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Life in Venezuela, Cuba, and Spain
Narciso López was a born in Caracas, Venezuela, to a wealthy merchant family of Basque origin; his father was Pedro Manuel Lopez and his mother was Ana Paula de Oriola (sometimes spelt Urriola). He is known to have had at least one sister. It is said that he was recruited by the ruthless Spanish general José Tomás Boves (José Tomás Rodríguez) when as a young teenager he had been forcibly recruited from the ranks of the defeated independence forces abandoned by a fleeing Simón Bolívar at the city of Valencia.
When the Spanish army withdrew in defeat in 1821 after the decisive Battle of Carabobo in present day Venezuela, López, who had fought at Carabobo, left with them as did many other battle survivors including Calixto Garcia de Luna e Izquierdo, who would be grandfather of Cuban Independence major general Calixto Garcia. Narciso López earned the rank of colonel at the early age of twenty-one and fought in the First Carlist War. After the war, López continued to serve the Spanish government in several administrative posts, including the Cortes for the city of Seville and as military governor in Madrid. López moved to Cuba as an assistant to the new governor-general, but lost his post when the governorship changed hands in 1843. In 1825 in Cuba he married the sister of the Count of Pozos Dulces, Maria Dolores with whom he had a son (Narciso López Frias). After failing in a few business ventures, he became a partisan of the anti-Spanish faction in Cuba. In 1848, during a Spanish arrest of Cuban revolutionaries, López fled to the United States.
Career as a filibuster
As soon as he arrived López began planning a filibustering expedition from the United States to liberate Cuba. He made contact with influential American politicians, including John L. O'Sullivan, an expansionist who coined the term "Manifest Destiny". López recruited Cuban exiles in New York City and other adventurers to his cause and in 1849 his expedition was poised to embark: a troop of 600 volunteers had gathered on Round Island, Mississippi, with three ships chartered (two in New York and one in New Orleans) to transport them. However, US president Zachary Taylor, who had renounced filibustering as a valid means of U.S. expansion, took steps against López and ordered his ships blockaded and seized; by September 9, all the "roughnecks" had been talked into leaving Round Island.
Undeterred by this setback, López decided to plan a new filibuster and to focus his recruiting effort on the southern United States. As a supporter of slavery himself, López realized the advantages for the South of an independent Cuba. He and some American Southerners hoped that Cuba would become a strong partner in slavery and perhaps, like Texas, join the Union as a slave state. He moved his headquarters to New Orleans and tried to gain popular support by recruiting influential men of the South to join his expedition. He solicited the military help of Senator Jefferson Davis, who had distinguished himself in the Battle of Buena Vista, offering him $100,000 and "a very fine coffee plantation". Davis, to the great relief of his wife, turned him down, but he recommended one of his friends from the Mexican–American War, Major Robert E. Lee. Lee thought seriously about López's offer, but eventually also decided not to become involved.
Although López failed to recruit these two rising stars, he did win the financial and political support of many influential Southerners including Governor John Quitman of Mississippi, former Senator John Henderson and the editor of the New Orleans Delta, Laurence Sigur. López enlisted about six hundred filibusters in his expedition, and successfully reached Cuba in May 1850. His troops arrived took the town of Cárdenas, carrying a flag that López and Miguel Teurbe Tolon had designed, which later became the flag of modern Cuba. Nevertheless, the local support that he had hoped for failed to materialize when the fighting started. Much of the local population joined the Spanish against López, and he hastily retreated to Key West, where he disbanded the expedition within minutes of landing in order to avoid prosecution under the Neutrality Act of 1818.
In the aftermath of the expedition, López and many of his supporters were indicted by a federal grand jury. Although the indictments did not end in convictions, they did force Governor John Quitman to resign from his office and face trial. Despite military and legal setbacks, López began planning another expedition, one which met with the similar problems, but with more disastrous consequences.
In August 1851, López once again departed for Cuba with several hundred men (mostly Americans, Hungarians, Germans and some Cubans). When he arrived, he took one half of his expedition to march inland, while the other half, commanded by Colonel William Crittenden (a former US Army lieutenant), remained on the northern coast to protect supplies. As in his first attempt, the local support that López had counted upon did not answer his appeals. Outnumbered and surrounded by Spanish forces, López and many men were captured. Crittenden's forces shared the same fate. The Spanish executed most of the prisoners, sending others to work in mining labor camps. Those executed included many Americans, Colonel Crittenden, and López himself.
Aftermath and significance
The execution of López and his soldiers caused outrage in both the northern and southern United States. Many who did not support the expedition found the Spanish treatment of military prisoners brutal. The strongest reaction occurred in New Orleans, where a mob attacked the Spanish consulate. Despite its failure, López's expedition inspired other filibusters to attack Latin American countries throughout the 1850s, most notably William Walker's invasions of Central America in 1855–1860. Had he been successful, López could have profoundly altered politics in the Americas, giving a strong Caribbean foothold to the United States and spurring its further expansion. Instead, the failure of López and other filibusters discouraged Americans, especially in the South, from adopting expansionist strategies. Faced with the inability of slavery to move southward, many Southerners turned away from expansion and talked instead of secession.
- History of Cuba
- History of the United States (1849–1865)
- Bay of Pigs Invasion
- Cuba–United States relations
- Thomas, H. Cuba Or The Pursuit Of Freedom. Da Capo Press, New York. 1998 edition (republished from the first edition that had been published in 1971)
- Bauer, K. Jack (1993-08-01). Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest. LSU Press. p. 279. ISBN 9780807118511. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
- de la Cova, Antonio Rafael (2000). "The Taylor Administration Versus Mississippi Sovereignty: The Round Island Expedition of 1849". The Journal of Mississippi History LXII (4): 295–327.
- Chaffin, Tom (2003). Fatal Glory: Narciso López and the First Clandestine U.S. War Against Cuba. LSU Press. pp. 222–. ISBN 9780807129197. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
- Caldwell, Robert G. The Lopez Expeditions to Cuba 1848–1851. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1915.
- Lazo, Rodrigo "Writing to Cuba: Filibustering and Cuban Exiles in the United States. University of North Carolina Press, 2005 ISBN 0-8078-5594-4
- May, Robert E. Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
- May, Robert E. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.
- Quisenberry, Anderson G. Lopez's Expeditions to Cuba, 1850 and 1851. Louisville: Louisville University Press, 1906.
- Villaverde, Cirilo 1882 (New translation by Sibylle Fischer and Helen Lane) Cecilia Valdes or El Angel Hill. Oxford University Press, USA 2005 ISBN 0-19-514395-7