which had the facilities for manufacturing explosives, simply refused to cooperate.  Conscription, together with whatever kind of federalism was influential there, aroused popular resistance against the authoritarian general, to the point that men in his regiments could not move freely in the city, for fear of being picked off.  Although Arista did get some volunteers in outlying towns of the state, he could do no better in the state capital than round up a hundred men for a "security" force -- and that only after promising not to take them to other parts of the Republic.

To Guanajuato, that old mining center that had recovered little from the wastes of the War of Independence, the rebels came as an invading army, underlining the danger of contagion from the outside.  The local citizens disliked central authority and were ready to resist..

Santa Anna brought up his troops, on the road from Querétaro,  to the open fields some five miles south of Guanajuato.  The way looked to be blocked by rebels in the town of Marfil and on a detached hill close to the eastern side of the highway.  Confronting a strong defensive position, the President could not count on any easy success.

Both commanders, Arista and Santa Anna, knew that this detached hill was dominated by another and larger hill, to its southeast: the Cerro de los Tumultos, a three-peaked eminence, which was protected by steep canyons on its side toward the road -- but connected by other canyons with the working-class barrios of Guanajuato, northeast of the mountain bulk.

Both commanders tried to put troops on Los Tumultos.  On the rebel side, Arista ordered Durán to make the move.  But Durán was too slow, and failed.  Santa Anna won that race.

Still Arista had little fear of mere rifle fire from as far as the peaks.  He knew also that the paths up the hill offered no footing for mules to pull artillery pieces to the heights.  But the people of Guanajuato could see the challenge, from their own streets that scratched up the hills at the edge of town:

A route up the hill was already known, and to everybody in Guanajuato:  it was used every summer for a festival procession in honor of Saint Ignatius Loyola, up to two caves under the brow of the hill.  Now the "rabble" came out to Los Tumultos, ready to haul the guns by hand, up to where the fire-power would menace Arista's forces.

For a period of some hours, Arista tried to arrange with Durán a daring tactic:  either a desperate night attack against Los Tumultos, or a try at moving back around Santa Anna's army, marching fast to Mexico City.  (All the santanista troops were with Santa Anna, none in the capital.)  Again, though, Durán was slow to act, and nothing could be done.

Arista had to withdraw inside the defenses of Guanajuato.  Durán withdrew, with all the rebel cavalry, to the mining town of Valenciana, north of the city.

Again, instead of attacking the city directly, Santa Anna sent units across the river, up the paths toward Valenciana, .  With this route, he followed the paths that the royalist general Calleja had used in recapturing Guanajuato from the insurgents, in 1810.

At Valenciana, while Durán's men watched, some 36 of Arista's infantrymen kept up a "heroic" resistance against 2000 santanistas.   Durán and all the cavalry picked up and fled, headed for Michoacán or Oaxaca.  From Valenciana, Santa Anna was able to send forces down along several lines toward Guanajuato.  While there was sharp fighting at some points, soldiers were now deserting from Arista's forces, hour after hour.

Arista now tried to capitulate on honorable terms, pressing negotiations for three days with Santa Anna's representatives, the generals José Antonio Mejía and Juan Arago.  Finally he agreed to go into exile, humiliated, with only the most minimal guarantees -- and followed by newspaper accusations that he was keeping as booty some of the "contributions" he collected in Guanajuato.

Even during the negotiations, and along the road to exile, Arista met threats and cat-calls from the populace and from his Zacatecan guard -- whom he called "those people we defeated at El Gallinero."  According to him, Mejía and Arago did what they could to protect him.  But from Santa Anna he received no hint of courtesy.

Santa Anna had demonstrated his tactical brilliance (or Calleja's).  His report said nothing about the part played by the people of Guanajuato.

The Expulsion of Mejía

Santa Anna began by portraying himself as an active fighter in the liberal cause.  After winning at Guanajuato, he retired again to his hacienda, leaving Gómez Farías busy at expanding his program..

Institutionally, he was putting himself into a contradictory position.  Though President, and commander of the army, he had controlled the situation only by depending on militia units that came to him out of local choice, units over which he had no authority. Such support was unreliable, and even humiliating.  And worse threatened.  The states that had provided militia against the conservative revolt also took advantage of a provision in law, which allowed for regional groupings, if approved by the national executive.  Seven of them (Querétaro, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Jalisco, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, and Durango) formed a Coalition of the West,  to which Gómez Farías gave his approval.   He and the liberals in Congress were moving to make the state militias into the main military institution of the nation.  If carried through, this would in itself strike at the position of Santa Anna as combined General-President,

But the liberal political base was slipping.  Moderates, including many who had opposed Bustamante, were uncomfortable with the Gómez Farías program.  Some feared the threat to national military strength.  Many found the anticlerical campaign radical and offensive.  The Farías administration, opposed to any special "privileges" that distinguished indigenous from white, was closing at least one college set up especially for Indians, transferring funds to secular institutions.  Moderates like Pedraza were willing to pull back from any program that might arouse popular discontent.

Behind the scenes, Santa Anna hurried to update his position. As early as December 1833, while he was briefly back on the scene, governing on his own account, his minister of war canceled the approval for the western coalition.  During the early months of 1834, when Santa Anna left the government again in the hands of Gómez Farías, he still had friends within the war department, and within the Army, where they could influence decisions.

The test came when the Farías administration undertook further campaigns against conservative rebels, including Nicolás Bravo in the South. Command against Bravo was initially given to José Antonio Mejía, the officer and gentleman who had been active as a committed liberal at Guanajuato.  But Mejía brought some troops back to the capital, from the South, as if to ward off danger in his rear.  This prompted the Army to drop him from command, putting in his place Guadalupe Victoria, a former President and a man of good will, but with a reputation for vagueness in his principles.

Bravo, in all the fighting of earlier years, had done little at which Santa Anna could take personal offense.  After the Army units around Chilpancingo made some further gestures at a fight, they came to an honorable convenio with Bravo, requiring only that he dismantle his fortifications and abandon the field.  In contrast to Arista, he suffered no personal penalties of any kind.   This convention was signed on April 17, 1834.

On April 24, Santa Anna made his move to expel Gómez Farías from power and from the vice-presidency.  He began dismantling most of the liberal legislation -- including that in favor of the civic militias.

Santa Anna had now completed his transformation to conservative dictator, and he did allow Arista to return from exile.  But the hangers-on of the new regime treated Arista with disdain.  It was a great mistake to be santanista before Santa Anna himself was.

[For patriotic Mexican history, José Antonio Mejía turns out the villain.  He reacted to his expulsion by throwing in permanently with the liberal fighters who persisted on the Mexican scene. Shifting to northern Mexico, he dallied enough with French invaders and Texas agents that he gave the government grounds for treating him harshly.  Captured in 1839, he was accorded just three hours to prepare for the firing squad.  To which he replied:  "If I had captured Santa Anna, I would have given him three minutes."]
Mejía is a window on Santa Anna's personalism.  He was the victor who treated Arista with military courtesy. But Santa Anna did not want the Army leadership to include independent-minded gentlemen, either conservatives like Arista or liberals like Mejía.  The polite exchange between Arista and Mejía, combined with Moctezuma's record for similar behavior toward Codallos, conveyed the image of a moderate upper-class leadership, independent enough to take some liberal positions.  Santa Anna, by the decisions he took in 1834, sent the parts of that leadership off into fragments.

It took the long 1833-34 year for Santa Anna to make his shift, from supposed liberal to supposed conservative, because he had to take time to make sure of his position within the military establishment.  He was constructing a new network around himself, making sure of his independence, from allies as well as from enemies

Santa Anna was not so much turning toward conservatism as he was enforcing  his own authority over government.  Though he abandoned any further anti-clerical program, he did not restore the tithe, which had weighed on large landowners as well as peasants.  He did not reverse the secularization of the California missions. He did not abandon the government's role in high church appointments.  Over the years, he used liberal threats against Church property as a lever for exacting contributions from the hierarchy. For a time, he even kept on good terms with Francisco García, playing that Zacatecas liberal off against Gómez Farías.

Zacatecas was to play a part in farther crises.


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