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…)

Published in: on July 18, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Mormon Long March  
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Halls of Montezuma

Been playing the game Halls of Montezuma over the weekend.  Coming out on May 20, I purchased an advance copy.  The first computer strategic level simulation of the Mexican War, it gives a good feel for the actual conflict, with the center piece being Scott’s march up county from Veracuz to the war winning seizure of Mexico City.  It struck me as I was playing the game how ill prepared this conflict left the West Pointers who participated in it for the Civil War.  This was the type of War that West Point had trained them for:  short and sharp with the Regular Army leading the way and volunteer regiments playing a distinctly secondary role.  The War ending with the seizure of the capital of  Mexico and the US dictating peace, had a Napoleonic feel to it, and the campaigns of Napoleon were what the West Pointers tended to study during the brief period in their four years when any attention, and it wasn’t much, was paid to how to conduct a military campaign.  The Mexican War would have seemed to West Pointers to confirm what they would have been taught at the Point.

Then thirteen years passed swiftly, as the years of a man’s life tend to pass, and the junior officers of the Mexican War found themselves to be senior officers in a vast new conflict.  They had to unlearn much that they had learned in the Mexican War.  The tiny Regular Army was dwarfed by the volunteer regiments of this conflict, all of which had to be trained in the basics before they would be of any use in the conflict.  The vast armies of this conflict presented logistical problems undreamed of compared to keeping the relatively small armies of the Mexican War supplied.  Mexican War casualties would seem insignificant compared to the casualties of the Civil War, where in the Battle of Shiloh more battle deaths occurred than in all the previous wars of the US combined.  The tactics learned in the Mexican War were all wrong, with rifled muskets making bayonet charges suicidal instead of the decisive instrument they were in the Mexican War, ditto the use of “flying” horse drawn light artillery batteries which had been so effective in the Mexican war and relegating cavalry charges largely to the history books.   Instead of a short and decisive conflict, the Civil War was a bloody war of attrition in which 640,000-750,000 men would perish and leave an indelible impact on the Republic.

The education received by the graduates of West Point left them ill-prepared for the Civil War, and the experiences of the Mexican War taught the wrong lessons to the officers who fought in it for the Civil War.  The combat experience benefited them to be used to a field of battle where men died, but that is about all that can be said for their experiences in a conflict often erroneously described as a crucible for the Civil War.  The great exception to this was Captain Lee, who carried out reconnoitering missions behind enemy lines for General Winfield Scott and who learned how valuable maneuver could be for an army confronting a numerically superior foe.

Published in: on May 26, 2021 at 3:52 am  Comments (2)  
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Halls of Montezuma

“I believe if we were to plant our batteries in Hell, the damned Yankees would take them from us.”

General Antonio López de Santa Ann, said after his army lost the battle of Chapultepec.

 

At long last a strategic level computer game on the Mexican War.  I have wanted one since ’77 when I played Veracruz in Strategy & Tactics 63.  Forty three years is a bit of a wait.  Go here to learn more about Halls of Montezuma.

 

Published in: on February 24, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Halls of Montezuma  
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Jefferson Davis-Hero of Buena Vista

I have written 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. (more…)

Published in: on February 4, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Jefferson Davis-Hero of Buena Vista  
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Lincoln and the Mexican War

Like many anti-slavery Northerners, Abraham Lincoln opposed the Mexican War which he viewed 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 12, 1848 against the Mexican War: (more…)

Published in: on January 12, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln and the Mexican War  
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San Patricios Traitors

Irish Americans have fought valiantly for the Stars and Stripes in all of our wars.  However, during the Mexican War a group of deserters from the United States Army formed the nucleus of an artillery battalion that fought for Mexico, calling themselves the San Patricios due to the fact that many of them were Irish.  The San Patricios fought ably for Mexico during the war.  33 captured San Patricios were hung as deserters towards the end of the war by the US Army.    The San Patricios are naturally regarded still as heroes in Mexico.  As for my own view of them, I believe the title of this blog post is a clear indication of my opinion of the American deserters in their ranks.

Published in: on September 30, 2020 at 5:38 am  Comments Off on San Patricios Traitors  
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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 February 13, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows  
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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  Comments Off on September 12, 1847: Battle of Chapultepec Begins  
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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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