Generally, the term enganchado refers to a person enlisted, recruited, or hired on by a recruiter, or enganchador. During the Civil War, enganchados referred to Tejano and Mexicano Union agents on the Texas-Mexico border. Constitutional loyalist John L. Haynes and former district judge Edmund J. Davis, were the prime movers behind the recruitment of the enganchados. In 1862 Davis and Haynes went to Washington and met with President Abraham Lincoln, who authorized their idea. In a letter written to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton on August 4, 1862, Lincoln suggested that Stanton meet with the “Texas gentlemen” and affirmed, “They think if we could send 2500 or 3000 arms, in a vessel, to the vicinity of the Rio Grande, that they can find the men there who will re-inaugurate the National Authority on the Rio Grande first, and probably on the Nuesces [sic] also.” Assisted by Leonard Pierce, Jr., another Unionist and the American consul in Matamoros, they instigated border raids on Confederate forces along the Texas-Mexico border (see also RIO GRANDE CAMPAIGN).
According to the noted Texas folklorist Américo Paredes, Juan Nepomuceno Cortina was perhaps the most famous enganchado. Haynes was one of the few Anglos that Cortina actually trusted, because of Haynes’s outspoken and objective stance amid the Cortina Wars. Although corridos emphasize Cortina’s militaristic prowess as a guerilla fighter, his efforts to fight for the Tejanos’ “dignity and social justice” was politically motivated.
The most significant enganchados who assisted in recruiting fighters were Antonio Abad Días and Eugenio Guzman, both of whom became officers in the Union Army. These Tejanos relentlessly rode in search of recruits along the Rio Grande and across the river in Tamaulipas. Días and Guzman entered villages and offered bounties that drew many of the impecunious recruits. In Matamoros, Pierce was instrumental in providing accommodation, supplies, and encouragement for the enganchados.
In December 1862 Octaviano Zapata, stock farmer, bandit, and Tejano Unionist, commanded more than a hundred enganchados. Referred to as the “First Regiment of Union Troops” on the border and carrying the Stars and Stripes, they crossed the Rio Grande. “Que Viva la Union” was Zapata’s battle cry. Zapata asserted that he had received a colonel’s commission. The men were promised bounty and land—up to 100 pesos in gold and 50 to 150 acres of land. While posing a threat to Confederate supply lines on the border, Zapata’s raiders also marauded the area. Near Mier, Zapata was killed by Confederate Tejanos led by Col. Santos Benavides.
In late 1863 a large number of enganchado recruits enlisted in Haynes’s newly-created Second Texas Cavalry. At age forty-two, Haynes led the 600-man mostly Latino guerilla regiment called “The Mustangs” across South Texas and then in Louisiana. Many of the recruits were former Cortinistas, and many were destitute and illiterate. Of the estimated 2,000 men who enlisted in the Texas Union Army, more than 40 percent were Tejano or Mexicano.
Cecilio Balerio (also spelled Valerio) and his son Juan were two notorious Unionist guerillas who wreaked havoc in the Nueces Strip. On March 13, 1864, Rebels under the command of Capt. Matthew Nolan captured Juan Valerio and then led a surprise attack against his father’s band of 126 enganchados at Los Patricios, fifty miles southwest of Banquete. In the fifteen-minute conflict, three Confederates and five of Valerio’s fighters were killed. Nolan recalled how the Tejano Unionists “fought most gallantly, and could only be repulsed after a desperate fight at [the] cost of much blood and property.” A note was discovered at the encampment which specified that Colonel Haynes was on the move to reinforce the guerillas.
Although outnumbered on the border, the enganchados’ guerilla warfare tactics made a dent in the Confederacy’s cotton trade. The overall impact of their border raids served to plague and remind the Confederacy that resistance did exist on the Texas-Mexico border. Although some enganchados fought for money and plunder, others fought for social justice, pride, or revenge against Anglo-Texans who they believed used the American court system to swindle them out of their lands.