Texas officially existed as an independent country from March 2, 1836 until December 29, 1845. As I detailed in Part 1 of this series of blog posts, Texan independence was quite fragile even after the victory at San Jacinto. The Mexican Army was waiting around for an opportunity to strike with another, better-planed invasion. So why didn’t they?
They almost did. The Texas Revolution was not over in 1836 – it would not end until 1843.
So when does a war end? Most 19th Century wars tended to end via peace treaty, with both sides tending to give something to the other, but always with one clear overall winner. The Napoleonic Wars are a good example of this, but almost any significant war from this century follows the same exact pattern.
So what happens when neither side agrees to surrender or sign a treaty? Does the war continue indefinitely? The U.S. is still technically at war with North Korea, I suppose.
The problem with Texas and Mexico in the 1830s and 1840s was that Mexico refused to recognize the existence of the Republic of Texas, and Texas lacked the resources to force Mexico into a treaty (the Treaties of Velasco weren’t valid). A permanent stalemate?
Nope. Treaties do not end wars. When a treaty is signed, it is only an official recognition of an event that has already taken place. A war ends simply when one side loses the will to continue the fight. Think about World War I – we don’t celebrate Veteran’s Day on the anniversary of the signing of the Versailles Treaty; we celebrate the day that the firing stopped. The Vietnam War was supposed to end with Nixon’s Paris Peace Accords in 1973, but it really ended in 1975 when the North invaded the South and took over, to the helpless shrugging of the American government.
So what caused the Texas Revolution to end? As of early 1843, the Mexican government under Santa Anna had every intention on continuing the war. Armies had been raised. Old, trusted generals had been called forth to battle once again. New weapons had been forged. The reconquest of Texas was merely a matter of time. The pathetic little rebellious state of 100,000 people thought that it could defeat an empire of 8 million? Texas was doomed.
And then the Texas Navy showed up.
From April 30th to May 16th, 1843, the Texas Navy, consisting of their two remaining wooden sloops, held off a terrifying invasion force at the Battle of Campeche. A quick summary of the forces arrayed against them:
- Five traditional wooden Mexican warships, of varying sizes
- Two British-built ironclads, the first of their kind in world history
- They both had several 68-lb pivoting Paixhans Guns firing explosive shells up to 2 miles
- Steam-powered paddle wheels, providing unmatched speed and maneuverability
- British captains and crews, the best in the world at that time
After the final confrontation on May 16th, the Mexican Navy had completely given up the fight. Hundreds of men were dead or injured. The Mexican army ashore was crumbling away into nothing. The surviving British were throwing up their hands and leaving for home as quickly as they could. Santa Anna was removed as President of Mexico and exiled soon afterwards. No other Mexican leader ever again seriously considered using military force against the Republic of Texas ever again. The Texas Revolution had finally, definitively ended.