General Zachary Taylor, in His Last Days in Command in Mexico, States That Military Service Brings Honor and Distinction

He tells one of his regiment commanders, the future Military Governor of Saltillo, longing to see action, that “…should the war continue, [it may afford] opportunity for active operations. I truly hope such good fortune may fall upon yourself and your regiment, it needs but the occasion, I feel assured, to distinguish itself and behave with honor to itself and the state it has thus far so well represented.”

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On February 23, 1847, at the Battle of Buena Vista near Monterrey in northern Mexico, more than 15,000 Mexican troops charged U.S. General Zachary Taylor’s small command of soldiers. Using heavy artillery, the general’s 5,000 men turned back the Mexican army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. By nightfall, the...

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General Zachary Taylor, in His Last Days in Command in Mexico, States That Military Service Brings Honor and Distinction

He tells one of his regiment commanders, the future Military Governor of Saltillo, longing to see action, that “…should the war continue, [it may afford] opportunity for active operations. I truly hope such good fortune may fall upon yourself and your regiment, it needs but the occasion, I feel assured, to distinguish itself and behave with honor to itself and the state it has thus far so well represented.”

On February 23, 1847, at the Battle of Buena Vista near Monterrey in northern Mexico, more than 15,000 Mexican troops charged U.S. General Zachary Taylor’s small command of soldiers. Using heavy artillery, the general’s 5,000 men turned back the Mexican army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. By nightfall, the Mexican army retreated. This battle did not end the Mexican War, but, though no one knew it at the time, it effectively ended the fighting in northern Mexico.

During the Mexican War, Virginia Governor William Smith appointed Colonel John F. Hamtramck Colonel of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Regiment. Hamtramck had served under Taylor during the War of 1812. He and the other new regiment’s officers arrived in Richmond in January 1847. The regiment shipped out in February, and after an arduous trip at sea arrived in Mexico in March. There they heard of Taylor’s victory at Buena Vista. The unit ended up at Camargo in northern Mexico as part of Taylor’s Army of Occupation. After enduring much sickness, in May the regiment was stationed in Monterrey on garrison duty. In August some of the regiment was transferred to Gen. Winfield Scott’s forces advancing towards Mexico City, but Hamtramck remained with the main regiment in the north. They had seen no real fighting, and many of the Virginians felt this was not what they had come to Mexico for.

Hamtramck wrote his old commander, General Taylor, asking to be added to the column joining Scott’s forces so he could see action. Taylor responded, disclosing that he was being called back to the United States and would soon be replaced by General John Wool, and while regretfully declining Hamtramck’s request, left hope that in the future Hamtramck and his men would see more active service. Taylor also assured Hamtramck that his present position would not be threatened by Wool’s assumption of command.

Letter Signed, “Camp near Monterey”; October 19, 1847, to Colonel John Francis Hamtramck, being that very letter.

“I have but just received yours of yesterday. and hasten therefore at this early moment to reply to your particular requests therein contained. It would have given me much pleasure to yield to your wish to join the other column, but under circumstances which so vitally affect the public service in this quarter I am compelled to retain yourself and your noble regiment in its present position. No one better than I myself knows its chivalric zeal and enthusiasm, its excellent state of drill and discipline and desire for more active service, but these very qualities render it the better safeguard for the public interests on this line.

“My late communications with War Dept. has strongly recommended the charge of this line to be given, in my leaving the country, to Genl. Wool, and if my suggestions can be of any avail, there are sure prospects that the command will fall upon him, I am confident that it is not in my power to speak of a successor in more strong or flattering terms than I have in my recommendation of him, and I do not doubt it will be accorded to him. On this ground therefore I think you have no reason to apprehend any interference with your present position. It is well understood that additional troops have been called out, and it is not impossible (indeed it is anticipated) that a portion may come here and afford, at no very distant day, should the war continue, opportunity for active operations. I truly hope such good fortune may fall upon yourself and your regiment, it needs but the occasion, I feel assured, to distinguish itself and behave with honor to itself and the state it has thus far so well represented. I regret much, my dear Colonel that I shall not have the pleasure to see you before my departure, but I trust the day is not distant, when I shall have the gratification of again meeting with and thanking you for your many terms of regard. Trusting that you will not long be disappointed in your desire to meet with active service, and wishing you and your officers all prosperity & distinction…”

Wool officially replaced Taylor in November, but even prior to that formality, on October 22, 1847, Hamtramck received orders reflecting his appointment to command a division. This was a promotion, but he never did see major action in the war. He did however go on to serve as Military Governor of Saltillo.

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