When the Civil War erupted in 1861, the allegiance of Mexican Americans, particularly those living in Texas, was deeply divided. Initially, some 2,500 Mexican Americans went to war for the Confederacy, while 950 volunteered for service in the Union Army. By the end of this bloody struggle (1865), almost 10,000 Mexican Americans had served in regular army or volunteer units. Of the 40,000 books and pamphlets written about the Civil War, only one book, Vaqueros in Blue and Gray, has been printed about the role of the Mexican Americans. In 1863, the U.S. Government had established four companies of Mexican-American Californians in order to utilize their "extraordinary horsemanship." At least 469 Mexican Americans served under Major Salvador Vallejo, helping to defeat a Confederate invasion of New Mexico. Significant numbers of Hispanics also served in such Confederate units as the 10th Texas Cavalry, the 55th Alabama Infantry, and 6th Missouri Infantry.

Colonel Santos Benavides, originally from Laredo, Texas, ultimately became the highest-ranking Mexican American in the Confederate Army. As the commander of the 33rd Cavalry, he drove Union forces back from Brownsville, Texas in March 1864. But the Civil War's best-known Hispanic was the American naval officer, David G. Farragut (1801-1870), the son of a Spaniard. In 1862, Farragut successfully commanded Union forces at the capture of New Orleans. While commanding Federal naval forces during the Battle at Mobile Bay in Alabama, Farragut uttered the famous slogan: "Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead." During the Civil War, President Lincoln established the Medal of Honor as the highest and most prestigious military award given for valor. The medal is presented to any soldier or sailor, who "distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." Three Hispanic Americans received the Medal of Honor for actions during the Civil War.
 

From Hispanic Contributions to America's Defense By John P. Schmal
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Battles in Which Hispanic American Troops Participated *

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Revised 01/25/2011