Vicente Filisola is best known as being second in command to Gen. José López de Santa Anna in the latter days of the Texas Revolution. Filisola (1789-1850) was born in Ravello, Italy. Early in his life, Filisola’s family had moved from Italy to Spain, and he joined the Spanish army while still a young man in 1804. Filisola served in Europe for a time, but around 1811 is believed to have begun serving in Mexico, or New Spain as it was also known.
The government of Mexico was in a period of transition during the 1800s. It existed as a property of Spain until 1822. From 1824 to 1835 it was a federal republic. It was a central republic during the nine year period in which Santa Anna was in leadership, beginning about two years after his election as President in 1833. Santa Anna succeeded in centralizing the government from about 1835 to 1846. A second republic existed from about 1846 to 1853 and the government was essentially in flux thereafter until the 1860s, including about six years after the French invaded and took control in 1861.
For a short time beginning in 1831, Filisola contracted to be an empresario. In this connection, he agreed to try to settle six hundred families in what is now East Texas. The families were to be other than Anglo settlers. He was unsuccessful at achieving this. Filisola came to the attention of Gen. José López de Santa Anna during his assumption of power. Filisola was named second in command to Santa Anna by the time Santa Anna made his campaign to seize control of Texas, culminating in his defeat at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. It is unknown where Filisola was physically located during the siege of the Alamo, but he appears to have arrived a few days after its conclusion. He later wrote a descriptive critique of the battle.
At the time the Battle of San Jacinto took place, Filisola was in command of about 1,000 troops and Urrea was in command of about 1,500, and both were situated in the general area of Fort Bend. Theoretically they could have supported Santa Anna, and could have overwhelmed the Texas forces had they been nearby. After his capture by the Texas forces, Santa Anna was able to send out a message that ordered Filisola to withdraw and to organize the retreat of the combined Mexican soldiers, numbering by then about 4,000. His actions were contested and criticized by other officers of the Army, primarily Gen. José Cosme Urrea. Unknown to Filisola at the time, the Mexican government had issued conflicting orders for him to remain in Texas and hold on to the locations that still remained under Mexican control. However, these orders were received too late, after the withdrawal was underway. Filisola was already executing Santa Anna’s orders. Filisola offered to turn around try to execute them, but his troops had already crossed the Nueces River. The troops were in poor condition and Filisola ultimately returned with them to Mexico. He later resigned his commission and retired from the Mexican Army. The Mexican government accused him of cowardice, of being a traitor and tried him in a court-martial, but he successfully defended himself of these charges in 1841. He briefly was called upon to again serve the Mexican Army and commanded troops during the Mexican-American War in the mid 1840s.
Filisola published his account of the Texas Revolution and it has been translated into English in at least two publications. Following the conclusion of Mexican-American War, Filisola returned to Mexico City where he lived the rest of his life. He died during a cholera epidemic in July, 1850.
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