|Second Mexican War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|James G. Blaine|
The Second Mexican War was a conflict fought from June 25, 1881 until April 22, 1882. It was fought between the United States of America on one side and an alliance of the Confederate States of America, Great Britain, and France on the other. Despite the name, which came to be attached to this war, the government of Imperial Mexico itself had but a very minor role in the conflict. The war began when hardline Republican U.S. President James G. Blaine declared war on the CSA to prevent its purchase of the provinces of Sonora and Chihuahua from Mexico. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army was completely unprepared after years of neglect and poor organization following its defeat in the War of Secession nearly two decades before. Hampered, too, by ineffectual leadership, U.S. military forces were conquered on all but one front. Blockaded from the sea and with no victories on land, the USA was eventually forced to surrender, losing a sizeable portion of northern Maine to Canada. This second humiliation finally made the leaders and people of the U.S. realize that they needed strong European allies, which the U.S. had steadfastly avoided. When the German Empire began to make diplomatic overtures, the USA soon accepted them. The war also led to the beginning of the Remembrance era in the United States, and would also lead to the extension of the Great War on the North American continent in 1914.
In 1880, almost a generation after the War of Secession began, the Democrats, whose leadership had been seen as mainly subservient to the CSA, were finally voted out of office by a frustrated public. As a result, the Republicans under candidate James G. Blaine captured the presidency. Blaine's election campaign had relied mostly upon a hardline platform towards the CSA, a stance which now appealed to the American people.
To the south, the Empire of Mexico was bankrupt and desperately needed money to pay its creditors (primarily bankers in London and Paris). The CSA proposed solving Mexico's financial problems by purchasing the provinces of Sonora and Chihuahua for three million dollars. Realizing that this would give the Confederacy an important Pacific port, President Blaine threatened war if the sale went ahead.
In the CSA, President James Longstreet knew that a quick, decisive war along with intervention from England and France was the CSA's only hope for victory, as he knew that a protracted war with the USA would end only in defeat for the Confederate States. England and France, on the other hand, refused to assist the CSA unless they agreed to manumit their slaves; France also refused to act without England. Longstreet agreed to their demands, as he felt that slavery would likely inhibit the Confederacy's economy in the 20th century, and pledged that all slaves within the CSA would be manumitted one year after the end of hostilities. With backing from both countries, Longstreet went ahead with the purchase of the two Mexican provinces.
On the 14th of June, C.S. forces moved into the newly purchased provinces and Blaine issued an ultimatum: withdraw all Confederate forces from the Mexican territories within ten days or face war. The CSA refused to do this and when the deadline passed, Blaine asked for and received a declaration of war from Congress.
War Plans and Strategies
The U.S. Army, under the leadership of Major General William Rosecrans, had one main strategy in mind: to strike at the CSA all at once along the entire frontier, forcing the Confederates to stretch thin their limited forces, thereby making it easier to overwhelm the C.S. Army with the numerically superior U.S. Army. Like many in the U.S., General Rosecrans believed in the overall superiority of the United States, and that the Confederate victory in the last war had been a matter of luck. While Rosecrans chose to fight the war from his office in the War Department in Washington D.C., he failed to properly coordinate his grand strategy with his field commanders. He did not provide them with important strategic goals, letting them hit out at their own leisure rather than organizing them to strike all at once, thus failing to win their respect and confidence. He also failed to construct any military plans for dealing with the U.K. and Canada to the north should they enter the war on the side of the Confederacy. Rosecrans adamantly believed that France wouldn't move without England, and that England wouldn't support a slave nation, while the CSA wouldn't let their slaves go that easily.
The C.S. Army, under the leadership of General Thomas Jackson preferred to take the war to U.S. soil as soon as possible, hitting hard and fast wherever and whenever it could, thus destroying the U.S. Army piecemeal before it could become a true threat. However, Jackson was ordered by President Longstreet to fight a defensive war only. Longstreet perfectly understood that the Confederate States had no hope of winning a war against the United States by itself, and he knew that the only hope the Confederacy had was the combined military might of England and France to assist them. Although Longstreet had given his promises to manumit all slaves within the CSA, and although England had reinforced the Canadian Army with their own troops, and both England and France had moved naval squadrons into positions from which to strike the U.S., both nations still were hesitant to move. Longstreet understood that they did not fully trust the Confederates, and he wanted to demonstrate to the world that the CSA was a smaller nation defending itself from a larger aggressor. This he understood would finally bring their allies into the war against the Yankees. Although this strategy was not Jackson's instinctive preference, he appreciated the wisdom behind Longstreet's policy and conducted his operations accordingly.
The U.S. landed the first blow of the war with a raid into the Confederacy's Indian Territory by Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Armed with the latest weapon of war, the Gatling gun, he first lured a war band of Kiowa warriors and then a company of Confederate cavalry into an ambush, easily decimating both groups.
The major consequence of this victory was that the U.S. was perceived as the aggressor in the eyes of the world. This led to England and France finally declaring war on the United States.
Maryland and Virginia
After war was declared, the forts of both the Rebels and Yankees outside Washington, D.C. remained quiet. After the U.S. action in the Indian Territory, Colonel William Elliott, commander of the Confederate forts, demanded the surrender of the city. Rosecrans' adjutant, Captain Saul Berryman refused, and the bridge in Washington, leading from Maryland to Virginia, was blown up from both ends.
As the next day dawned, the Confederates opened up with an artillery bombardment on the city. Their targets were mainly aimed at government and military facilities, along with the city's famous landmarks. The bombardment continued for a few hours before ceasing. Instead of trying to destroy the capital, the bombardment had been more of a demonstration that the Confederates had the capability to wreak havoc on the town at will, but they chose to refrain from doing so. Having made this symbolic gesture, the Confederates largely ignored Washington as a military target until the end of the war.
The first major battle of the war occurred in Northern Virginia, where the United States' Army of the Potomac clashed with the Confederate States' Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Jackson at the Battle of Winchester. Here, Jackson and his forces routed the U.S. Army and chased the Americans back across the river. As he made ready to attack Harpers Ferry, he was stopped by President Longstreet, who wanted London and Paris to understand that the CSA was fighting a defensive war only. As a result, the Army of Northern Virginia would remain encamped along the Potomac for the rest of the war.
Throughout the conflict, the Maryland-Virginia front remained quiet until May of 1882, when the Confederates gathered their forces along the Potomac and threatened to attack Washington and annex the whole state unless Blaine accepted their peace terms. Although the U.S. had likewise gathered troops to defend the city and state, they had little confidence in their ability to do so. The war ended before any attack could be made by either side.
In retaliation for Custer's initial raid, the Kiowa and C.S. Cavalry launched continuous raiding parties into Kansas against local farms, towns, and property.
Although the border was being patrolled by the U.S. Fifth Cavalry, they were transferred to the Utah Territory in order to put down the Mormon rebellion there. Security of the border was handed over to a volunteer cavalry regiment that proved unable to stop both the Kiowa and Confederates for the remainder of the war.
It was in Kentucky that the major campaign of the war was fought on the banks of the Ohio River. The U.S. Army, under General Orlando Willcox, tried to cross into the Confederate state of Kentucky and capture the city of Louisville as the first step towards returning the state to the USA. The CSA, under General-in-Chief Thomas Jackson, was able to establish excellent defensive positions, resulting in the Siege of Louisville. The formidable Confederate defenses forced Willcox's troops to advance incrementally at best, with each move dearly paid for in men and blood.
Later, the United States belatedly attempted a flanking attack, but a combination of delayed launching of the attack as well as Confederate preparations meant the attack simply extended the lines of the siege and gained no further advantage.
The front remained the focal point of the war until the cease-fire was called. In spite of Jackson's demands, U.S. forces remained encamped inside Louisville until January of 1882, when President Blaine ordered a full withdrawal in an attempt to avoid ending the cease-fire before he could gain another victory.
Arkansas was only a minor front during the war. Here the U.S. Army crossed the border and captured the town of Pocahontas. However, due to a lack of military coordination, or any strategic goals, the American advance went no further. Because this was the only victory the U.S. Army had achieved for much of the war, it was over-emphasized by the War Department to the American public. Unfortunately, the town fell back into Confederate hands not long afterwards, but they did not pursue the fight across the border.
New Mexico Territory
In the southwestern desert of the New Mexico Territory, the Trans-Mississippi Department under General Jeb Stuart led the Confederates' only offensive operation against U.S. territory. Although Stuart was aware of President Longstreet's defensive strategy, he believed that the best way to defend the new territories was to make the Yankees defend their own. Although communications from Richmond were sketchy at best, Stuart heard no word of reproof from the War Department about his plans, so he marched into New Mexico Territory as soon as the declaration of war reached him.
The campaign got off to a promising start when he managed to bluff the U.S. commander at Contention City into surrendering, which impressed the Apaches under Geronimo and led to an alliance between the two forces. After this, they successfully lured U.S. cavalry into an ambush at the Battle of Madera Canyon before fighting the Battle of Tombstone. Now having eliminated the U.S. Army's ability to strike into Sonora and Chihuahua, they returned to C.S. territory where they smashed U.S. raiders with the newly formed Fifth Cavalry, now being called the "Fifth Camelry" in reference to their mounts. With no more opposition left, the New Mexico front remained quiet until early 1882, when tensions between the Apaches and the CSA's new Hispanic subjects led to the destruction of the town of Cananea. This resulted in a breakdown of the alliance between the Apaches and the CSA and the eruption of a new conflict between the two groups. Stuart himself was killed shortly thereafter by one of Geronimo's snipers.
In the years following the War of Secession, the Mormons of the Utah Territory had grown dissatisfied with the rule of the United States, and their refusal to grant them proper statehood within the Union.
When the Second Mexican War began in 1881, the U.S. troops stationed within the territory were shipped out to the threatened frontiers, and the Mormons under the leadership of John Taylor instigated a non-violent uprising. Aside from cutting off telegraph and railroad lines from Utah to the rest of the U.S., the Mormons took very little direct action against the United States, while the all-Mormon militia units still stationed in Utah did nothing. Since the capital, Salt Lake City, straddled the Transcontinental Railroad, the East Coast was effectively cut off from the West. It was vital to the United States that the territory be brought back under their control.
In response, Brigadier General John Pope gathered as many artillery pieces as he could, and rather than engaging the rebels in combat, chose to overawe them with his weapons. The tactic worked and the entire state fell back under Union control without a single shot being fired. In the aftermath, Pope used a constant display of overwhelming force to keep the populace from rioting, as he introduced draconian policies and hanged a number of Mormon leaders as examples, leaving behind an angry Mormon populace determined to gain independence at just about any cost.
First Cease Fire
As the campaign in Louisville bogged down, the war for the United States was not going well elsewhere. U.S. forces had been defeated in Virginia and in New Mexico Territory, and the Royal Navy was blockading important U.S. coastal cities, though limiting itself to shore bombardments and seizing cargo ships.
C.S. President Longstreet asked for, and received a cease fire in order to offer peace terms. The terms were very generous: aside from the Confederacy keeping the Mexican territories it had purchased, Longstreet offered a return to the status quo ante bellum and demanded no reparations from the U.S. President Blaine simply refused the terms, claiming that the U.S., albeit hurt, was not a beaten foe, and the war quickly began again.
In the years since the War of Secession, the British Empire had grown embarrassed with its ties to the Confederate States. The Confederacy still had not freed their slaves, and with the prospect of war looming, the British Empire made it perfectly clear that if military aid was to be supplied, the CSA had to free its slaves. Although given a guarantee by the Confederate president, and the mobilization of naval and land assets into positions at which to strike the Union, they still did not declare war. When the U.S. struck the first blow in the Indian Territory, the United Kingdom finally declared war, seeing that the U.S. was the aggressor against a smaller nation defending itself.
In spite of the British Empire declaring war on the United States, U.S. commanders were issued no plans for dealing with the Canadians to the north other than border patrol. After war was declared, the Royal Navy had formed and enforced a naval and economic blockade of the U.S., but had not committed any ground forces to the fight as they did not fully trust the Confederates to manumit their slaves. U.S. commanders were trying not to antagonize the British while forces stationed there were ordered only to patrol the border.
On the Canadian side, the Canadian Army had been mobilized and British troops had been shipped to the country to bolster their strength. Although they had moved troops into position, the front remained quiet as England was hesitant to help the Confederacy. During the Siege of Louisville, the C.S. Army captured and returned U.S. abolitionist and pro tem reporter Frederick Douglass unharmed, thus proving to the British Empire that they were sincere on manumitting their slaves. After this political victory for the Confederates, the forces stationed in Canada finally moved against the U.S.
In order to force President Blaine to quit the war, a combined British and Canadian Army crossed the border from New Brunswick and invaded Maine. This invasion had two purposes: to humiliate Blaine, whose home state was Maine, and to finally settle the Canadian/Maine border which the British had never been satisfied with. The invasion was a success and the combined armies drove the Yankees south overrunning the upper St. John and Aroostook River valleys. Upon the successful completion of the campaign, the British and Canadian armies halted their advance and remained encamped within the region until the U.S. surrendered. After the war, the border was redrawn in favor of the Canadians.
In Montana, the U.S. Army was likewise unprepared, and many volunteers found that they could only apply for volunteer service at military outposts, which were few and far between. The front was quiet for a good part of the war until a combined British and Canadian army under the leadership of British General Charles Gordon crossed the border with the intention of striking Helena and raiding the gold mines of the city.
The U.S. Army, under the leadership of Brigadier General George Custer, Colonel Henry Welton, and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, engaged the British and Canadians at the Battle of the Teton River. The battle ended when General Gordon's forces attacked the U.S. defenses head-on and were decimated by Custer’s Gatling guns; the attackers were routed and forced to flee back across the border to Canada. U.S. forces were halted in their pursuit when word of a cease fire finally reached them. For the remainder of the second cease fire until the U.S. surrender, what remained of the British cavalry and U.S. Fifth Cavalry patrolled the border. The victory here was greatly hyped in the U.S. press after a string of military disasters and gave President Blaine the courage to drag the cease fire out until April of 1882.
As a result of this battle, Custer and Roosevelt became heroes of the war, prominent national figures, and rivals for the remainder of their lives.
War at Sea
The war at sea was a minor affair, due to the small size and dilapidated condition of the U.S. Navy. The navy, much like the army, wasn't a worthy fighting force after years of neglect, but it was still much larger than their Confederate counterpart. In the Confederacy, as the deadline for the U.S. ultimatum drew closer, the C.S. Navy took to sea. It's strategies and goals were unclear but it's prime objective was not to be caught and contained in their ports like they had been during the earlier War of Secession.
When war was declared, the ships of the U.S. Navy were forced onto the defensive, due to the Royal and French Navies entering the war on the Confederacy's side. U.S. admirals had no major strategies for fighting a war with such a small force against three navies, two of which possessed ironclad warships, while the prime goal of the Royal Navy was to simply implement a military and economic blockade of the United States.
The Royal Navy's first blow landed on Lake Ontario, when a small fleet from Toronto attacked the cities of Rochester, Cleveland and Buffalo. After the first cease fire, and the Confederates convinced the Empire that they indeed intended to manumit their slaves, the naval blockade began to intensify. The Royal Navy began bombarding major port cities like New York and Boston on the east coast, while their Pacific Squadron based at Pearl Harbour, Sandwich Islands attacked the U.S. west coast. In conjunction with the French Navy, whose ships sailed up from Mexico to bombard Los Angeles, the Royal Navy attacked San Francisco. This attack also included a raid of Royal Marines on the San Francisco Mint. This action proved successful while the commander of San Francisco's defenses, Colonel William T. Sherman, proved helpless to stop it. After the San Francisco raid had contained and defeated the U.S. Pacific Squadron, the Royal Navy's Pacific naval force split off and sailed north to attack an American naval squadron in Seattle. Meanwhile, the offensive on the Great Lakes branched out to Lake Erie, where the port city of Erie was attacked.
After these attacks, what little remained of the U.S. Navy was confined to their ports as the ships of both England and France now lay at anchor outside all major port cities of the United States, blockading both coastlines. Their major goals completed, the blockade of the U.S. was kept in place for the duration of the war, and the ensuing cease fire, until the U.S. agreed to surrender.
Second Cease Fire
By November of 1881, the war for the U.S. was going badly, with defeats on all fronts and forces closing in from five different sides. U.S. commanders seemed to have little in the way of strategies while their Confederate counterparts were beating them at every turn. Consequently, General Rosecrans started drinking heavily, becoming increasingly reclusive and even openly critical of President Blaine. When the U.S. Army was defeated in Maine, resulting in half the state being annexed into Canada, he lashed out against Blaine, telling him in no uncertain terms that the war was lost, and that Blaine should accept the opposition's terms for peace. Shortly afterward, Jackson launched a counterattack in Kentucky that destroyed the U.S. salient there. Blaine soon acquiesced and asked for an unconditional cease fire along all fronts.
Blaine was hesitant to surrender as the U.S. was in no position to bargain and he would be condemned for a poor outcome. He especially didn't want to lose the northern part of his home state of Maine. However, up in Montana Territory, the U.S. Army there had dealt the invading British and Canadian Army a resounding defeat at the Teton River. It was a much needed victory and gave Blaine hope that he could salvage something from the fiasco. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to win favorable terms, and as 1882 began, the Republicans suffered a three-way split with the more liberal faction leaving to form the Socialists. The party's supporters started turning up pressure to end the war with public demonstrations outside the War Department in Philadelphia.
Final C.S. Ultimatum and U.S. Surrender
As the ceasefire dragged into April, the patience of the Confederacy finally wore out. After Easter had passed, the U.S. Ambassador to the Confederate States, John Hay, and General Rosecrans met in Richmond with C.S. minister to the United States, Judah P. Benjamin, along with General Jackson. As Hay attempted to present President Blaine's peace proposal, General Jackson interrupted the proceedings as he issued the U.S. one final ultimatum: they had 48 hours to surrender on Confederate terms or the war would begin again. All throughout May of 1882, General Jackson had shipped men by rail to bolster the Army of Northern Virginia, which was encamped along the Potomac. Should Blaine refuse, they would attack Washington, D.C. and annex the entire state of Maryland into the Confederacy, much like the British and Canadians had done to the northern half of Maine. Although Rosecrans was aware of this, and had also shipped as many troops to the capital as possible to counter any attack, he had by that stage lost all faith in himself as a military commander, having been so unnerved by Jackson's own generalship. Faced with no way out, Blaine agreed.
As part of the peace agreement, the United States were forced to recognize the provinces of Sonora and Chihuahua as Confederate territory, as well as ceding the northern half of Maine to the Dominion of Canada.
Long term effect
With the war over, the United States had suffered two humiliations within one generation, creating a national trauma. During the war, frustrated German observers pointed out to both the U.S. president and Chief-of-Staff the flaws in their ideology and grand strategies. The leaders of both the United States government and army had stubbornly heeded George Washington's farewell address warning against "entangling European alliances," but the Confederate States had decisively beaten the United States in two major wars specifically because the Confederacy had allied with Britain and France. They also argued that having a General-in-Chief was insufficient for strategy and contingency planning while relying on volunteers rather than conscripts was foolhardy and that the U.S. Army needed a major overhaul. In the years following, the United States allied itself with Germany in order to counterbalance to the CSA's allies, while the entire U.S. Army was reorganized along Prussian Army lines, complete with General Staff style leadership and compulsory military service.
U.S. politics also suffered heavily from the war. Many political and military careers were left in tatters after the war and the American people began to doubt that they and their way of life was superior; it became clear to everyone that the entire nation needed to change. The Democrats had done little to improve the country for a generation, while the recent turn by the Republicans was even worse. During a caucus called in January of 1882, former president Abraham Lincoln argued for shifting the party's main doctrine of antagonism towards the CSA with a program promoting workers' rights. Unfortunately, the major party leaders could not come an agreement, resulting in a three-way split. The more conservative faction led by Benjamin Butler defected to the Democrats, intent on remolding that party, while the more liberal factions led by Lincoln left to form the Socialist Party, leaving the Republican Party nothing more than a husk of a centrist regional faction. After the war, Democrats took power once again and rebuilt the country into a more authoritarian nation, thanks in part to their alliance with the German Empire. Under their guidance, the country embraced the ideology of Remembrance, along with rationing. April 22 was designated Remembrance Day in honor of the country's defeat in two wars.
The Confederacy experienced an "era of good feelings" after the war. Having beaten their much larger Northern foe twice in short order within a generation had left many Confederates with an overall sense of superiority over the United States. Two new territories had been admitted to the Confederacy, and now their borders stretched from the waters of the Atlantic westward to the Gulf of California. However, this had come at a great price: in order to insure the CSA's continued alliance with Britain and France, Longstreet had agreed to manumission of the slaves. Although there was outrage at this, and even an attempt at forcefully stopping the amendment by C.S. senator Wade Hampton III, it was squashed by the more politically savvy Longstreet. Another problem were the newly freed slaves themselves. Although freed, the blacks of the CSA had very little freedom as they were still at the bottom of the social ladder, while the Hispanics of the new territories and the Native Americans of the Indian Territory still had greater rights than they did. This resentment would fester over the years as many blacks met in secret to discuss the revolutionary and social ideas of Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln, plotting to one day overthrow the government of the Confederacy.
In Canada, like the Confederacy, the people experienced their own era of good feelings after the war. However, the seething animosity between them and the United States that was building since the end of the War of Succession had now solidified. The United States saw the Dominion as a launching pad for England, and both sides prepared accordingly for the next conflict. On the Canadian side, their border with the United States, which had been relaxed, was now heavily fortified and a greater emphasis on defense rather than goodwill was a priority. Having militarily intervened on the Confederate side, England found themselves firmly pushed into the Confederacy's camp, as the United States began to cement its alliance with Germany. The British needed to rely on the Confederates to help keep the Yankees in check in order to protect Canada. This in turn was the beginning of the two biggest and most powerful political alliances in the world, the Entente and the Central Powers.
In Germany, Alfred von Schlieffen developed the Schlieffen Plan based on his studies of Robert E. Lee's victory at the Battle of Camp Hill. The plan was employed in the Great War, which the Central Powers eventually won.
The name "Second Mexican War" is something of a misnomer, as the government of Mexico itself played little to no role in the actual conflict.