to the Civil War:
The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.
By Andrew H. Lipps
"Mexico has passed the
boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed
American blood upon the American Soil. She has proclaimed that hostilities
and that the two nations are at war."
- President James K. Polk,
May 11, 1846
The U.S.-Mexican War began on
April 25, 1846
. It ended nearly two years later, on
February 2, 1848
. Of great importance in American history I find that when I tell people of my
interest in the badges of this conflict many are completely unfamiliar with it
and often confuse the Mexican-American War with the earlier Texas Revolution
!) or the later Mexican Border skirmishes. This seems due primarily to the
onset of the American Civil War which greatly eclipsed even this momentous
conflict. Historians are divided as to where to lay blame for the war; was it
American Imperialism at its worst or our Manifest Destiny to move into
territory barely served by the Mexican Government? What the war unquestionably
did was to bring into being a substantial portion of what is now the
United States of America
and was as much a foreshadowing of the American Civil War as the Spanish Civil
War of 1936 was to WWII. Many of the officer's of this conflict would later
meet in the Civil War: Lee, Jackson, Grant, Bragg, Meade, McClellan, Sherman,
Pickett, Beauregard, Longstreet, Armistead, Johnson, Hancock...the list goes
on! The Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo ended the war fixing the Rio Grande as
the boundary of Texas and as an indemnity for losing a war that the Americans
claimed they did not want required Mexico to cede to the U.S., in return for
$15 million, the territory which includes the modern states of California,
Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, as well as parts of Colorado and Wyoming. ;
a loss to
of nearly 1/2 her territory.
The roots of the war lie in the Texian rebellion of 1835
when Americans in
rebelled against the government of
March 2, 1836
an independent republic. When Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
led an army into
to put down the rebellion, (after the famous battle of the
) he was defeated and captured by General Sam Houston at the Battle of San
April 21, 1836
. Santa Anna signed a treaty recognizing Texan independence. The Mexican
Congress repudiated the treaty, but the
maintained its independence for ten years. Recognized by the
still would not accept the loss of
. The result being that when President James K. Polk offered terms of
offer and on
December 29, 1845
was formally admitted to the
. Beginning in August of 1846 in response to
's threat of war, Brigadier General Zachary Taylor moved troops into
and the "Nueces Strip" between the Rio Nueces and the
responded with a similar warlike posture.
informed the Mexicans that in his opinion he had not taken any hostile action,
but the Mexican government claimed that the mere presence of American troops
was a hostile act.
in turn replied that if a war began, the responsibility for it would lie with
whomever fired the first shot. As a result of a growing Mexican military
asked the U.S. Navy to blockade the mouth of the
. Another action he apparently intended as defensive in nature only. Acting on
an earlier threat, General Mariano Arista ordered his Mexican troops to cross
April 25, 1846
at Rancho de Carricitos (near
.) Mexican forces attacked U.S. Dragoons under Captain Seth Thornton with
losses of 14 Dragoons killed and the rest taken prisoner. The Mexican American
War had begun. Before it's finale well over 5,000 Americans would become
casualties of combat and disease.
Warfare slackened in mid 1846 while Volunteers, under
Congressional Authorization for twelve months of service arrived en masse.
American forces began to advance through
. The Battle of Buena Vista (Angostura, as it is called in
) against the forces of Santa Anna, was the costliest battle of the war. In a
rough and bloody battle, the Mexican's for a time held the upper hand.
However, in the end, General Taylor added another victory to his name. (Of
course helping greatly in his candidacy for the Presidency in 1848.). By the
end of 1846, President Polk had concluded that if the war with
was to be won
troops must take
. Therefore in March of 1847 General Winfield Scott's army landed at Vera Cruz
with the intent on accomplishing just that. Reinforced by Volunteer and
Regular Army Regiments as well as troops of
's forces, Scott formed the "Army of Invasion". On
March 9, 1847
the invasion began when American troops landed on the shore at
, south of Vera Cruz. The amphibious landing of some 10,000 troops at Vera
Cruz represented one of the largest military undertakings to date and the
greatest seaborne assault until World War Two. Siege and battle took Vera Cruz
on March 29 and Scott began marching inland towards
. One of the heaviest engagements of this campaign occurred on
April 18, 1847
on the road to
. Santa Anna's troops fought hard from strong defensive positions but in the
end they retreated in such disarray that among the items left behind was Santa
Anna's extra wooden leg! Though the American offensive slowed as many of the
one year Volunteer regiments ended their enlistments and returned to
, mid 1847 saw American troops massing against the Capital of Mexico City. In
August General Scott advanced against the well fortified city. Warfare and
politicking occupied the weeks until September 13th when Americans stormed the
, the bastion of
. At last Scott's Army of Invasion marched into the
where the American Marines raised the flag over the Palace "Halls of
Montezuma". Santa Anna was deposed (again) a month after
fell and eventually returned to his exile. An uneasy and often bloody lull
followed, with the treaty signed on
February 2, 1848
and President Polk presenting it to the American people on July 4th.
The Volunteer and Regular Army troops returned from
to a tumultuous hero’s welcome. Speeches, parades, and newspaper praise
awaited them. Officers and other notables were presented with swords, goblets
of honor, land and other tributes. Soon talk began of giving medals to all who
served. The badges of honor given to American soldiers who served in the
Mexican-American War can rightfully be considered the first American Campaign
medals and if one omits the somewhat unique Revolutionary War Badge of
Military Merit, the first American military medal. Three specific medals were
struck. One by the State of South Carolina, another by the City of Charleston,
and a third by the City of New York.
The South Carolina State Medal, or Palmetto Medal, is a
well struck table medal given in silver to enlisted men and NCO’s and in
gold to officer’s. In the event of death it was presented to the next of
kin. Named on the reverse, the NCO and officer medals give the rank whereas
awards to Privates simple state the name. Authorized by the SC General
Assembly in 1848 the Palmetto Medal was engraved by William J. Keenan and
struck by the
firm of Hayde, Brother and Company. Minted in the 1850’s, early examples
have the name
found on the strike. It is accurately estimated (thanks to research by Jack A.
, SC.) that 882 medals were struck and presented. 68 gold and 657 silver (with
157 of these to NCO’s). Myers has so far tallied fewer than 70 known
remaining medals! Bronze unnamed strikes are known to exist.
The Charleston Medal for the Mexican War was given in
silver to both officer’s and enlisted men of the Charleston Company of the
Palmetto Regiment. Another well made medal these were also named to the
recipient. One side of the medal has a presentation from the city and on the
other is a depiction of a soldier with the Palmetto flag and a list of the
various battles of the campaign. There were 103 eligible men in the company
and it is assumed that an equal number were struck and presented making this
the scarcest of the three medals.
The New York City Medal for the Mexican War is the third
in this trio of well made table medals. It is a two inch, two ounce silver
medal, slightly smaller than either of the SC medals. Presented named, this
medal for the officers and men of the New York City Volunteer Regiment was
designed by C.C. Wright and is very much a companion piece to the South
Carolina Medals. 1,100 men were eligible for this award based on the rolls of
the unit. Douglas Boyce, who has
researched and written extensively on the medals and badges of the Mexican War
estimates that between 400 and 600 were struck and awarded. What toll time and
assorted frenzies to melt down silver has taken on this medal is unknown.
Unnamed bronze casts of this medal are known as well.
* Shown below is the monument erected in
to Lt. Col. James Polk Dickerson. Born in
in 1816 and a veteran of the Seminole War under Captain John Chesnut,
elected Lt. Colonel of the regiment formed in
in the call to arms for the Mexican War.
Severely wounded in the first battle of Vera Cruz Dickerson lead his companies
against a large
of Mexican Lancers. At Churubusco he seized the units colors from a
fallen color bearer
and was once
again wounded. Refusing amputation of his wounded foot he died on
at age 31.
One can only conjecture what fame would have met him had he
survived. His remains were returned to
where in 1856 his body was interred to Monument Square
under this impressive Italian marble.
Shown here is the reverse of the South Carolina Palmetto medal in silver given
to enlisted men and NCO's
of the Palmetto Regiment. (Author's Collection) This example, in it's
original case, has had a ring added for wearing.
Originals did NOT have a ring.
National Association of Mexican War Veterans shield.
Descendants of Mexican War Veterans Website
The U.S.- Mexican War PBS Website
Heritage. Rachel Montgomery. R.L. Bryan,
Roster of the Palmetto Regiment. By Jack A. Meyer.
In The Mexican War. By Jack A. Meyer.
State Medals For War Service By Douglas W. Boyce.