Contemporary drawing of the Battle of Resaca de la Palma
The Americans faced them the next day from their position at Resaca de la Palma, an old and dry river bed. The battle was joined again with the same results. Captain George A. McCall led a successful infantry assault during the battle. Another participant in the battle was Lew Wallace, who would write Ben Hur many years later. Texas Ranger Samuel Walker was commended for his actions during the fight. On the Mexican side was a young soldier by the name of Juan Nepomuceno Cortinas. Total causualties in the combined operations was 177 for the United States and 800 for Mexico. The humiliation Mexico suffered at the hands of the smaller force from the United States at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Guerrero was something he would never forget.
General Taylor reported to President Polk the Mexicans invaded United States territory and took U.S. lives and prisoners. He reported further he defeated the Mexicans under General Arista in the battles at Palo Alto, and Resaca de la Palma, and was prepared to follow the invaders into Mexico.
< General Zachary Taylor
After the battle at Resaca de la Palma, General Taylor continued on to the fort held by Major Brown opposite Matamoros. Taylor found that Major Brown was killed during the bombardment of the fort. Taylor ordered the fort named Fort Brown in his honor. The fort and the community that built up around it later, led to the development of the city of Brownsville.
The installation at Point Isabel also became a fort, it was named Fort Polk after the President.
President Polk went before the United States Congress with the information of the Mexican attack, and asked the Congress to declare war on Mexico. Actually, Polk already had a declaration of war in hand which he planned to present. But when he learned of the Mexican action, he decided to use it as the provocation for the war for possession of Texas. Congress declared war on Mexico on May 11th.
Despite early popularity, the war had its opponents. There was great opposition to the war by the Whig Party and some members of the U.S. Army. Ulysses S. Grant, later General Grant, wrote in his memoirs, "I was bitterly opposed to the Annexation of Texas measure, and to this day regard the war that resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory"
I have said from the first that the United States
are the aggressors. We have not one particle
of right to be here. It looks as if the
government sent a small force on purpose
to bring on a war, so as to have a pretext
for taking California and as much of this
country as it chooses. My heart is not in
this business but, as a military man, I am
bound to execute orders.
Colonel Ethan Allen Hitchcock
Colonel Hitchock wasa professional soldier, graduate of the U.S.
Military Academy, Commander of the 3rd Infantry
Regiment. and an aide to General Zachary Taylor.
Former President John Quincy Adams described the war as a Southern expedition to find "bigger pens to cram with slaves," Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln contended that the disputed territory between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande did not belong to the US. Lincoln is quoted - "It is a fact, that the United States Army, in marching to the Rio Grande, marched into a peaceful Mexican settlement, and frightened the inhabitants away from their homes and their growing crops," Lincoln said. In his "Spot" resolutions of 1847, he called on Polk for proof of the president's insistence that the war began when Mexicans shed American blood on American soil "That soil was not ours; and Congress did not annex or attempt to annex it." Lincoln voted for a resolution that declared the war unnecessary and accused Polk of violating the Constitution in commencing it. He nonetheless voted to supply the American army and he did not support legislation that would have prohibited acquiring territory from Mexico as part of a peace settlement.
Taylor was made a Major General.
Although the war with Mexico was, for the most part, fought in Mexico; and Texans were only a part of the American force, the war was begun in Texas and affected Texas - Mexico relations for years. Therefore, the war is included in our story.
Many Americans came through Texas, or were stationed in Texas, during this war to preserve Texas from Mexico. Among them were many Celts. Mention will be made of them in relation to the campaigns in which they participated.
More than 8,000 Texans volunteered for service in the war, including the Texas Rangers and the Texas Governor. Governor Henderson was given a commission by the U.S. as a Major General in command of Texas Volunteers. On his staff were: Edward Burleson, Henry L. Kinney, Edward Clark, and Mirabeau B. Lamar. Albert Sidney Johnston was his Inspector General. Johnston had risen from a private in the Texas Army to become its Commander in Chief. Despite the efforts of Felix Huston. In 1838 he became Secretary of War a position he held until he retired in 1840. Now he was again in the ranks of the military and where he would again receive fame.
Fellow Celt, Albert C. Horton, the Lieutenant Governor, assumed the duties of Governor while Governor Henderson was with the troops. Sam Houston was offered the rank of Major General should he wish to enter the conflict, but he declined. He decided he could best serve Texas from the U.S. Senate. Actually Houston's concerns were broader than Texas; he was playing a part in U. S. history with his votes and speeches in the U.S. Congress. Thomas Jefferson Rusk similarly turned down a commission as a Brigadier General to remain in the United States Senate.
In joining the U.S. Army, the Texas Rangers saved the Colt six shooter from financial extinction. Samuel Colt was in bankruptcy when the Rangers insisted on being supplied the weapon by the U.S. Army. The U. S. order for 1000 pistols saved the company and the six shooter.
There were all-Irish units in the United States Army in the Mexican War. Examples were the Ottawa Irish Volunteers from Illinois, commanded by Captain James F. Eagan; the Sarsfield Guards from Cincinnati, Ohio commanded by Daniel Conahan; the Jasper Greens from Savannah, Georgia; Emmett Guards from Albany, the Mobile Volunteers from Alabama, and the Pittsburgh Hibernia Greens.
General of the Army, Winfield Scott, was himself, a Celt. General Scott, shown to the left, was quoted as saying over two thirds of his army was made up of Irishman (Irish born and second generation). There were many reasons for this. It was more than 30 years earlier when the United States last used its army. There was a lot of room in the army for new recruits. The army was a perfect refuge, or beginning, for the increasing numbers of immigrants who came into the United States during the period just before the war. About half of the United States Army was made up of these foreign born immigrants from Western Europe. The Irish made up about 25% of the foreign born in the army, the Germans were around 10%, the English about 6%, the Scottish 3%, the other 4% of the immigrant soldiers were from other parts of Western Europe or Canada.
Ireland, particularly, was sending many of her sons and daughters to the United States to escape the English tyranny and one of its many by-products, the potato famine [officially, there was no famine in Ireland. Ireland exported food products during the period called the potato famine. The famine was in the small plots of ground farmed by the Irish to feed his family. After working the day as a tenant farmer on the large farm tracts for the absentee English owner (in many cases the land at one time belonged to the family of the tenant farmer), the Irish farmer would then go home and just outside his door cultivate the few potatos he could. This land was overused for this single crop for too many years. The potato blight killed the potatos in these small plots and left the farmer with no food for his family. When he did not come to the large tract to work because he was too weak, or stole from the large tract to feed his family, the Irish were evicted. The food in the fields were harvested and sent to England, or to a foreign market by the English owner while the Irish starved in the streets, reminiscent of scenes like those seen in twentieth century Biafra and Ethiopia] Today the period is referred to as the Great Starvation.
The vast influx of Irish as well as other immigrants in the 1840's, gave rise to the Know Nothing movement which opposed immigration. This led to outright discrimination of the customs and traditions of these immigrants. Most of the immigrants entering the United States in this period were Irish, German, French and Italian. Most all of them were Catholic. The discrimination practiced by the Know Nothings and other like groups, focused on this and other attributes of the immigrants. The situation became bad enough that there were serious riots all over the United States. Many an Irish lad joined the army to escape the oppression. After they were in the army, the immigrants found the Know Nothings were there as well. They could abuse Irish or other ethnic soldiers under the guise of military discipline. This situation is one of the elements which led to the formation of all-Irish units in the United States Army. In an all-Irish unit, the troops and junior officers, at least, were spared some of the abuse. The senior Irish officers, being men of rank, were less targets of discrimination. Just the same, there were problems.
The Irish units found there was no religious support in the military. Catholic chaplains were few and far between. Unless there was a civilian priest available, there was no administration of the faith. If a Catholic soldier facing a battle felt the need to seek consolation from the ministers of his faith there was usually no place for him to find it. In most cases there were no Catholic chaplains available. Some units, especially in the Irish units, provided their own. Otherwise there was none, only derision. This was how it was in the American Army of 1846.
The Mexicans, during the nine month negotiation period prior to Taylor moving to the Rio Grande, used the time to their advantage. The Mexicans published pamphlets and distributed them to the U. S. soldiers where they could, making use of the Mexicans on the U.S. side. Some of the pamphlets asked the reader if he had not seen with his own eyes, and experienced the unchristian attitudes of the U.S. Army and an obvious prejudice against the Catholic soldier and his faith? This was a reference to the desecration of Catholic churches by the American troops and the rapes of women that were seeking refuge in them. Some Irish memebers of the U. S. Army had seen these acts and were outraged by them. The pamphlets made much of the traditional ties of the Irish and Spanish, and of their common faith. The pamphlets spoke of the successful careers of Irish military men in Spanish service and in the service of armies in Latin and South America. By joining the Mexican Army, they could have their military careers and practice their religion as well.
Where possible, on Sundays and holy days, elaborate celebrations of the Catholic Mass were held on the Mexican side in full view of U.S. soldiers. This starkly contrasted to the strictly military routine on the U.S. side with no church services.
Later pamphlets made liberal offers of land and money for any U.S. soldier who would join the Mexican army. General Arista promised every American who came over to his side would receive 320 acres of land, even more, depending on their rank. Some pamphlets even attempted to appeal to the prurient nature of young men away from their homes. The pamphlets suggested there would be an opportunity for Catholic young men to marry a fine, beautiful, Catholic señorita, complete with a rich dowry. She would be a woman with which to begin God's plan of procreation in a stable Catholic environment. Compared to the rigors of U.S Army camp life and life back in an eastern ghetto, the invitation was the subject of many a soldier's conversation. As in the 1820's, not a few young Americans were tempted to claim Catholicism to obtain benefits from the rulers of Mexico. To some of the Irish, the offer sounded even better.
General Taylor reported to Washington in a message dated April 16, 1846, "Efforts are continually being made to entice our men to desert, and I regret to say, have met with considerable success."
Whether for religious, monetary, or other reasons, records show that 9,207 U. S. soldiers deserted during the war many of them to Mexico. Most of those going to Mexico were unskilled and uneducated immigrants who found the American "welcome" lacking in fulfilling their expectations for opportunity. These men joined the army out of frustration in not being able to find work. They took it for granted Americans observed the basic tenants of Christianity and would tolerate, protect, and provide religious freedom. For the most part,except for some rednecks, this was true in the cities and towns of America. This was not true in the forts and military stations. When these immigrant men joined the army they found they were expected to abandon their religion.
Their religion had been a part of their daily life since they were children. They expected to be able to continue to keep it a part of their life in the U.S. military service. Most of the immigrant men who left Taylor's Army were Irish. On the Mexican side, they found an acceptance not possible back in the U.S. city where they enlisted, nor in Taylor's army. There was a lack of bigotry, in fact, these men found themselves having a bit of status. Some of these men passed into the interior to begin their new lives; most joined military units.
After Taylor was in northern Mexico a while, the number of deserters grew. In the beginning, these immigrant men, mostly Irish , who deserted and joined with Mexico were dispersed into different Mexican military units. After a short time, the immigrants in Mexican units that had deserted from the American Army were formed into an artillery unit. The unit was officially known to the Mexican government as the San Patrico Batallion. Unofficially they were called the Irish Volunteers, or the Red Guard, some called them the Colorados. The latter two names were used because of the ruddy complexions of most of the men and the fact that not a few of them had red hair. Those in the unit and most others in Mexico called them the San Patricios. At its peak, the unit had two companies of 200 men each. Its banner was emerald green with Saint Patrick on one side, and a silver Celtic cross and gold irish harp and shamrock on the other side. Underneath the latter side were the words, Erin Go Bragh (Gaelic for Ireland forever). The San Patricio unit survived the war. As late as 1850, its members served the Mexican Army.
The Mexican War can be divided into three major campaigns, General Taylor's in the North of Mexico; General Scott's via a Vera Cruz landing; and by the efforts out west in Arizona, New Mexico, and California.
Northern Mexico With Taylor
General Arista, after the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, evacuated Matamoros and withdrew deep into the interior of Mexico. General Zachary Taylor moved to occupy Matamoros in May. The first American troops across the Rio Grande belonged to units reporting to an Irishman, Colonel William S. Harney. Many U.S. merchants moved in behind Taylor. Among them was "Old Dan" Murphy who opened one of the many saloons for the U.S. soldiers.
Another Murphy family operated a hotel in Matamoros. Brothers, John and Walter Murphy, and their sisters, Johanna and Mary, operated the hotel. The Murphy's also had with them three relatives whose parents had died. The relatives were; nephews Richard and Thomas Healy and their older sister, and the Murphy's niece, Margaret Mary Healy. They were the children of an older Murphy sister, Jane Murphy, who married Doctor Richard Healy back in Ireland where they all once lived in County Kerry.
By June, 1846, elements of Taylor's army were in Reynosa, 60 miles up the Rio Grande. The American Army occupied Camargo the same month.
Taylor's strategy was to occupy the northern provinces of Mexico. He believed Mexico would sue for peace with so much of its territory in U. S. hands. He hoped the Mexicans would fear the possibility that unless the matter was settled quickly, elements in the U.S. would seek annexation of the territory held.
The U.S. Navy On The Coast
The United States Navy controlled the Mexican coast. Irishman MatthewC. Perry commanded an expedition against Tabasco and took the town. He would later gain fame for opening trade with Japan. His older brother, Oliver Hazard Perry, was the commander of the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. Their mother was Irish born. Both men were related to Henry Perry of Matagorda, the veteran of the Magee and Mina expeditions into Texas and the Battle of New Orleans.
Commander David Conner blockaded the port of Vera Cruz. Commander Conner also took Tampico with a naval force. The taking of Tampico can be, in some part, be credited to an Irish born woman. Anne McClarmonde Chase, the wife of the American Consul in Tampico. She actively spied for Conner, supplying him with needed information and spreading rumors among the Mexicans to undermine morale.
Another naval battle which involved a Celt was the taking of Tuxpan by Commander Franklin Buchanan. Buchanan was the grandson of Irishman Thomas McKean, one of the signers of the United States' Declaration of Independence. Buchanan later commanded Commodore Matthew Perry's flagship, the Susquehanna, when Perry went to Japan. Buchanan was the first Superintendent of the Naval Academy at Annapolis. He later was the ranking naval officer of the Confederate Navy. During the war Buchanan commanded the Confederate iron clad, the Merrimac/Virginia (the U. S. S. Merrimac was scuttled in Portsmouth, Virginia's Norfolk Navy Yard in the beginning of the Civil War. The Confederates took the hull and supplies found in the navy yard and constructed the iron clad ship the C. S. S. Virginia. For obscure reasons, historians continued to refer to the ship as the Merrimack). Buchanan was in command of the Virginia when it sank the U.S.S. Congress. His brother, McKean Buchanan, a Union naval officer, was aboard the U.S.S. Congress at the time of the engagement.
THE DIPLOMATIC FRONT, WITH SANTA ANNA?
There was chaos again in Mexican politics. Parades who was formally elected President by the Mexican Congress in June was already out. He was replaced by an "Acting" president.
President Polk, in an effort to shorten the war and to find a way to negotiate its end, sent individuals on secret missions to make contact with the Mexicans. One of these missions was dispatched in the fall of 1846 when the president sent the editor of the New York Sun, Moses Yale Beach, to Mexico City to ascertain if there was a chance for a negotiated peace. Beach and New York Bishop, John Hughes, reported to Secretary of State James Buchanan peace feelers sent to them from contacts in Texas and Mexico. Beach was selected for the mission based on those contacts. He took along with him one of his best reporters, Jane McManus Storms. Storms was the same lady referred to as an adventuress by some Texas ladies when, as Jane McManus she applied to be an empresario in 1832.
For many years McManus was a lobbyist in Washington D.C. writing letters and essays published in many New York and Washington D.C. newspapers. Among the newspapers printing her material were the New York Herald, New York Tribune, Philadelphia Ledger, Washington D.C. States and John O'Sullivan's Democratic Review. Mostly she wrote for Beach's New York Sun.
Jane wrote as a thinking individual, not as a woman. During a time when the woman's place was thought to be in the home, the outspoken Jane McManus was in Washington D. C. speaking and writing her views on political issues. Senator Thomas Benton Hart commented, she had a "masculine stomach for war and politics."
In accompanying Beach on his mission, Jane was the only American correspondent to report from the Mexican side. She spoke fluent Spanish and was a Catholic. These attributes assisted in her reporting progress and other observations others could not.
Another mission was undertaken by Commander Alexander S. Mackenzie to take a message to Mexico's perennial president, Santa Anna, who was living in exile in Cuba. Through Mackenzie, Polk asked if Santa Anna would effect a settlement with the United States for Texas, New Mexico and California - if arrangements were made for him to return to Mexico. Santa Anna never officially responded, although he implied a lot. In August 1846, under safe passage of the U.S. Navy, 52 year old Santa Anna entered Vera Cruz with his seventeen year old second wife and an entourage of followers.
In Northern Mexico, Taylor prepared to move southward. Monterrey was where the Mexicans decided they would fight. The commander of Mexican forces was Major General Pedro de Ampudia. The battle took four days from 20 August until 24 August. Many Celts took part in the battle.
Henry Kinney was present and provided assistance in his position as Quartermaster. He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire while performing his duties.
< approach to Monterey
Hays' Mounted Rifles under John Coffee Hays led the way to Monterrey with Ben McCulloch's company in the midst of the action.
Captain Henry McKavett fell in battle at Monterrey. Fort McKavett, Texas was named for him.
General George Croghan rallied a Tennessee regiment that momentarily halted during the battle. His bringing the unit back into the battle when he did assisted in an American victory. Fort Croghan, Texas is named for him.
Ben McCulloch scouted the Mexicans.
Colonel "Jack" Hays led a cavalry charge of Texas Rangers.
Lieutenants Mackall and Duncan commanded the artillery.
Two Lieutenants of Irish heritage who would make there name in the next war, were at the Battle of Monterrey. One was Lieutenant George Meade, who would be the victor of Gettysburg. Fort Meade was named for him. The other lieutenant was Lieutenant George B. McClellan, who would command the Army of the Potomac, be the Democratic Party nominee for President against Lincoln in 1864, and have a fort named after him as well. He also had a saddle named for him, which he designed for the U.S. Cavalry.
Another officer with Taylor's Army at Monterrey was Joseph Jones Reynolds. He, at a later time, would be the most influential man in Texas.
Texas Governor James Pinckney Henderson, Major General of the Texas Militia, so distinguished himself that the United States Congress voted him a sword. In those days it was an honor equal to receiving an important medal.
<Brigadier General JamesJ. Shields
One of the more interesting Irishmen who displayed valor and bravery at Monterrey was Irish born, General James J. Shields. He was born in Dungannon in County Tyrone. He once challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel because of an anti-Irish remark Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd made. Lincoln and Shields eventually became friends. Shield was a governor of the Oregon Territory. He would be the only man to defeat "Stonewall" Jackson in battle. James Shields later founded the towns of Shieldsville, Fairbault, Erin, Kilkenny, and Montgomery in Minnesota. He would be Minnesota's first Senator. He also served as a Senator from Illinois and Missouri. No one else has ever served as United States Senator from three states.
After the taking of Monterrey, General Taylor had successive victories at Victoria and Saltillo. Taylor's lines were stretched thin. On the border his army covered an area from Matamoros to Carmargo and then on into the interior of Mexico to Saltillo over to Victoria and back to Matamoros. To reach further into the interior meant Taylor's army would be crossing mountains, lots of mountains. Taylor took a defensive posture as he contemplated his next move.
This was not what President Polk wanted. Polk decided to open another front, one that would move quickly to take the Mexican capital of Mexico City. He decided to send General Winfield Scott to land at Vera Cruz and march inland to Mexico City. He ordered elements of Taylor's command to join Scott at Vera Cruz. Two Irish commanders led these elements, they were Major General Robert Patterson and Brigadier General James J. Shields.