CW-1:

THE FIRST CIVIL WAR, 1830-1842 

FIGHT SCENES: 
Loot & Development

 
Overview 
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
 
Santa Anna concealed his final maneuvers against the civic militia of Zacatecas, behind the all-too-visible campfires kept by his army's women.  Was this trick all there was to the balance of social forces? 

That was May of 1835.  Along that same time, the administration of Andrew Jackson was trying to put dampers on speculation by the same local banks and land interests whom its own policies had favored.  At the height of the speculation, in the winter of 1836-1837, the administration was seconded by the women of New York, rioting to bring down the price of bread. 

The Zacatecas campaign marked a connection from local conflict within Mexico, to matters of continent-wide significance 

  • Its origins seemed to clear away the last of the ambiguities left by Santa Anna's tortuous political course..
  • The fight itself revealed that the earlier Battle of El Gallinero had diagnosed, accurately, the weaknesses in any liberal or provincial position.
  • The results facilitated a long-term interlock between the economies of the United States and Mexico -- one expanding vigorously, the other crippled in its own growth potential. 
This strategic pattern reflected certain long-term developments: 
  • that transportation improvements could
    • extend the terrain control exercised by any commander who worked with developers, and
    • increase the profits of any developer who kept on the side of successful generals
  • that political resistance against central government took the form of regional coalition, headed by one extremist state (South Carolina, or Zacatecas), but
  • that populist sympathies, when they figured in the federalist/centralist fight at all, could sometimes be discerned on the liberal side (as in Zacatecas), but sometimes on the conservative.
 In Mexico, the picture included two rival views on how to integrate the nation, one through a hoped-for regional coalition, the other through a rudimentary transportation scheme: 
 
During 1833, the Gómez Farías administration backed the creation of a western coalition of states, with its own militia, and centered on Zacatecas.  This idea was a territorial expression of a liberal program based on rising rancheros and "new" business interests.  Santa Anna, when he switched to the conservative side, paid more attention to the transportation network over which military action could dominate any territorial interests. In line with this, he gave control over the central transportation routes to a combine of young men headed by Manuel Escandón of Orizaba -- but young men allied to conservative families in the area.
[For more detail on the Mexico-Veracruz connections.]
 
The two views overlap, since both sides were trying to control the  whole society -- not just one approach to it.  This was true for the liberal side as well as the conservative: Zacatecas liberals thought of themselves as a kind of society, not just as a local peculiarity.  Within the region that they hoped to consolidate, there were conservative elements as well as liberal.  Factional struggles marked the internal politics of states like Guanajuato and Michoacán. A decade and two later, Jalisco would harbor conservative rebellions.

And just as neat territorial figures could portray organizational hope but conceal fragmentation, so a diagram of transportation lines does not mean that the group who planned those lines was absolutely solid.  The scheme shown here was backed consistently by Santa Anna on the military side, and by his friend Manuel Escandón on the business side.

But Escandón was ultimately making sure that he ended up on the side of winners and authority. He was willing to support clemency for an unruly liberal general like José Urrea -- who might after all be a winner at some future time.  Much later, while backing proposals to turn Mexico into a monarchy, Escandón kept up connections with the liberal administration of Benito Juárez -- ot at least enough to track financial deals in that direction.
This map of strategic outlooks permits a revised definition of the two sides in the First Civil War:  

Why the Zacatecas Campaign

In 1832, still during the early phase of the Civil War, Santa Anna made a point of courting the governor of Zacatecas, Francisco García.  Soon, though, he was accumulating reasons to turn against the Zacatecans.
  • As long as Zacatecas had a large militia on paper, Santa Anna could not be sure that this force would never become better managed than it had been at El Gallinero.
  • He could not abide depending on rival sources of military strength, whether conservative like Arista, quasi-populist like the Zacatecans, or local-popular like the Guanajuatans.
  • He might assure his own place in the political scene by inserting himself into the former central role of Bustamante -- the role that had included successful action against Zacatecans.
  • If he should defeat Zacatecas, he could put its silver into the hands of his own friends, and open the way for them to extend their connections in that northern state..
  • Santa Anna, once rid of Gómez Farías, pressured state governments to get rid of liberal officials, much as Alamán had done earlier.  A new Congress was elected, meeting the first day of 1835, and army supporters now introduced a program to support the conservative cause.  They pushed through a law that would limit each state's militia to one soldier for each 500 of population.  This appeared reasonable enough, if the local military was not to overawe the very people who supported it.  But it was directed against an array of states, all but one of which had already abandoned their militia in the face of pressure from the permanent army.

    Only in Zacatecas did a liberal governor, García, maintain an independent stance.  The state had 20,000 men on its militia rolls, out of a population of 300,000.  But these 20,000 were simply the number of individuals who were liable to turn out for occasional training, or for duty in case of emergency.  Arms did not exist for the 20,000. Instead, Zacatecas maintained an active force of no more than 4,000 --  even so, of the same order of magnitude as anything that the regular Army could concentrate against it.

    There was some internal resistance to the governor, from older silver interests, and from large land-owners in the area.  García had even seized some haciendas, breaking them up to distribute to small-holders.  While these beneficiaries were not poor Indian communities, their case did give a populist cast to the liberal program in that state..

    Zacatecas refused to accept the law that would reduce its militia.  Santa Anna came up from the south, leading an army of 2,500 against the recalcitrants.  There were rumors that he was really out to steal silver from the Zacatecans.  They, whose 4,000 may not have amounted to more in reality than his 2,500, summoned other cities to contribute forces against him.  The others did not respond.  Some elements within the state, such as conservative militia-members from Aguascalientes, began deserting.  For the Zacatecas leaders, isolated now, given no support by their political allies, much depended on the quality of their military force.  It had been a resource on Santa Anna's side at Guanajuato, yet ineffective at El Gallinero.  García, now commander of this army, had no military reputation.  The local economy, though healthier than the Mexican central treasury, and strong enough to pay its soldiers, was also strong enough to support its population in non-military careers.
     

    The Fight

    The encounter in which Santa Anna defeated the Zacatecans was like El Gallinero, in one way:  the government commander in each case resorted to a rudimentary stratagem, available to anyone with the least experience in local military habits.

    Santa Anna marched his soldiers up through Aguascalientes, with their women, forming the standard Mexican army that was half traveling village.  The system made it easy for him to coop the energies of popular protest into the aggressive drive of his units.

    García simply waited, doing nothing to strike an enemy while still on the move.  When the Zacatecas militia-men threw up a system of trenches outside the city, García insisted on taking a position in the open, just east of the town of Guadalupe, risking all on a single battle. Santa Anna lined up opposite, as if ready for a great confrontation the next day.  To display his force, he even ordered more and more camp-fires set, with the women a bustling humanity in the light.

    But outside the revealing light of the camp-fires, he sent men around García's position, infantry on the north, cavalry farther on the south.  Some say that García's cavalry commander, a traitor, withheld information.  Others say that García refused to believe aides who woke him with reports that Santa Anna was attacking in the early hours of the morning.  The defending soldiers found themselves flanked.  There was some exchange of fire.  The Zacatecans fled. García took refuge in a convent.  Santa Anna even lost a hundred men.   But he took the city.

    The moves of the battle reflected little of any serious strategy.


     

    The victorious soldiers did break and enter and rob.  Their women were reported to have looted, thoroughly, the town nearest the battlefield.

    Santa Anna came in with a hatred of foreigners that may have been the only feeling he still shared with Mexican liberals.  For some liberals, expulsion of Spaniards from Mexico was the center of their program.  And for some among these xenophobes, part of the object was simply to take over Spanish lands and businesses for themselves.  More recently, at Tolomé, Santa Anna had used some foreign officers, and was shamed by their gaze when he was badly defeated.  Most recently, the Zacatecans had at least one of those officers among the foreign mining engineers they used as technical advisers.  And they had foreign customers.  There were Britons and French in the city when Santa Anna entered.  Some got killed, not in fighting.   The Mexican government had to pay an indemnity to the British government.

    Some foreign observers said they saw more than theft and selective killing -- or heard about more, and believed more.  Soldiers were let loose on the town, to loot of course.  And the more?  A French writer told of soldiers who killed a pregnant Frenchwoman, crying , "Open her belly . . .  we'll find a little Jew we can throw to the dogs."

    That story may be atrocity myth.  But the sack of Zacatecas became a center point in municipal memory, even while the city fathers turned out to flatter their conqueror.
    Atrocities aside, Santa Anna exacted his revenge.  He cut a southern corner away from the state, setting it up as the separate state of Aguascalientes.  And he seized quantities of Zacatecan silver, which was sold off, supposedly on the government's behalf, but at cut rates to Santa Anna's friends, who could then re-sell it on the market.  When the round of spoliation was done, he left the area in the control of a newly-organized "Finance Company of Mexico and Zacatecas" (Compañía Aviadora de México y Zacatecas).

    Soon his commercial friend Manuel Escandón, from Orizaba, turned up on the scene, extending his interests and building connections with the old pre-García elite.

     

    What It Meant to All America

    Zacatecas had two kinds of silver.  There was the silver in the ground, together with the machinery to process it.   And there was the silver on hand, in warehouses and mints and private stores.  Some of this on hand was for private consumer expenses, some for shipment abroad, some for investment, some for the upkeep of the silver industry itself.  Some of these uses were threatened by Santa Anna's confiscations.

    Silver had something of the geopolitical role in the Americas that oil was to have in the 20th century.  Spanish-American silver paid for imports from many parts of the world.  Some of it ended up as deposits in U.S. banks, where it contributed to the stability of the paper money that banks issued, and where it facilitated the importation of consumer goods from Europe and the Orient.  Mexico could have used silver to help balance its national budget, and thus pay for defense -- if much of the metal had not been smuggled out of the country, evading taxes.  Among the miners who were rebuilding operations in this period, many were small operators who could escape detection, while the large operators in places like Zacatecas had been strong enough to act as independent powers.

    The ambitious Santa Anna, himself the localist soldier turned centralist, had defeated the resistance coming from a different kind of localism that had its own connections to the world economy.  The battles of El Gallinero and Zacatecas were defeats administered to the silver-mining or western coalition, by the mercantile and money-lending interests of the Veracruz-Mexico City axis.

    Zacatecas, holding out longest in its group, seemed finally alone on the Mexican political scene.  It was not alone in the whole continental picture.  The strategic situation in Mexico was only a special case of conflicts that kept turning up.  Productive interests in the interior, whether buffalo hunters or fur trappers or silver miners or even cotton planters, were vulnerable to merchants who connected them to the outside world.  The merchants were vulnerable in turn to military operators who, whether bandits or commissioned officers or indigenous warriors, could exercise control over trade routes.
     


     
     
    Far away, in the United States, Andrew Jackson had won a second term, in the election of 1832. Jackson had also withdrawn government deposits from the Bank of the United States, distributing the money among friendly banks chartered by the states.  That was looting of another sort, even if bloodless.

    By the time of Santa Anna's vengeance on Zacatecas, Jackson had named a new Secretary of the Treasury, his liberal spokesman-supporter, Levi Woodbury.  Woodbury set to work administering the "pet-bank" system by careful bankers' rules, as if to make sure that the "looted" money really had been liberated to serve an expanding economy. U.S.-sold cloth was entering the Mexican market, and the returns brought silver, which strengthened local banks and helped to head off the most inflationary results of land speculation.

    The U.S. Congress had brought off the Compromise of 1833 without spilling Army blood, civilian blood, or even South Carolina blood.  Jackson, defending national integrity at the expense of dogmatic slaveholders, seemed a contrast to Santa Anna, who had vindicated nationality at the cost of destroyed lives and violated laws.

    (The United States was storing up its bloodier crises for the future.)
    Jackson also protected the national treasury, which relied on customs receipts to bring in budgetary surpluses.  In 1835, at a time when the Mexican government was forever bankrupt, torn between foreign debts and military greed, the United States succeeded in paying off, completely, its national debt.  A wide economic gap had opened up between the two nations.

    The El Gallinero and Zacatecas campaigns marked a decisive stage in Mexico's unequal relation to the United States.  The core of that inequality was a difference in whether internal rivals, within each nation, could compromise their differences enough to allow productive resources to flow into new industry.

    Santa Anna's friends, many of them with roots in an older society, had grabbed capital for their own ends.  Jackson's friends, committed though he was to the landowner as a source of country credit, were willing to let a capital "grab" flow into "responsible" channels.  Land and economic development could become allies of a sort, everywhere -- but not in equal ways for the two countries.
     


     

    References:

    Site Map | About Copyright 1999 The Intermountain History Group, intermtn@sprynet.com. All rights reserved.