Battle of Antón Lizardo
The Battle of Anton Lizardo was a naval engagement of the Reform War which took place off Anton Lizardo, Mexico in 1860. A Mexican Navy officer, Rear Admiral Tomas M. Marin, mutinied and escaped to Havana, Cuba. There he formed a squadron of armed vessels to attack merchant ships and blockade Veracruz. The Mexican Government declared Marin a pirate and permitted foreign navies to attack his ships so the United States accepted the challenge, as they had several vessels patrolling in the Gulf of Mexico.
After the mutiny and passage to Havana, where Cuban military forces there granted him safety, Marin began purchasing small steamships to convert for war. Marin's sympathies were in line with the conservative rebels under President General Miguel Miramón who at that time were fighting the liberal government forces of Veracruz, Veracruz. Tomas Marin hoped to acquire ships, recruit sailors and then sail them back to Veracruz to begin operating in the region. He was also to transport 4,000 muskets and artillery shells to resupply the conservative army. Many of the men under Marin were sailors he had mutinied with, others were recruited Cubans. In mid February, by the time the mutineers and Cubans left for the Mexican coast, four steamers were acquired and armed. Rear Admiral Marin's expedition included his flagship renamed General Miramon, the screw sloop Marquis of Havana or Marquis de la Havana, the Democracy, the Union and the Messic. General Miramon and Marquis of Havana were armed with one howitzer each. They did not all leave Cuba at the same time, so they were directed by Rear Admiral Marin to rendezvous with him off Anton Lizardo, where they would then sail to Sacrificios.
General Miramon and Marquis of Havana arrived off Anton Lizardo north of the San Juan de Ulúa fortress on March 6, 1860 where a United States Navy frigate was operating. The Mexican garrison of the fortress signaled Marin's ships to identify themselves, but the two steamers did nothing. It was then realized that the vessels were from the expedition so immediately the soldiers began strengthening their position. They also warned the nearby American ship. USS Savannah signaled the rebel ships but once again no response was made. Her commander then sent for and issued orders to USS Saratoga to arrest Rear Admiral Marin, with the help of two chartered steamers. Only Saratoga was armed, the chartered steamers Wave and Indianola did not have guns but carried United States Navy sailors and United States Army troops. Indianola had a complement of eighty officers, crew members and soldiers. USS Saratoga was commanded by Commodore Thomas Turner of the Home Squadron and was manned on average by 200 officers and men. She was armed with four 8-inch (200mm) guns and eighteen 32-pounders. USS Savannah did not engage and never left anchorage, as she was apparently too slow to chase the rebel steamers. Mexican troops in the fortress were too far out of range and did not participate either.
Saratoga and the steamers left their patrol at 8:30 at night on March 6. When they reached Anton Lizardo and the two anchored rebel ships it was almost midnight. The Mexican sailors sighted the American sloop-of-war and immediately began to flee towards Sacrificios. The Americans closed range to within hailing distance and ordered the rebels to stop, these orders were ignored so Saratoga fired a warning shot. When this was also ignored, Saratoga fired four more warning shots. This time General Miramon replied by firing her howitzer into the pilot-house of Indianola. Not expecting resistance, the Americans were surprised but soon returned fire. Indianola then closed in to board General Miramon while her crew and the soldiers fired their muskets. In an attempt to avoid friendly fire, Commodore Turner directed his men to change targets from Rear Admiral Marin's ship to the Marquis of Havana.
Saratoga dueled with the Marquis of Havana for a moment and at least one shell hit the rebel ship, the shot blew a hole through the hull of the wooden steamer, apparently above the waterline. Marquis of Havana then surrendered by raising her colors, which in fact was a Spanish flag, probably from Cuba. USS Saratoga captured her while Indianola and Wave chased General Miramon. Seeing that commander Marin was near escape, Saratoga joined in and quickly advanced with her big sails. Saratoga came alongside the General Miramon and Turner's crew boarded the vessel the hard way, without grappling hooks and not by means of launches. Marin's men fought off the first attempt at capture, so Saratoga tried again. At this point Marin was steaming through shallow waters and ran aground on a shoal. Saratoga drew close again, but the Mexicans chose not to resist any longer.
Thirty wounded men were aboard the General Miramon when she was taken. An unknown number of rebels were taken prisoner, the wounded were quickly removed to the Saratoga and received medical attention. In addition to about 4,000 rifles captured, Commodore Turner's men took over 1,000 artillery shells off the Mexican vessels. The shells were much needed by conservative forces who had already failed one siege of Veracruz due to a lack of ammunition for their cannon. The battle played an important role in ending the Reform War with a liberal victory. Due to the loss of supplies, the conservatives under General Miramon failed to take Veracruz from the liberals for a second time. Soon after Miramon surrendered his army which ended the conventional phase of the war and started the guerilla phase. The two United States steamers anchored for the night right at the wreck of General Miramon and both tried to free her of the shoal at 5:00 am. The salvage of Captain Marin's flagship failed, so the ships set sail for Veracruz. One American sailor was killed in the battle, and another three men were wounded. Both Saratoga and Indianola were slightly damaged. Tomas M. Marin, his mutineers and their Cuban allies were handed over to the Mexican authorities at Veracruz. Marquis of Havana eventually ended up in Confederate States Navy service during the American Civil War and was renamed CSS McRae. Commodore Turner later served with distinction during the Battle of Charleston Harbor and was awarded the rank of admiral.
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- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- Secretary of the Navy Official site