MEXICAN INVASIONS OF 1842

Sam W. Haynes
Portrait of Adrián Woll
Portrait of Adrián Woll. Leading an army of 1,400 men, Woll captured San Antonio on September 11, 1842. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

MEXICAN INVASIONS OF 1842. In the years following the battle of San Jacinto, Mexican leaders periodically threatened to renew hostilities against Texas. Lacking the resources to attempt reconquest, the Centralist government of Antonio López de Santa Anna, who had returned to the presidency in the fall of 1841, ordered the army to harass the Texas frontier; his policy was intended to discourage immigration and foreign capital investment in the young republic. Accordingly, a force of 700 men under Gen. Rafael Vásquez marched into Texas and seized San Antonio on March 5, 1842. Forewarned of the Mexican advance, most Anglo-American residents had already evacuated the area, allowing Vasquez to enter the town unopposed.

Although Vásquez withdrew two days later and retreated back across the Rio Grande, the presence of Mexican troops on the West Texas frontier threw Anglo-Texans into a panic as hundreds fled to the safety of settlements east of the Brazos River. Fearing that the capital of Austin would be the Mexican army’s next target, President Sam Houston declared a national emergency and called a special session of the Texas Congress in Houston City. The president also ordered the removal of the government archives from Austin. The townspeople resisted the decree and believed the president wished to use the attack as a pretext to return the capital to Houston. A second attempt to remove the government archives would lead to the so-called Archives War several months later. 

The Vásquez raid also aggravated tensions between San Antonio’s Tejanos and the town’s growing Anglo population. Accused of collaborating with the enemy, Juan N. Seguín, then serving as mayor, resigned his office and fled with his family below the Rio Grande. In Mexico the former Texas revolutionary organized a militia company of former San Antonio residents, the Defensores de Bexar, which he would lead against Anglo troops for the next several years. Seeking to return to Texas after the Mexican War, he would maintain that he had been forced to take up arms by Mexican authorities, who threatened to imprison him for his role in the Texas Revolution.

The Vásquez expedition sparked calls for reprisals against Mexico which President Houston, a strong advocate of defensive measures, opposed. To quiet the general unrest, Houston reluctantly issued an appeal to the United States for money and volunteers and sent Adjutant General James Davis to Corpus Christi with orders to organize volunteer companies and hold them in readiness for an invasion of Mexico. In early June, Mexican militia and regular troops led by Antonio Canales Rosillo marched to the Nueces River and skirmished with Davis's small army of several hundred men at Fort Lipantitlán on June 7. Once again, Mexican forces quickly withdrew across the Rio Grande. Later that month the Texas Congress appropriated ten million acres of land to finance a war against Mexico. Believing the danger had passed, Houston vetoed the bill and dismissed Davis's forces. 

On September 11, 1842, a Mexican army of 1,400 men under the command of Gen. Adrián Woll again captured San Antonio. Unlike the earlier Vásquez raid there was little advance warning, Woll having taken an old smuggling trail through the hills west of San Antonio. After a brief but spirited defense of the town, the Anglo-Texan residents surrendered. District court had been in session that week in San Antonio, and the captives included the judge and two members of the Texas Congress, as well as several attorneys and clerks. Juan Seguín commanded a militia unit in the assault on the town, confirming Anglo suspicions of Tejano collaboration with Mexico. 

Woll held the town for a week, while a force of Texans was hastily organized under the command of Maj. John C. Hays and Mathew Caldwell. On September 17 the Texans engaged Woll’s troops northeast of San Antonio and repulsed several assaults by Mexican infantry at the battle of Salado Creek. During the course of the fighting, a company of fifty-three Fayette County militiamen under the command of Capt. Nicholas Mosby Dawson arrived on the scene, but they were intercepted by Mexican cavalry before they could join the main Texan force. Two men managed to escape; the rest were killed or taken prisoner in what would become known as the Dawson Fight.

Two days after the fighting, Woll’s army evacuated the town and took with it a few dozen Anglo prisoners and as many as 200 Tejanos, who feared reprisals if they remained. Hays and Caldwell pursued the retreating Mexican army to the Hondo River, where they briefly attacked Woll’s rearguard before breaking off the pursuit.

The Woll invasion led to renewed calls in Texas for reprisals against Mexico and prompted President Houston to finally sanction an expedition of the lower Rio Grande valley. In December, an army of Texan volunteers sacked Laredo and briefly held the town of Guerrero. When its commander, Alexander Somervell, issued orders to abandon the campaign shortly afterwards, a majority of his men refused and elected new leaders. The reconstituted Texan force, known as the Mier Expedition, was defeated by the Mexican army at the battle of Mier on December 26, 1842. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Sam W. Haynes, Soldiers of Misfortune: The Somervell and Mier Expeditions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990). Joseph Milton Nance, Attack and Counter-Attack: The Texan Mexican Frontier, 1842 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Miguel A. Sanchez Lamego, The Second Mexican-Texan War, 1841–1843 (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1972).

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Handbook of Texas Online, Sam W. Haynes, "MEXICAN INVASIONS OF 1842," accessed June 23, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qem02.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on April 24, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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