Book Review: "We Never Retreat": Filibustering Expeditions into Spanish Texas, 1812-1822


by Edward A. Bradley

College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015. Pp. xx, 302. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $47.00. ISBN: 1623492572

Free Lance Military Expeditions in the Early Republic

Bradley, author of several articles on the Early Republic and an assistant editor of the Lincoln papers, has written the first coherent account of the several American filibustering expeditions into Texas in the era of the Mexican War for Independence. While these free lance military operations were undertaken in support of Mexican independence, and often with cooperation from Mexican revolutionary leaders, they were often tainted with hints of American expansionism.  

Bradley opens with an account of the curious case of Philip Nolan, who around the turn of the eighteenth century adventured in Texas apparently with ties to the slippery James Wilkinson, and was vaguely the inspiration for “The Man Without a County”. Bradley then covers the “Magee-Gutiérrez” expedition of 1812-1813, recruited in cooperation with the Mexican patriots, and led by a young former U.S. Army officer. This which was initially quite successful but ended disastrously in the Battle of the Medina River, an action in which the young Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana fought on the Spanish side. Bradley follows with an account of the James Long expeditions of 1818-1819, which were clearly intended to separate Texas from Mexico, and which also failed disastrously. 

As he covers these adventures, Bradley also explores some of the complexities of the Louisiana purchase, for example, just what was part of Louisiana and what was not?, although he doesn’t delve into the question of whether Napoleon even had a right sell the territory. Bradley does a good job of probing into the critical question of U.S. government involvement in the expeditions, finding evidence of involvement ambiguous at best, with hints of some encouragement by various officials, but no more than that. 

Bradley includes profiles of some of the more interesting characters who were involved in these adventures, notably the dedicated Mexican patriot José Bernardo Maximiliano Gutiérrez de Lara, the surprisingly able young West Point graduate Augustus William Magee, the very young Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, and the former army surgeon James Long, but unfortunately is sadly reticent about the very interesting Charles Wollstonecraft, and the remarkably slippery James Wilkinson, who was working for all sides. 

A volume in the A&M series “Elma Dill Russell Spencer Series in the West and Southwest,” this is an excellent treatment of a little known episode which had enormous importance in American and Mexican history.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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