Webb County

Project participants have identified key locations in the Rio Grande Valley that played significant roles in the Civil War history and place these on a physical map/brochure. Each of these locations are associated with an audio podcast that will explain the site’s significance and share interesting details about the action that took place there. These podcasts are accessible on this website and are accessible via cell phones through QR codes and by dialing (956) 847-3002.

Colonel Santos Benavides

Colonel Santos Benavides became the highest ranking Tejano to serve the Confederacy. Born in Laredo in 1823, he was a descendant of Tomás Sánchez de la Barrera y Garza, the founder of the small community. As a political and military leader in Laredo, Benavides brought a traditionally isolated region closer to the mainstream of Texas politics while preserving a sense of local independence. Assigned to the Rio Grande Military District at the beginning of the war, Benavides drove his rival Juan Cortina into Mexico at the battle of Carrizo in May 1861. He crushed other local revolts against Confederate authority on the Rio Grande. In November 1863 Benavides was authorized to raise his own force that became known simply as Benavides’ Regiment. Perhaps his greatest triumph came on March 19, 1864 when he drove back more than two hundred soldiers from the Texas Union Cavalry. Benavides helped make possible the safe passage of cotton across the Rio Grande to Mexico during the Union occupation of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in 1863-64. During Reconstruction, Benavides remained active in his mercantile and ranching activities along with his brother Cristobal. He served three times in the Texas House of Representatives from 1879 to 1884, the only Tejano in the legislature at time, and twice served as alderman in Laredo. He died at his home in Laredo in 1891.

Fort McIntosh

Fort McIntosh was established in a big bend of the Rio Grande less than a mile above Laredo on March 3, 1849, just below a favorite Indian crossing on the river called Paso de los Indios. Originally named Camp Crawford, it was later renamed in honor of Lieutenant Colonel James Simmons McIntosh who died of wounds received during the U.S.-Mexican War. Of the nineteen men who commanded the isolated post in the years prior to the Civil War, six became generals in the Union army and three obtained the rank of general in the Confederacy such as Philip H. Sheridan, Randolph B. Marcy and James E. Slaughter. With the secession of Texas in 1861, the small garrison of federal troops departed Laredo, and Charles Callahan, agent for the state of Texas, took possession of the post. Shortly thereafter, it was turned over to Col. Santos Benavides, who established his headquarters there. However, early in the war, most of the buildings were sold by town authorities and by 1865, there was little left of the original post. When the U.S. Army, including U.S. Colored Troops, reoccupied the property in 1865, Fort McIntosh was rebuilt and continued as one of the major posts on the Rio Grande. It was officially abandoned after World War II. The property was turned over to the local school district, which established a community college on the site. Many of the buildings, including one of the barracks dating to the 1880s, can be seen at Laredo Community College today.

St. Augustine Plaza

St. Augustine Plaza is at the heart of a historic community established in 1755. In addition to the six flags that flew over Texas, Laredo had a seventh flag representing the Republic of the Rio Grande, an unsuccessful attempt to break with the Republic of Mexico in 1840. The capital of the Republic of the Rio Grande has been established as a museum and can be visited today on the south side of the plaza. During the Civil War, St. Augustine's was a beehive of activity after Confederate officer Col. Santos Benavides established his headquarters here. Benavides' original home, along with that of his brother-in-law, John Z. Leyendecker, can be seen on the west side of the plaza. Most Confederate troops were garrisoned in buildings on or near the plaza for much of the war. Laredo became particularly important when cotton moved across the river, especially after the federal occupation of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in late 1863 and early 1864. For the citizens of Laredo these were the “cotton times.” Union forces attempted to destroy five thousand bales of cotton stacked in the plaza when they attacked the town in March 1864. Benavides and his men barricaded the streets with cotton bales and placed snipers on the buildings around the plaza. Although St. Augustine's was largely treeless at the time, Benavides did manage to hang two horse thieves here during the war. A historical marker honoring the Benavides brothers, Santos, Refugio, and Cristobal, can be seen on the plaza today.

USCT United States Colored Troops

Early in 1863, Abraham Lincoln observed: “The colored population is the great available yet unavailed of force for restoring the Union.” Two months later the War Department issued General Order #143 which sanctioned the creation of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).Three regiments of the USCT entered the Rio Grande Valley in the fall of 1864. Encamped at Brazos Santiago, a detachment of the 62nd Infantry fought Confederates at the Battle of Palmito Ranch on May 13, 1865. Two weeks later, on May 30, the 62nd, along with other U.S. Army units, moved into Brownsville. By May 1865, nearly 16,000 USCT veterans of the 25th Corps arrived at Brazos Santiago from City Point, Virginia, and were quickly dispersed to Forts Brown at Brownsville, Ringgold Barracks at Rio Grande City, Fort McIntosh at Laredo, and Fort Duncan at Eagle Pass, as well as to smaller posts where they were assigned to prevent former Confederates from establishing their defeated government and army in Mexico. Later, the USCT, along with their successors the "buffalo soldiers"—as they were called by Plains Indians—patrolled the border to stop ongoing violence in Mexico from spilling into the United States, and to discourage bandits and Indians from attacking civilian communities. The black soldiers made a fine adjustment to the hot desert terrain and diverse culture of the Valley, as explained by Sergeant Major Thomas Boswell of the 116th: "If our regiment stays here any length of time we will all speak Spanish, as we are learning very fast." The last USCT regiment, the 117th U.S. Colored Infantry, left the Rio Grande in July 1867.

Zacate Creek

With the Union occupation of the Lower Rio Grande Valley in late 1863 and early 1864, cotton from as near as East Texas and as far as Arkansas and Louisiana was diverted to Laredo and Eagle Pass for transport to Mexico. In March 1864, a small federal army left the Lower Valley, intent on seizing or destroying the large amount of cotton reported to be stacked in St. Augustine Plaza, Laredo. About half of the expedition was comprised by members of the Second Texas Union Cavalry, a predominantly Tejano regiment. This Union force of more than two hundred men slowly advanced upriver during one of the worst droughts in recent memory. On March 19, 1864, one of Confederate Col. Santos Benavides’ men spotted the advancing federals outside of Laredo. Benavides rallied his small Confederate force, barricaded several of the streets with cotton, and placed snipers on the buildings around St. Augustine Plaza. In all, Benavides could only field seventy-two men. At three p.m., when the federals dismounted and advanced, a furious firefight erupted that lasted for more than three hours. Three times the federals advanced and three times they were driven back. Unable to seize the village in the growing darkness, the Union soldiers rapidly withdrew some two miles downriver and went into camp for the evening. Union casualties are uncertain but several bloody rags were found along the banks of Zacate Creek and scattered in the scrubby mesquite. None of Benavides’ defenders were killed or wounded.