From the Field in Mexico, General Zachary Taylor Correctly Foresees the End of the Mexican War

Soon after his victory at the Battle of Buena Vista, he also gives a detailed report on his troops and their condition

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“But if reports are at all to be relied on, no forward movement will be necessary…the British Consul…had that morning recd a letter from the British minister in the city of Mexico, that he had been applied to by the Mexican authorities, to solicit his or his government’s good offices to bring...

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From the Field in Mexico, General Zachary Taylor Correctly Foresees the End of the Mexican War

Soon after his victory at the Battle of Buena Vista, he also gives a detailed report on his troops and their condition

“But if reports are at all to be relied on, no forward movement will be necessary…the British Consul…had that morning recd a letter from the British minister in the city of Mexico, that he had been applied to by the Mexican authorities, to solicit his or his government’s good offices to bring about a peace with the U. States…The war may be considered at an end, & no doubt an armistice has been already entered into by the parties concerned until the preliminaries for a final peace can by adjusted.”

The Battle of Buena Vista on February 23, 1847, was perhaps the most dramatic fight of the Mexican War. After the Battle of Monterey in September 1846, President Polk ordered the bulk of General Zachary Taylor’s veterans and regulars to join an expedition under General Winfield Scott, who would land at Vera Cruz and march on Mexico City. Taylor was to defend his position near Saltillo with 5,000 troops. Mexican General Santa Anna, recognizing this as a military opportunity, moved quickly to catch the Americans while they made their transition. Santa Anna and an army of 20,000 hurried north from San Luis Potosi to crush Taylor before turning south to deal with Scott. Taylor, hearing of the Mexican movement upon his position on February 21, deployed his outnumbered command in a mountain pass near the Hacienda Buena Vista, where his small numbers might do the most good. Santa Anna demanded Taylor’s surrender on February 22, but was refused. The Mexicans then skirmished with the Americans to ascertain their positions and numbers. Santa Anna ordered an all-out assault the following morning and had broken the U.S. line by mid-day. Taylor rushed forward his only reserves, the Mississippi Rifles under Colonel Jefferson Davis and the artillery under Colonel Braxton Bragg. These troops stabilized the U.S. line by routing a Mexican cavalry breakthrough. Santa Anna’s attack stalled. Taylor ordered his men to counter-attack the enemy that afternoon, and the U.S. troops ran headlong into withering fire. But the audacity of the attack threw off Santa Anna’s planned final blow and the Mexican attack stumbled to a halt by dark. More than 3,400 of Santa Anna’s men lay dead or wounded; Taylor lost 650. The Mexican Army declared victory the following day and retreated. The victory at Buena Vista spelled the end of the fighting in northern Mexico and secured the northern Mexican theater for the U.S. It allowed many of Taylor’s battle-hardened veterans to be transferred to Scott’s campaign for Mexico City, and though Taylor remained in command of a force there until he returned to the United States in November 1847, he would lose a good portion of his men to the expiration of their 12-month volunteer commitments. The fighting in the north was effectively over, and Taylor’s military fame was secure. Soon his political aspirations would take center stage.

In 1846 General John E. Wool organized and disciplined volunteers for the Mexican War, and dispatched to the seat of war 12,000 men fully armed and equipped. Collecting 3,000 men, he penetrated Mexico to Saltillo, after a march of 900 miles without loss. He served at the Battle of Buena Vista, and in fact commanded in the early part of the action until the arrival of General Taylor. For his conduct there he was brevetted major-general and received the thanks of Congress and a sword.

By May 1847 it was clear to the Mexican leadership that some accommodation must be reached to end the war. They asked the British ambassador in Mexico City to act as intermediary between Mexico and the United States, word of which reached Taylor who felt it must lead to an armistice and then a peace treaty. In June U.S. Secretary of State James Buchanan acted on this knowledge and wrote a letter to the Mexicans that was forwarded by the British, and the next month Santa Anna told the British ambassador that it had become his duty to sue for peace. Though this early peace-making effort stalled, Mexican surrender was merely a matter of time. Knowing the Mexicans could not continue the conflict, a treaty in draft form was brought to Mexico by Nicholas Trist, President Polk’s emissary, in the summer. Then Scott took Mexico City in September – the last major battle of the war – and the Mexicans agreed to meet with Trist and discuss terms. After a few months of jockeying, formal negotiations commenced in January 1848 and a month later the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed ending the Mexican War.

Autograph letter signed, two long pages, Camp near Monterrey, Mexico, May 28, 1847, to General Wool, giving him a detailed report on U.S. troop movements, the condition of U.S. forces, and relating that the Mexicans were suing for peace. “My dear General, Your very acceptable & interesting letter of the 26th inst. by Mr. Potts was duly recd. I have so many calls from the volunteers who are on their way home, that I have scarcely a moment to attend to any business, even to write you, or any one else, & therefore must be very brief.

“Col. [Alexander] Doniphan with his command, spoils &c, reached here on the morning of the 26th, & left with the whole concern the next day for Caimargo, & so on to Brazos where they will embark for New Orleans. On their arrival at that place, they will be mustered out, paid & discharged; altho, they would have been recd for the war, as cavalry, I do not believe a Company can or will be raised from the Regiment; the whole will go on to Missouri. Genl [Joseph] Lane with his Brigade got here yesterday morning, & will leave today for Indiana by the way of Camargo, Brazos & New Orleans, arrangements being made at the latter place to pay them. The Illinois Regiments of infantry, & Arkansas horse will soon follow which will leave us very weak on this line or at this end of it for a short time. The 2nd Mississippi rifles will be with you by the time this reaches you; they are very much reduced in numbers since the organization of the Regiments, principally by sickness & it will take those who are left some time to recover from the effects of the same. Other Regiments will be pushed forward as rapidly as possible to join you, of which Major Bliss [Taylor’s adjutant] will inform you more in detail.

“On the subject of a forward or early movement into the heart of the enemies country I do not expect even if the war continues to be able to do so, for want of a proper force; that portion, or a large part of the ten new Regiments, ordered to concentrate at Point Isabel, & which I thought might be placed under my orders, or at my disposal have with Gen. Cadwalader been ordered to Vera Cruz; leaving me three of said Regiments of foot & perhaps one of mounted, or is to be the 3rd Dragoons . So far as I can learn one of the foot Regiments referred to, but little progress has been made in filling its ranks. But if reports are at all to be relied on, no forward movement will be necessary; you will observe from the last Matamoros Flag sent you by an individual in Vera Cruz saying ‘he had that moment been informed by the British Consul, that he the Consul had that morning recd a letter from the British minister in the city of Mexico, that he had been applied to by the Mexican authorities, to solicit his or his government’s, good offices to bring about a peace with the U. States. If it is true, & there appears to be but little doubt of the fact, the war may be considered at an end, & no doubt an armistice has been already entered into by the parties concerned until the preliminaries for a final peace can be adjusted.

“I am truly grateful for the kind congratulations of your distinguished friends, on account of our successes against the enemy communicated through you; & particularly to you, for the manner in which the same are communicated; the approbation of such men as Senator [George] Evans [a Whig from Maine] publicly or privately expresses must more than repay us for many of the dangers, toils, and privations we necessarily encounter in the public service. My kindest thanks for her kind remembrance of me to your most excellent lady when you next write & wishing you & yours continued health, & prosperity, in addition to fame & promotion so far as you are concerned, I remain with high respect & esteem Your Friend, Truly, Z. Taylor.”

This is a very uncommon military content letter of Taylor from during the Mexican War, and the only letter of his we have ever seen foreseeing the end of that war. It also contains his assessments and great detail on troop movements.

It is interesting to note that Jefferson Davis, whose regiment is mentioned here, married Taylor’s daughter Sarah on June 17, 1835. Both of the newlyweds contracted either malaria or yellow fever on a summer visit to Davis’s sister. Sarah died after three months of marriage and Davis barely survived. Her death caused years of ill will between Davis and Taylor; Taylor and his wife felt that Davis should have known better than to go to Louisiana in “fever season”. The men reconciled in 1845, just in time to serve together in the war.

You can at a glance see in this action a microcosm of the coming Civil War. Serving with Taylor were Union generals Wool, McClellan, and U.S. Grant; and Confederate president Jefferson Davis and generals Stonewall Jackson and Bragg.

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