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The Mexican War Essay, Research Paper

Of all our country’s major military conflicts, the Mexican War is perhaps the least known. It has been long overshadowed by the later Civil War, and is still today frequently confused with the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836, the Spanish-American War (1898), or the Mexican intervention and border troubles of 1914-1916.

This history of this war begins in the early 1800s. At this time, the United States of

America consisted of a union of twenty-four sovereign states. The population, according to the fourth U.S. census released in August of 1820, was 9,600,000 people, of whom more than 230,00 were free Negros and 1,500,000, slave Negros. It is also officially reported that 8,385 immigrants arrived in the country during 1819. James Monroe, the fifth President, was in office, with John Quincy Adams as his Secretary of State, W. H. Crawford, his Secretary of Treasury, and J. C. Calhoun as Secretary of War. D. D. Tompkins was Vice President. The attention of the vigorous young nation was divided between domestic and foreign problems. Of the domestic questions, slavery was by far the most deep-rooted.

When the United States annexed Texas in 1845, with the consent of its citizens, Mexico recalled its ambassador and threatened war. In response, the U.S. stationed troops under the command of General Zachary Taylor at Corpus Christi. They remained there through the remainder of that year and into early 1846.

The Mexican War began on April 25, 1846, when Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande river and ambushed an American scouting patrol, killing sixteen and taking the remainder prisoners. On May 3, Mexican forces in Matamoros began an artillery bombardment of Fort Texas which lasted for seven days. During the siege, the fort’s commander, Maj. Jacob Brown, was killed. The fort was afterward named Fort Brown in his honor.

General Taylor occupied Matamoros on May 18 but then delayed for several months before moving south. He was apparently waiting for transportation promised him by the U.S. government, though his critics branded him inept. In July he moved his base up the Rio Grande to Camargo, but it was only in August that Taylor began planning the attack on Monterrey. By this 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 Mexicans did not attack though, because their central government had started collapsing. Rather than reuniting Mexico this war gave the Federalists an opportunity to rebel. Northern Mexico was a federalist stronghold, so as Taylor moved to the Rio Grande he increasing supported from the rebels. Soon Taylor began his advance Monterrey. He reached it on September 19, and began his attack on the morning of September 21. General William Worth soon joined Taylor, And within two days the much larger Mexican army began to retreat.

The decisive campaign of the war was Scott’s advance from Veracruz to Mexico City. Scott’s expedition began at a staging area at the mouth of the Rio Grande in February 1847. He assembled an army of approximately 12,000, which was transported by sea to a beach about 3 mi south of Veracruz. Landing on March 10-11, it had surrounded the city by March 15. A combined naval and land attack began on March 22. Heavy shelling from navy guns forced the almost impregnable town to surrender on March 28.

During June and July, Santa Anna frantically prepared to defend Mexico City. On August 7, Scott began his advance from Puebla, following a route over lava beds and rough land to the south of Lake Chalco that Santa Anna had left relatively unprotected. The first heavy fighting occurred on August 19-20 at CONTRERAS, outside Mexico City, where Mexican losses were estimated at 700 and American casualties at 60. Santa Anna fell back about 5 mi to Churubusco, where he took up a defensive position in a fortified convent. Advancing under extremely heavy fire on August 20, Scott’s men finally forced the convent’s surrender. Although Santa Anna and much of his command escaped. Mexican losses were estimated at more than 4,000 killed and wounded and more than 2,500 prisoners; by contrast, American losses were slightly more than 1,000

The war was over. In just over five months, Winfield Scott had done what many had considered impossible. Santa Anna resigned the Mexican presidency. Forced to resign his command, he fled the country. The new acting president, Pedro Maria Anaya, began negotiations with the Americans.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, was signed on Feb. 2, 1848, putting an end to the war. The terms of the treaty called for Mexico to cede some 529,017 square miles its territory to the U.S., in exchange for $15 million, and to agree to recognize the Rio Grande as the boundary of Texas. As a result, the U.S. nearly doubled in size. The present-day states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado all occupy territory that was won by the soldiers who fought in the Mexican War.


One of the most significant consequences of the Mexican War was a revival of the old

controversy over whether or not to allow slavery in the new territories. This, in turn, led to

the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, and eventually, the abolition of slavery altogether.

The War with Mexico is notable for a number of “firsts.” Not only was it the United

States’ first foreign war but it was also the first war anywhere to be photographed.

Additionally, it was the first war in which steamboats and the telegraph were used and in

which newspaper correspondents regularly reported from the seat of war. It was also the

first war in which graduates of West Point played a major role. Among these were some

junior officers who would later command whole armies in the Civil War: Robert E. Lee,

Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Braxton Bragg, and William T. Sherman

- to name but a few.

Contrary to popular belief, the War with Mexico was not exclusively a Texan war

(although Texas supplied more than 8,000 of the approximately 75,000 volunteers who

served). Regiments were raised in nearly every state, with Illinois, Indiana, Ohio,

Missouri, and Tennessee supplying the most (apart from Texas). Because its citizens were

so enthusiastic, Tennessee became known as the “Volunteer State” during the Mexican

War. Not all the soldiers were native-born. Large numbers of recently-arrived Irish and

German immigrants enlisted in both the regular U.S. Army and state volunteer


The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican War, was signed on February

2, 1848, by Nicholas P. Trist for the United States and by a special commission

representing the collapsed government of Mexico. Trist disregarded a recall to

Washington, and negotiated the treaty in violation of most of his instructions. The U.S.

Senate reluctantly approved the treaty.

Under the treaty, Mexico ceded to the United States Upper California and New

Mexico (including Arizona) and recognized U.S. claims over Texas, with the Rio

Grande as its southern boundary. The United States in turn paid Mexico $15,000,000,

assumed the claims of American citizens against Mexico, recognized prior land grants

in the Southwest, and offered citizenship to any Mexicans residing in the area.

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