Hispanics in the Civil War Part I

My thanks to author Ted Alexander, Historian and Ranger of the Antietam National Battlefield for permission to use this article.
 
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Although the Civil War is viewed generally as a conflict between white Anglo-Saxon Protestants from two separate regions of the country, people from many diverse religious, racial and ethnic backgrounds participated also.

Among them were a considerable number of Hispanic Americans. This brochure is designed to present an overview of the contributions of Hispanic Americans in the Civil War.

The Spanish Influence in America

The first major European influence in America was Spanish. At one time Spain laid claim to much of the land that today comprises the area from Florida west to California. Indeed a number of Confederate soldiers from the deep south states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas were of Spanish descent. The Mexican War and the resulting land acquisitions from it, along with the California Gold Rush, further increased Anglo-American contact with Spanish-American culture.

Although much of Protestant America rejected this culture as too "Romish", many manifestations of it became part of everyday culture in the United States. For example, many towns were given the names of places associated with the Mexican War. Thus, you can find east of the Mississippi, places with names such as Buena Vista, Monterrey and Saltillo. Some communities were inspired by
the struggles for independence in Latin America and their leaders. Thus, one community in Virginia (now West Virginia) was named Bolivar in honor of the great revolutionary leader, Simon Bolivar.

Of the original thirteen colonies, Hispanic influence was perhaps most pronounced in South Carolina. There, Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal had settled as early as 1695. These people played a prominent role in the commerce of the region. Confederate Secretary of War and later Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin, was a Sephardic Jew. His maternal ancestors, the Mendes family had been one of the most prominent Jewish families in Spain prior to being expelled in 1492. In addition, port cities such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia would contain a sprinkling of people of Spanish descent.

Parts of the deep south that were former Spanish colonies retained some of their Spanish heritage up to the time of the Civil War. This was true especially in the Gulf states. Louisiana in particular had a culture that was a mixture of French, Spanish and Anglo influences. The Creoles of Louisiana were the aristocracy that traced its lineage either to the original Spanish or French colonists. Many units from that state contained men with Spanish surnames on their muster rolls.

The major Spanish influence was in the southwest. Many areas in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas were predominantly Spanish.

Hispanics and the War

It is difficult to determine exactly how many Hispanics fought in the Civil War. It is estimated that approximately 10,000 Mexican-Americans, mostly from New Mexico, Texas, and California served. About half of these served in New Mexico units (mostly territorial militia). Many of the rest came from Texas. Although most of these men were Union Soldiers, approximately 2,550 Mexican-Americans from Texas-"Tejanos", served in the Confederate army.

Because of the Spanish heritage of many areas of the deep south, a number of Confederate regiments from states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi contained men with Spanish surnames. This was particularly true with units raised in the coastal areas of these states.

In the North, Hispanic influence was minimal. However, units from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts and other eastern seaboard states contained some Hispanics on their rolls.

Confederate and Union Units Containing Hispanics.

CONFEDERATE

Alabama

Spanish Guards: This company of 81 men was almost exclusively Spanish surnamed. It served as a home guard in the Mobile area during the latter part of the war.

55th Infantry: saw service in the western theater of the war in the Vicksburg, Atlanta and Nashville Campaigns.

Florida

This states early colonization by Spain and its connection to Cuba resulted in many in its population being of Spanish descent. The following units as well as others from Florida contained Hispanic surnamed soldiers on its muster rolls.

1st Florida Cavalry: saw service in Florida and the Western Theater of the War. In December 1863 it was consolidated into the 4th Florida Infantry and served with the Army of Tennessee until the end of the war.

2nd Infantry: saw service in the Army of Northern Virginia in battles such as Antietam and Gettysburg.

Louisiana

Because of a significant number of people in this state of Hispanic descent it is hard to determine how many served in Confederate units. Surely several thousand would not be an inaccurate estimate. Representative units with Hispanics on their rolls include:

Hay's Brigade: composed of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 14th Regiments.

Starke's Brigade: Composed of the 1st, 2nd, 9th, 10th, 15th and 1st Louisiana Battalion. These troops have often been popularly referred to as the "Louisiana Tigers, after one company of the 1st Battalion that originally bore that name. At the beginning of the war a number of the units in this brigade wore Zouave style outfits. The ethnicity of the brigades was mixed with native
Louisianans of Anglo and Creole descent; and Irish predominating. A few men from Spain, Cuba, Mexico and other Latin American countries also served. Both brigades served with the Army of Northern Virginia in the Eastern Theater of the war. At Antietam, Hay's Brigade saw action in the Cornfield and Stark's in the East Woods.

European Brigade: This command was formed in February 1862 in response to the threat posed by Federal attempts to capture the city of New Orleans. It's duty was to keep order and defend the city if necessary. It numbered about 4,500 and was composed largely of unnaturalized European residents of New Orleans. Among them: 2,500 Frenchmen, 800 Spaniards and hundreds of others from various European nationalities such as Italian, Swiss and German. Later two other "European Brigades" were formed which also contained large numbers of Spanish.

Texas

1st (Buchel's) Cavalry Regiment: Organized in early spring 1862 at Carreicetas Lake on the Rio Grande. The regiment served in Louisiana including the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. Company C was composed entirely of Mexicans and Tejanos.

Hoods Texas Brigade: (1st, 2nd and 5th Texas) fought at Antietam, suffering heavy casualties in the morning phase. Although most the men were Anglos, a few Mexican-Americans served in its ranks. The most unique name in the brigade was undoubtedly Captain Decimus Et Ultimus Barziza of the Company C. 4th Texas. His name in Latin means "Tenth and Last". As it turned out he was the
tenth and last child in his family.

2nd Texas Mounted Rifles: Organized in May 1861 in south Texas, company B from Bexar County contained 31 Mexican, Americans or "Tejanos." The unit saw service in Sibley's invasion of New Mexico and various other military operations in Texas and Louisiana. Thirty Tejanos also served with an artillery battery attached to this unit during the New Mexico Campaign.

6th Texas Infantry: Tejanos from the San Antonio area served with this unit at battles such as Chickamauga, Atlanta, Franklin and Nashville.

8th Texas Infantry: Served in the Trans__Mississippi in Texas and Louisiana. Several hundred Tejanos were in this regiment.

8th Texas Cavalry (Terry's Texas Rangers): This regiment was known as one of the hardest fighting cavalry regiments in the western theater. It saw action at Shiloh, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Knoxville and Atlanta. Most of the men in Company C were natives of Mexico.

Benevides Cavalry: The largest and most effective Confederate Tejano unit was commanded by Colonel Santos Benevides of Laredo. His Command saw active service along the Rio Grande against Union regulars and guerrillas. His brothers, Cristobal and Refugio, were company commanders in this unit. One of the major duties they had was to keep the Confederate cotton trade into Mexico free from Union interference. On March 19, 1864 the unit repulsed a Union attempt to capture Laredo and 5,000 bales of cotton that were stored there. A few days later the unit assisted in driving back a Federal force at Brownsville. Benevide's cavalry was one of the last Confederate commands to surrender at the end of the war.

Waul's Legion Infantry: Served in Mississippi and Louisiana. It served at Vicksburg where it was captured. Later the regiment was stationed in Galveston. One company was composed of Mexicans and Tejanos.

UNION

California

Several thousand Mexican__Americans served in the California Militia during the Civil War, but did not leave the state, so saw no action. Their main duty was to guard against Indians and bandits. Research suggests that many of these troops wore vaquero clothing or Mexican style uniforms. All of the California volunteer cavalry were issued "California style" saddles that very much like the Mexican saddle of the period.

New Mexico

Nearly 5,000 Mexican-Americans from here served in the Union Army, mostly in New Mexico volunteer militia units raised during the Confederate invasion of the territory in March 1862. Some of these units, such as the 2nd and 3rd New Mexico Volunteers participated in the Battle of Valverde.

New York

A number of New York regiments, particularly from New York City, contained Hispanics. One of soldier, Don Pedro H. Alvarez, was discharged from the 5th New York Zouaves for failure to understand the English language. Other Hispanics fared better in regiments such as the 9th New York (Hawkin's Zouaves) which fought at Antietam.

39th New York Infantry-The Garibaldi Guard: One company of this multi-ethnic regiment was composed of Spaniards and Portuguese. Other companies contained Italians, Germans, Swiss and Frenchmen. At the beginning of the war, the regiment wore a style of uniform similar to the Italian Bersagleri. The regiment was captured at Harpers ferry in September 1862 and was back in
action in time for the Battle of Gettysburg and the rest of the major campaigns of the Army of the Potomac through to the end of the war.

Texas

Nearly 1,000 Tejanos fought for the Union. Most of them were from the lower classes which shared little empathy with what they perceived as a white Anglo slave holding aristocracy.

2nd Texas Cavalry: This unit was formed in Brownsville in 1863 and was composed almost entirely of Mexicans. Indeed 75% of the men in the 2nd were born in Mexico and much of the regiment was recruited on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. A sprinkling of other nationalities could be found in its ranks including men from Cuba, Nicaragua, Spain, Italy, France and Germany. Most of
the men were laborers, herdsmen, farmers and ranch hands prior to enlistment and only about 10% were literate and many of them could not speak English. Many of the soldiers in this regiment wore wide brimmed "sombrero" style hats rather than the regulation issue. The regiment served in Texas and Louisiana. In March 1865 it was merged with the 1st Texas Cavalry.

Vidal's Cavalry Company: This outfit of approximately 60 men was organized by Captain Adrian J. Vidal near Brownsville in October 1863. It was made up entirely of Mexicans or Tejanos. The company was in Confederate service for a few weeks and then defected to the Union side. In June 1884, Vidal and some of his men deserted and fled to Mexico. There, Vidal joined the revolutionary forces of President Benito Juarez, but was captured and executed by the imperialist forces of Emperor Maximilian.

Union Guerrillas Units: Throughout the war the Confederate supply lines and the cotton trade with Mexico were harassed by bands of Mexicans or Tejanos that normally would have been referred to as outlaws. However, Union authorities took advantage of this situation and provided these forces with aid in the form of money, supplies and weapons. Guerilla leaders such as Caciano
Cavantes, Antonio Ochoa, Cecilio Valerio and Antonio Zapata, operating out of Mexico, were a constant thorn in the side of the Confederates.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Hispanics in the Civil War Part I
Author: Ted Alexander, Ranger and Historian of Antietam National Battlefield.

Source:

Written by Ted Alexander and Edited by Paul Chiles. September 1990. Permission to Use by Ted Alexander.
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