Sunday, July 31, 2016

Scorpions in a Bottle: The Jefferson War



We resume work on Scorpions in a Bottle with the second section of chapter 7, following the course of the Trans-Oceanic War in the Jefferson settlement. As I've noted before, this part of Sobel's history is somewhat problematic, since he never gives us a reason why the Jeffersonians would rebel against Spanish rule and set themselves up as an independent state. I've done what I can to square that circle.

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In Jefferson City, news of the outbreak of war between Britain and Spain met a mixed reaction. By then, the original rebels were greatly outnumbered by more recent settlers from the Southern Confederation, many of whom still had close ties with friends and relatives in the South. Of the settlement’s three governors, Hamilton sympathized most with the British, and he sought to conclude a formal alliance with the British Empire that would allow Jefferson to break away from Spanish rule and become a sixth confederation of the C.N.A.

Hamilton’s proposed alliance was vetoed by his two fellow governors, who affirmed the settlement’s loyalty to the Spanish Empire and sent a bill to the Congress requesting that a militia force be raised to defend Tejas and Louisiana from British and North American incursions. The stage seemed set for war between the Jeffersonians and the North Americans, and Hamilton chose to resign rather than direct a war against the British. Madison and Johnston nominated Senator Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania to replace him, and Rush was unanimously confirmed by his fellow senators. [1]

The Jeffersonians’ response to the war underwent a sudden transformation when Governor Muñoz sent word in December refusing their offer to raise an army in defense of New Spain. By then, the sickly governor’s superiors in Mexico City had become alarmed at the steady influx of North Americans into Tejas, and grew determined to establish firm control over the Jeffersonians. Muñoz declared the Jeffersonian government dissolved, and announced that he was sending a subordinate to take control of the settlement. [2]

The Jeffersonians were stunned. It seemed to them that the events of the American Crisis were being played out again in their new settlement. Overnight, the determination to resist the British was redirected into a determination to resist the Spanish. Although the Jeffersonian government continued to reject Hamilton’s proposed alliance with the British, his plan to break with the Spanish Empire was adopted, and his former colleague Madison called upon him to take command of an army to seize San Antonio and end Spanish rule over Tejas.

Hamilton accepted command of the proposed army, which began assembling in Jefferson City over the winter. At Hamilton’s suggestion, a second army was formed under the command of General Jacob Mellon, who had served as Hamilton’s second-in-command during the Apache War. In March 1796, Mellon’s force was dispatched east with orders to secure as much of southern Louisiana as possible, and New Orleans as well if that proved feasible. As it turned out, Mellon’s army lacked enough artillery and siege equipment to take New Orleans, and in May Mellon left two companies of men under the command of Major Andrew Jackson to keep watch on the city. Mellon turned back with the rest of his army and joined forces with Hamilton in the south. [3]

While Mellon’s men had made their way along the Gulf coast from Henrytown, Hamilton’s army of some 1,500 men set off along the road connecting Jefferson City to San Antonio. Forty miles outside of the provincial capital, near the Rio Guadalupe, Hamilton met a force of some 500 Spanish soldiers under the command of Colonel Juan Bautista Elguézabal, on their way to Jefferson City to enforce Muñoz’s order dissolving the Jeffersonian government. Colonel Elguézabal was unaware of events in the Jefferson settlement, and he initially thought that Hamilton’s men were coming to San Antonio to join the Spanish army.

Hamilton made no reply to Elguézabal’s order to stack arms and prepare to be escorted back to Jefferson City. Instead, he ordered his men to form a line of battle. Elguézabal and his men did not understand the significance of the maneuver until Hamilton ordered his men to attack the Spanish. Despite enjoying the element of surprise and a three-to-one advantage, the Jeffersonians were nearly defeated by the Spanish. It was only due to Hamilton’s ability to rally his faltering army on several occasions, and the death of Elguézabal late in the battle, that the Jeffersonians were finally able to prevail. [4]

With their victory at the Battle of Rio Guadalupe, the Jeffersonians were able to march into San Antonio unopposed. Governor Muñoz was sent back to Jefferson City under guard, and Hamilton addressed the San Antonio ayuntamiento, declaring the formation of the State of Jefferson and asking them to send a delegate to the Chamber of Representatives in Jefferson City to act as the city’s representative. The victory over Elguézabal proved costly enough that Hamilton chose to remain in San Antonio for the rest of the campaign season. Mellon arrived with his army in September, and Hamilton spent the fall and winter months reorganizing his army and building up supplies for the spring campaign.

Leaving Mellon in charge in San Antonio, Hamilton set out in March 1797 on his march to the Rio Grande, which he intended to establish as the new state’s southern border. In April, Hamilton’s army occupied the river town of Laredo, the capital of the province of Nuevo Santander. As he had done in San Antonio, Hamilton had the governor taken into custody and escorted to Jefferson City. He then addressed the town’s residents, claiming Laredo for the State of Jefferson and asking them to choose a representative to send to the Chamber in Jefferson City. Hamilton spent the summer and fall in Laredo, fortifying the town in preparation for an expected counterattack by Spanish forces from Mexico City. In October, he left for Jefferson City to consult with the three governors. [5]
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1. Guerrero. The State of Jefferson, pp. 217-21.

2. Henry Miles. Jefferson in the Trans-Oceanic War (Mexico City, 1956), pp. 42-53. Some historians believe that Muñoz was delirious or under the influence of alcohol-based medication when he issued his orders to the Jeffersonians. See Lysander Gomez. “Possible Incapacitation of Governor Manuel Muñoz,” Journal of Jeffersonian History, XCVI (February, 2002), pp. 712-19.

3. Henry Miles. The Mellon Campaign in the Trans-Oceanic War (Mexico City, 1949), pp. 173-79.

4. Elizabeth Wolters. The Battle of Rio Guadalupe (Jefferson City, 1998).

5. Miles. Jefferson in the Trans-Oceanic War, pp. 337-48.

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