Woll, Adrian (1795–1875)

By: Joseph M. Nance

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: March 1, 2016

Adrián Woll, Mexican general, was born on December 2, 1795, in St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, educated for the military profession, and served as a lieutenant in a lancer regiment in the imperial guard during the First Empire. In 1815 he was a captain adjutant major in the Tenth Legion of the National Guard of the Seine. On the restoration of Bourbon rule in France, Woll sailed for America, carrying letters of introduction to Gen. Winfield Scott, headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland. Scott apparently pointed to the opportunities that the Mexican revolutionary movement in progress against Spain offered a young man of energy, skilled in the military arts. On July 3, 1816, in Baltimore, Woll joined the staff of Gen. Francisco Xavier Mina as a lieutenant colonel. He landed with Mina near the mouth of the Santander River on April 15, 1817, and assisted in seizing Soto la Marina three days later. When the Mina expedition collapsed, Woll sought other ties to the Mexican War of Independence and cast his lot with Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna. With the achievement of Mexican independence, Woll remained in the Mexican army, became a naturalized citizen, and married Lucinda Vautrey Griggi. He became a colonel in 1828 and served as an aide-de-camp to Santa Anna during the capture of Tampico from the Spaniards in 1829. In 1832 he was promoted to brigadier general and awarded the Cross of Tampico. He and several other officers were commissioned by Santa Anna to conduct and place in the hands of the central government in Mexico City the flag taken from the Spaniards. In 1832 Woll supported the pronunciamento against President Anastasio Bustamante that brought Gen. M. Gómez Pedraza to the presidency. From Guadalajara Woll led a small, well-organized force that defeated Lt. Col. Joaquín Solórzano at Taxinastla; he entered Colima on November 15 and placed Pedraza adherents in office, then moved to Morelos. In 1835 Woll served as quartermaster general during Santa Anna's campaign that put down the Federalist uprising led by the pure-blooded Indian Juan Álvarez in the south and by Francisco García Zacatecas.

In 1836 Woll was quartermaster general of Santa Anna's army in the invasion of Texas. On March 8 he reached San Antonio de Béxar and reported to Gen. Vicente Filisola, second in command of the Mexican forces. After the battle of the Alamo, Woll accompanied Gen. Joaquín Ramírez y Sesma, who had orders to march with 725 men through Gonzales to San Felipe de Austin and thence to Harrisburg and Anahuac. The force included three infantry battalions, two six-pounder cannons, and forty dragoons. Ramírez y Sesma confronted Gen. Sam Houston and a Texan army on the opposite bank of the Colorado River at Beeson's Ferry, near the site of present-day Columbus, and began crossing. Houston retreated. On April 5, when Santa Anna reached Atascosito Pass on the Colorado, Woll assigned a battalion to construct rafts to ferry across the remainder of the army, which was arriving under Filisola. Santa Anna then proceeded with a division to San Felipe-and defeat at the battle of San Jacinto. On April 26 Woll became Filisola's chief of staff. Informed of Santa Anna's surrender, Filisola dispatched Woll to the Texan camp as an emissary under the pretext of learning the terms of the armistice, but actually to gain information on the strength, armament, and resources of the enemy. On April 30 Woll rode in under a truce flag and was detained. Gen. Thomas J. Rusk, commanding the Texan army, transferred Woll to Velasco, where he was given safe conduct to Goliad and released. Woll joined the retreating Mexican army on June 12. In 1842 Woll claimed that during the Texas campaign he had persuaded Santa Anna to cancel his order to shoot James W. Fannin and his men, but the order could not be recalled in time.

After the Texas Revolution, Woll played an inconspicuous role in Mexican affairs. During the brief "Pastry War" with France in 1838–39, he resigned his commission to avoid fighting against his countrymen, but the Mexican government rejected his request and placed him on inactive duty. When the French troops withdrew, Woll joined Santa Anna and the Centralists in their struggle with the Federalists. Late in November 1840 he went to New Orleans and negotiated for military supplies and other items, some of which may have been involved in a smuggling operation conducted by his wife at Saltillo. In December Woll was assigned to service on the northern frontier. In early June 1842, Woll was appointed second in command to Isidro Reyes in the Army of the North and made head of the Department of Coahuila. During the summer he received orders to invade Texas (see MEXICAN INVASIONS OF 1842). Woll was to capture San Antonio, then reconnoiter the Guadalupe River down to Gonzales-all within one month. He had crossed the Rio Grande at Presidio with his Second Division by August 30 and, following a new route, entered San Antonio on September 11. He was repulsed by Texan troops in the battle of Salado Creek on the eighteenth, evacuated San Antonio two days later, and returned to Coahuila. The Mexican government hailed Woll's Texas campaign as a success, promoted him to major general, and awarded him its Cross of Honor. In February 1843 Woll became commander of the Army of the North. He served until the northern army, on December 6, 1844, joined a revolt led by José Joaquín Herrera and Gen. Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga against Santa Anna. Woll was arrested and imprisoned, but freed under a general amnesty decree of May 24, 1845.

Earlier, while commanding on the frontier, he had served with a government commission to arrange an armistice between Mexico and Texas. James W. Robinson, a Texan prisoner at Perote Prison, had offered proposals to settle the differences between the two countries, and Santa Anna allowed Robinson to return to Texas and present his case. Houston declared a truce on June 15, 1843. The commissioners of both governments signed an armistice on February 15, 1844, at Salinas, on the Rio Grande. However, the Mexican government quickly recalled its commissioners upon learning that the Texans were negotiating in Washington for annexation to the United States and that the Texas commissioners had no authority to discuss a permanent peace. On June 19, Woll, on instructions from Mexico City, sent Houston a formal declaration of war, and hostilities resumed. During the United States invasion of Mexico in 1846, Woll served in the Mexican army until Santa Anna's defeat in 1847, then sailed for Europe. In 1852 he landed in Havana, Cuba, and joined Santa Anna on his return to Mexico. On April 20, 1853, at Santa Anna's installation as president, he appointed Woll governor and commandant general of Tamaulipas. When revolutionary disturbances flared, his authority was extended over Nuevo León and Coahuila. Santa Anna declared himself a dictator on December 16, 1853, but his support faded and he fled Mexico. Woll also left.

About three and a half years later, Woll reappeared in Mexico as an adherent of President Miguel Miramón, whose Centralist regime had been attacked by Benito Juárez and the Constitutionalists. On March 22, 1859, Woll landed at Mocambo with several prominent reactionists (Díaz de la Vega, Victor Blanco, and two sons of Santa Anna), reported to Miramón at Veragra, and was given an army command. During the ensuing Guerra de la Reforma, he defeated Gen. S. Degollado, a liberal leader, on August 30 near León and occupied Zacatecas in November. In May 1860 he successfully defended Guadalajara. The Miramón government collapsed on December 24, and Juárez became the Mexican president. Woll again returned to France. In 1862, when Napoleon III declared war on Juárez, Woll accompanied the French troops sent to Mexico and was named commandant general of the state of Vera Cruz. In March 1863 he met with A. Superviele, a Confederate agent, who urged the French government to seize Matamoros. Woll also served on the Junta Superior de Gobierno, a group of thirty-five formed by the French. The group chose three Mexican citizens to act as a temporary executive and selected 215 citizens to serve as an Asamblea de Notables. Appointed on June 29, 1863, the Asamblea met jointly with the Junta Superior and formed a monarchy. The executive committee, called theRegencia del Imperio Mexicano, sent Woll and eleven others as a deputation to offer the Mexican imperial crown to Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria. Maximilian accepted the crown on April 10, 1864. He asked Woll to draft a plan for organizing the armed forces needed in Mexico. Woll was designated the adjutant general of the occupation forces when Maximilian landed in Mexico on May 28. He also was named chief aide-de-camp and promoted to commander of the French order of knighthood, the Legion of Honor. When Maximilian became displeased with Marshal François Achille Bazaine and demanded his recall, he dispatched Woll in the fall of 1865 to explain matters to Napoleon. Woll learned that Napoleon planned to withdraw the French troops from Mexico beginning in January 1866, and he never returned to Mexico. The French soldier of fortune died at Montauban, just north of Toulouse in southern France, in February 1875.

Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Mexico (6 vols., San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft and the History Company, 1883–89). Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of the North Mexican States and Texas (2 vols., San Francisco: History Company, 1886, 1889). William Campbell Binkley, ed., Official Correspondence of the Texan Revolution, 1835–1836 (2 vols., New York: Appleton-Century, 1936). John Henry Brown, History of Texas from 1685 to 1892 (2 vols., St. Louis: Daniell, 1893). Anson Jones, Memoranda and Official Correspondence Relating to the Republic of Texas (New York: Appleton, 1859; rpt. 1966). Joseph Milton Nance, "Adrián Woll: Frenchman in the Mexican Military Service," New Mexico Historical Review 33 (July 1958). Joseph Milton Nance, Attack and Counterattack: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1842 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Joseph Milton Nance, trans. and ed., "Brigadier General Adrian Woll's Report of His Expedition into Texas in 1842," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 58 (April 1955). Adrián Woll, Expedición hecha en Tejas, por una parte de la 2a División del Cuerpo del Egército del Norte (Monterrey: Impreso por Francisco Molina, 1842).

  • Peoples
  • French
  • Military
  • Soldiers
  • Mexican Americans
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Joseph M. Nance, “Woll, Adrian,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/woll-adrian.

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March 1, 2016

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