The Cortina Wars

Juan Cortina



In a post about fighting in Matamoras on January 12-14, 1864, go here to read it, I mentioned that the leader of the Juarista forces was Colonel Juan Cortina.  A colorful rogue, Cortina had supported the French against the Juaristas before deciding to switch sides.  Throughout his career as a Mexican political and military figure, he endlessly changed sides in internal conflicts, his guiding star always being what was good, at the moment, for Juan Cortina.  After the Mexican War, during which which he led a cavalry regiment for Mexico, his family estates were divided with part in Texas and part in his home Mexican state of Tamaulipas.  Cortina was an important political boss in the South Texas Democratic party and eventually came into conflict with a group of lawyers and judges in Brownsville, who he accused of seeking to appropriate lands of poorer Tejanos.  They accused Cortina of being a cattle rustler.  (Both allegations were doubtless true.)

Cortina assembled a small private army that resisted evictions of Tejanos.  Open fighting broke out on July 13, 1859 when Cortina sought to intervene when the sheriff of Brownsville was brutalizing one of Cortina’s former employees.  When the sheriff refused to stop, Cortina shot him in the shoulder.  Thus the First Cortina War began.  On September 28, 1859 Cortina occupied Brownsville with a force of between 40-80 men, his foes fleeing.  Cortina issued this proclamation:

There is no need of fear. Orderly people and honest citizens are inviolable to us in their persons and interests. Our object, as you have seen, has been to chastise the villainy of our enemies, which heretofore has gone unpunished. These have connived with each other, and form, so to speak, a perfidious inquisitorial lodge to persecute and rob us, without any cause, and for no other crime on our part than that of being of Mexican origin, considering us, doubtless, destitute of those gifts which they themselves do not possess. (…) Mexicans! Peace be with you! Good inhabitants of the State of Texas, look on them as brothers, and keep in mind that which the Holy Spirit saith: “Thou shalt not be the friend of the passionate man; nor join thyself to the madman, lest thou learn his mode of work and scandalize thy soul.

Cortina held on to Brownsville until September 30, 1859.  Skirmishing went on between Cortina’s forces and those of Texas until on December 27, 1859 Cortina was beaten at the battle of Rio Grande City by a mixed force of Texas rangers and US regulars, Cortina losing sixty men and all his equipment.

The Second Cortina War was a much smaller affair.  With the coming of the Civil War, Cortina declared in favor of the Union.  Cortina invaded Zapata county in Texas along the Rio Grande.  He was defeated at the battle of Carrizo on May 22, 1861, by a force led by Confederate Captain Santos Benavides, who would rise in rank to Colonel and commander of the 33rd Texas Cavalry.  A Tejano, Benavides was a judge and member of the Texas legislature, and would be the highest ranking Hispanic in the Confederate Army.

Published in: on August 1, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Cortina Wars  
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