A Hispanic Confederate – Abbeville Institute

Because the ethnic diversity of the Confederate Army is not appreciated by many historians, Jason Boshers, the commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and J. Brian McClure, the commander of the Louisiana Division of the SCV, declared September “Confederate Hispanic Heritage Month.”

The ethnically diverse Confederate Army included Irish dock workers in the Louisiana Tigers, the German Fusiliers who defended Charleston, men of Mexican descent who rode with the victorious Texas cavalry in the Red River Campaign, Native Americans who fought beside Richard M. Gano and Stand Waite, the only Indian to become a general officer during the Civil War, and African American Confederates who served everywhere. One example of the ethnically diverse nature of the Rebel army is Ambrosio Jose Gonzales, who was born in Matanzas, Cuba, in 1818.[1]

When he was nine, Gonzales’s father sent him to New York to be educated. One of his classmates was G. T. Beauregard, who became a lifelong friend. After four or five years, Gonzales returned to Cuba and finished his education at the University of Havana, where he took a law degree. Young Gonzales, however, decided to pursue a career in education. He was a professor of languages at the University of Havana in 1848 when he decided to join a group of Cuban Revolutionaries. A. J. (as he was called) became the rebels’ de facto ambassador to the United States, where he met with General William J. Worth, President James K. Polk, Secretary of the Navy John Y. Mason, and Secretary of the Treasury Robert J. Walker. There was serious talk about annexing the island to the United States—especially in the South, whose leaders wanted more slave state senators in Congress.

The Junta declared Cuba independent in 1849. They adopted a flag that is now the national flag of Cuba. When the Spanish government learned what was happening, they sentenced Gonzales to death in absencia. The rebels (i.e., the Junta), however, promoted Gonzales to general, chief of staff, and second-in-command to their leader, General Narciso Lopez. In New Orleans and Louisville, they raised a regiment of 500 men, most of whom were people of means, and sailed for Cuba.

The Junta forces (filibusterers) landed at Cardanas, which fell quickly. Unloading took too long, however, and the Spanish Army retook Cardanas in heavy fighting but not before General Gonzales was shot twice. Taken aboard the ship Creole, Gonzales had not recovered when a Spanish counteroffensive forced the survivors to re-embark. The Creole escaped the Spanish Navy and docked in Key West, Florida. Gonzales was taken to the home of Stephen R. Mallory, who also commanded the local militia.[2] When a Spanish warship approached and demanded that the rebels be turned over to them, a confrontation resulted. The Spanish, not wishing to risk a war with the United States, withdrew, but Gonzales was still not out of danger.

After he recovered, General Gonzales was arrested for violation of the neutrality laws and ordered to report to Federal authorities in New Orleans, which he did. He was indicted, along with General Lopez, Mississippi Governor (and former general) John A. Quitman, and an impressive list of American dignitaries who supported the Revolution. After two mistrials, Gonzales was released. He remained in the United States, became an American citizen, and married Harriett Elliott, the youngest daughter of a rich South Carolina planter, in 1856.[3] They had six children by the time she died in 1869.[4]

When the South seceded, Gonzales found a new cause. He threw himself into the Confederate war effort with the same enthusiasm he exhibited in the cause of Cuba libre. He joined the staff of General Beauregard as a captain and an assistant inspector general. He became a lieutenant colonel of South Carolina state troops in May 1861.

Gonzales was associated with his old classmate and friend, General Beauregard throughout much of his Confederate career and was an aide during the bombardment of Fort Sumter. He also looked so much like Beauregard, they were frequently mistaken for each other. After Beauregard left for Virginia, Gonzales was involved in the strengthening of South Carolina’s coastal defenses as a special aide to Governor Pickens. He joined the Confederate Army as a lieutenant colonel on June 4, 1862, and served under Major General John C. Pemberton, who promoted him to chief of artillery for the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida on August 14. He was promoted to colonel that same day.

Colonel Gonzales served as chief of artillery from 1862 until 1865. He was deeply involved in the successful defense of Charleston from 1862 to 1864, and particularly distinguished himself at the Battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina, on November 30, 1864. Here part of Sherman’s forces tried to cut the Charleston and Savannah Railroad. The battle is historically significant because most of the 5,000 Yankees involved were African Americans, making it the first battle in U.S. history fought primarily by African American soldiers. The famous 54th Massachusetts was part of the attacking force. The Rebels totaled 1,400 men (mostly Georgia Militia) and seven guns, but their position was extremely well selected, and they were too well entrenched to be dislodged. The Federals were also badly cut up by Southern artillery. Major General Gustavus W. Smith, the commander of the Georgia Militia, reported: “I have never seen pieces more skillfully employed or more gallantry served upon a difficult field of battle.” The Union Army suffered 89 killed, 629 wounded, and 28 missing, as opposed to eight killed and 39 wounded for the Southerners.[5]

A. J. Gonzales was promoted to chief of artillery of the Army of Tennessee in 1865. Beauregard and Pemberton recommended him for promotion to brigadier general, but no action was taken by the end of the war. As part of the surrender of the Army of Tennessee, Gonzales was paroled on April 30, 1865.[6]

After the surrender, Gonzales tried to rebuild the family’s fortunes and labored in Charleston as a merchant, mill owner, and planter. Like many in the post-war South, he was not successful and basically went broke. He later worked as a teacher and translator but eked out a bare living with inadequate means. He lived in Cuba, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., before he died in New York City on July 31, 1893. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx.