A biographer has called him the “Tejano Tiger.” His name is Col. Santos Benavides. He was the highest-ranking Hispanic in the Confederacy. Over 10,000 Tejanos, the Mexican-American inhabitants of southern Texas, fought in the Civil War in South Texas in over 100 significant battles. Here is his inspirational story.
Before serving with the Confederacy, Benavides had a reputation as an Indian fighter. He gained commission as captain in the 33rd Thirty-third Texas Cavalry (or Benavides’ Regiment) and went to serve the Rio Grande Military District. His his reputation as a fighter continued. He drove Juan Cortina back into Mexico in the battle of Carrizo in May 1861, and ended other local revolts against Confederate authority.
Benavides was offered a Union generalship, but turned it down to protect his homeland of Texas. He and his brothers, Santos, Refugio and Cristobal were a formidable fighting force, making up a significant part of the corps of Confederate officers in Texas.
In November 1863 Benavides was promoted to colonel and authorized to raise his own regiment of “Partisan Rangers,” including remnants of the Texas 33rd.
According to sources,
“His greatest military triumph was his defense of Laredo on March 19, 1864, with forty-two troops against 200 soldiers of the Union First Texas Cavalry, commanded by Col. Edmund J. Davis, who had, ironically, offered Benavides a Union generalship earlier.”
Wagon trains full of cargos of cotton, “white gold,” came across the Río Grande and were loaded on Mexican flagships for safe passage past Union warships. The Union Army wanted to stop these shipments that were funding the Confederate Army.
It was on March 18, 1864, when Union Major Alfred Holt led a force of 200 men from Brownsville. Their mission was to destroy 5,000 bales of cotton stacked at the San Agustín Plaza in Laredo.
But Benavides was a Union mission spoiler. After three Union attacks he and just 42 men forced the Yankee invaders back down the Río Grande. These Confederates saved the town and the cotton trade into Mexico.
Colonel Benavides and his troops were said to be:
“the peer of any soldier or officer in the Confederate armies” and received a citation from the Confederate Texas Legislature for “vigilance, energy, and gallantry.”
Well done, “Tejano Tiger.”