The strange story of a forgotten battalion of Mexican-Americans in the Civil War.
The Forgotten Mexican-American History of the Civil War
As most folks reading this know all too well, these are strange times in my home state of Arizona. The Mexican-American community is under political assault, with their very status as Americans coming into question. Here in Tucson, a school board has gone out of its way to appease state officials by enforcing a ban on teaching the role of Mexican-Americans in our shared history.
This project is my little way of striking back against this.
The current political dogma is based on the premise that Mexican-Americans are a new community, largely without roots in the United States. This is pure bunk. Mexican-Americans have always been here, though their role in building this country is too frequently dismissed and forgotten. In particular, the role of Mexican-Americans in the Civil War usually goes unmentioned.
Thousands of Mexican-Americans served on both sides of the great conflict, from Pennsylvania to the Pacific Coast. This project focuses on one battalion, about 400 men (plus their wives, in a few cases), raised from among the californios, the Spanish-Speaking natives of California, in the hopes that their legendary horsemanship could be put to good use in the federal service. These men served in California by supporting a campaign against Indians in the northern counties, pursuing bandits in the Central Valley, securing the roads across the southern deserts, and generally enforcing federal authority during the national crisis. Later, they were posted to a squalid post on the Mexican border in Arizona, from where they patrolled against Apaches and partisans of the Emperor Maximilian.
The Civil War is the great American Epic, our Iliad. That Mexican-Americans were a part of this story and therefore share in our national heritage is an inconvenient truth that is too little known. I hope that in a small way, this book can give this record its proper place in the popular imagination.
The book, tentatively titled Knights of Woeful Countenance: 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry, California Volunteers, 1863-1866, is an expansion of an article that was published in the Journal of Arizona History in 1999. The article received an award from the Arizona Historical Society in 2000 and has since been posted online by the California Military History Museum.
At this point, much of the research is finished. The request here will allow me the time and resources to complete the writing that remains.
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