Zachary Taylor: Last Stand Of The Hero Of The Mexican War

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The Mexican War was a major power struggle attempting to see who would have the rights to Texas. Texas had gained its independence as a result of war during the years of 1835 and 1836. The United States, as well as other countries were willing to recognize Texas as a new country however, Mexico coldly refused to accept the Texas revolution and threatened the United States that if Texas was annexed, they would consider it an act of war.

Texas was annexed in 1845 and Mexico followed through with their threat towards the United States by retaliating against Texas. James k. Polk, the 11th president of the United States, was willing to fight for Texas without hesitation and the Mexican provinces of New Mexico and California. Texas considered the Rio Grande to be the border between them, however, Mexico disagreed and stated that it was Nueces River. President Polk agreed with Texas and ordered Brigadier General Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande to establish a military presence.

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With the authorization of the War Department, Taylor recruited 1,390 three month militiamen; however, he stopped short of the Rio Grande at Corpus Christi near the mouth of the Nueces. Polk reluctantly accepted Taylor’s position, but after being notified that his envoy to persuade Mexico to accept the Rio Grande as the border had collapsed, he ordered Taylor to the Rio Grande as a forward defensive position. Mexico, unfortunately, perceived this as an invasion and in April a Mexican commander, Major General Mariano Arista, commanded his cavalry across the Rio Grande where they ambushed two American squadrons resulting in the United States officially declaring war with Mexico on May 13th. Mexico was extremely confident they would overall win the war. They judged the United States to be politically and militarily weak, they thought the northern states would be reluctant to provide any form of assistance to the effort, they thought the slaves would take the opportunity to rebel and the Indians would look to seek revenge for their removal, the United States regular army was significantly smaller and they were certain they would receive assistance from Europe.

Despite all of this, Taylor was victorious even with his shorthanded army, inflicting 800 casualties during the first two conflicts and sustaining less than 200. Taylor, nicknamed “Old rough and ready”, rarely wore a uniform, and pulled the short straw when it came to his limited tactical and strategic ability or experience. His redeeming quality was his ability to remain calm and focused in the face of adversity. Though he was often tardy in submitting any logistical requests and Polk was unwilling to inject any finances into the program, he and Polk reached a conclusion that the logistics department was ultimately hindering their efforts. Working with what he had, Taylor was able to occupy Matamoros without a fight. He then pressed on to invade Nuevo Leon and was then assigned the objective of Monterrey.

He would officially arrive in Monterrey on September 19 and was up against General Pedro de Ampudia who had more manpower, and also had a greater amount and quality of artillery and a more promising geographical advantage. Taylor was able to coordinate simultaneous attacks from both the east and the west which on paper looked as though he would certainly be defeated. However, he was able to catch the Mexican General off guard and he fought his way into the city from September 21st to September 24th where he was able to negotiate a treaty where they would stop fighting for a period of time to allow Mexico to withdrawal. Polk was unwittingly furious with the decision to call a treaty and ordered it to be rescinded immediately. Polk, not understanding how critical the situation was in regards to Taylor losing 500 of the 6200 men he initially started with and the shortage of their ammunition, wanted the Mexican army captured and for Taylor to continue pushing further.

Reluctantly, Taylor followed his orders and proceeded forward to Saltillo. Polk rethought the strategy for Mexico and determined Taylor to be unfit for the chief command and awarded the position to Army commander Winfield Scott. Almost immediately, Scott reassigned more than half of Taylor’s men to himself. Mexican commander Santa Anna received word of the reduction in Taylor’s army and made a decision to pursue him. Taylor repositioned to Agua Nueva, disobeying Scott’s orders in order to show confidence against Commander Anna. However, once Taylor found out Anna’s army was 15,000 strong, he retreated to a position south of Buena Vista where he established a strong defensive position with only 4500 men, 90% of which had never stepped foot into battle.

On February 22nd, Taylor was asked to surrender which he graciously declined. His men fought valiantly and in the end, although all the odds were stacked against them, they were victorious. Taylor took little pleasure in this victory due to the loss of 14% of his men, but ended the war with a treaty.

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