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Mexican American War

1846 to 1848

United States — versus — Mexico


Introduction : 


Mexican American War
 The Battle of Resaca de la Palma

The conflict most strongly associated in many people's minds with the Mexican American War, is the Battle of the Alamo, where 200 Texan frontier heroes fought and died to the man defending a fortified mission from the invading armies of Mexico. The only problem is, the Battle of the Alamo occurred in 1836, ten years before the actual Mexican-American War started. At the time, Texas was a province of Mexico, and the American government was not officially involved in any way. Nevertheless, the Texas Revolution, is key to understanding the events which followed it, and the Battle of the Alamo is rightly recounted as part of the story of the Mexican American War. The upshot of this famous battle, and the events which followed it, was that the Mexican province of Texas broke its ties to Mexico, and eventually joined the United States of America.

Likewise, the primary consequence of the Mexican American War was that the Mexican provinces of 'Alta California' and 'Nuevo Mexico' broke their ties with Mexico and became territories of the United States. And the process followed a similar pattern—declare war on Mexico, defeat them handily, and confiscate territory. The aims of the Mexican American War, were therefore, largely imperialistic on the part of the United States. On the other hand, Mexico's claim to the territory was relatively weak. Although the region had been part of the Spanish Empire in the New World for over 300 years, it had never been developed or settled. The first Missions were only established in California fifty years before the outbreak of the war the population of Spanish speakers in the region was very low. Mexico did not want to lose the territory, but neither had it done much to establish its dominion over the region.


Texas Rising : 1836


Mexican American
 The last assault and fall of the Alamo

In 1821 Mexico declared itself to be independent from Spain and in 1824 established a constitution, patterned on the United States of America, providing for a federal government and relatively independent states governments. The northeastern-most province of Mexico was Coahuila y Tejas (Texas), and it was sparsely populated. In order to encourage colonization, Texas allowed English speaking families to settle as long as they agreed to abolish slavery and convert to Roman Catholicism. These restrictions were, however, largely ignored, and thousands of colonists flooded to the region from the American southeast. The central government in Mexico, during this period, was frequently in turmoil due mostly to irreconcilable differences between Liberal vs. Conservative political parties. In 1835, Santa Anna came to power, and abolished the Constitution of 1824, replacing it with a far more centralized government. The state of Texas, along with several other states, rebelled against the new government, and it was this rebellion that set Texas on the road to War with Mexico.

Once they declared their independence from Mexico, the Texans took the initiative, and in a series of minor skirmishes, took over Mexican stores and supplies, and drove away Mexican soldiers assigned to retrieve arms from state militias. The last Mexican garrison in Texas was stationed at San Antonio de Bexar, under Martin Cos, the brother-in-law of Santa Anna. The Texans besieged the city, and after a disorderly assault, Cos surrendered and agreed to withdraw from the territory.

Santa Anna had been too busing putting down other rebellions to send relief to Cos in Texas. When he got wind of the situation, however, he was infuriated and marched to Texas. The personal insult that he felt at his brother-in-law's defeat likely fueled the vengeance with which his army carried out the ensuing campaign. Santa Anna's army of over 2000 men drastically outnumber any contingent of Texans it encountered on its march. It defeated several troops of Texans, on its route to San Antonio, and took dozens of Texans as prisoners. At Goliad, however, Santa Anna suddenly gave orders to execute all prisoners of war, resulting in the massacre of 342 Texans, who has surrendered in good faith to the Mexicans. This outrage, along with the subsequent massacre of the defenders of the Alamo, did much to steel the Texans' resolve. Until word of these outrages reached the Texans, they were a disorderly and independent lot. From that point on, however, they were an indefatigable fighting force, with a score to settle. "Remember the Alamo!", and "Remember Goliad!", were battle cries that drove the Texans to victory against the Mexicans at San Jacinto, but also propelled the American forces against Mexico ten year hence.

The great American victory over Mexico was at San Jacinto, when a force of Texans led by Sam Houston, made a surprise attack on the camp of Santa Anna. The Mexican forces were not prepared to fight and in less than 20 minutes, 600 of their number were killed and over 700 taken prisoner, including Santa Anna himself. This essentially destroyed the Mexican army in the region and gained Texas its independence. In a stunning act of clemency, Houston agreed to release Santa Anna, the murderer of over 500 Texans. His stated reason for doing so, was that Santa Anna had signed a treaty recognizing the independence of Texas. As long as he was the duly elected President of Mexico, this treaty would be binding. Also taking into account Santa Anna's notorious dramatics, he considered that "he may or may not honor it [the treaty], but if we allow him to return to politics . . . he will keep Mexico in turmoil for years."



Battle / Outcome
Description
Siege of Bexar
Texans defeat Mexicans
On October 12, 1835 a force of 600 Texans under Stephen Austin besieged a Mexican garrison of 1200 under Martin de Cos stationed at San Antonio de Bexar. The siege was a disorderly one, with considerable attrition on both sides. However, the Texans were able to receive reinforcements, while the resources of the Mexicans continued to dwindle. Cos eventually moved his base of operation to the Alamo, a nearby fortified mission. On Dec 5, the Texans launched an assault, resulting in 150 Mexican casualties. Soon after Cos realized his position was hopeless and agreed to surrender.
Siege of Alamo
Mexicans defeat Texans
On February 22, 1836, General Santa Anna, with the advance guard of the Mexican army, appeared before the walls of the Alamo, a fortified mission station held by 145 Texans under Colonel Travis, who replied to a summons to surrender by a cannon shot. On March 1 the garrison was reinforced by 30 men, Santa Anna's force at this date being 4,000. On the 6th 2,500 Mexicans assaulted the fort, and at the third attempt effected an entrance. The building was defended room by room, the church within the enclosure being the last building captured, when all the survivors were put to the sword. The victory cost the Mexicans 400 killed and many wounded. "Remember the Alamo" became the watchword of the Texans.
Battle of San Jacinto
Texans defeat Mexicans
Fought April 2, 1836, when the Mexican army, under Santa Anna, about 5,000 strong, was routed and almost destroyed by the Texans, under General Houston. The survivors, with Santa Anna and his staff, were taken prisoners, and Texas was freed from the Mexican yoke.



Commander
Short Biography
Daniel Boone Explored the Kentucky and Tennessee Valley. Opened a road for settlers through Cumberland Gap.
Davy Crockett Tennessee Frontiersman and congressman. Involved with Texas independence. Died at the Alamo.
Santa Anna Fought for Mexican independence, then elected President during very turbulent times. Fought Americans at the Alamo and Mexican American War.
Sam Houston Founder of the state of Texas, and first governor.
Stephen F. Austin Helped found the state of Texas by leading 300 families to settle in the region.
Jim Bowie Legendary frontiersman who led the Texans during their defense of the Alamo. The 'Bowie' knife is named in his honor


Mexican American War : 1846 to 1848


Mexican American
 Major Ringgold struck by a cannon ball.

In 1845 Texas was admitted to the union as a slave-state and immediately thereafter, Mexico declared War on the United States of America. It was a symbolic gesture, however, since the Mexican government was in complete disarray, and in no position to actually commence hostilities. Many Americans did not fail to see the possibilities of gaining more territory, if hostilities should commence so there was a large pro-war party that sought any excuse to justify American aggression. Meanwhile, President Polk sought to avert a war by purchasing the territories that the United States sought after, Alta California and Santa fe Nuevo Mexico, but his offer was indignantly refused. At the same time, American settlers flocked to California, intending to declare their settlement "independent", and thereby provoke the Mexicans into action.

An excuse to declare war on Mexico eventually presented itself, when the U.S. sent a patrol to the disputed region near the Texas-Mexico border. When this activity succeeded in provoking an incident with the Mexican forces in the region, American war-hawks lost no time in declaring war, and sending a ready battalion to the area. The first battles of the war were at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, in the disputed territory. The Americans were victorious, and General Zachary Taylor led the Americans into Northeast Mexico. In the following months Taylor's troops fought a number of skirmishes, as well as major battles at Monterrey and Buena Vista. Although he prevailed in every event, the Mexican government was not willing to negotiate a peace on the terms offered by the United States.

In order to bring the war to a close, Polk sent a fleet directly to Veracruz, a costal town adjacent to Mexico City. The object of this expedition, led by Winfried Scott, was to force the Mexican government to negotiate. A force of over 12,000 Americans besieged Veracruz, the most heavily fortified city in Mexico and in six days gained a landing. It was not until they actually approached and entered Mexico City, after fighting several famous battles en route that they were able to force the Mexican government to concede to the terms dictated by the United States, namely the succession of the Southwest quarter of the United States, for the price of approximately $20,000,000. The territory ceded was composed of the modern states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

Some Americans were puzzled at Mexico's refusal to negotiate any terms for a territory that they could not possibly defend. The United States had originally offered to pay over $25,000,000 for the parcel, which amounted to more than $300 per Mexican citizen, but instead of accepting this "generous" offer, the Mexicans subjected themselves to a series of humiliating defeats, and incurred a great loss of life and property damage. The reason for this was part honor, but largely political. Various parties were vying for power—the government changed hands several times during the war. The idea of surrender was so unpopular that any politician who even discussed it would be thrown immediately out of office—a bruising defeat was more politically viable, than an unpopular surrender.



Battle / Outcome
Description
Battle of Palo Alto
Americans defeat Mexicans
Fought May 8, 1846, between the Americans, under General Taylor, and the Mexicans, under Arista. The Mexicans were completely routed, at very small cost to the victors.
Battle of Resaca de la Palma
Americans defeat Mexicans
Fought May 9, 1846, between the 1700 Americans, under General Zachary Taylor, and 4,000 Mexicans, including newly arrived reinforcements, under Arista. The battle was hard fought but the tide turned for the Americans after a successful cavalry attack forced a retreat. The Mexicans suffered 350 killed and wounded, and 150 captured. The Americans suffered 33 killed and 90 wounded.
Battle of Monterey
Americans defeat Mexicans
This town in southern California was captured from the Mexicans, September 23, 1846, by the Americans, under General Taylor, and this success was followed by the occupation of the whole of Northern Mexico by the American army.
Battle of Angostura
Americans defeat Mexicans
Fought February 21, 1847, between the Mexicans under Santa Anna and the Americans under General Scott, when the Mexicans were totally defeated.
Battle of Buena Vista
Americans defeat Mexicans
Fought February 22, 1847, between 18,000 Mexicans under General Santa Anna, and 4,500 Americans under General Zachary Taylor. The Americans occupied a series of heights commanding the Angostura pass, and were there attacked by Santa Anna, who failed to dislodge them, the day ending with the combatants occupying the same ground as in the morning. On the 23rd, however, Santa Anna retired. The Americans lost 746 killed and wounded; the Mexicans admitted a loss of 1, 500 killed, but it was probably heavier.
Battle of Veracruz
Americans defeat Mexicans
This city was besieged by a naval assault force of over 12,000 Americans, led by Winfield Scott and Matthew C. Perry. The highly fortified port was defended by 3,360 Mexicans under Juan Morales, and held out for over 20 days before being over-run. The Americans suffered 18 killed and 62 wounded; the Mexicans suffered 180 killed and wounded.
Battle of Molino del Rey
Americans defeat Mexicans
Fought September 8, 1847 just outside of Mexico city. 2,800 Americans under Winfield Scott charged a Mexican fortification at just outside Mexico city. Heavy guns were used to destroy the Mexican fortifications, and the Mexicans were driven from their position. The American losses included 116 killed and over 600 wounded. The Mexicans suffered 270 killed and 500 wounded.
Battle of Chapultepec
Americans defeat Mexicans
Fought September 12, 1847 when 13,000 Americans stormed the Castle of Capultepec, headquarters of the Mexican army. The fortifications were protected by 4000 Mexican who suffered over 1800 causalities before yielding to the American charge. Six Cadets refused to retreat and wrapped themselves in Mexican flags before jumping to their death. The result of this battle was that the Mexican army retreated, leaving Mexico city in American hands.



Commander
Short Biography
Santa Anna Fought for Mexican independence, then elected President during very turbulent times. Fought Americans at the Alamo and Mexican American War.
Mariano Arista Mexican General during the Mexican-American War.
General Winfield Scott Longest serving officer in American history. Served in all major wars between 1812 and the Civil War.
Zachary Taylor Military leader who served in various Indian Wars and the Mexican-American War. Twelfth U.S. President.
James K. Polk U.S. President who followed the policies of Andrew Jackson. President during the Mexican-American War.
John C. Fremont American explorer who, along with Kit Carson, led an expedition to California by way of Wyoming and Nevada.

Story LinksBook Links
The Mexican War  in  Story of the Great Republic  by  H. A.  Guerber
Polk—How Much Land Was Added  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E.  Marshall
Captain Lee and the Lava-beds  in  Historical Tales: 2—American  by  Charles  Morris
War with the United States  in  Story of Mexico  by  Charles  Morris
Kearney and the Conquest of New Mexico  in  Historical Tales: 3—Spanish American  by  Charles  Morris
Second Conquest of the Capital of Mexico  in  Historical Tales: 3—Spanish American  by  Charles  Morris
War with the United States  in  Short History of Mexico  by  A. H. Noll
Face to Face with Mexico  in  Boys' Book of Border Battles  by  E. L. Sabin
With "Old Zach" at Palo Alto  in  Boys' Book of Border Battles  by  E. L. Sabin
Resaca de la Palma  in  Boys' Book of Border Battles  by  E. L. Sabin



Book Links
History of the War with Mexico  by  H. O. Ladd
Into Mexico with General Scott  by  Edwin Sabin



Image Links
As he faced his battalion there was no straighter back or better figure  in  As he stood there behind the guns he knew that his work had been well done  in  Captain May's Charge at Resaca de la Palma in 
Taylor at Buena Vista  in Story of the Great Republic Americans land at Vera Cruz  in History of the War with Mexico Fillibusters in Texas  in History of the War with Mexico
 in History of the War with Mexico The City of Vera Cruz  in History of the War with Mexico The Battle of Resaca de la Palma  in Story of Mexico
General Zachary Taylor's Great Victory at Resaca de la Palma  in True Stories of Our Presidents Battle of Montery  in Young Folk's History of Mexico Major Ringgold struck by a cannon ball  in Boys' Book of Border Battles
The second dragoons at Resaca de la Palma in Boys' Book of Border Battles What is the meaning of this racket?'  in Into Mexico with General Scott The March to the City of Mexico  in Into Mexico with General Scott
Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States  in Into Mexico with General Scott And all your army and guns can't keep them off.'  in Into Mexico with General Scott ...it appeared they were going to ambush me and take this turkey.'  in Into Mexico with General Scott
Campaign in the Valley of Mexico.  in Into Mexico with General Scott Lieutenant Grant used this as a ladder  in Into Mexico with General Scott