Today in Latin America, The Battles of Buena Vista

In a time period that I am just beginning to learn as I write, Latin America at the turn of independence was volatile place where many countries had yet to set down upon a chosen path. The Mexican Independence movement against Spain in the 1820s is widely known, not to say the events discussed today are not. But the Mexican-American War in 1846 is often, at least for North Americans, taught only in the context of US imperialism and territorial ambitions.

The Battle of Angostura (Buena Vista) occurred 162 years ago today in what is today Coahuila, Mexico.


Of course, the war resulted over what later became the state of Texas. Of course, the war ended with the US occupation of Mexico City in 1848 and the concession of what is today Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. But Buena Vista – this was the last stand.

On its surface, the war was a mishmash of personalities. For Mexico, it was Santa Anna. For the US, it was president James K. Polk, future leaders like Zachary Taylor, Winfield Scott, and a minor appearance by Jefferson Davis. This is not a study into the causes of the war, or who crossed the Rio Grande first. This is a look at a turning point. A fragment. A peek into a window of a whole.

Zachary Taylor captured Saltillo in in 1846 defying President Polk’s orders to stay his ground (he was actually supposed to be in the gulf coast). That summer, Santa Anna (Antonio López de Santa Anna) returned from exile, gained power again and raised an army in San Luis Potosi of nearly 25,000. After taking the state of Monterrey back, he marched North, toward Saltillo, where the Mexican Army would try to push Taylor out of Mexico for good.

The war, like many in the mid-1800s, relied less on pride and service than adequate payments and food. The ways in which the people were subverted for the glory of their generals led to massive desertions on both sides.

That said, by the time Santa Anna arrived in Agua Nueva on Feb. 21, 12 miles from the mountain pass of Buena Vista, he only had 12,000 men of his original 25,000. Santa Anna saw Taylor’s retreat as a surrender. It was not. That night Taylor himself shored up supplies and support from surrounding militias. Thus, the last battle in Northern Mexico began on this morning in 1847.

As I am not war buff, the battle itself, to me, is a perpetuation of that which I cannot stand. But, the importance and causality stemming from this clash is interesting and has had lasting significance on Latin America.

Zachary Taylor used Buena Vista to become president in 1848; this would be his final battle. Santa Anna declared victory at Buena Vista, but he hardly had room for such a claim. He lost thousands of men and, in the end, was forced from Northern Mexico all the same to return to Mexico City to defend the capital against General Winfield Scott, who would occupy the city in 1848.

The land grab, the acquisition of Texas, the drawing of borders on the Rio Grande – all have had major implications for Mexico and Latin America. It also had consequences for the United States as well. It was not just Thoreau who could not stand the war – there was a concentrated opposition to Polk’s war, to Texas. But, the machines continued to roll. From this victory, Manifest Destiny was strengthened (1898 would be its apogee) and would withstand pressures from below as anti-imperialism began to be a useful ideology. But, this would all have to wait until the country stopped bleeding itself to death from Civil War less than two decades later.


~ by Daniel on February 23, 2009.

One Response to “Today in Latin America, The Battles of Buena Vista”

  1. […] San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. This is a continuation of pieces I’ve began elsewhere on the Mexican-American War and the twentieth century of […]

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