The Mexican-American War

The Mexican-American war produced a profound impact on the development of both the USA and Mexico. This war defined, to a significant extent, the relationships between the USA and Mexico for many decades ahead and caused the almost permanent conflicts and contradictions between these countries. At the same time, the Mexican-American War proved the fact that the USA became one of the major military and political powers in the region. In fact, it was one of the major military successes of the USA which challenged the domination of Spain and its colonies in the region. In such a way, the victory in the war gave the USA a strategic advantage in the region since local states, such as Mexico could hardly afford the military expansion of the USA. The victory of the USA showed other countries of the Caribbean region that they need to take into consideration the position of the USA and avoid conflicts with this country because of its military power and superiority compared to other countries.

At the same time, the war was important not only from the point of view of the political influence of the USA and international relations in the region and the world at large, but it was also from a purely military point of view. In actuality, Mexico became a perfect polygon where the US army and its generals could test their military potential and power. What is more important, they could test their strategies and tactics in practice, in the real military conflict and improve them. On the other hand, the view on the Mexican-American was as a military experiment is apparently erroneous. In fact, all strategic and tactical improvements made by American and Mexican armies were essential for the victory of either country in the war, while their ultimate goal was to gain the control or, at least, increase their presence and influence in the Caribbean region, while strategies and tactics were major conditions of the success and victory in the war which was gained by the USA. This is why the major battles of the Mexican-American War, such as the Battle of Monterey, the Battle of Palo Alto, the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, the Battle of Vera Cruz, the Battle of El Molino del Rey, the Battle of Chapultepec, and the Battle of Churubusco were crucial steps to the victory in the war. On the other hand, the role of military leaders of both the US and Mexican army can hardly be underestimated because Zachary Taylor, William Worth and Stephen Kearney made a significant contribution in the victory in the battles and the war at large, while Santa Anna also proved to be a gifted military leader of Mexican army which fiercely resisted to the American advancement.

The background of the Mexican-American War

The Mexican-American War started in 1846, but the beginning of the war was a logical consequence of the growing contradictions between the USA and Mexico, which eventually resulted in the open confrontation between the two countries and the overall war. Obviously, both the USA and Mexico counted for the resolution of existing contradictions and conflicts by means of the war. At the same time, it is worth mentioning the fact that a number of politically and economically significant events had forgone the beginning of the war. To put it more precisely, the major cause of the war was the annexation of Texas, which used to be a part of Mexico, but the state declared its independence and became a part of the USA. At this point, it should be said that the independence and sovereignty of Texas was recognized not only by the USA, which was the most interested party in this regard, but also by England, France and other government (Brack, 172). In such a way, Mexico had lost Texas and did not have the legal bases for the re-annexation of the state back.

Nevertheless, the Mexican government was unwilling to lose Texas because of its significant economic potential and strategically important political role because the control over the state opened the way to the control over the southern coast of the USA and the Caribbean region.

As a result, the countries started the confrontation because the conflict concerning Texas was irresolvable and the Mexican government declared that it was ready to defend its interests using all means, including the military ones. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that another cause of confrontation was a regular plundering by Mexicans southern territories of the USA. The reason for such aggressive actions from the part of Mexicans was the socioeconomic crisis because of the recent revolution in the country. In such a way, the establishment of the American control over Texas allowed the US to secure its southern borders. Eventually the bunch of problems and conflicts between the USA and Mexico resulted in the military conflict and the beginning of the Mexican American War which resulted in numerous casualties but still allowed the USA to take control over Texas and secure its border in the South of the country. In addition, the USA gain a strategic advantage in the region and became one of the leading powers in the Caribbean region due to its control over the southern coastline.

The major battles of the Mexican-American War

a. Battle of Monterey

The Battle of Monterey was the major battle after the beginning of the Mexican American War. After General Zachary Taylor entered Mexico at Matamoras, he remained there until September, waiting for further instructions from his government and reinforcements for his army. Early in September the first division of his army under the command of the General Worth moved towards Monterey, the capital of New Leon, which was strongly fortified and defended by the General Ampudia with about 9,000 Mexican troops. Taylor soon joined Worth, and they encamped within 3 miles of the city on September 19, with about 7,000 men, and on the morning of September 21 attacked the army of the enemy. Joined by other divisions of the army, the assault became general on the 23rd, and the conflict on the streets was dreadful (Henry, 211). The Mexicans fired volleys of musketry from the windows of the strong storehouses upon the invaders and the carnage was terrible (Bauer, 312). Finally, on the fourth day of the siege, Ampudia asked for the truce. It was granted and he prepared to evacuate the city. Taylor demanded the absolute surrender, which was made on the 24th, when the General Worth’s division was quartered in the city and General Taylor, granting the armistice, for eight weeks if permitted by his government, encamped with the remainder of his forces at Walnut Springs, a few miles from Monterey. In the siege of that city the Americans lost over 500 men, while the Mexican loss was about double that number (De Voto, 138). In such a way, the Battle of Monterey was the first significant victory of the US army in the Mexican American war which laid the foundation for the further successful military operations.

b. Battle of Palo Alto

Another significant battle that occurred during the Mexican-American war and which influenced the outcome of the war, was the Battle of Palo Alto, which took place on a part of prairie in Texas, about 8 miles northeast to Matamoras, Mexico. The area was flanked by ponds and covered by tall trees. General Taylor, marching with less than 2,300 men from Point Isabel toward Fort Brown, encountered about 6,000 Mexicans, led by General Arista, in 1846. At a little past noon a furious battle was begun with artillery by the Mexicans and a cavalry attack with the lance. The Mexicans were forced back, and, after a contest of about five hours, they retreated to Resaca de la Palma and encamped.

In such a way, the Mexicans were defeated and it is worth mentioning the fact that they retreated in great disorder, having lost in the engagement about 100 men killed and wounded, while Americans lost only 53 men and, what was more important, they forced the enemy to flee from the battle field. Speaking about this battle, it is worth mentioning that during the engagement Major Ringgold, commander of the American flying artillery, which did the terrible work in the ranks of the Mexicans, was mortally wounded by a small cannon-ball that passed through both thighs and the horse of the Major. He was deadly injured and died four days after the battle at Point Isabel.

c. Battle of Resaca de la Palma

The battle of Resaca de la Palma had also a very significant effect on the development of the Mexican-American War. On May 9, 1846, the little army of General Taylor, which had fought Mexicans at Palo Alto, were awakened from their slumbers on the battlefield to resume their march for Fort Brown. The General prepared for attack on the way, for the smitten for had rallied. He saw no traces  of them towards evening, when, as the Americans emerged, from a dense thicket, the Mexicans were discovered strongly posted in battle order in a broad ravine around 4 feet deep and 200 feet wide, the dry bed of a series of pools, skirted with palmetto-trees, and called “Resaca de la Palma” (Bauer, 287). Within that natural trench the Mexicans had planted a battery that swept the road over which the Americans were approaching. Taylor passed forward, and, after some severe skirmishing, in which a part of his army was engaged, he ordered Captain May, the leader of Dragoons, to charge upon the battery. Rising in his stirrups, dashed forward making his men following his lead, but he was followed by a few of his men, whose steeds made a fearful leap on the parapet. They killed the gunners and General La Vega, who was about to apply a match to one of the pieces and 100 men were made prisoners by the troops and marched in triumph within the American lines.

At the same time, the battle grew fiercer at the moment and the chaparral, an almost impenetrable thicket near, was swarming with Mexicans and blazing with the fire of their muskets. Finally, after a fearful struggle, the camp and headquarters of General Arista were captured and the Mexicans completely routed. Arista fled, a solitary fugitive, and escaped across the Rio Grande. So sudden was his discomfiture that his plate and correspondence, with arms equipments and ammunition for several thousand men felt into the hands of the Americans. The Mexicans having been reinforced during the night of the 8th it was estimated they had lost 7,000 men on the battlefield, while the Americans lost less than 2,000 men. In the result of this battle the Mexican army was broken up.

d. Battle of Vera Cruz

Another significant battle in the Mexican-American War was the Battle of Vera Cruz. In January, 1847, General Scoot reached the mouth of the Rio Grande, taking chief command, but the tardiness of the government in supplying materials for attacking Vera Cruz delayed the movement for several weeks. For this expedition General Scott assigned 12,000 men and appointed the island of Lobos, about 125 miles northwest of Vera Cruz, as the place of the troops encounter. When the troops were gathered, they sailed for Vera Cruz and landed near that city March 9, 1847. Upon the island opposite was a very strong fortress, called the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa, which the Mexicans regarded as invulnerable (Brack, 189). In fact, this Vera Cruz was considered as “the key of the country” (Rives, 156) and, therefore was strategically important for the Americans to defeat and occupy. This fortress and the city were completely invested by the Americans four days after the landing, and on March 22, the General and Commodore Conner were ready for the bombardment. Then General Scott summoned the fortress and the city to surrender. The demand was refused, when the shells from seven mortars on land were hurled upon the city. The engineering works for the siege had been skillfully prepared. The entire siege continued fifteen days, during which time the Americans fired 3,000 ten-inch shells, 200 howitzer-shells, and 2,500 round-shot (Ruiz, 315). The whole weight of the metal was about 500,000 pounds (Bill, 261). The shells did terrible damage to the city and many civilians, including children and women, became victims of the bombardment. On the morning of March 26 the commander of the post made overtures for the surrender, and on the 29th that event took place, when about 5,000 Mexicans marched out of the fortress. The city and the fortress of San Juan de Ulloa, with 500 pieces of artillery and a large quantity of munitions of war passed into the possession of the Americans. The latter, during the whole siege, had lost only eighty men killed and wounded, while the Mexicans lost 1,000 killed and many more wounded (McPherson, 218). General Scott tried to induce the governor to send the women and children and foreign residents out of the city before he began the bombardment, but that magistrate refused.

e. Battle of El Molino del Rey

The Battle of El Molino del Rey was an important event in the Mexican-American War. At the same time, to win the battle was a serious challenge to the US army because it had to take the so-called “Grasshoppers” Hill” composed of porphyritic rock. The hill was crowned with the castle and military college, supported by numerous outworks, which with the steepness of the ascent to it, seemed to make it impregnable. Only the slope toward the city was easily ascended and that was covered with the thick forest. At the foot of the hill was a stone building, with thick high walls and towers at the end, known as El Molino del Rey. About 400 yards from this was another massive stone building known as Casa da Mata. The former was used as a cannon foundry by the Mexicans and the latter was the depository of the gunpowder. Both were armed and strongly garrisoned. General Scott, at Tacubaya, ascertained that Santa Anna, while negotiations for peace were going on, sent church-bells out of the city to be cast into cannons and he determined to seize both of these strong buildings and deprive the Mexicans of those sources of strengths. He proposed first to attack El Molino del Rey, which was commanded by General Leon.

The Mexican forces at these defenses were about 14,000 men, their left wing rested on El Molino del Rey, their center forming the connecting line with Casa de Mata and supported by the field-battery and their right wing rested on the latter (Smith, 227). To the division of General Worth was entrusted the task of assaulting the works before them. At three o’clock on the morning September 8, 1847, the assaulting columns moved to the attack, Garland’s brigade forming the right wing. The battle began at the morning by Huger’s 24-pounder opening on El Molino del Rey, when Major Right of the 8th infantry fell upon the center with 500 picked men. On the left was the second Brigade, commanded by the Colonel McIntosh, supported by Duncan’s battery. The assault of Major Right on the center drove back infantry and artillery and the Mexican field-battery was captured. The Mexicans soon rallied and regained their positions and a terrible struggle ensued (McPherson, 284). El Molino del Rey was soon assailed and carried by Garland’s brigade, and at the same time the battle around Casa de Mata was raging fiercely. For a moment the Americans reeled, but soon recovered, when the large column of the Mexicans was seen filling around the right of their entrenchments to fall upon the Americans who had been driven back, when Duncon’s battery opened upon them so destructively that the Mexican column was scattered in confusion (Singletary, 185). The Sumner’s dragoons charged upon them and their rout was complete. The Mexicans had left 1,000 dead on the field. Their leaders had been slain and 800 had been made prisoners. The strong buildings were blown up and none of the defenses of Mexico outside its gates remained to them, excepting the castle of Chapultepec and its supports (Smith 267).

f. Battle of Chapultepec

In such a way, the battle of Chapultepec turned out to be, to a significant extent, the determinant battle in the Mexican-American War. When El Molino del Rey and Casa de Mata had been captured, the castle of Chapultepec remained the only defense for the city. The hill steep and rocky, rises 150 feet above the surrounding country. The castle was built of heavy stone masonry. The whole fortress was 900 feet in length and the main buildings 600 feet. The castle was about 100 feet in height and presented a splendid specimen of the military architecture of that epoch (Singletary, 192). A dome rising about 20 feet above the walls gave it a grand appearance. Two strongly built walls surrounded the whole structure, 10 feet apart and 12 or 15 feet high. The works were thoroughly armed and the garrison, among whom were expert French gunners, was commanded by General Bravo. The whole hill was sported with forts and outworks (Smith, 315).

In order to carry this strong post with minimal losses, General Scott determined to batter it with heavy cannon. Accordingly, on the night of September 11, four batteries of heavy cannons were erected on the hill between Tacubaya and Chapultepec, commanded respectively by Captains Drew, Haynes and Brooks and Lieutenant Stone. They were placed in the positions by engineer officers Huger and Lee. On the morning of September 12th these batteries opened fire, every ball crashing through the castle and every shell tearing up the ramparts (Smith, 351). The fire of the Mexicans was not less severe and this duel was kept up all the day. The next morning troops moved to assail their works at their weakest point, in two columns, one led by General Pillow and the other by General Quitman. Pillow marched to assail the works on the west side, while Quitman made the demonstration on the easterly side. Both columns were preceded by a strong party ”“ that of Pillow by 250 and Worth’s division, commanded by Captain McKenzie; and that of Quitman by the same number, commanded by Captain Carey.

Each storming party was furnished with scaling ladders. While the troops were advancing the American batteries kept up a continuous fire over their heads upon their works to prevent reinforcements reaching the Mexicans. Pillow’s column bore the brunt of the battle (Singletary, 247). It first carried out the redoubt and drove the Mexicans from shelter to shelter. At length the ditch and the wall of the main work were reached. The scaling ladders and fascines were brought up and planted by the storming parties and the works was soon taken (Singletary, 249). Meanwhile Quitman’s column had moved along a causeway, captured two batteries, a joined Pillow’s column in time to share in the work of accomplishing the final victory (Singletary, 253). Together they took the strong castle of Chapultepec and scattered its defenders in every direction. The Americans captured a crowd of prisoners of all grades, among them fifty general officers.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the Mexican-American War resulted in the victory of the USA, which defeated its opponents in all major battles. The advancement of the American troops was systematic and unstoppable since the Mexican army, which used the defensive tactic, proved to be unable to resist to the US army which took the major strategic points of the Mexican defense line. At the same time, the outcomes of the war were extremely beneficial for the USA because it had preserved Texas and, what was even more important, the USA had managed to prove that they were the one of the major powers in the region. Therefore, its position in international relations grew stronger and, as the matter of fact, the victory in the Mexican-American war paved the way to the American imperialistic ambitions and policies which became the characteristics of the US foreign policy by the end of the 19th century.

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