With the exception of what people like John Murtha, John Kerry, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi have said about our present-day military, the fellows who fought in the Mexican War have taken the worst and most unfair treatment of any troops in US history. I’d like to share with you a quick summary of their story.
First,: The Treaty of San Jacinto VERY clearly stated that the border between Texas and Mexico would be the Rio Grande.
Second: The US tried for more than a year to negotiate a peaceful agreement on the Nueces Strip.
Third: The US smuggled Santa Ana back into Mexico after he promised to use his influence to get their government to negotiate said agreement.
Fourth: After taking over the government, Santa Ana sent troops across the Rio Grande and began to forcibly evict settlers and burn their homes.
Fifth: Zachary Taylor was sent into the Strip to protect US citizens. Col. Cos, of the Mexican army pulled back across the Rio Grande and began to build siege works, with siege artillery – for you civilians, that means big freakin’ cannons - that dominated Ft. Brown, the only military post on the US side. Such works were entirely offensive in nature, and clearly had only one purpose - the destruction by fire of Ft. Brown.
Cos was using the river to haul his artillery to his position, so Taylor ordered a couple of ships sunk in the mouth of the river to block his passage. This is considered, by modern academics, to have been an act of war, and justified what happened…
Sixth: Cos sent cavalry across the river a few miles south of Ft. Brown and began destroying homes and terrorizing citizens. Taylor sent a squad of dragoons down to see what was going on, and Cos' men ambushed them ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE RIVER!.
Seventh: the Americans were overwhelmed and the survivors surrendered, whereupon the Mexicans executed them.
Eighth: later that day, Cos sent Taylor a note saying that a state of war existed between the US and Mexico. Taylor sent a courier to Washington, DC, and one full month after the murder of US soldiers ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE RIVER, the US reciprocally declared war on Mexico. ONE FULL MONTH LATER! So much for the treasured myth that the US started the war.
Ninth: The first two battles of the war, Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, were both fought on the US side of the Rio Grande. When Abe Lincoln and US Grant said, "Show me the spot where American blood was shed on American soil, they wouldn't have had to look far. And Grant should have darned well known better.
Tenth: At both Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, the Mexican forces outnumbered the US forces by more than two to one, and were on the defensive. In muzzle loading combat, being able to pick your ground and stand in good formation to receive the enemy’s attack is a huge advantage. The badly outnumbered Americans whipped ‘em both times. After the fight at Resaca, the Mexican force was so badly whipped that they surrendered.
Eleventh: Taylor’s officers accepted the surrender and paroled the whole lot. In those days, being paroled meant you were released to go about your business, but were honor-bound to not rejoin the fighting. So basically, the Mexicans promised to be good and not fight any more, and the Americans turned them loose.
Twelfth: After going back across the Rio Grande, the paroled Mexicans immediately rejoined Cos’ and resumed arms against the US. Cos immediately began shelling the daylights out of Ft. Brown. The shelling continued until Taylor received confirmation from Washington of the declaration of war, and…
Thirteenth: …crossed the river and whipped Cos’ entire army, again capturing the lot, and again paroling the lot. The Americans, again exposed and in assault, were outnumbered more than three to one, but outfought the Mexicans by a large margin.
Fourteenth: Taylor moved into the interior of Mexico, again fighting the same Mexican soldiers who had again violated their paroles and resumed the fight. This second time, after a really savage street fight, he declined to parole the prisoners, and put them in a prison camp where many of them died from disease. For this, he has been labeled a war criminal.
Fifteenth: Talking about death from disease… of the more than 12,000 Americans who died in the Mexican War, fewer than 1500 died from enemy action. The others died of disease, which sort of hints that maybe the Mexican prisoners were no worse off than their captors. At least they didn’t have to face the Americans again at…
Sixteenth: Buena Vista! In this battle, the Americans were at last in the position of standing to receive the Mexican assault, but were outnumbered more than five to one! At this battle, a regiment of infantry from Mississippi, armed with those new-fangled rifled muskets and commanded by a skinny kid named Jefferson Davis, butchered the pride of Santa Ana’s army in a matter of minutes at what is known in military history as “The V at Buena Vista.”
After Buena Vista, Taylor, his army in terrible condition from fatigue, starvation, and disease, went into camp and pressed no further into Mexico. General Winfield Scott landed with a real American army at Vera Cruz and began a campaign against Mexico City from there. A real army? Well, that brings us to…
Seventeenth: The Mexican army was almost 10 times the size of the US army. They had better, more modern small arms, better ammunition, more and heavier artillery – a LOT more! – and their officer cadre was trained and seasoned by service with the French and Spanish in Europe. By contrast, not a single officer in the field with the US Army had ever fought against any enemy save Indians, and while the American Indian was nobody’s easy meat, fighting them was a vastly different proposition from fighting a trained, disciplined, well-equipped Napoleonic army. The world was much amused that the Americans thought they could whip the Mexicans. The Duke of Wellington said, “Winfield Scott will never leave Mexico except with Santa Ana’s permission,” meaning that Santa Ana would control Scott completely. So…
Eighteenth: The idea that the big, strong, mean ol’ bully United States was picking on a bunch of illiterate, staving peons is a load of crap. Santa Ana would never have started the war unless he was darned sure he could win it. The whole world agreed with him. This is crucial to the story of those American soldiers: THEY WERE IN WAY OVER THEIR HEADS IN EVERY SINGLE RESPECT: numbers, weapons, supplies, experience, training, and knowledge of the terrain. You’ll never hear THAT on an American college campus!
Nineteenth: Scott began his campaign and fought several pitched battles, in each of which his men were in assault against fortified and entrenched Mexicans. A supply officer and an engineering officer teamed up to find trails or build them where none existed, and to move artillery into places that would weaken the knees of any self-respecting cannoneer. The clerk was a slob named Ulysses Simpson Grant, and the engineer was a quiet, reserved fellow named Robert Edward Lee. The US forces were victorious on every field where battle was joined, against all those odds, against all those superior weapons, against all those professionally trained soldiers and seasoned officers.
Twentieth: At the fortress of Chapaultepec, in Mexico City, a company of US Marines scaled the walls of the fort on ropes and ladders, went over the top and kicked the tar out of the defenders. That’s why the Marine’s Hymn speaks of “…the Halls of Montezuma.” And when you see a Marine NCO in his dress blues, notice the red stripe down the leg of his trousers; it remembers the blood of Marine NCO’s at Chapaultepec. Semper Fidelis, Brothers.
Twentyfirst: After Mexico City was captured to the amazement of the world, the Mexican government scattered like quail and had to be rounded up. They were finally all corralled at a town called Hermosillo and presented with a treaty. The treaty offered the cessation of hostilities, and said that Mexico would SELL – NOT GIVE – California to the US. California was worth most of the 11 million dollars the US paid, but the howling, worthless wilderness of Arizona, New Mexico, and part of Utah and Colorado were also part of the bargain. A soldier in New Mexico during the War Between the States observed that, “This territory will be a tax on the nation that owns it.” It’s hard to believe, but in those days, there was some doubt as to who came out on top of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. And something that I’ve never seen listed in a discussion of the treaty is….
Twentsecond: Not only did the US relieve Mexico of the crippling expense of managing a huge and worthless territory, we assumed over $20 million in debts owed by Mexico to European powers. Today, 20 mill wouldn’t wipe the excess make up off Nancy Pelosi’s face, but in 1848, it was a pretty fair chunk of change. But there’s one more thing here that really, REALLY sticks in my crop when I hear the men who fought against Mexico slandered.
Twentythird: After Mexico started the war by murdering American prisoners on American soil – after Mexican soldiers violated virtually every code of honorable warfare – after we paid good money for terrible land – after our men suffered unspeakable torment in battle and hospital, and whipped to a fare-thee-well the largest and finest army in the New World – after we had to force their government to agree to stop the killing - after we saved them from catastrophic debt to European imperialists – WE GAVE THE SORRY SODS THEIR STINKING COUNTRY BACK! SCOTT AND TAYLOR PULLED ALL US FORCES OUT OF MEXICO AND BASICALLY PAROLED THE WHOLE SORRY COUNTRY!
So from now on, when somebody starts trashing the United States about the Mexican War, you might have something to offer to the conversation. Remember those men – those American soldiers – and honor them by not letting the forces of cynicism in America heap upon the veterans of our present conflicts the same post-mortem humiliation that has been suffered by the men who fought a series of doomed battles against an unbeatable foe – and whipped him right down to the ground.
Green grow the lilacs, all sparklin' with dew.
I'm lonesome, my Darlin', since partin' with you.
But by our next meeting I hope to prove true,
And change the green lilacs to the Red, White, and Blue.