Yesterday I wrote about Abraham Lincoln’s service in the Black Hawk War. Jefferson Davis had far more extensive military service than Abraham Lincon. A graduate of West Point, class of 1828, he also served in the Black Hawk War, although there is no evidence that he and Lincoln ever met during that conflict. Marrying the daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, of General Zachary Taylor, who opposed the marriage, he resigned his commission in the Army in 1835. However, in many ways Davis never ceased to be a military man, always retaining a fascination for all things martial. Thus it was only natural that Davis, a Congressman from Mississippi at the beginning of the Mexican War, resigned from Congress and raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, which he led as colonel.
On July 21, 1846, the regiment sailed from New Orleans to join the army of Zachary Taylor in northern Mexico. The daughter of Taylor had tragically died of illness shortly after her marriage to Davis, and relations between the men had remained cool thereafter.
Davis had armed his regiment with 1841 percussion rifles, the latest technology, with much more reliable percussion caps substituted for flint locks. Davis’ men during the war would use the rifles with such deadly skill that ever afterwords the rifles became known as 1841 Mississippi percussion rifles.
Davis and his men participated in the siege of Monterrey in September of 1846. The war in northern Mexico then entered a quiet phrase which was shattered in February of 1847 by a Mexican offensive.
On February 23, 1847 Taylor and his Army of 4500 men were assaulted by Santa Anna the Mexican dictator leading a force of 16,000 troops. The battle was a see-saw affair with the larger Mexican force launching assault after assault against the smaller American Army at the mountain pass of Buena Vista. Davis and his men broke an attacking Mexican column under General Ampudia by launching a flank attack during which Davis was wounded in the foot. A second attack was beaten off by the Mississippians and the 3 Indiana forming an inverted V. The Mexican force, 2000 men, charged into the V and were shattered by the murderous cross-fire.
At the end of the day the Mexicans had enough and left the field of battle to the victorious Americans. Davis and his Mississippians were national heroes after Buena Vista. In his official report Taylor wrote: The Mississippi riflemen, under Colonel Davis, were highly conspicuous for their gallantry and steadiness, and sustained throughout the engagement the reputation of veteran troops. Brought into action against an immensely superior force, they maintained themselves for a long time unsupported and with heavy loss, and held an important part of the field until reinforced. Colonel Davis, though severely wounded, remained in the saddle until the close of the action. His distinguished coolness and gallantry at the head of his regiment on this day, entitle him to the particular notice of the government. The highest accolade for Davis no doubt was when General Taylor came to him after the battle and said, “My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was.”