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Brownsville History, Texas

In 1845, Brownsville, TX, US began as a fort on the Mexican border.  It was called Fort Texas and was meant to help bring stability to the area.  However, the Mexican-American War began in May of 1846 shortly before the fort was finished.  Fort Texas was seized by the Mexican Army on May 3.  General Zachary Taylor’s armies were intercepted around 5 miles north of the present-day city.  This resulted in the Battle of Palo Alto - the first battle of the war.  The Mexican forces retreated and General Taylor’s armies followed them towards the fort.  This resulted in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma which took place within the present-day city limits. 

When General Taylor finally reached Fort Texas he found that only two American soldiers had died in the siege.  One of them was Major Jacob Brown, the fort’s commander.  General Taylor renamed the fort in Major Brown’s honor.  The war ended two years later in 1848.  In this same year, the City of Brownsville was founded.  The city was made the Cameron County seat on January 13, 1849. 

A decade later the First Cortina War began.  It lasted for a little over 6 months and ended on December 27, 1859.  This would be followed by the Second Cortina War which took place in May of 1861.  These wars were led by Juan Cortina, a Mexican rancher and military leader, who led an army of Mexican-American citizens against the state of Texas at Brownsville based on charges he made that the Anglo-American citizens in the area were stealing Mexican land and pushing the Mexican citizens out.  Even though his armies were not successful, he remained a political hero in the area for quite some time. 

Brownsville also had a role in the United States Civil War.  The city was used to smuggle Confederate merchandise into Mexico.  Often times, there were European ships waiting on the Mexican coasts for cotton and other important Southern goods.  In order to stop the smuggling, Union troops marched on Brownsville; but, before they could get there, Confederate soldiers had abandoned and blown up their fort.  The Confederate army retook Brownsville in 1864 and even won a battle there in May of 1865 - one month after the Confederate states surrendered to the Union.

Brownsville was also the home of a Civil Rights-related action known as the Brownsville Affair which took place in 1906.  There was a regiment consisting of several African-American soldiers stationed at Fort Brown.  This led to hostility from some of the townspeople.  In August of that year, a white police officer and a white bartender were both shot and the perpetrator was never found.  The entire regiment was blamed and dishonorably discharged.  However, in the 1970’s, investigations into the affair were finally completed and the dishonorable discharges were removed.

Fort Brown was acquired by the city of Brownsville in 1948 after it was decommissioned in 1945 - one hundred years after its founding.

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