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Let us design a flag under which Cuba will be free… the three colors of liberty are red, white and blue… white represents the purity of purpose in a Republican form of government… let us take the equilateral triangle… and the five-pointed star of the Texas flag because it carries a symbolic meaning… Narcisco Lopez

Narciso López was a Venezuelan born Spanish general who led several filibustering expeditions into Cuba with the goal of liberating the island from Spain. Most of López’ support came from the U.S. south, as were most of the paid soldiers who signed up with his expeditions, and it is widely believed that his main goal was the annexation of Cuba to the U.S.

The first of various filibustering expeditions took place in September 1849 and ended in failure. Less than a year later another expedition with paid soldiers from Kentucky and Louisiana took control of the town of Cárdenas, but Spanish forces defeated this effort on May 19, 1850. Historian Philip S. Foner writes; “of the entire force, only five men were Cubans; the rest came mainly from the Southern states.”

In August of 1851 López tried again (with 435 men). They landed at Bahía Honda (about 40 miles from Havana). Within two days López’ army was defeated in the village of Las Pozas by Spanish troops. The 51 remaining men from López’ army were executed by a firing squad on August 16, 1851. López was executed publicly in Havana on September 1. Before his death, he shouted bravely, “My death will not change the destiny of Cuba!” López’ followers on the island were sentenced to work in the quicksilver mines of Spain and later pardoned.

That same month, in New Orleans, former associates of López formed a secret society called the “Order of the Lone Star.” The goal of the order was to incorporate Cuba into the U.S. The order had 50 chapters in 8 Southern states and an estimated membership of 15,000 to 20,000. They went on to develop a plan to invade Cuba, in the summer of 1852, to coincide with the “Conspiracy of Vuelta Abajo,” a revolt organized in Vuelta Abajo (Pinar del Río) by Francisco de Frías, López’s wealthy brother-in-law.

A year later, the Junta Cubana of New York called on General John A. Quitman (a former associate of Narciso López who had been military governor of Mexico City after its surrender in 1847) to lead an invasion of Cuba, and proposed to make him “exclusive chief of our revolution, not only in its military, but also in its civil sense.” Quitman was on record as wanting the U.S. to absorb Mexico as well as Cuba.

On April 18 1853 Quitman signed a formal agreement with the Junta Cubana in which he was appointed “civil and military chief of the revolution, with all the powers and attributes of dictatorship as recognized by civilized nations, to be sued and exercised by him for the purpose of overthrowing the Spanish government in the island of Cuba and its dependencies, and substituting in the place thereof a free and independent government.” 

But it was not only the Southerners who had dreams of a Carribbean empire. In 1862, when the north was losing the war badly, Lincoln was confronted by the Trent case.  Two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell, were seized by the U.S. Navy from a British ship, the Trent, en route to England. England’s Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, sent Lincoln an ultimatum demanding an apology and the release of Mason and Slidell, and ordered troops to Canada in preparation for war. He also seized all English shipments to the U.S., including a vital supply of saltpeter, the principal ingredient of gunpowder, of which the Union was in desperately low supply. Lincoln had little choice but to release Mason and Slidell but at the same time began fomenting plans for the invasion of Canada – or in the event of Southern victory in the short term – an alliance with the new Southern Nation to take Cuba and Mexico and thus keep the huge army he had been raising from becoming part of an insurrection in the north that might have well ended with him at the end of a traitor’s rope.

Fatal Glory : Narciso Lopez and the First Clandestine U. S. War Against Cuba    Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 1996. Tom Chaffin Lopez, Narciso, 1797-1851 Relations with Americans. Hardcover xxii, 282 p., [10] p. of plates : ill., map ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 253-267) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

In the late 1840s and early 1850s, filibustering expeditions based in the United States against Cuba, Nicaragua, and other parts of Latin America captured the American popular imagination. . . . None of the filibusterers was more famous than Narciso López. Fatal Glory is an outstanding study of López’s efforts to overthrow Spanish rule in Cuba between 1848 and 1851. After fleeing from an unsuccessful revolt in Cuba, López came to the United States and proceeded to organize four separate expeditions. Two were thwarted by United States government intervention before they departed, and two sailed and landed in Cuba but were quickly defeated by the Spanish army. . . . The inevitable outcome of the expeditions, however, was largely lost in the great excitement that López and his supporters created in the United States.


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