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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR. Many of the 10,000 people living in Cleveland in 1846, and citizens of northern Ohio generally, were not inclined to support the objectives of the U.S. in the War with Mexico or to volunteer for military service. Viewing the conflict as a pure and simple plot to extend slavery, they opposed both the war and its perceived objectives. It is not surprising, then, that the war's consequences were much more dramatic in the world of politics than in military legend or economic effects.

The war began with a skirmish between U.S. and Mexican army units in the disputed region between the Nueces and the Rio Grande rivers in Texas in May 1846. Congress approved the resolution for war on 13 May. Recruitment of volunteers for service proceeded very slowly in Cleveland, compared to other Ohio cities. A recruiting station and "Military Depot" was opened in late April; by early June, a contingent of volunteers had elected its officers: D. L. Wood, capt.; Levi Rhodes, 1st lt.; Chas. Rhodes, 2d lt. This unit expected to leave Cleveland for Camp Washington, near Cincinnati, via the canal on 12 June, but orders arrived from Columbus for the corps to remain in Cleveland. It had been "organized too late to be accepted into the service of their company," and evidently it was soon disbanded. Meanwhile, Gen. Zachary Taylor led American troops into northern Mexican provinces and to victory at Buena Vista in Feb. 1847; another army moved into New Mexico, captured Santa Fe in Aug. 1846, and then marched to and occupied California. If Cleveland men participated in either campaign, it was as individuals, not as a "Cleveland" contingent. Some men recruited from Cleveland were sent to the 5th Infantry at Newport, KY, and from there to Mexico, but reliable information is lacking about their numbers or experiences.

The city's organized militia companies--the CLEVELAND GRAYS, the Light Artillery, and the newly formed German Guards--remained in the area. Their wartime activities extended no further than parades on the 4th of July and summer encampments at Camp Wayne, near Wooster, OH, in 1846 and in Chicago in 1847. The only organized unit formed from city volunteers was jointly raised in Cleveland and Cincinnati in the spring of 1847, after Gen. Winfield Scott had landed at Vera Cruz and begun his march inland toward Mexico City. On 21 Apr., Capt. John S. Perry led 84 men he had recruited into Co. H, 15th U.S. Infantry Regiment, to Cincinnati. Joined there by additional men, they eventually arrived in Mexico to become part of Scott's forces. Statistics are far from exact, but it appears that Co. H rostered 103 privates in addition to its 4 officers, 12 sergeants and corporals, and a musician. There were 33 deaths recorded (although only a few are identified as deaths in or from battle) in these identified places: Chepultepec, Cherubusco, Cuanaraca, Mexico City, Perote, Pueblo, and Vera Cruz. Twelve men were discharged for medical disabilities; 2 were discharged for, unrecorded reasons; 4 were listed as absent after being sick. Military activities virtually ended in Oct. 1847. The peace treaty was signed 2 Feb. 1848 at Guadalupe-Hidalgo; the U.S. ratified the treaty on 10 Mar. The men remaining with Co. H returned to Ohio the following August.

In marked contrast with the Civil and the Spanish-American wars that followed, there was very limited city-based celebration of the participants or their exploits. Even before the outbreak of hostilities, during the time when annexation of Texas was a national political issue, it was apparent that Cleveland and northern Ohio generally viewed expansion of the U.S. into Mexican-claimed lands as a conspiracy of slaveholding southerners to increase their territory and national political power. When war came, most Democrats nominally supported the Polk administration (even if they did not enlist for service), while the Whigs divided into 2 antiwar groups: one group believed that opposition to the war should not continue once war was declared, no matter how misguided the president might be. The more radical Whig group refused to support the war because of its "immoral" purposes. Led by such men as Congressman JOSHUA GIDDINGS†, they endorsed the Wilmot Proviso, which would have banned slavery in any territories gained as a result of the war. Giddings would find himself unable to support the Whig candidate for president in 1848 (Gen. Taylor, a slaveholder) and moved to the Free-Soil party.

A legacy of the war was the permanent shift in political sentiment away from the Democrats and Whigs toward the Liberty, the Free-Soil, and eventually the Republican parties. In 1848, the year the war ended, Cuyahoga County voted 1,776 for Whig Zachary Taylor, 2,368 for Democrat Lewis Cass, but--surpassing both in total votes--2,594 for ex-president Martin Van Buren, the candidate of the Liberty and Free-Soil groups. (Similar returns were recorded for Ashtabula, Geauga, and Lorain counties.) Politics was one arena for disputing the war and its aims; the city's religious groups provided another. On 23 June 1846, a large meeting of citizens at the Wesleyan chapel approved resolutions condemning the war "with abhorrence and indignation," and extending thanks to the 14 congressmen who voted against declaring war. Most outspoken in opposition to the war were the Old School PRESBYTERIANS, CONGREGATIONALISTS, Unitarians, and Quakers. Unlike the War of 1812, which preceded this conflict, or the Civil War which followed, the Mexican War seemed to have only adverse economic consequences in Cleveland. The war was especially blamed for the difficulties in securing financing for the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad. Government borrowing for war purposes was believed to have drained risk-capital funds that otherwise might have been attracted to the venture. With no apparent economic "boom" resulting from the war, with divided churches and political parties, it is not, surprising that the Mexican War enters the annals of the city's past in only minimal fashion. Cleveland residents viewed it as by far the least popular of the nation's 19th-century wars.

Carl Ubbelohde

Case Western Reserve Univ.

Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, and in the War with Mexico, 1846-1848 (1895).

Last Modified: 13 May 1998 11:00:48 AM

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