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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

The First Texas Revolution

by Clay Coppedge

While America was battling the British - again - in the Northeast, Texas had its own War of 1812. That's when a ragtag group of Mexicans, Tejanos, Anglos and American Indians calling themselves the Republican Army of the North invaded Texas as part of a military campaign to free all of Mexico from Spanish rule.

They actually succeeded, and on April 6, 1813 - 23 years before the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto - issued the first Texas Declaration of Independence. Historians call this the Green Flag Revolt, or the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition.

José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, a native of the Rio Grande town of Revilla, and Augustus Magee, a former U.S. Army lieutenant, commanded the Republican Army of the North. Marching under a green battle flag, the rebels invaded Texas from the Louisiana town of Natchitoches and quickly captured Nacogdoches, then took a small town on the Trinity River called Trinidad de Saucedo and the Spanish fort Presidio La Bahia at Goliad with very little trouble. With each conquest, the rebel army's numbers swelled.

About 800 Spanish soldiers led by Governor Manuel Maria de Salcedo went looking for the rebel upstarts, found them at Presidio La Bahia and fired the first shots in what would be a four-month stalemate. Magee fell ill and died during the siege, leaving a group of rebels already low on provisions and morale teetering on the brink of collapse.

Weirdly enough, the Spanish decided to call the whole thing off around this time and go back to San Antonio. A fair number of royalist soldiers loitered long enough to join the rebel forces, now under the command of Virginia Colonel Samuel Kemper.

The suddenly mobile, expanded and united Republican Army of the North regrouped, killed 300 royalists at Salado Creek, survived an ambush at Rosillo Creek and marched into San Antonio unopposed. Salcedo and a few of his top officers surrendered. The remaining royalist troops and officers joined the rebels, along with former rebel prisoners.

On April 6, 1813, the Republican Army of the North declared its independence from the Spanish, and the Spanish more or less agreed. Gutiérrez formed a provisional government, organized a tribunal that found Salcedo and Captain Simon Herrera guilty of treason and condemned them to death.

U.S. officers, most of them adventurers rather than patriots, protested. Aside from any moral qualms arising from the executions, the U.S., with its tacit approval of or, perhaps more accurately, apathy toward the revolution, would not look kindly upon such an episode. The Americans thought they had the rebels talked into sending Salcedo and the others to prison in southern Mexico or exile in Louisiana, but they were dead wrong.

Instead, rebel captain Antonio Delgado marched Salcedo and 13 others six miles out of town and killed them, slitting their throats and leaving their bodies to rot in the sun. Back in San Antonio , Delgado bragged about what he'd done and how he did it. His conceit would be short-lived

Spain retaliated by sending General Joaquin de Arredondo and about 1,800 soldiers to take on the 1,400 rebel fighters, now under the command of Jose Alvarez de Toledo. Hoping to spare San Antonio the ravages of a major battle, the rebels marched out to meet the royalists in the countryside. They set up about six miles from Arredondo's camp, planning to ambush the royalists along the Laredo road, but royalist scouts sniffed out the strategy and set in motion what remains the deadliest battle ever fought on Texas soil.

First, the royalists lured and baited the rebels into prime firing range. Of the 1,400 rebels who marched into the trap, only 100 or so, maybe fewer, got out alive. The rebel bodies stayed on the battlefield, unburied, for nine years.

The first Texas revolution was over, but a couple of revolutions later Mexico would free itself of Spanish control. Like the Spanish, the new Mexican government would have no small amount of trouble with rebels north of the Rio Grande.

One of the young royalist officers paying close attention and taking notes on how all this played out in 1812-1813 was Lt. Antonio Lopes de Santa Anna, who would come back to Texas 23 years later, under the Mexican flag, to quell another revolt and stage his own massacres, but with far different results.



© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" June 16, 2017 column


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