Today in History

Today in History: February 23

The Mexican American War

General Taylor
"A little more grape Capt. Bragg"—General Taylor on Horseback at the Battle of Buena Vista, February 23, 1847, lithograph by N. Currier, 1847.
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United States General Zachary Taylor was victorious over Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in the Battle of Buena Vista on February 23, 1847. Named for a nearby hacienda, the Battle of Buena Vista, was fought near Monterrey in northern Mexico. On the evening of February 21, General Taylor received a message from General Santa Anna offering to accept an American surrender and be spared the battle. Taylor reportedly replied: “I decline accepting your request.” For the next two days, the Mexican army of over 15,000 troops assaulted the smaller U.S. force of only 5,000 men. The agile field artillery and advantageous battle position, however, favored General Taylor against overwhelming odds. By nightfall of February 23, the exhausted and dispirited Mexican army retreated; Taylor elected not to pursue the troops and remained to secure the region.

General Winfield Scott landed at Veracruz in March and headed west toward Mexico City. At the Battle of Cerro Gordo in April, he defeated the Mexican army; Santa Anna again escaped capture. Despite strong resistance, Scott pressed forward and captured the Mexican capital in September, securing the U.S. victory in the Mexican American War.

Samuel McNeil, an Ohio shoemaker who ventured to California, tells of General Taylor's bravery on the battlefield in his book McNeil's Travels in 1849, To, Through and From the Gold Regions, in California:

I must mention one circumstance that happened there, which shows the extraordinary coolness of Gen. Z. Taylor in battle. He saw a small cannon ball coming directly towards his person. Instead of spurring "Old Whitey" out of its way, he coolly rose in his very short stirrups and permitted the ball to pass between his person and the saddle. Col. Wyncoop has mentioned this circumstance in his book, and if he lies wilfully [sic], you may be sure that the shoemaker lies unwilfully [sic].

Samuel McNeil, McNeil's Travels in 1849, To, Through and From the Gold Regions, in California, Part I, page 15.
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On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in Mexico City, ending the war. Five years later, the Gadsden Purchase set the current boundary between the U.S. and Mexico.

Taylor's victories at the Battle of Buena Vista, and the 1946 Battle of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, won him national fame that contributed greatly to his election as president in 1848. Scott, too, ran for president but was defeated in 1852 by another veteran of the Mexican American War, Franklin Pierce.

Image of Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor, studio of Mathew Brady, ca. 1844-49.
America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864

Image of Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott, studio of Mathew Brady, ca. 1851-60.
America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864

Numerous junior officers in the U.S. army who fought in Mexico later served in both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War: Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant, George B. McClellan, John C. Fremont, George G. Meade, William Tecumseh Sherman, Joseph Hooker, George H. Thomas, and Henry W. Halleck; and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, “Stonewall” Jackson, Braxton Bragg, Albert Sidney Johnston, James Longstreet, A. P. Hill, and Jubal A. Early. Jefferson Davis fought at the Battle of Buena Vista.