Fifty Miles and a Fight: Major Samuel Peter Heintzelman’s Journal of Texas and the Cortina War

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Fifty Miles and a Fight is a rare and dramatic firsthand account of one of the most volatile and traumatic events in the long history of Texas-the Cortina War in South Texas. It was while Maj. Samuel Peter Heintzelman, one of the most cultured, dedicated, and respected (though often vain) officers in the antebellum frontier army, was at Camp Verde on September 28, 1859, that a daring and charismatic thirty-five-year-old ranchero named Juan Nepomuceno Cortina sent shock waves throughout Texas by brazenly leading some seventy-five angry raiders into the streets of Brownsville. Tired of a clique of Brownsville attorneys, resentful of men he accused of killing tejanos with impunity, and determined to settle a blood feud with bitter enemy Adolphus Glavecke, Cortina initiated a war that would reverberate north to Austin and beyond to the halls of Washington and Mexico City.

Fifty Miles and a Fight magnifies the brutal nature of the Texas Rangers, a portrayal not readily evident in other sources. Not only does Heintzelman, who was placed in command of the Brownsville Expedition with orders to crush Cortina, record his disdain and distrust of the Rangers, but also their indiscriminate killing of both mexicanos and tejanos.

Heintzelman's journal provides a detailed and vivid account of the battles at El Ebonal and Rio Grande City as well as glimpses into the filibustering activities of the shadowy Knights of the Golden Circle, who were hoping to expand the Cortina War into a larger conflict that would lead to the eventual annexation of Mexico and the creation of a slave empire south of the Rio Grande. Heintzelman's impressions of his senior commander, Col. Robert E. Lee, are also noteworthy.

Jerry Thompson is an authority on the Civil War in the Southwest and the history of the Rio Grande frontier.