In honor of Hispanic History Month, let’s talk about Hispanics and the Confederacy. Were there Hispanics in the Confederacy? Yes, there were. The highest ranking Mexican-American in the Confederacy was Santos Benavides. Santos rose to command the 33rd Texas Cavalry, known as Benavides’ Regiment. His ancestor founded the town of Laredo. His uncle served as Alcalde of the town while still under Mexican rule and later as mayor and state representative under the new Texas state government. Santos himself served as mayor prior to the war. Prior to the war, Santos led several campaigns against the Apaches and other Indians. The economy in Webb County, where Laredo was located, was ranching. Santos owned no slaves prior to the war. Indeed, there were no slaves in Webb County before the Civil War.
Santos’ biggest claim to fame was repelling the attempted Yankee incursion of Laredo in 1864. With just 44 Texas cavalrymen, he drove off 200 Texas Union soldiers under the command of the future Texas governor, Edmund Davis. During the war, Santos made it possible for the Confederacy to export cotton to Matamoros, Mexico. Matamoros was across the river from Brownsville. But, Brownsville was occupied by the Federals. Though always under-funded and lacking in food and supplies, the 33rd Texas cavalry never lost an engagement. Two of Santos’ brothers, Refugio and Cristobal, also served in the 33rd as captains.
See more about Col. Santos Benavides Texas State Historical Association here.
The Alamo Rifles
According to the Texas State Historical association, at least 2,500 Mexican Texans joined the Confederate army. Among those were Antonio Bustillos and Eugenio Navarro. They both enlisted in Capt. Samuel McAllister’s company, which became Co. K of the Sixth Texas Infantry Regiment. McCallister’s company was known as the “Alamo Rifles.” S.W. McAllister had been a city Alderman and Ranger before the war. In November, 1861, he wrote to the commander of the Texas military department saying it was hard to recruit Texans for Infantry service. They all wanted to go to war mounted.
Both Bustillos and Navarro enlisted in San Antonio in April, 1862. They joined a year after the initial patriotic rush to join. The Confederate Conscription Act of 1862 was passed on April 16, 1862. Bustillos joined on April 17, 1862, probably too soon to have been influenced by the act.
Before enlisting, Eugenio was a clerk, as was his father, Antonio. His father was not the famous Jose Antonio Navarro, who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Eugenio appears in the Confederate service records as “Eugene.” Eugenio was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and later to 1st Lieutenant. As part of the Sixth Texas Infantry, he served in the Army of Tennessee. He was captured at the Battle of Arkansas Post on Jan. 11, 1863. That battle occurred as part of the Vicksburg campaign led by Gen. John McClernand and Admiral David Porter. Eugenio was captured again at the Battle of Franklin. Eugenio’s family owned no slaves. There were 1,394 slaves in Bexar County in 1860. Bexar county was much larger in 1860 than its present borders.
After the war, Eugene Navarro served as City Clerk for San Antonio. He was described as a man of energy and as well-liked. He participated in July 4th celebrations. In 1869, at the conclusion of a town parade, Navarro read the Declaration of Independence at the popular park, San Pedro Springs.
Antonio Bustillos was probably the man known as Jose Antonio Martinez Bustillos. His father was known as Don Domingo Bustillos, In the 1850 census. Don Domingo owned $2,000 worth of real estate, which likely means he owned a ranch in Bexar County. Antonio was also captured at the Battle of Arkansas Post in Arkansas. He served the remainder of the war with the Sixth Texas Infantry and surrendered with the regiment in 1865. Antonio’s family owned no slaves.
It was said of the Alamo Rifles that they left San Antonio for the war with slightly less than 100 men. They came back to San Antonio after the war with less than 20 men.
1850, 1860 U.S. census
Texas State Historical Assoc. online
San Antonio Express, June 25, 1869, p. 3, col. 1
San Antonio Express, Feb. 17, 1872, p. 2, col. 4
San Antonio Express, Feb. 9, 1902, p. 8, col. 1