Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Battle of Medina, Texas

It was on this day in 1813 that the bloodiest battle ever fought on Texas soil occurred. Often overlooked, it was a fight between republicans and royalists and was the climax of what is often known as the Magee-Gutierrez Expedition, an unholy alliance of Mexican republican revolutionaries led by Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara and a filibuster (land pirate) army led by a disgruntled former US Army lieutenant named Augustus Magee. Flying a solid green flag (possibly the design of Magee who was an Irish Protestant) they invaded Texas with their grandly named Republican Army of the North. However, American filibusters and Mexican revolutionaries made a poor team and their alliance did not finally go very smoothly. Nacogdoches was taken easily enough but a four month siege of the presidio at Goliad ended in disaster when Spanish troops directed by the Royal Governor of Texas, Manuel Maria de Salcedo, defeated the republicans and relieved the fort.

Magee was dead by that time, replaced by Samuel Kemper, who led the republicans toward San Antonio. Near Mission San Francisco de Espada they defeated the Spanish garrison at the battle of Rosillo and captured the capital. However, an outraged Kemper parted company with the revolutionaries when they took the Royal Governor and all Spanish officials out of town and massacred them after they had surrendered on promises of fair treatment. That act ensured that the subsequent Spanish counter-attack would be unabashedly merciless. Gutierrez likewise did not see the effort through as he was overthrown in a coup by Jose Alvarez de Toledo y Dubois. Nonetheless, with the defeat of the Spanish garrison the republicans thought they had won the day as New Spain was being racked by unrest while the homeland was under the enforced reign of King Jose Bonaparte.

Nonetheless, the Spanish soon struck back with a royalist army of some 1,830 men under the command of the Commandant-General of the Interior Provinces Joaquin de Arredondo. By early August the royalists were assembled in Laredo and marching north to San Antonio. Toledo gathered his own motley force of 1,400 republicans and moved south of town to meet the Spanish column. He camped six miles from the royalist camp between the Atascosa and Medina rivers on August 17. Toledo planned to ambush them as they marched up the Laredo road toward the capital. However, royalist scouts spotted the republicans and lured them into an ambush in a thick oak forest. Acting without orders the republicans trudged after the Spanish cavalry thinking it to be the main army in flight. Meanwhile, General Arredondo prepared his defenses and planned a brilliant strategy.

Arredondo arranged his army in a V formation and lured the republicans in to attack him. Hot, tired and thirsty they came within 40 paces of the Spanish line before the royalists opened fire, devastating their ranks. The battle was joined with cavalry charges, infantry exchanging volleys and canon thundering overhead. For four hours the struggle went on and Arredondo began to fear that he would be overwhelmed and was about to order a retreat when he learned that the republicans were beaten and falling back in a disorganized retreat. The General rallied his troops and ordered them to charge. The order was passed down the ranks -take no prisoners. The last bit of fighting and summary executions went on for some time and ultimately less than 100 republicans managed to survive, those not killed in battle being executed trying to escape.

The royalist army lost only 55 men and these were given a proper Catholic burial whereas the republican dead were left where they were. One young officer with Arredondo who took his lesson on how to deal with rebels and land pirates was the future dictator of Mexico Lt. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. For the time being the authority of the King of Spain had been restored across Texas and would continue until 1821 with the birth of the short-lived Mexican Empire.

10 comments:

  1. Wow. I vaguely remember this item, mostly I remember the figure of Arredondo. Thanks for the little-known history lesson.

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  2. That is a motley looking lot of infantry in that painting, except for the officer and the NCO's. What is the name of this picture. Who is the artist?

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  3. I'm not sure of the artists name but it looks fairly accurate to me. Spanish colonial forces, especially at that time, were not the best outfitted in the world and only the officers are shown in proper uniform. Rest assured their republican enemies looked no better, more like a wild gang of outlaws other than possibly the occasional US army or militia uniform worn by the odd veteran.

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  4. Oh, I'd be willing to bet a good many of the Spanish colonial formations were of higher quality than the Peninsular regiments -- they might have had to fill up the ranks with whatever local militia they could find, but I bet they had a hard core of pretty experienced soldiers. Their equipment was probably worse than the home garrisons -- but the colonial troops would have no doubt had constant business of one time or another.

    The home regiments were a real mixed bag and mostly did poorly against the French in 1808, with some exceptions. I have always been intrigued by a regiment that appears in one of the few significant Spanish victories against the French Imperial Armies -- Bailen -- on the rolls of one of the Spanish divisions is a formation called "Tercios de Tejas." By title that's a militia formation, but it's a long way from home!

    The white uniforms look a lot like the pre 1791 model for infantry of the line.

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  5. Definitely so but, as you say, the colonial forces in New Spain (Mexico-Texas) were kept fairly busy dealing with Indian raids, local banditry and of course filibuster incursions like the one above, really a combination of American filibusters and Mexican revolutionaries. The white uniforms were rather outdated looking and sometimes you will see more "Napoleonic" styles but I tend to think the above is more accurate as what evidence there is seems to indicate that troops on the frontier were among the last to change over to the new fashions. As for the Tercios de Tejas (obviously a unit I am partial to) I would like to find out more about them as well but, much as I would prefer otherwise, I don't think they were native 'Tejanos' but were raised for service in Texas but the crisis with France forced them to stay and fight at home.

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  6. Yes, here's where I saw that:

    "The Texas Spanish Tercios were raised from 6 Aug 1804 to send to Texas (Chartrand, 1998). They never reached Texas. They were originally meant to have four light infantry tercios and four cavalry tercios, but only two, battalion sized infantry tercios were ever formed. Fought at Bailen (18-22 Jul 1808). On 12 Aug 1808 one tercio was converted to the Batallon de Cazadores de Bailen and the other to Batallon de Cazadores de Las Navas de Tolosa."

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  7. Hey Thanx Mad M! I am interested in this unit for similar reasons.

    I'm gathering this is from a work by Rene Chartrand. Which publication? At home, I have some Osprey books on the Napoleonic era Spanish Army (I'm thinking one might be his in which case the answer's under my nose, or will be later).

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  8. I think so, though I don't have it in front of me. The only other is an older book called 'The Spanish army in the Peninsular War' By Charles J. Esdaile

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  9. My eighth great grandfather survived this battle.I bear his name.I live near Nacogdoches in Angelina Co.

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  10. Sorry I was wrong! Benjamin Allen was killed in this Battle.

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