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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 25: WAR WITH MEXICO

As early as the late 1830’s, for most Americans the idea of a war with Mexico was appealing. A war promised that settlers in California and Texas would be rid of Mexican domination once and for all. Most of all, for those in Washington, this was the chance to expand US territory on the North American continent.

The stick that jabbed Congress to awareness was a genuine fear of British intervention. If Texas became a separate nation, England and France would quickly establish relationships with that new country. What was more frightening, it might give those countries an opening to bring foreign troops back to America and work its will on the still weak United States.

To add to the mix of reasons for the war, and popular feeling in the South, the average southern slave-owner believed if the United States could acquire a vast new territory on its borders from a weak and disorganized Mexico that territory should become slave territory. The decision was made.

American leaders told Steven Austin that it was time for Texans to revolt from Mexican control. They whispered in his ear that Texans must declare their independence. Sam Huston delivered that same message to Austin and the secret imperative came right from President Andrew Jackson. Soon after, in 1844, Sam Huston fought and defeated the Mexican army at San Jacinto and Texans declared their independence.

The separate country of Texas posed a sticky dilemma for, both, the Pro-slavers and for the Abolitionists. If Texas became a separate country the new Republic of Texas would form alliances with other countries. Those alliances might be against United States interests… and one of those ‘interests’ was slavery. England and France had not only abolished slavery, but also wanted an end to slavery in the United States. France and England might give the new country of Texas their support and that could mean a second war with English troops at the United States back door. The choice was clear to Congress and to the President. The United States must annex Texas and make it a State, with or without slavery.

In 1845, on 11 May, President Polk sent a war message to Congress. Before a packed house in Congress the President asserted “Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory, and she has shed American blood on American soil.” 

Congress declared war. Fifty thousand men were called up to fight and the regular army was increased to thirty thousand. A week later, the Mexican general, Arista, evacuated Matamoros and made ready for the American attack. Four days later it happened. America invaded Mexican territory by sea at the Port of Vera Cruz, and, in reprisal, the Mexican Ulna Fortress began bombarding General Scott’s ships.

It was a short war as wars go. General Winfield Scott landed at Vera Cruz with 12,000 men. When Scott demanded surrender the Mexicans refused. Scott bombed the port city for four days, concentrating his guns on the Castle of San Juan de Ulna and by the end of March, the Mexicans had wearied. They surrendered Vera Cruz. Thereupon Scott marched on Mexico City where Santa Ana waited with 12,000 soldiers.

In Mid-March, 1847, Scott attacked Mexico City as Santa Ana waited with 36,000 men and 100 pieces of artillery. More Americans kept arriving. Leaving a small detachment of five hundred soldiers at Puebla, General Scott advanced on Mexico City entering by three roads each guarded by rocky hills and each well-fortified.

On one of those roads, El Pinon, 51 guns flanked by lava fields stood on the high side with marshes bordering the other side. Large lakes southeast of the city helped to protect the city’s inner fortifications and the American advance was stopped cold. On the advice of a savvy Engineer-Surveyor, Robert E. Lee, Scott’s engineers cut a new road around Lake Chalco in a twenty-seven-mile circuitous route leading to the most vulnerable part of town.

In a macabre quirk of fate, the man who would later lead the South to a near victory in the Civil War and the man, who, for a part of the Civil War would be Lee’s opponent, Captain George C. McClellan, were now in the same U.S. Battalion.

In late February, 1848, the Treaty of Hidalgo was signed. It ended the war. Mexico lost California and also a giant chunk of territory that included Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and parts of other states. The Treaty of Hidalgo gave the American Republic a huge new Territory added to U.S.  boundaries.

Men from Lake County were a part of that war. Henry Beeson, one of the ‘Bear Flaggers and a Lake County resident, was discharged from the army four months later. Beeson, at eighty when he died in Lake County, was the last surviving member of the Bear Flag Revolt.

Next Week: Broken Treaties.

Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

e-mail: genepaleno@gmail.com

Website: genepaleno.com

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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