Mormon Long March

 

One of the oddest episodes in American military history occurred during the Mexican War.  In 1846 the Mormons were beginning their epic trek West which would end with their carving a Mormon Zion out of the wilderness in what is now Utah.  The Mormons, realizing they would need at least tacit Federal approval to accomplish this, sent representatives to Washington.  The Polk administration asked for a quid pro quo.  The Federal government would render assistance if a battalion of Mormons would enlist to fight in the Mexican War.  Brigham Young readily agreed, and a battalion was raised after much cajoling by Young, due to the suspicion of most Mormons of the Federal government as a result of Federal indifference to the persecution of Mormons in Illinois and Missouri.

Along with the approximately 500 men, the Battalion was accompanied by 30 Mormon women, 23 of whom served as laundresses, and 51 children.  The Mormons were mustered into the Army on July 16, 1846.  They were assigned to the Army of the West under General Kearney, a tough regular.  From Fort Leavenworth on August 30, 1846, the Mormon Battalion made the longest infantry march in US military history, 1900 miles to San Diego, California which they reached on January 29, 1847.  The Battalion captured Tuscon, Arizona on the way to California, but saw no fighting, although the harsh climate and terrain they marched through more than made up for the absence of human adversaries. (more…)

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Published in: on September 24, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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September 12, 1847: Battle of Chapultepec Begins

 

 

The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.

Ulysses S. Grant, decorated veteran of the Mexican War

 

 

 

On September 12, 1847 General Winfield Scott began his assault on the Castle of Chapultepec, the key to Mexico City.  If Chapultepec could be taken, Mexico City would fall and the War won.  Here is Scott’s report to the Secretary of War:

 

 

Head-Quarters of the Army,
National Palace of Mexico, Sept. 18, 1847.

Sir: – At the end of another series of arduous and brilliant operations of more than forty-eight hours’ continuance, this glorious army hoisted, on the morning of the 14th, the colours of the United States on the walls of this palace.

The victory of the 8th, at the Molino del Rey, was followed by daring reconnoissances on the part of our distinguished engineers – Captain Lee, Lieutenants Beauregard, Stevens, and Tower – Major Smith, senior, being sick, and Captain Mason, third in rank, wounded. Their operations were directed principally to the south – towards the gates of the Piedad, San Angel (Niño Perdido), San Antonio, and the Paseo de la Viga.

This city stands on a slight swell of ground, near the centre of an irregular basin, and is girdled with a ditch in its greater extent – a navigable canal of great breadth and depth – very difficult to bridge in the presence of an enemy, and serving at once for drainage, custom-house purposes, and military defence; leaving eight entrances or gates, over arches – each of which we found defended by a system of strong works, that seemed to require nothing but some men and guns to be impregnable.

Outside and within the cross-fires of those gates, we found to the south other obstacles but little less formidable. All the approaches near the city are over elevated causeways, cut in many places (to oppose us), and flanked on both sides by ditches, also of unusual dimensions. The numerous cross-roads are flanked in like manner, having bridges at the intersections, recently broken. The meadows thus checkered are, moreover, in many spots, under water or marshy; for, it will be remembered, we were in the midst of the wet season, though with less rain than usual, and we could not wait for the fall of the neighbouring lakes and the consequent drainage of the wet grounds at the edge of the city – the lowest in the whole basin.

After a close personal survey of the southern gates, covered by Pillow’s division and Riley’s brigade of Twiggs’ – with four times our numbers concentrated in our immediate front – I determined on the 11th to avoid that net-work of obstacles, and to seek, by a sudden diversion to the south-west and west, less unfavourable approaches.

To economize the lives of our gallant officers and men, as well as to insure success, it became indispensable that this resolution should be long masked from the enemy; and again, that the new movement, when discovered, should be mistaken for a feint, and the old as indicating our true and ultimate point of attack.

Accordingly, on the spot, the 11th, I ordered Quitman’s division from Cuyoacan, to join Pillow, by daylight, before the southern gates, and then that the two major-generals, with their divisions, should, by night, proceed (two miles) to join me at Tacubaya, where I was quartered with Worth’s division. Twiggs, with Riley’s brigade and Captains Taylor’s and Steptoe’s field batteries – the latter of 12-pounders – was left in front of those gates, to maneuver, to threaten, or to make false attacks, in order to occupy and deceive the enemy. Twiggs’ other brigade (Smith’s) was left at supporting distance, in the rear, at San Angel, till the morning of the 13th, and also to support our general depot at Mixcoac. The stratagem against the south was admirably executed throughout the 12th and down to the afternoon of the 13th, when it was too late for the enemy to recover from the effects of his delusion.

The first step in the new movement was to carry Chapultepec, a natural and isolated mound, of great elevation, strongly fortified at its base, on its acclivities, and heights. Besides a numerous garrison, here was the military college of the republic, with a large number of sub-lieutenants and other students. Those works were within direct gun-shot of the village of Tacubaya, and until carried, we could not approach the city on the west, without marking a circuit too wide and too hazardous. (more…)

Published in: on September 12, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Zachary Taylor and His Son-in-Law

Jefferson Davis was the son-in-law of Zachary Taylor.  Marrying the daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, of General Zachary Taylor, who opposed the marriage, he resigned his commission in the Army in 1835.  Tragically the new bride died three months after her marriage of malaria.  She was 21.  Taylor blamed Davis for bringing his daughter to the malarial infested region in which his plantation was located in Mississippi.  War would end the enmity of the two men who loved Sarah Knox Taylor.

Although he had resigned from the Army, however, 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.

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.

(more…)

Published in: on February 22, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Zachary Taylor and His Son-in-Law  
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January 12, 1847: Treaty of Campo de Cahuenga

 

Also known as the Capitulation of Campo de Cahuenga, it brought to a close fighting in Alta California during the Mexican War.  Widely praised at the time for its liberal terms, the treaty promised equal rights for Mexicans residing in California, freed all prisoners of war, and allowed the Mexicans to return to their homes, with their property protected.  I wonder if General Grant some eighteen years later had this treaty in the back of his mind when he drafted the generous surrender terms for the Army of Northern Virginia.  Here are the terms of the Treaty:

The Treaty of Campo de Cahuenga
TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME, GREETING:
Know ye that, in consequence of propositions of peace, or cessation of hostilities, being submitted to me, as commandant of the California Battalion of United States forces, which have so far been acceded to by me as to cause me to appoint a board of commissioners to confer with a similar board appointed by the Californians, and it requiring a little time to close the negotiation; it is agreed upon and ordered by me that entire cessation of hostilities shall take place until tomorrow afternoon (January 13th), and that the said Californians be permitted to bring in their wounded to the mission of San Fernando, where, also, If they choose, they can remove their camp, to facilitate said negotiations.
Given under my hand and seal this twelfth day of January, 1847.
J. C. Fremont
Lieutenant-Colonel United States
Army, and Military Commandant of California
Articles of Capitulation made and entered into at the Rancbo of Cahuenga, this thirteenth day of January, Anno Domini, eighteen hundred and forty-seven between P. B. Reading, Major; Louis McLane,.Ir, Commanding Artillery; Wm. H. Russell, Ordnance Officer, Commissioners appointed by J. C. Fremont, Lieutenant-Colonel United States Army and Military Commandant of the Territory of California; and Jose Antonio Carillo, Commandante de Esquadron, Augustin Olivera, Diputado, Commissioners, appointed by Don Andres Pico, commander-in-chief of the California forces under the Mexican flag.
Article 1. The Commissioners on the part of the Californians agree that their entire force shall, on presentation of themselves to Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont, deliver up their artillery and public arms, and they shall return peaceably to their homes, conforming to tile laws and regulations of tile United States, and not again take up arms during the war between the United State’s and Mexico, but will assist and aid In placing the country in a state of peace and tranquillity.
Art. 2. The Commissioners on the part of Lieutenant-Colonel Fremont will agree and bind themselves on the fulfillment of the first article by the Californians, that they shall be guaranteed protection of life and property whether on parole or otherwise.
Art. 3. That, until a treaty of peace be made and signed between the United States of North America and the Republic of Mexico, no Californian or other Mexican citizen shall be bound to take the oath of allegiance.
Art. 4. That any Californian or other citizen of Mexico desiring, is permitted by this capitulation to leave the country without let or hindrance.

(more…)

Published in: on January 12, 2017 at 6:59 am  Comments Off on January 12, 1847: Treaty of Campo de Cahuenga  
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The Maid of Monterrey

Something for the weekend.  Almost all Mexican War songs have vanished into historical obscurity.  A possible exception is The Maid of Monterrey.  Written in 1848 by J. H. Hewitt, it was not published until 1851, so its claim to be a Mexican War song, as opposed to a song about the Mexican War, is dubious.  It memorializes a Mexican senorita who tended the wounded of the battle of Monterrey on both sides until she was killed: (more…)

Published in: on July 18, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Maid of Monterrey  
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Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows

colonel winfield-scott

Winfield Scott, the most notable American general between the American Revolution and the Civil War, began his climb to becoming a general at 27 by the heroism he displayed as a Lieutenant Colonel at the battle of Queenston Heights on October 11, 1812.  An American defeat, Scott was among the 955 Americans captured.

The British at this time did not recognize the right of any British subject to change his nationality.  Such a subject, captured fighting in a foreign army, was considered by the British to be a traitor and liable to summary execution, sometimes being given the opportunity to avoid death by enlisting in the British Army.

At first the American captives were treated rather well.  Scott was even invited to dinner by British General Roger Sheaffe, who also protected the Americans from the Indian allies of the British.  Shipped to Quebec, the Americans were paroled and were due to leave via ship for Boston on November 20, 1812.  The day before a commission of British officers boarded the ship where Scott and his men were waiting to sail.  The British began questioning the American enlisted men.  If they detected an Irish brogue, the man was arrested as a traitor to the Crown.  Hearing the commotion this was causing, Scott rushed from below deck.  Defying an order from the British to go below, he ordered the men who had not been interrogated not to say another word.  To the 23 men who had been arrested, he promised the United States would protect them.  The men obeyed Scott and all refused to say a word.  The British eventually gave up and took the 23 men off the ship.  Scott and the remainder sailed for Boston on November 20.  Of the 23 men arrested by the British, 13 were executed. (more…)

Published in: on September 26, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows  
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Dynamo From Ireland

Father John McElroy, S. J.

 

A year before the colonies won their fight for independence, John McElroy first saw the light of day in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, Ireland on May 11,1782.  At this time English imposed penal laws meant that Irish Catholics were treated like helots in their own land.  The great Edmund Burke described the penal laws well:

“For I must do it justice;  it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts.   It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

As a result of these laws McElroy could receive little education in Ireland.  Ambition and a thirst for knowledge caused him, like many Irish Catholics before and since, to emigrate to the US, landing on our shores in 1803.  He became a bookkeeper at Georgetown College, studying Latin in his off hours.  In 1806 he joined the Jesuits as a lay brother, but his intelligence and his industry quickly marked him down to his Jesuit superiors as a candidate for the priesthood.  Ordained in 1817 , for several years he served at Trinity Church in Georgetown, until being transferred to Frederick, Maryland, where, during the next twenty-three years, with the boundless energy which was his hallmark,  he built Saint John’s Church, a college, an orphan’s asylum, and the first free schools in Frederick.  He was then transferred back to Trinity in Georgetown where he remained for a year until the Mexican War began.

I have detailed in a post here how Father McElroy and Father Anthony Rey, both Jesuits, were chosen to be the first Catholic priests to be appointed as chaplains in the United States Army.  In 1886 after his death the reminiscences of Father McElroy were published of what occurred:

“In a few days, the two Fathers called on the Secretary of War for instructions how to proceed. He (Mr. Marcy) received us very affably, expressed his desire that we should visit the President, and ordered his chief clerk to prepare letters for the Commanders of different posts to facilitate our journey; besides he requested me to give him my views of what he should expect while with the Army, which I sent him a little later in writing and which he embodied, almost transcribed, in his despatch to General Taylor. The Secretary introduced us to the President, who received us with great kindness and regard; he expressed a hope that our mission would be one of peace; that we carried not the sword, but the olive branch, that our mission would be a refutation of the erroneous opinions held in Mexico, that the United States warred against their religion, etc. He continued to state very frankly the great desire he had to bring their matters of dispute to an amicable conclusion.

“As neither of us could speak Spanish I proposed to the President the propriety of associating with us a third clergyman who was familiar with the language. He very promptly adopted my suggestion and told the Secretary to embody that in his despatch to the General-in-Chief, where it will be found. (more…)

Published in: on August 7, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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General Order Number 20

During the Mexican War, General Winfield Scott, who was commanding the American invasion that would take Mexico City and win the War, was concerned about crimes committed by American troops, especially volunteers, against the Mexican civilian population.  (The crimes were often precipitated by the anger of American troops at sickening mutilation and murder of Americans captured by Mexican guerillas.)  Up to this time, American soldiers accused of crimes against civilians had simply been tried in American civilian courts.  This was clearly not an option available during a war waged on foreign soil.  Scott hit upon the idea of trying troops before military commissions, and he embodied this idea in Order Number 20.  Here is the text of the order: (more…)

Published in: on March 16, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on General Order Number 20  
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William Henry Bissell

Continuing on with our series on the Governors of Illinois, we come to William Henry Bissell, the eleventh governor of Illinois, and the first Republican governor.  Bissell was born on April 25, 1811 near the town of Painted Post in New York.  Studying medicine, he opened a practice in Monroe County in Illinois.  Eventually at the age of 30 he shifted careers from medicine to the law.  In 1840 he was elected to the state legislature as a Democrat.  Passing the bar he was appointed by the legislature as prosecuting attorney for the judicial circuit in which he lived.

During the Mexican War he was elected as Colonel of the Second Illinois infantry regiment and commanded that unit at the battle of Buena Vista.  He earned the praise of General Zachary Taylor that day:  “Colonel Bissell, the only surviving colonel of the three (Illinois) regiments, merits notice for his coolness and bravery on this occasion (Buena Vista).” (more…)

Lincoln and the Mexican War

Like many anti-slavery Northerners, Abraham Lincoln opposed the Mexican War which he view as unnecessary and a scheme to gain land for the introduction of new slave states into the Union.  He served his one and only term in Congress during the Mexican War, and his opposition to the Mexican War was probably the most salient feature of his tenure.  It should be noted that while objecting to the justice of the Mexican War, Lincoln voted for funds to carry out the war, and for land grants for veterans of that conflict.  The opposition of Lincoln to the war was signalized by his “Spot Resolutions” where he attempted to show that the war began on territory between Mexico and Texas that was occupied almost exclusively by Mexicans.  The “Spot Resolutions” were ignored in Congress and never debated.  The war was wildly popular in Illinois and Democrats attempted to make political hay out of Lincoln’s opposition, and referred to him as “Spotty Lincoln”.  Lincoln suffered no lasting political harm due to his opposition to the Mexican War, although opponents of the Civil War would often ironically cite Lincoln’s opposition to the Mexican War.  Here is a speech Lincoln gave in Congress on January 14, 1848 against the Mexican War: (more…)

Published in: on April 29, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln and the Mexican War  
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