On the Frontlines: America's Hispanics in America's Wars

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In every war and on every battlefield, Americans from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America have risked their lives in defense of the United States. Although they served in the ranks of America's military during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, at the Alamo, and in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War was the first war in which Hispanics were represented in relatively significant numbers. At the outbreak of the war there were some 27,500 Mexican-Americans living in the United States. Some 2,550 joined the Confederate cause and 1,000 joined the Union Army. The New Mexico Volunteers, the oldest militia organization in the New Mexico territory, was incorporated into the Union Army shortly after the beginning of the war. Consisting of five regiments, it numbered 4,000 officers and soldiers. Col. Miguel E. Pino, a Mexican-American, commanded the 2nd Regiment, which fought at the Battle of Valverde in February and the Battle of Glorieta Pass in March 1862, helping to defeat a Confederate invasion of New Mexico. Afterward, the unit engaged in patrolling and minor skirmishing. Another six Mexican-American militia companies, including five infantry and one cavalry, were also raised in New Mexico for three months' service. In Texas, the Union raised 12 companies of Mexican-American cavalry, originally organized into two regiments but later consolidated into one, the 1st Regiment of Texas Cavalry. In 1863 the U.S. government authorized the military governor of California to raise four companies of native Hispanic Californians in order to take advantage of their "extraordinary horsemanship." As a result, the 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry was formed with Maj. Salvador Vallejo of the California militia commanding. The battalion, with its 500 soldiers of Spanish and Mexican origin, served throughout the Department of the Pacific in California and Arizona. It guarded supply trains, fought against marauding bands of Confederate raiders and helped to defeat the Confederate invasion of New Mexico.

Hispanics were also well represented in Confederate units such as 6th Missouri Infantry Regiment, the 55th Alabama Infantry Regiment, the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles, the Ist Florida Cavalry Regiment and the 33rd Texas Cavalry Regiment, commanded by Col. Santos Benavides, the highest ranking Hispanic officer on the Confederate side. Others served in the Louisiana Zouaves Battalion, the Spanish Legion of the European Brigade, and the Spanish Guard of Mobile, Ala. Confederate militia formations with sizable Hispanic contingents included one independent infantry battalion and four independent infantry companies from New Mexico. Union Admiral David G. Farragut was the highest ranking and most famous Hispanic of the Civil War. His father, a Spaniard, had come to the United States in 1776 and fought for his adopted country in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The younger Farragut is best remembered for his command "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" during his attack into Mobile Bay, Ala., on August 5,1864.

Hispanic women were also represented in the ranks. Cuban-born Loretta Janeta Velasquez was one of the most famous woman soldiers. She enlisted in the Confederate Army masquerading as a man and fought at First Manassas, Ball's Bluff and Fort Pillow. Discharged when her real gender was discovered, she rejoined and fought at Shiloh. Unmasked a second time, she ended her military career working as a Confederate spy. Approximately 10,000 Hispanics fought during the Civil War, including 4,000 from Texas. Philip Bazaar and John Ortega, both of the Union Navy, won the two Medals of Honor awarded to Hispanics during the war.

Several thousand Hispanics from Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and the Indian territories served in volunteer units during the Spanish-American War. The 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, Col. Leonard Wood's and Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt's famed "Rough Riders," contained a number of Hispanic officers and troopers. …