Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The war with Mexico, declared on May 13, 1846, was not generally popular throughout the United States. Many in the northern states perceived it as an effort to expand the territory suitable for slavery, there­by increasing the economic and political influence of the South. Many Pennsylvanians, however, did not share what has since been characterized as the typical northern attitude. Either from patriotism or because abolitionist sentiment in the Commonwealth was not especially strong, considerable enthusiasm was aroused, taking the form of active support for the war effort.

To fight the war, the small Regular Army clearly had to be substantially augmented. Each state maintained a militia system of its own, and there were two distinct types of units existing at that time: the state militia, which existed purely to satisfy the letter of the law, and the “uniformed militia” – formally organized military units which met for regularly scheduled drill and training. These existed primarily for ceremonial purposes and to help deal with natural disasters or civil disturbances. They were enlisted solely for state service and they could not be ordered to active duty by anyone but the state’s governor, and then only for service within the state’s boundaries and for short periods of time. Consequently, the prescribed procedure to accomplish mobilization was for the President to call on the governors to provide specified numbers of troops. The members of the militia organizations were then offered the opportunity to enlist for federal service in units representing the state. Many of the uniformed militia units enlisted as a body and retained their unit identities, although in the federal service they were known as “state volunteers” (as distinct from the Regular Army units) in­stead of as militia.

Immediately following the declaration of war against Mexico, President James K. Polk called on the governors for a total of fifty thousand volunteers, to be given the option of enlisting for one year or for the duration of the war. In Pennsylvania, the word spread that the Common­wealth would provide six entire regiments, and local com­panies throughout the State hastened to send messages to Gov. Francis Shunk offering their services. The first company to volunteer was the Washington Guards of Mc­Veytown in Mifflin County, followed rapidly by the Columbia Guards of Danville, now in Montour but then in Columbia County. By June 26, barely six weeks after war had been declared, no fewer than thirty-three Penn­sylvania companies had asked to serve, and by the end of July the total had risen to ninety.

Hopes of early field duty were dashed, however, by a rumor that no Volunteer units from Pennsylvania would be needed. None in fact was mustered into service until mid-November, when the Secretary of War asked Pennsylvania to furnish one of the nine Volunteer regiments that were being formed. A month later, on December 18, a second Pennsylvania regiment was requested, and both organizations (designated respectively as the 1st and 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteers) were directed to rendezvous at Pittsburgh.

The 1st Pennsylvania Regiment, which was officially mustered into the federal service on December 15, was placed under the command of Col. Francis M. Wynkoop. The companies comprising it were as follows:

Washington Light Infantry, Philadelphia
City Guards, Philadelphia
Philadelphia Light Guards
Wyoming Artillerists, Wilkes-Barre
Washington Artillery, Pottsville
Dusquesne Grays, Pittsburgh
Jackson Independent Blues, Pittsburgh
Monroe Guards, Philadelphia
Cadwalader Grays, Philadelphia
Jefferson Guards, Philadelphia

The 2nd Regiment was mustered into U. S. service on January 5, 1847, with William B. Roberts as colonel and John White Geary as lieutenant colonel. Its ten companies were:

Reading Artillery, Reading
American Highlanders, Summit, Cambria County Columbia Guards, Danville, Columbia County
Cambria Guards, Ebensburg
Westmoreland Guards, Greensburg
Philadelphia Rangers
Cameron Guards, Harrisburg
Fayette County Volunteers, Uniontown
Independent Irish Greens, Pittsburgh
Stockton Artillerists, Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe)

During their relatively short stay in Pittsburgh both regiments procured uniforms from a local contractor which conformed to !he specifications set up by the Regular Army for infantry soldiers. While in the city all enlisted men were quartered in a huge warehouse on Water Street.

The 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers sailed down the Ohio River for New Orleans near the end of December, with the 2nd Regiment following on January 9 and 10. The famous battlefield of 1815, where Andrew Jackson had defeated the British under Gen. Edward Pakenham, was used as a campground, and it was appropriately named Camp Jackson. While the Volunteers were still trying to adjust to camp life a terrible thunder storm hit the camp. Capt. John Wilson, of the Columbia Guards, described the scene in a letter to his wife. The “water could not run off, and in the morning the water was between two and three feet deep, so that all of our trunks and baggage was floating about and the men walking around and collecting the things[.) our clothes and books & everything was wet through.”

The next day, January 24, the regiments began boarding ships in preparation for leaving New Orleans, but it was January 29 before the ships put out into the Gulf of Mexico. On February 1 and 2 the convoy ran through a storm that caused nearly all the soldiers to become sea­sick, and it took several days to recover from this malady. By Saturday, February 13, the ships were dropping anchor off the Isle of Lobos. This was a very small island located about sixty-five miles southeast of Tampico, which had been designated by Gen. Winfield Scott as his assembly point for the transports as they prepared for a landing at Vera Cruz. The men disembarked and cleared camp areas, but one shipload of troops – three companies of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment – was quarantined aboard ship due to illness among the troops.

One of the 2nd Pennsylvania soldiers who did get ashore recorded an account of his experiences in a letter to a friend.

The first night we were encamped here an alarm was given about four o’clock in the morning by the sentinel gun and the long roll of the drum, which roused us out of our slumbers quite unexpectedly, and as we had not yet received our arms, we were placed in rather an awkward situation. We were marched out on our parade ground to get ready for battle, and the company formed, when the captain seeing the situation we were placed in, ordered us to break ranks, go to our tents and arm ourselves with our pistols, knives, axes, hatchets, spades, and what­ever a man could in any way defend himself [with); but in the end it proved to be a false alarm, raised for the express purpose of trying the bravery of Pennsylvania troops, knowing that we were wholly unprepared for the battle field. Notwithstanding this, we were not found wanting, and I hope never will be while we have the honor to represent Penn­sylvania in the field of battle.

General Scott, the commander of the expedition, arrived on Lobos from Tampico on February 21, but so far as the men were concerned, camp routine continued until March 1. On that day they again boarded ships. Once more there was a delay, for it was 9:30 a.m. on March 3 before they set sail for Anton Lizardo, a small island about twelve miles south of Vera Cruz, from which the invasion would be launched.

At ten o’clock on the evening of March 9, as part of Gen. Gideon Pillow’s brigade in Gen. Robert Patterson’s division, both Pennsylvania regiments landed on the beach near Vera Cruz to take part in the investment of the city. The Pennsylvanians were positioned somewhere near the center of the siege line, helping to cut off the Alvarado Road and the city’s water supply.

The siege of Vera Cruz was primarily an affair of land and naval artillery bombardment. No pitched battles were fought, but a few skirmishes did allow the troops to get the smell of powder. On March 28, Lt. Edward E. LeClerc, of Company C, 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteers, wrote to his parents that

The day after we landed, our company had a smart skirmish with the enemy, without sustaining any loss upon our side. After receiving their fire, and giving them ours in return, the order to charge was promptly and cheerfully obeyed, and the enemy were com­pletely routed …. We have not had our clothes off for nearly three weeks, and day after to-morrow will be three weeks since my boots have been off my feet, yet never did I enjoy better health. We have not had a tent since we landed. We sleep upon the sand, with a knapsack, a log, or an exploded shell for a pillow.

The day following Lieutenant LeClerc’s letter, the Mexicans marched out of the city and stacked their arms in a formal surrender ceremony. The Americans then moved into Vera Cruz, taking up the duties of an occupa­tion force. The Pennsylvania regiments shared in the task of patrolling the streets and standing ready to maintain order.

It was not long, however, before General Scott moved his army out, advancing northwestward. After about forty miles, however, the column found further progress blocked when it reached the heavily fortified pass of Cerro Gordo on April 12.

The Mexicans had developed here what they considered to be an impregnable series of breastworks and sheltered artillery batteries. By these works they were able to make the main road through the pass useless to General Scott’s brigades. Three batteries lay just to the south of the road; but about a mile to the west, and across the road, was the key to the Mexican position, a defensive line located on an eminence called El Telegrafo. Beyond this, another half to three-quarters of a mile away, was the town of Cerro Gordo, guarded by two more batteries and additional troops.

Through excellent reconnaissance, the American engi­neer officers were able to find a mountain path leading away from the road and coming up behind El Telegrafo. Hence, on April 18 four brigades assaulted these positions north of the road, completely routing the Mexican de­fenders. General Pillow’s brigade, however, was given the task of taking the three eastern batteries of the Mexican defenses. The attack was successful despite the confusion existing between regiments as to their rightful positions. The 2nd Pennsylvania was the third regiment in line of march, behind the 2nd Tennessee and 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers, and it came under fire from the enemy position as it made its way toward the objective. It was never ordered to attack, however. The three Mexican batteries, realizing their predicament, surrendered before such an advance was necessary. The 1st was unable to get into assault position before the Mexicans gave up.

On the day following the battle Pillow’s brigade moved into camp three miles west of Jalapa.

While the force was at Jalapa the one-year term of enlistment ended for a number of volunteer regiments from Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, and Tennessee, and these troops left for home on May 5. This left only the two Pennsylvania regiments which had originally enlisted for the war’s duration, and two new regiments, which were coming up as replacements. These four were regrouped into a new brigade, consisting of the 1st and 2nd Penn­sylvania, the 2nd New York, and the South Carolina regiment under Brig. Gen. John A. Quitman.

On May 6 the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment was assigned the mission of garrisoning Jalapa, so the men marched from their camp into the city and took up residence in the old Mexican barracks. It was during this period that numerous instances of disease were first noted. It continued to erode the ranks of the army until the troops returned to the United States.

While the 2nd Pennsylvania remained at Jalapa, the 1st Pennsylvania moved with the rest of the brigade to Perote to garrison that city. Meanwhile, the main body of Scott’s army moved on to Puebla, with headquarters being set up there on May 29. General Scott decided to consolidate his forces for the move on the capital, so both Pennsylvania regiments were ordered to accompany General Pillow when he came up from Vera Cruz with his fresh troops. This force numbered about two thousand and was made up of new recruits to replace the Volunteers whose terms had expired. The march to Puebla, which was reached on July 8, took the men through Tepeya­hualco, Birayes, Ojo de Aqua, El Pinal, Acajete, and Amozoc.

A month was spent in this place while General Scott tried to shape up the new recruits for the hard work that lay ahead. Among the newly arrived volunteers were two Pennsylvania companies, from Bedford and Crawford counties, which joined the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment on August 7. The next day Quitman’s command set out toward the capital. At this point, however, the 1st Pennsylvania was detached, remaining behind as the garrison of Puebla, continuing in this capacity until the war’s end.

As for the 2nd Pennsylvania, it moved about twenty-one miles in the first two days out of Puebla, camping the second night near San Martin at the foot of Mt. Popocatepetl. Thie men marched twenty-two more miles on August 20 and slept in the rain and mud at Rio Frio. The next day they crossed over the mountains and entered the beautiful valley in which Mexico City lies, camping that night near Buena Vista (not to be confused with the Buena Vista in northern Mexico where Gen. Zachary Taylor had won a major victory on the previous February 23). Here they remained until the march resumed on August 15, when they moved as far as Chalco, on the east bank of Lake Chalco. On the sixteenth they pressed south and then west along the lakeshore, following a narrow, marshy road through Ayocingo, to the village of Capa at Satalco. The following day saw them march about five mites more to San Gregorio, near Lake Xochimilco. The regiment moved again on the eighteenth, camping within one mile of San Augustin, which they entered the next day.

As General Scott decided to use San Augustin as his supply depot, he left the 2nd Pennsylvania there to guard it. According to his official report, he considered this the potential “post of Honor.” The rest of the army moved out and, between August 19 and September 8, won a succession of victories at Contreras, San Antonio, Churubusco, and Molino del Rey.

On September 8, while the main force was smashing the Mexican defenders at Molino del Rey, the 2nd Pennsylvania was ordered to leave San Augustin and march to Los Angelos. During the night of the eleventh they moved up to Tacubaya, barely three miles southwest of Mexico City. Operating in support of Capt. Simon H. Drum’s artillery battery, they encountered skirmishing throughout the next day.

At about 9:00 a.m. on the thirteenth Quitman’s division, including the 2nd Pennsylvania, advanced from the south to assault the citadel at Chapultepec. The troops moved a short distance up the Tacubaya Road, then about twelve hundred yards across a cornfield and meadow. Although under heavy fire the entire time, they quickly took the Mexicans’ outer works. In conjunction with the other units of Quitman’s division and Pillow’s division, they then charged and took the inner works, capturing several cannon and numerous prisoners. The men hardly had time to catch their breaths before they were ordered forward again, this time against the fortified, stone Gareta de Belen. The Pennsylvanians were able to take two Mexican batteries and move inside the Gareta, but here the advance was halted: darkness was falling, and the Mexican position in the citadel seemed impregnable. Alt through the night fire from the Mexicans in the citadel kept Quitman’s men pinned down; but when daylight arrived, the city formally surrendered to General Scott. Thus, on September 14, the Pennsylvanians joined the conquering army, which marched triumphantly into the city.

The 2nd Pennsylvania spent the next three months in Mexico City, engaged in guarding and patrolling various parts of the town. Late on the night of October 3 Colonel Roberts died, and Lieutenant Colonel Geary assumed regimental command. On November 1 the regiment was assigned to General Worth’s division, with which it would remain until its return to Pennsylvania.

Regimental elections were held for the 2nd Pennsyl­vania early in November. Among other advancements was John W. Geary’s promotion to colonel on November 3.

The regiment finally left Mexico City and arrived at San Angel on December 19. There it was quartered in a fine old convent and fell into a routine of garrison duty which con­tinued uneventfully until late May, when the decision was made to schedule both Pennsylvania units for return home.

In keeping with this plan, the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment departed from San Angel on May 30 and headed for the coast, arriving at Vera Cruz sometime in mid-June. The 1st Pennsylvania left Puebla at about the same time, and both regiments boarded the ships, which sailed in convoy, arriving at New Orleans at the end of June. By July 20 all but a few stragglers had reached Pittsburgh. There, com­pany officers turned over all arms and equipment to federal authorities, the men were formally mustered out of the United States service, and the individual units returned to their home areas where parades, speeches, and banquets waited to welcome them as heroes.

Pennsylvania bore its fair share of the soldier’s burden during the Mexican War. Not counting the many who served in Regular Army units, the State provided 2,464 men in the two regiments. Of these, 212 suffered disabilities which required their early discharge, 28 were killed in battle, 10 died of wounds, 199 died of disease, and 182 deserted.

Often since 1846 it has been claimed that the Mexican War was a conflict which drew primarily southern support. We can see from the foregoing facts, however, that Penn­sylvania also supported the war effort. Furthermore, this support was not localized, for the soldiers who went to the war came from many areas of the State, providing a significant if frequently overlooked illustration of the consistency and enthusiasm with which Pennsylvanians have rallied to uphold the nation in times of stress and struggle.


Randy Hackenburg is the Assistant Curator at the U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.