First and Second Cortina Wars 1859-1861
During the late 1950s the United States was primarily concerned over the rising threat of secession from Southern states over the issue of slavery. During this period the United States maintained a fairly large – for its time – military presence in the State of Texas, both to protect citizens and property from the attacks of the Cheyenne and other tribes, and to protect the southern border from incursions by Mexican bandits and the troops pursuing them, often indistinguishable from each other by those with the misfortune to encounter them.
Juan Cortina was a rancher and border bandit who raided towns on both sides of the nearly invisible border between Mexico and Texas. When he raided Brownsville in 1859 he set off a conflict with the militia of that town and the Texas Rangers, later supported by United States Cavalry.
This led to several pitched battles, culminating in the Battle of Rio Grande City. After the United States applied diplomatic pressure on Mexico to take action to prevent its citizens and troops from crossing the border, Cortina retreated to the Burgos, and the First Cortina War drew to an uneasy end. In 1861 Cortina returned to his raiding.
By that time Texas had seceded from the United States and the only military units along the border were those of the Confederate States Army, a situation which no doubt encouraged Cortina’s return. Cortina had an eye for opportunity, and had agreed to a local alliance with the United States Army to harass the southern border, keeping any booty which he managed to pillage on his raids. After invading Zapata Cortina found himself confronted by Confederate troops and he was roundly defeated, withdrawing back to Mexico. It was his only military action of the Civil War.
The First and Second Cortina Wars are the only known instance of Confederate and Union troops engaging a common foreign enemy, despite it being at different times and circumstances. Cortina was eventually arrested and confined by Mexican authorities, dying imprisoned in Mexico City in 1894.