The Mexican-American War ( English Mexican-American War ; Spanish Intervención estadounidense en México or Guerra Estados Unidos-México ) between Mexico and the United States took place from 1846 to 1848. It was largely driven by the American President James K. Polk , who endeavored to expand the territory of the United States to the southwest.
The attacking US troops managed to win a number of battles in northern Mexico. The decision was made in 1847 with the landing of US troops at Veracruz in March and the occupation of Mexico City in September. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of February 2, 1848 brought great territorial gains to the United States and the expansion of its territory to the Pacific Ocean .
Situation in the USA
The US government had tried to buy Upper California since Agustín de Iturbides' reign . A request that has been rejected several times by Mexico and has put a heavy strain on relations between the two states . Under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson , the United States made two unsuccessful offers to buy Texas to the Mexicans. When the more than 35,000 Americans living in Texas declared their independence from Mexico and proclaimed the Republic of Texas in 1836 , the Mexican government suppressed the US-backed uprising in their country. The army failed and Texas gained independence. The southern and western Texas border with Mexico was controversial in the period that followed.
On October 19, 1842, Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones - believing that war with Mexico had broken out - occupied Monterey , California , but withdrew on October 20 after news to the contrary. This and a similar incident a short time later in San Diego led to a sharp note of protest from Mexican Foreign Minister José María Bocanegra , who assumed a breach of international law and a hostile act on the part of the United States.
In the presidential election campaign of 1844 , James K. Polk stood as a candidate for the Democratic Party and was elected president with the program of a large-scale expansion policy under the aspect of Manifest Destiny . Immediately after the election, he operated the connection from Texas to the USA.
With the annexation of the Republic of Texas on February 19, 1845, the claim that the Rio Grande was both the southern and the western border passed through what is now the state of Texas to the United States. However, this claim was by no means secured. Under Mexican administration, the border between the provinces of Texas and Coahuila had been the Nueces River . According to the Mexican view, the Nueces River continued to form the border despite the independence of Texas . In the United States, too, the requirement for the Rio Grande as a border was controversial. Even Secretary of State James Buchanan found the claim doubtful.
Situation in Mexico
On the Mexican side, General Antonio López de Santa Anna was deposed as president in 1844 and sent into exile. As his successor, General José Joaquín de Herrera took over the business of government. After the annexation of Texas in February 1845, public opinion was enraged on both sides of the Mexican political spectrum. Herrera found that the military and financial situation was hopeless and that support from Europe was not to be expected. These reasons led him to seek an agreement with the United States. In the patriotically heated mood, however, this was viewed as treason and cowardice.
General Mariano Paredes overthrew Herrera and assumed the presidency in January 1846. Paredes had plans to change the 1843 constitution and establish the monarchy . A king at the top might have offered protection from the European monarchies against the United States' expansionist wishes. However, the plan was thwarted by the early outbreak of war.
For Mexico, the United States' territorial claims were not acceptable. With the Rio Grande as the new border, long-standing Mexican settlements in and around Santa Fe would have come under US control. In addition, the largest city in the area, Matamoros , would have become a border town.
Outbreak of war
Despite domestic and Mexican opposition, President Polk insisted on these demands and ordered General Zachary Taylor to move his army near the Rio Grande. Taylor moved into camp just south of the Nueces River, far north of the Rio Grande. The transfer of US troops to Mexico-claimed territory south of the Nueces River was a provocation; however, the Mexican government took no countermeasures other than sending soldiers to the Rio Grande on condition that they stay south of the river. Polk repeatedly asked Taylor to move closer to the Rio Grande, most recently on January 13, 1846. Taylor delayed the march and did not reach the Rio Grande until March 28. General Pedro de Ampudia demanded that Taylor retreat to the Nueces River. Taylor refused and began building a fort across from Matamoros and sealing off the Rio Grande.
When Mexico did not respond immediately, Polk decided to ask Congress to declare war on Mexico. Before this happened, reached Polk's message, Mexican troops had crossed the Rio Grande on 25 April 1846 and two dragoon companies with 500 cavalrymen under Captain Seth B. Thornton attacked and beaten. In this battle, the Americans lost 63 soldiers. Polk then went before Congress and argued that a declaration of war was not necessary - it was sufficient to state that Mexico's action was a state of war. There is no question, however, that President Polk had opened the phase of the military conflict with the marching orders to General Taylor and had already been determined to declare war. The portrayal of Mexico as the aggressor only served to publicly justify further acts of war.
To prevent opposition from Congress to his policies, Polk combined the decision to declare a state of war with a law granting funds for Taylor's army. Those who were against the war had to vote against the support of their own troops. Polk also ensured that deliberations on the law had to be completed in two hours. Much of this time was spent reading out a message from the President, and it was only at the very end that the declaration of war was made. A debate was thus prevented. The United States Whig Party politicians spoke out against the war (advocating a policy of peaceful expansion) but did not want to vote against support for the troops. Only 14 out of 190 congressmen refused to approve. 67 MPs had voted against the joint vote on the financing of Taylor's army and the declaration of war. The Senate, which also set only a short time frame for the debate, voted 40 to 2 in favor of adoption, and so President Polk signed the law on May 13, 1846. Most influential church officials also spoke out in favor of the war, or at least did not turn against it. A well-known exception was the Baptist Reverend and President of Brown University , Francis Wayland.
Mexico could, because of the tense situation between the United States and Great Britain due to the Oregon question , raise hopes of a war between the two powers. The Californian junta of Monterey , which wanted to keep Alta California out of the war by splitting off from Mexico, also hoped for British protection. However, after the Oregon Compromise was negotiated , which was ratified in June 1846, the border disputes were settled peacefully. Peace with the British in the north gave President Polk a free hand in the south and west to wage a war of conquest against the Mexican provinces of Alta California and Nuevo Mexico .
Course of war
After the opening of hostilities with the siege of Fort Texas , General Taylor met on May 8, 1846 at the Battle of Palo Alto with his 2,300 men on 4,000 Mexicans under General Mariano Arista . The Mexicans lost and withdrew, pursued by Taylor. The next day the battle of Resaca de la Palma broke out . The Mexicans were beaten again and withdrew in a disorderly manner across the Rio Grande. If Taylor had followed suit, he might have captured Arista's demoralized army. Taylor had made no preparations for a river crossing and so the Mexican units escaped.
Meanwhile, Congress had declared the conflict between Mexico and the United States a state of war. The strength of the US Army was increased from 8,500 men to 15,540 and the President was given the right to enlist 50,000 volunteers. Polk and General Winfield Scott , the commander in chief of the American armed forces, agreed three lines of attack into Mexican territory. General Taylor was to advance to Monterrey via Matamoros . Brigadier General John E. Wool was supposed to advance from San Antonio to Chihuahua , but was later diverted from Parras to Saltillo . Colonel Stephen W. Kearny was to occupy San Diego, California , from Fort Leavenworth via Santa Fe . This was followed by another advance under the command of Colonel Alexander Doniphan , who was to march via Chihuahua to Parras. A landing at Veracruz was not planned until later.
The severe military defeats, the occupation of parts of northern Mexico and his sympathy for a monarchy led to a turn in public opinion against President Paredes. The liberal federalist Valentín Gómez Farías , who had briefly held the office of president several times in the past under Antonio López de Santa Anna, agreed to replace Paredes with ex-president Santa Anna, who was in Cuban exile. General José Mariano Salas entered Mexico City in August 1846, supported by army units, and restored the federal constitution of 1824 , which had been replaced by Santa Anna itself in 1835 for a centralized constitution, the Siete Leyes . Santa Anna was allowed to go through the blockade by the Americans against the promise to show a willingness to compromise on the question of the assignment of territory and was elected president for the sixth time by the Mexican Congress in December 1846. As between 1833 and 1835, Gómez Farías became Vice President. The United States hoped that Santa Anna would return home to replace the anti-American Paredes and a favorable peace treaty or a destabilization of the situation in Mexico.
Santa Anna took command of the army in the field, while Gómez Farías, serving as president for the fifth time in his absence, nationalized pesos 15 million worth of church property to raise funds urgently needed for the war. The church protested, and in late February 1847 a military revolt broke out in the capital. Santa Anna returned to Mexico City on March 21, deposed Gómez Farías and reversed the nationalization in return for a Church guarantee of 1.5 million pesos credit. During this process, Scott ended up with Veracruz.
The conquest of the northern provinces of Mexico
Taylor advanced via Camargo on Monterrey and reached the city on September 19, 1846. Monterrey had been fortified and was defended by 7,000 men. On September 21, General Taylor opened the Battle of Monterrey . On September 24th, the Mexicans requested a ceasefire and withdrew. Taylor occupied Saltillo to the west, which dominated the only usable road that he could use for an advance on Mexico City . The Mexican government had hoped to limit the fighting to the border areas of the country, but had to give up after the defeat at Monterrey.
After General Wool learned that Chihuahua was not being defended by the enemy, he united with Taylor's army in December, with Taylor's permission. Meanwhile, Washington had decided to land at Veracruz. Taylor was ordered to hand in 8,000 men for it. They were shipped to the mouth of the Brazos River and Tampico - the city had been captured by the US Navy on November 14, 1846. Scott ordered Taylor to retire to Monterrey. But he ignored the order and moved 4,650 of his 7,000 men 29 kilometers south of Saltillo. Another 322 kilometers south, Santa Anna assembled an army of 20,000 men. Taylor found the desert area impassable and expected Santa Anna to turn to the expected landing at Veracruz. On the morning of February 22nd, 1847, the Battle of Buena Vista began . The battle was a narrow victory for Taylor and ended the endangerment of the lower Rio Grande by the Mexican troops.
The advance of Kearny and Doniphan
Even before the outbreak of war was Brevet - Captain John Charles Frémont , with no known authorization from the US government appeared in California. When the so-called bear flag revolt of the US settlers against Mexican suzerainty broke out, he joined them. On July 4, 1846, California proclaimed its independence after minor fighting with Mexican settlers under the command of General Jose Maria Castro.
Colonel Kearny left Santa Fe on September 25, 1845 and reached San Diego in December 1846 after a battle near San Pascual , but found that the ports had already been occupied by the Navy under Commodore John Sloat . A Californian uprising was put down with the Battle of San Gabriel on January 8, 1847.
Colonel Doniphan encountered Mexican resistance at Brazito, but was able to cross the Rio Bravo at El Paso and defeated Mexican militia at Chihuahua a week after the Battle of Buena Vista. On May 22, 1847, he merged with Wool at Buena Vista. Thus, until March 1847, the northern provinces of Mexico were firmly in the hands of the United States.
Landing at Veracruz
From Lobos Island, 80 kilometers south of Tampico, General Scott sailed with 13,660 men towards Veracruz. On the evening of March 9, 1847, Scott began three miles south of Veracruz with the largest amphibious landing in US Navy history. Over 10,000 soldiers were landed in four hours while Gómez Farías' nationalization of church property had just sparked a power struggle in Mexico City.
On March 22, 1847, General Scott took Veracruz under fire. Five days later the 4300-strong crew surrendered. General Scott feared the upcoming yellow fever season and wanted to leave the beach as soon as possible. On April 8, a first division under Brevet Major General David E. Twiggs with 2,600 men moved into the Mexican highlands and, four days later, encountered a 12,000-strong army under General Santa Anna in a skirmish. Two days later, Scott reached him with reinforcements that brought the army to 8,500 men.
Battle of Cerro Gordo
Scott and Santa Anna met on April 18, 1847 at the Battle of Cerro Gordo . The Mexicans suffered defeat. Seven volunteer regiments were out of service and Scott's army shrank to 5,820 men. Scott advanced anyway and took Puebla without a fight on May 15 . Here he waited until August for reinforcements and the outcome of the peace negotiations. After the army now had a manpower of over 10,000 thanks to the reinforcements and the peace negotiations had failed, the further advance began.
Advance on Mexico City
On August 7, 1847, the troops withdrew to attack Mexico City and reached Ayotla without a fight. The road ahead, which reached Mexico City from the east, was secured by strong fortifications, and so Scott decided to bypass the capital to the south and attack from the west. At Contreras , the US troops encountered Mexicans under the command of General Gabriel Valencia and defeated them in the battle of the same name. Although Scott immediately followed up, Santa Anna managed to gather his troops at the Churubusco Bridge . On August 20, 1847, Scott forced the transition with heavy losses.
At Santa Anna's request, a truce was agreed to resume peace negotiations. After two weeks, the negotiations were broken off and Scott resumed the attack on Mexico City. The Chapultepec Castle protected the western entrance to the city and had to be taken first. On September 8th, the cannon foundry El Molino del Rey was taken in preparation. The attack on Chapultepec began on the morning of September 13th . The lock fell quickly and General Scott immediately ordered the attack on the city. By nightfall, US troops had taken control of two city gates. After house-to-house fighting, the capital surrendered on September 14th. On September 16, Santa Anna resigned as president and left Mexico.
The US troops now exercised military rule for two months and set up a liberal city council in Mexico City. When the Mexicans under Manuel de la Peña y Peña had formed a government in the unoccupied part of Mexico with which negotiator Nicholas Trist was able to negotiate, he received an order from Washington to break off the talks and resume the fighting. Scott and Trist decided to continue negotiating as they believed they were on the verge of reaching an agreement.
Reasons for the Mexican defeat were, among other things, a strong regionalism, which arose from the rugged geography of the country and made contact between the individual parts of the country very difficult and specified large differences in the resources available as well as large differences between the individual social classes and ethnicities ( Criollos , Mestizos and Indians) of Mexico. The division of the Mexican leaders made it impossible to take joint action against the attackers. The lack of combat readiness among the pressed soldiers and the dispossessed population contributed to the military weakness. There was also a lack of money, training and equipment in the Mexican army.
Mexico had no navy to speak of, the only two ships of importance, the Moctezuma and the Guadaluppe , had been given to British traders when the fighting broke out. This was to prevent their capture by the superior United States Navy . The Home Squadron of the US Navy under Commodore David Conner was able to block the ports along the Gulf of Mexico without much resistance . The port of Ciudad del Carmen was an exception, as the Yucatán was in revolt against central Mexican power. Aside from landing at Veracruz, there was little she could do to aid the fighting.
On June 15, 1846, the Mexican government declared the pirate war , but the call was ineffective. After unsuccessful attempts to secure the Río Papaloapan at Alvarado , Commodore Matthew Perry decided to venture a raid on Villahermosa . The city was occupied on October 23, but abandoned the next day. On November 12, 1846, Tampico, the second largest Mexican port on the Gulf, was captured. Tampico could now be used to ship part of Taylor's army for landing at Veracruz. On December 21, 1846, Ciudad del Carmen was still occupied to prevent the delivery of contraband to Mexico. The Home Squadron's largest operation remained the landing at Veracruz on March 9, 1847, the first major amphibious landing in US Army history.
After much hesitation by Commodore Sloat, fighting began in the Pacific on July 7, 1846 with the occupation of Monterey by 225 seamen and marines . On July 9, a landing took place at Yerba Buena, today's San Francisco . The two main ports of California had been taken without a fight. On July 23, 1846, Sloat turned command to Robert Field Stockton . On October 13th, he occupied Los Angeles from land. Stockton's plans to land at Acapulco were not carried out. On July 19, 1847, Commodore William B. Shubrick took command of Stockton. Shubrick dispatched Lieutenant Samuel Francis Du Pont with the Cyane to disrupt trade in the Gulf of California . Du Pont made a small landing at Guaymas and blocked Mazatlán until the city was finally captured by landed troops on November 10, 1847.
Assaults and desertions
The first war crimes occurred after the Battle of Monterrey . After the fighting, a US soldier shot and killed a Mexican lancer. Since courts-martial had no authority over cases that would be heard by civil courts in the United States, Taylor had already prepared a bill in May 1846 to remedy this situation. However, Congress took no further action. When Taylor asked what to do about the murdered Lancers case, Secretary of War William L. Marcy replied that he should remove the perpetrator from the army. Mexicans complained that US soldiers could kill with impunity.
Assaults against the civilian population continued. General Wool complained especially about the existing volunteer Arkansas - Regiment , which was responsible for the worst violations. When soldiers insulted women at the Agua Nueva estate on Christmas 1846, locals murdered a US soldier. In retaliation, about 100 members of the Arkansas regiment went out and shot at Mexicans until other US soldiers could intervene. A commission of inquiry found four murdered, while eyewitnesses spoke of 20 to 30 dead. The commission had only succeeded in finding the guilty companies , whereupon General Taylor transferred the B and G companies back to the Rio Grande.
Guerrilla actions by Mexicans often resulted in indiscriminate reprisals. Another problem was laid-off volunteers who pillaged , raped, and murdered on their way back to the United States . Volunteers who marched back in formation were less involved in acts of violence. The Texans were particularly inglorious. On March 28, 1847, Texas Rangers murdered 24 Mexicans for a raid on US troops five weeks ago.
After the official end of the war there was still some fighting. In September 1847, Brigadier General Joseph Lane released his 1,700-strong contingent in retaliation for the murder of a major by a civilian in Huamantla . The soldiers looted and destroyed the city, murdered and raped. This was the only incident in which a large unit of US soldiers was involved. Some attacks against the population were punished; Major General Robert Patterson had several convicted Americans executed as a deterrent .
As soon as Taylor's army reached the Rio Grande, soldiers began to desert and flee across the Rio Grande. This is often attributed to encouragement from the Mexicans, but the reason for this was the possibility of escape into hostile territory. Service in the army was arduous, not socially respected, and poorly paid. The Mexicans tried to recruit deserters to the Batallón de San Patricio . The majority of the deserters were believed to be immigrants and Catholics. The Mexicans also tried to encourage desertions. Pedro de Ampudia called on the US soldiers to desert on April 2, 1846. The Mexicans offered 129.5 hectares of land to any deserter who would acquire Mexican citizenship .
After the Battle of Churubusco , 85 members of the San Patricios were taken prisoner. These were tried on August 28, 1847 by two courts-martial in the Mexico City area under brevet - Colonel Bennet Riley in San Angel and Brevet-Colonel John Garland in Tacubaya . Garland sentenced 36 men to death by hanging , two more to death by shooting and three to 50 lashes. Riley hanged everyone. Scott reduced the sentence from seven men to 50 lashes and waived two of their sentences. The rest were hung in different places and days. A total of 9,207 soldiers deserted, of which 3,876 were volunteers.
On February 2, 1848, the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo , in which the Mexicans against the receipt of 15 million dollars (in today's purchasing power around 500 million US dollars) and the assumption of Mexican debts with Americans the Rio Grande accepted as the border of Texas and ceded an area of 1.36 million km², which includes the present-day states of Arizona , California, Nevada , Utah and parts of Colorado , New Mexico and Wyoming in the west . The United States now stretched from ocean to ocean. Mexico lost almost half of its national territory as a result of the assignments. However, only 1-2% of the Mexican population lived in these areas and at the time there were few known natural resources. Thus, the loss of territory had no effect on the Mexican economy. The Mexican negotiators were able to defend themselves against further claims concerning the assignment of Baja California . A small portion of New Mexico and Arizona was acquired through the Gadsden purchase in 1853 . The last US soldiers left Mexican soil on August 1, 1848.
The war had been rejected by many politicians. Among them were men like Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Stephens . The philosopher Henry David Thoreau justified his refusal to pay taxes with war and slavery and in response wrote his essay On the Duty to Disobey the State , in which he stated that citizens can, under certain circumstances, refuse to obey the state . The American Peace Society founded a pacifist magazine that published eyewitness accounts of the horrors of war.
The question of whether slavery should be extended to the conquered territories divided the parties. Jefferson Davis was already speaking out in favor of dissolving the Union at this point in time. The Wilmot Proviso was put to the vote for the first time as early as 1846 . It stipulated that slavery could not be introduced in the conquered areas, but had been rejected several times. A dispute about slavery ignited him, which led to the first calls for secession . It was not until the compromise of 1850 that the danger of the southern states seceding was ended for a short time. Among other provisions, the compromise envisaged admitting California as a free state to the Union, while the Utah and New Mexico Territories could decide for themselves whether they wanted to allow slavery. Aside from these political difficulties, huge areas now had to be explored, secured and developed - the Oregon Compromise had left a large area to the United States in June 1846. In terms of foreign policy, the war damaged the reputation of the United States in Latin America . Initially perceived as a role model, the United States now appeared in a worse light.
In total, the United States lost 12,876 men, 11,155 of them to disease. The Mexican losses were much higher. During the war the telegraph and anesthesia using ether were used for the first time . The use of missiles decreased because of the bad experiences during the war. Many later generals of the Civil War gained their first experience on the battlefields of Mexico, including Robert E. Lee , William T. Sherman , George McClellan , Joseph Hooker , Ulysses S. Grant , George Edward Pickett , James Longstreet , George Gordon Meade , Winfield Scott Hancock and Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson . From 1847, war veterans in the US Army received 160 acres of land in return for their service, but because of their precarious financial situation, many had to give the land to speculators for a very low price of less than $ 50 (in today's purchasing power less than US $ 1,670 -Dollars) sell again.
The Niños Héroes
The Niños Héroes ( Spanish for “heroic children”) are five cadets and a lieutenant from the military academy in Chapultepec Castle between the ages of 13 and 19, who are still remembered in Mexico. They were killed while defending the castle in the Battle of Chapultepec . They are Juan de la Barrera, Juan Francisco Escutia, Francisco Márquez, Augustín Melgar, Fernando Montes de Oca and Vicente Suárez Ferrer.
Two monuments were erected in their honor: in 1879 a small obelisk at the foot of Chapultepec Hill, where Juan Escutia's body was found; Also at the foot of the hill is a large monument erected in 1947, consisting of six columns. It contains the remains of the six children and Colonel Felipe Santiago Xicoténcatl.
In 1994 and 1995 a 50 peso commemorative coin was minted in honor of the children. For many years they also appeared on the 5000 peso note. A station on the Mexico City subway , Niños Héroes, is named after them.
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