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Civil War: Park service book tells of Latinos who served

April 30, 2012|By Catharine M. Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor

Civil War buffs may remember that it was David Farragut who uttered, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” as he rallied Union sailors in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 in Alabama.

What may have been lost in the mists of time, however, is Farragut’s heritage: His father was Spanish, and his mother was American. The man who was made a full admiral in 1866 was one of 20,000 warriors in the conflict who claim Hispanic or Latino heritage.

That’s the emphasis of a 40-page National Parks Service book, “Hispanics and the Civil War: From Battlefield to Homefront,” which outlines the contributions to the war effort, whether North or South.

Or West. It’s easy to overlook the pivotal role that California and the West played in the War Between the States.  Not only did Californians fight in the war, but California was considered a key part of the Confederacy’s strategy. As Confederates tried to create a corridor from Texas to California, skirmishes and battles occurred throughout the Southwest, and Latinos played a key role, the book reminds us.

Their loyalties were divided. The Mexican government did not allow slavery, and many Latinos took that stance. (After the war with Mexico ended in 1848, they became U.S. citizens as Mexico ceded these lands.) But some residents of the New Mexico Territory relied on forced labor so their sentiments lay closer to their Southern counterparts. Thus Latinos were apt to turn up on either side of the battle.

One of the pivotal encounters was the Battle of Glorieta Pass, an 1862  engagement in New Mexico Territory. Union forces finally tipped the scale by attacking and destroying a Confederate supply train. That action, the book says, was under the command of Lt. Col. Manuel Chavez, another one of the 20,000 whose stories are now being told.

The book costs $4.95 and is available at many national parks or through the website.

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