Santos Benavides was born on
November 1, 1823, in Laredo, Texas (then part of Mexico), the son of Jose Maria
and Marguerita (Ramon) Benavides. Of distinguished ancestry, he was a
great-grandson of Tomas Sanchez, founder of Laredo; his uncle Basilio was later
a Texas state representative. He was appointed city attorney of Laredo in 1843
by the Mexican government. Adapting quickly to the new Anglo-Texan presence,
Benavides became a wealthy Laredo merchant and rancher. He was known as the
"Merchant Prince of the Rio Grande" for his wide-ranging business interests. In
1856 the citizens of Laredo elected him their Institute of Texan Cultures mayor,
and in 1859 they elected him chief justice of Webb County. Active in military
affairs as well, Benavides earned a reputation as an Indian fighter by leading
numerous forays against hostile local tribes.
Benavides went with his state when it seceded. The first two years of the war Benavides, as captain, headed up a company of Texas state cavalry, made up of mostly Mexican-American ranchers, which protected the border against incursions by Mexican and Indian bandits. He won considerable credit as a leader of rangers. In November, 1863, Benavides was authorized by the Confederate commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, General E. Kirby Smith, to raise a cavalry regiment in west Texas to defend that state's border.' In 1863, praising Benavides for his "most admirable tact, skill and decision," the Confederate area commanders recommended that Benavides be made a brigadier general to command the southern frontier of Texas. Major General John B. Magruder, District of Texas commander, promised that if Benavides raised a brigade he would get his generalship. Major (from May 2, 1863) and later colonel of the 33rd (Benavides') Texas Cavalry, Benavides defeated Union-Mexican forces in an attack on Laredo in May, 1864, and otherwise did yeoman service protecting both the Laredo area and the border trade. In 1864 the Texas Legislature formally thanked Benavides for his defense of the border. Later he was put in charge of the Western Division of the Western Sub-District of Texas.
After the war Benevides resumed his mercantile business, in partnership with his brother Christobal. Benavides dabbled in Texas and Mexican politics, supporting his son-in-law (General Lorenzo Garza Ayala) against the Mexican dictator Porftrio Diaz. He was often accused of using his Charcos Largo ranch as a supply depot for the rebels. Benavides was elected to the Texas House three times, representing Webb County from 1879 to 1884, and was twice an alderman of Laredo. He died on November 9, 1891, in Laredo, and is buried in the Catholic Cemetery there.
lonel Benavides, who "did not know
the meaning of fear, and was an able, skillful commander," was undoubtedly the
war's most distinguished Hispanic Confederate.
The Handbook of Texas states that Benavides received a promotion to general by the state of Texas just before war's end. A newspaper account of his death calls him "general,"and an article written three years after his death states that he "was commissioned a General, but the war ended before he assumed his rank." However, at least one expert who has written extensively on Benevides states flatly that he can find no record of such a promotion.
Reference: More Generals in Gray. Bruce S. Allardice. A companion volume to Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.