February 14, 1790 - July 15, 1862
A career army officer, David Emanuel Twiggs was born in Georgia on February 14, 1790. Preparing for a career in law in Augusta when war broke out with Great Britain in 1812, Twiggs received a commission as a captain in the Eighth Infantry. Promoted to major in 1814, Twiggs was discharged from the army the following year, but used his political connections to obtain a captain’s commission with a brevet to major dating back to his original promotion. Twiggs served under generals Andrew Jackson and Edmund Gaines in Florida in the Seminole Wars. Promoted to colonel, he commanded the Second Regiment of Dragoons at the outset of the war with Mexico.
In July 1845, Twiggs and his regiment marched overland to Corpus Christi with sixty supply wagons as part of General Taylor’s newly created Army of Observation. A dispute over seniority prompted William Worth to take a leave of absence, leaving Twiggs as Taylor’s second in command. Twiggs saw heavy fighting at Palo Alto and Resaca de Palma, and soon afterwards was promoted to brigadier general. Falling ill at the battle of Monterrey, he played no role in the capture of the town, and was subsequently ordered to join Winfield Scott’s Vera Cruz campaign.
Following the surrender of Vera Cruz in early April, 1847, Twiggs led the march of U.S. forces into the interior. On April 12, fifty miles from Vera Cruz, Twiggs’ advance guard encountered Santa Anna’s army, encamped at a mountain pass at Cerro Gordo. After awaiting Scott’s arrival, Twiggs’ troops on April 17 seized one of the outlying foothills on the Mexican left flank, and the following morning stormed El Telégrafo, a summit that allowed them to shell the entire Mexican line. The battle turned into a rout, although Twiggs’ failure to block the Mexican army’s escape allowed the bulk of Santa Anna’s forces to retreat toward the capital.
Twiggs played a minor role in the battles of Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec. Assigned as military governor in Vera Cruz following the fall of Mexico City, Twiggs supervised the transportation of supplies along the National Road from the coast to the capital. He returned to Washington D.C. following the ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, where he lobbied for a brevet promotion to major general, which he received on May 10, 1848.
After supervising the return of troops from Mexico in Alabama and Florida, Twiggs took command of the Eighth Military Department in Texas. He served as commander of the Western Department in St. Louis before returning to Texas in 1857. On the eve of the Civil War, Twiggs was one of four general officers of the line on the Army roster and second in seniority to Winfield Scott.
In the growing secession crisis that followed Lincoln’s election in 1860, Twiggs found himself torn between his loyalty to the U.S. Army and his native Georgia. The outgoing Buchanan administration offered little guidance, other than ordering Twiggs not to take offensive action and to protect government property. In January 1861, Twiggs informed the War Department that he expected Texas to secede and requested to be relieved of command before Lincoln’s inauguration. Receiving no response, Twiggs surrendered all federal forces under his command to the state of Texas in February. A hero in the South, Twiggs would forever be known as "that traitor Twiggs" to the North. Dismissed from the army, Twiggs accepted a commission as a major general from the Confederacy. He commanded Department One, comprising Louisiana, southern Mississippi, and Alabama, until illness forced him to retire from active service in October 1861. Twiggs died in Augusta, Georgia, on July 15, 1862.
Heidler, Jeanne Twiggs, "The Military Career of David Emanuel Twiggs." PhD diss., Auburn University, 1988.
Johnson, Timothy. A Gallant Little Army: The Mexico City Campaign. Lawrence, KS: The University of Kansas Press, 2007.