The Mexican War between the United States and Mexico began with a
Mexican attack on American troops along the southern border of Texas
on Apr. 25, 1846. Fighting ended when U.S. Gen. Winfield SCOTT
occupied Mexico City on Sept. 14, 1847; a few months later a peace
treaty was signed (Feb. 2, 1848) at Guadalupe Hidalgo. In addition
to recognizing the U.S. annexation of Texas, defeated Mexico ceded
California and New Mexico (including all the present-day states of
the Southwest) to the United States.
In December 1844 a coalition of moderates and Federalists forced the dictator Antonio Lopez de SANTA ANNA into exile and installed Jose Joaquin Herrera as acting president of Mexico. The victory was a short-lived, uneasy one. Although Santa Anna himself was in Cuba, other Centralists began planning the overthrow of Herrera, and the U.S. annexation of Texas in 1845 provided them with a jingoistic cause.
The Mexican Response and the Slidell Mission As early as August 1843, Santa Anna's government had informed the United States that it would "consider equivalent to a declaration of war . . . the passage of an act for the incorporation of Texas." The government of Herrera did not take this militant position. It had already initiated steps, encouraged by the British, to recognize the independence of the Republic of Texas, and although Santa Anna's lame-duck minister in Washington broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. government immediately after annexation, in August 1845 the Herrera government indicated willingness to resume relations. Not only was the Herrera government prepared to accept the loss of Texas, but it also hoped to lay to rest the claims question that had plagued U.S.- Mexican affairs since 1825. Britain and France had used force, or the threat of it, to induce the Mexican government to pay their claims on behalf of their citizens. The United States, however, preferred to negotiate, and the negotiations had dragged on interminably.
Fearing that American patience was running short, Herrera seemed determined to settle the issue. He requested that the United States send a minister plenipotentiary to Mexico, and President Polk appointed John SLIDELL.
Slidell's authority, however, may have exceeded Herrera's intentions. Slidell was authorized to purchase California and New Mexico from Mexico and to settle the Texas boundary, which was a source of dispute even with the Mexican moderates. While the Republic of Texas had claimed the Rio Grande as its boundary, the adjacent Mexican state of Tamaulipas claimed the area north of the Rio Grande to the Nueces River.
By the time Slidell arrived in Mexico in December 1845, the Herrera government was under intense fire from the Centralists for its moderate foreign policies. The Centralist strategy was to appeal to Mexican national pride as a means of ousting Herrera. During August 1845 their leader, Mariano Parades y Arrillaga, began to demand an attack on the United States. When Slidell arrived, Herrera, in an effort to save his government, refused to meet with him. A few days later (December 14), Parades issued a revolutionary manifesto; he entered Mexico City at the head of an army on Jan. 2, 1846. Herrera fled, and Parades, who assumed the presidency on January 4, ordered Slidell out of Mexico.
After the failure of the Slidell mission, Polk ordered Zachary TAYLOR to move his army to the mouth of the Rio Grande and to prepare to defend Texas from invasion. Taylor did so, arriving at the Rio Grande on Mar. 28, 1846. Abolitionists in the United States, who had opposed the annexation of Texas as a slave state, claimed that the move to the Rio Grande was a hostile and aggressive act by Polk to provoke a war with Mexico to add new slave territory to the United States.
Whatever Polk's precise intentions were, for the Centralists in Mexico the annexation of Texas had been sufficient cause for war; they saw no disputed boundary--Mexico owned all of Texas. Before Taylor had moved to the Rio Grande, Parades had begun mobilizing troops and had reiterated his intention of attacking. On April 4 the new dictator of Mexico ordered the attack on Taylor. When his commander at Matamoros delayed, Parades replaced him, issued a declaration of war (April 23), and reordered the attack.
NORTHERN MEXICAN CAMPAIGN
Thus, the quick defeats at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma surprised and shocked the Mexican leadership. The U.S. victories against a larger, better trained force were attributed to the unexpected effectiveness of the American light artillery. Parades found it expedient, however, to lay the blame on his commanding general, and he quickly replaced him. The Mexican garrison evacuated Matamoros, moving to the south.
By that time American strength on the Rio Grande had swollen to nearly 20,000 troops, nearly all volunteers. The principal military problem was logistical support of such a quickly expanded force. The Americans were susceptible to subtropical diseases and found it difficult to maintain sanitary conditions in the camps. Fevers, dysentery, and general debility were rampant, and the mortality rate from sickness was alarming. A determined Mexican attack in July or August would have proven disastrous to the Americans.
The defeats of the Centralist forces at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma precipitated open Federalist rebellions throughout Mexico. Major outbreaks at Acapulco and Guadalajara in July were followed by the defection of the military garrison of Veracruz on August 3 and that of Mexico City on August 4. Mexico was in turmoil.
On July 28, Parades turned the government over to his vice- president and went into hiding. The Centralists' government fell completely with the resignation of the vice-president on August 6. On August 22 the Federalists solemnly restored the constitution of 1824, and Valentin Gomez Farias, who had been deposed as vice-president by the Centralists in 1834, assumed temporary control of the government as the nation's only legitimate official.
In the meantime, Santa Anna had returned to Mexico. Having promised President Polk that he would work to effect a truce, he was allowed to pass through the U.S. naval blockade and land at Veracruz on August 16. Talk of a truce was forgotten. Perhaps the only leader capable of uniting the nation, he soon received command of the Mexican army; in December he was elected president by the Mexican Congress but did not formally assume office until the following March.
Monterrey and Buena Vista
Taylor was criticized both by the military and by President Polk for agreeing to an armistice. Taylor therefore informed Santa Anna, who had assumed command of the Mexican forces at San Luis Potosi, that the armistice would be terminated early. On November 16 he occupied Saltillo. His position was strengthened by an independent force under Gen. John E. Wood, which took Parras, to the west of Monterrey, on December 5.
In January 1847, Santa Anna moved north with about 20,000 men to dislodge Taylor. Dispatches captured by the Mexicans had revealed that most of Taylor's forces were being withdrawn to take part in Gen. Winfield Scott's proposed landing at Veracruz. Word of Santa Anna's approach reached Taylor on February 21, and although outnumbered almost three-to-one, he took up a position at the hacienda of Buena Vista, a few miles from Saltillo. The Mexican attack began on February 22, when troops led by Ampudia gained an advantage and forced the Americans to abandon important defensive positions. The next morning the main Mexican force nearly overcame the U.S. defense. However, a dramatic charge led by Col. Jefferson DAVIS about noon and a determined artillery advance under Capt. Braxton BRAGG finally saved the day for the Americans. Their casualties numbered about 700, but the Mexican losses were about 1,800. Santa Anna withdrew that night and moved south to intercept Scott's invasionary force. No further fighting occurred in northern Mexico, but Taylor remained in command of a small force there until he returned to the United States in November 1847.
CENTRAL MEXICAN CAMPAIGN
Cerro Gordo and Puebla
Americans to envelop and rout Santa Anna's forces. The Mexicans lost 1,000 men in casualties and another 3,000 as prisoners. The Americans had 64 killed and 353 wounded.
Pursuit was impossible, but Worth moved up the road to occupy the venerable Perote Castle on April 22. Scott and the main army had entered Jalapa on April 19. There the advance stopped for a month. Scott reported over 1,000 men bedridden in Veracruz and another 1,000 sick at Jalapa.
On May 14-15, Worth and John A. Quitman moved into Puebla, about 80 km (50 mi) closer to Mexico City. They expected heavy resistance because of Santa Anna's reported presence there. However, the town's leaders and the priests had decided to open Puebla to the Americans. Santa Anna had only about 2,000 cavalry, which the Americans easily routed. Another 1,000 Americans fell sick at Puebla, apparently from the local water supply. By July 15, with recent augmentations, Scott's forces numbered about 14,000. However, over 3,000 were sick or convalescent, and the sickness rate showed no sign of decreasing.
Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec
Scott might have moved promptly into the capital. Instead he granted (August 24) the armistice of Tacubaya to permit the negotiation of a peace treaty. Santa Anna used the time to muster his forces and prepare a final defense of the city. Fighting was renewed on September 7-8 at Molino del Rey, where the Americans forced the Mexican position but lost nearly 800 soldiers. The Mexican losses totaled about 2,700. The final battle for Mexico City took place at the fortified hill of CHAPULTEPEC. American artillery bombardment on September 12 was followed the next day by an infantry assault. The citadel was heroically defended by cadets from the Mexican Military College, but they were forced to surrender before noon. American troops entered Mexico City that afternoon, and shortly after midnight Santa Anna evacuated his troops.
The war was over. In just over five months, Winfield Scott had done what many had considered impossible. The duke of Wellington wrote, "His campaign was unsurpassed in military annals." On September 16, Santa Anna resigned the Mexican presidency. Forced to resign his command also (October 7), he fled the country. The new acting president, Pedro Maria Anaya, began negotiations with the American peace commissioner Nicholas Trist (1800-74) in November. Trist had just been recalled to Washington, but he decided to negotiate without credentials.
CAMPAIGNS IN THE AMERICAN WEST
Kearny in New Mexico
Kearny established a civil government with Charles Bent, a Santa Fe trader from Missouri, as governor. He then divided his command into three groups: one, under Sterling PRICE, was to occupy New Mexico; a second, under Alexander William Doniphan, was ordered to capture Chihuahua; the third, under his own command, headed for California. Price faced unrest and then rebellion in New Mexico in January 1847. Bent was murdered at his home in Taos. Price fought three engagements with rebels, many of whom were Pueblo Indians, and by mid-February had the revolt under control.
Doniphan and the Missouri Volunteers struggled down the Rio Grande, suffering many privations along the route, to reach the vicinity of present El Paso, Tex., late in December 1846. On Christmas Day at El Brazito they were attacked by a small detachment of Mexicans who were easily routed. The Missourians rested at Paso del Norte (present Ciudad Juarez) until Feb. 8, 1847, when the march to Chihuahua City began. On February 28 the Americans won a decisive victory at the crossing of the Sacramento River just outside Chihuahua. Their casualties consisted of one killed and five wounded; Mexican losses were about 300 dead and another 300 wounded. In May, Doniphan took his command eastward to Saltillo to join Taylor's forces.
Kearny set out for California on September 25 with only 300 dragoons. At Socorro, N. Mex., they met the famous guide Kit CARSON, who was returning from California. Learning that the conquest of California was virtually complete, Kearny sent 200 of his men back to Santa Fe and, led by Carson, continued to California.
Conquest of California
Heavy-handed martial law administration precipitated a revolt in southern California in September. Led by Jose Maria Flores, the rebels had expelled the Americans from Los Angeles and San Diego by the end of October. On Dec. 6, 1846, Kearny, en route to San Diego, met the rebels in an indecisive action at the Battle of San Pascual. Joining Stockton, who had arrived at San Diego, Kearny defeated a rebel band near Los Angeles on the San Gabriel River on Jan. 8-9, 1847. On January 13, Fremont received the final surrender of the rebels and signed the Treaty of Cahuenga. At the end of the month another American expedition, "half naked and half fed," reached San Diego. The remnant of 500 Mormon volunteers under Phillip St. George Cooke, it had marched from Utah to Sante Fe and across scorching deserts in southern New Mexico and Arizona.
After a bitter dispute among Stockton, Fremont, and Kearny, the last established a provisional government in California. With California secure, the U.S. Navy attempted the conquest of Mexican ports on the Pacific, capturing Mazatlan (Nov. 11, 1847), Guaymas (Nov. 17, 1847), and San Blas (Jan. 12, 1848).
IMPACT OF THE WAR IN THE UNITED STATES
During the war political quarrels arose regarding the disposition of conquered Mexico. A strong "All-Mexico" movement urged annexation of the entire territory. Abolitionists opposed that position and fought for the exclusion of slavery from any territory absorbed by the United States. In 1847 the House of Representatives passed the WILMOT PROVISO, stipulating that none of the territory acquired should be open to slavery. The Senate avoided the issue, and a late attempt to add it to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was defeated.
The Treaty of GUADALUPE HIDALGO
See: History, Source and Bibliography:
RESEARCH RECORDS in the:
RECORDS NATIONAL ARCHIVES RECORDS SERVICE (NARS)
The Mexican War series of Pension Applications records relates to Service performed in the Mexican Campaign between 1846 and 1848. Consolidated with this series are some Indian Wars pension application files that were formerly filed in the Old War Series. The index is arranged alphabetically by name of the veteran, entries show name, class of dependent, if any; service data; application number and for an approved claim, pension certificate number and state from which the claim was made.
An Act of Congress approved on 29 Jan. 1887 (24 Stat. 371), provided pensions for veterians who had served 60 days, or for their un-remarred widows. These pension applications were accepted by the Government until 1926.
In addition to the usual types of records found in Pension Applications, the Mexican War records contain a Family Questionnaire and, for the veteran, a Personal History Questionnaire. The Family Questionnaire shows the maiden name of the wife; date and place of the marriage; and the name of the person who performed the ceremony; name of a former wife, if any, and date & place of her death or divorce; & names and dates of birth of living children.
Index to MEXICAN WAR PENSION APPLICATIONS
End of File!
Created: Dec. 01, 1996; Jan 05, 2003; Sep 23, 2008; Sep 10, 2009; Dec 13, 2010; Jan 05, 2011;