As always, the conflict on the border had a style all its own. On one side was General Mejia with 3,000 imperial troops, including about 300 French and Austrian soldiers. Their army was harassed constantly by the regular and bandit forces of Benito Juarez as well as the bandits of the local border chieftain Juan Cortina who switched allegiances several times. In the summer of 1865 General Mejia embarked on an offensive toward Camargo that cleared out the republican bandits and Juaristas. Consolidation was able to take place and the city of Matamoros was cleaned up and work even got underway by a Belgian company to build an opera house in anticipation of a visit by the Emperor and Empress.
Eventually, Cortina drove the imperialistas out of Camargo but he was in turn dealt severe defeats in an attempted raid on an imperial supply train and an imperialista attack on his own encampment. The situation soon degenerated into a no-holds-barred guerilla war. The French and Mexican imperialists decided to fight fire with fire and turned to the flamboyant and vicious Colonel Charles Dupin, leader of the contra-guerillas who struck the republican forces with such ferocity and cruelty that he was nicknamed the “hyena of Tamaulipas” and his men, the “Red Devils”. However, both sides were equally brutal no doubt about it.
The attack on Matamoros went on for sixteen days until an imperial cavalry patrol discovered that the Juaristas had abandoned their lines and retreated on November 9. Total losses for the Juaristas amounted to five hundred dead or wounded and fifty-eight taken prisoner while General Mejia had lost fewer than twelve. Yet, as long as the republicans remained in the area the fight went on with Juarista raiders attacking French and Imperialista detachments. In December, General Escobedo even managed to take Monterrey though it was quickly taken back by only seven hundred imperial cavalry. The town of Bagdad also came under attack, first by American land pirates and again in January of 1866 by forces allied with the scheming U.S. General Lew Wallace. Lt. Colonel J.D. Davis commanding the 118th Colored Troops (the official designation for African-Americans serving in the U.S. Army at the time) at Clarksville, Texas also allowed the invaders to pass and many of his troops even joined the expedition. The raiders overcame the guards at Bagdad on January 5, surprised and captured the guard commander and murdered the imperialist mayor. The town was seized and plundered by the American forces.
|Imperial Mexican troops|