This Preservation Matters is part two of the September article “Frederick hosted tribunals following Second Seminole War.”
That installment concluded with Gen, Edmund Gaines’ reluctance to leave his Florida headquarters in the Second Seminole War in order to indulge in the “indolence” of the military inquiry and his objections to the date and location of the court in Frederick.
Gaines also objected to the composition of the court, particularly Gen. Alexander Macomb as president and judge, noting that Macomb would take any opportunity to wrong him “as he had since 1830.” Gaines delayed sending his list of witnesses as he waited for a response to his appeal to change the location and composition of the court, but also authorized Capt. E.A. Hitchcock and Capt. G. A. McCall to act on his behalf “until the court could adjourn to Mobile, where the Florida or Western Frontier could be visited.”
In spite of Gaines’ requests, the court of inquiry proceeded, with some delay, in Frederick. The court convened on Nov. 28, and the long list of high-ranking military officers that had arrived in town were recorded by local diarist Jacob Engelbrecht.
Gaines was further delayed in Mobile by the death of his wife, while Scott proceeded with his defense in Frederick in early December. Scott’s opening remarks no doubt were a spectacle to behold. Nicknamed “Old Fuss and Feathers,” Scott was a known disciplinarian and lover of military pomp. In his grandiose opening remarks reprinted in the National Intelligencer, , he compared himself to the 17th century Doge of Genoa was called to France by King Louis XIV—exclaiming ““When a doge of Genoa, for some imaginary offence, imputed by Louis XIV, was torn from his government and compelled to visit France …to find myself here!”
The dramatic comparisons continued when Gaines finally arrived in January and accused Scott of treason, calling him, “…the second United States general officer who has ever dared to aid and assist the open enemy of the republic…The first great offender was Major Gen. Benedict Arnold; the second as your finding must show, is Major Gen. Winfield Scott.”
In January 1837, unrelated to the court of inquiry, Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived in Frederick on his way to Washington. Santa Anna, military officer and dictator-president, led Mexican forces during the Texas Revolution, including the defeat of the Texian forces at the Alamo and the subsequent massacre at Goliad, before being captured by General Samuel Houston at San Jacinto in April 1836. He remained a prisoner until Houston, now president of the Republic of Texas, released him to travel to Washington, DC, with his interpreter and two Texan guards, in an attempt to persuade United States President Andrew Jackson to support Texas’ independence. It was on this journey that Santa Anna made a brief appearance in Frederick. Engelbrecht notes his “short look” at Santa Anna upon his arrival on January 17, 1837 and also records his stay at Roberts Tavern. Roberts Tavern, or Roberts Hotel, was located at the corner of All Saints and Market streets, and was later known as the United States Hotel.
Gaines’ deputy Hitchcock also recorded Santa Anna’s Frederick visit in his diary: “He is a Spaniard in appearance, on the whole, but is of a slighter figure than I had expected to find. Is about 5 feet 10 inches, of a very commanding and dignified presence, of graceful manners and a rather benign countenance. Smiled at his misfortunes, and for my life I could not believe he ever gave the order for the massacre of the Goliad—(he has always denied giving the order). It was sad to see him, fallen from the highest estate on this continent next to that of our own Presidency, and now travelling alone, and unattended except by two Texan officers. His aid, Almonte, has gone on in advance to Washington.” Hitchcock also notes that, “The officers of the court of inquiry, with others in attendance, upon its adjournment, called at Robust’s [Robert’s] Hotel and paid their respects to the distinguished stranger.”
The Niles Weekly Register, a national news magazine, specifically reported that Santa Anna “waited upon the veteran general Gaines, to whom he felt under obligation for courtesies received,” during his stay in Frederick. Historian Oakah L. Jones, in his 1968 biography of Santa Anna, does not mention the visit with Gaines in Frederick, but instead with Gen. Winfield Scott.
Jones writes, “Santa Anna and Scott conversed amicably at a hotel in Frederick for nearly an hour, scarcely realizing that almost a decade later they would meet again on the battlefield outside Mexico City.” The next day, Santa Anna departed for Washington, where he was received by the President, and then shortly sent on a Navy vessel back to Mexico.
The military court of inquiry in Frederick came to an end in February 1837. The exact location of the Frederick court of inquiry is unknown, but Engelbrecht documents the sale of room furniture at its conclusion, indicating the court was likely set up in temporary quarters. Despite the boastful and brazen claims made in this court of inquiry, the outcome was largely inconclusive, and Scott and Gaines were held blameless.
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