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Frequently Asked Questions
About the U.S.-Mexican War

Click on the questions or scroll down to see the answers.

  1. When did the war begin and end?
  2. Is this the war in which the Battle of the Alamo was fought?
  3. Didn't this war involve only the people of Texas?
  4. What was the cause of the war?
  5. Wasn't the war a plot by President Polk to steal land from Mexico?
  6. Wasn't the war a plot to extend slavery?
  7. Who was "Old Rough and Ready?"
  8. Who was "Old Fuss and Feathers?"
  9. Who were the "San Patricos?"
  10. Did any Mexicans fight on the side of the U.S.?
  11. Were the U.S. Volunteers as bad as some historians claim?

When did the war begin and end?

The U.S. - Mexican War began on April 25, 1846. It ended when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848. However, fighting between Mexican guerrillas and U.S. troops continued for several months afterward. The last American troops left Mexico on August 2, 1848.

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Is this the war in which the Battle of the Alamo was fought?

No. The Battle of the Alamo was one of the major events of the Texas Revolution, which took place 1835-1836. Some people also confuse the Mexican War with the Spanish-American War of 1898 or the border conflicts with Mexican Revolutionaries that occurred durng the years 1913-1916.

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Didn't this war involve only the people of Texas?

No. Soldiers from every state in the Union served in this war.

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What was the cause of the U.S.-Mexican War?

In 1845, with the the almost unanimous consent of its citizens, the Republic of Texas was annexed by the United States. This was the underlying cause of the war. The problem was that Mexico objected to annexation, holding that Texas was still part of that country, even though Texans had fought and won their independence nearly ten years earlier and had been formally recognized as a sovereign nation by the United States, Great Britain, France, and other countries.

Some historians seek to blame the United States for the war but it was clearly the fault of Mexican leaders such as Mariano Paredes, whose unwillingness to concede the loss of Texas and whose refusal to negotiate with the United States in respect to the independence of Texas and its border pushed the two nations to the brink of war.

On April 25, 1846, after Texas joined the United States, a large body of Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande and ambushed a small group of American soldiers, killing sixteen and taking the remainder prisoner. U.S. troops under the command of General Zachary Taylor had taken up a position on the north bank of the Rio Grande in the spring of 1846, after Mexican President Mariano Paredes refused to negotiate with the United States and threatened an invasion of Texas.

By serving in the war with Mexico, U.S. soldiers were defending the right of a free people, that is the citizens of the Republic of Texas, to determine their own destiny, namely to become part of the United States.

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Wasn't the war a plot by President Polk to steal land from Mexico?

The charge that the war with Mexico was a plot to steal land from Mexico was first put forward by Whig politicians in an effort to discredit Democratic President James K. Polk and his administration. Although there is absolutely no proof to substantiate this accusation, some historians have also sought to promote this view simply because Polk had hoped to buy California from Mexico.

While it is true that the United States acquired a large amount of territory from Mexico as one of the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, it is often forgotten that the U.S. paid Mexico $15 million for this land, that the land held less than 1% of Mexico's population, that Mexico exercised very little actual control over it, and that some of its citizens were actually in favor of either British or American rule.

After the war, Mexico's treasury was depleted. There was no money to pay the millions of dollars in debts Mexico had owed private U.S. citizens for decades but Mexico had plenty of mostly unoccupied land. The territory that was acquired from Mexico constituted an indemnity for the cost of a war the United States had not sought and in return for the United States government's agreement to pay Mexico's long unpaid debts to U.S. citizens.

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Wasn't the war a plot to extend slavery?

During rhe war some Whig politicians charged that it had been masterminded by the so-called "Southern Slavocracy" as a sinister plot to extend slavery. Although no evidence existed to support this allegation, either then or now, this view has been perpetuated by a handful of historians. The charge seems all the more ridiculous in light of the fact that men from free states such as Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and New York (to name but a few), volunteered for service in the Mexican War by the thousands. It seems unlikely that they would have done so if the purpose of the war had been to extend slavery or even if they had believed that to be its purpose. It should also be noted that not one single slave state was ever created out of the territory acquired from Mexico under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

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Who was "Old Rough and Ready?"

General Zachary Taylor, a veteran military officer who was unmilitary-like in both appearance and demeanor. He led American troops to victory at Palo Alto, Reseca de la Palma, Monterey, and Buena Vista in the Northern Campaign. After the Mexican War, as the "Hero of Buena Vista," Taylor was elected President of the United States. This photo was taken when Taylor was President.

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Who was "Old Fuss and Feathers?"

General Winfield Scott, a veteran "by-the-book" officer who was alway impeccable in his military dress and manner and expected others to be the same. Scott led the invasion of Central Mexico in 1847, which culminated in the conquest and occupation of the Mexican capital by the United States Army.

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Who were the San Patricios?

The San Patricio (Saint Patrick) Battalion was a group of deserters of various nationalities, but often erroneously claimed to be of Irish descent, from the U.S. Army who joined the Mexican Army and fought against their former comrades during several battles of the U.S.-Mexican War. These turncoats were among the defenders of the convent of Churubusco when it was attacked on August 19-20, 1847 by American forces under General Winfield Scott. Following the battle, the San Patricios were taken prisoner and tried for desertion. Many were hanged. Their leader, John Reilly, was spared a death sentence because he had deserted before the official declaration of war but he was branded with a "D" on both cheeks.

In Mexico, the San Patricios are venerated as martyrs and heroes. Americans, on the other hand, generally see them as traitors who got what they deserved. To some, it seems unfair that the San Patricios have received so much attention while the thousands of Irish immigrants who served honorably in the U.S. Army have largely been ignored.

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Did any Mexicans fight on the side of the U.S.?

Yes. An entired company of native Californian lancers, led by Capt. Santiago E. Arguello, volunteered to serve with American forces under Commodore Robert Stockton. They participated in the Battles of La Mesa and Rio San Gabriel in January 1847.

Nearly 200 Mexican citizens, led by Colonel Manuel Dominguez, formed the U.S. Army's "Mexican Spy Company," that served under General Winfield Scott in Central Mexico 1847-1848. Their duties included protecting U.S. troops and wagon trains that traveled between Vera Cruz and Mexico City and providing intelligence in respect to the movement of regular Mexican troops and guerillas. In August 1847, the Spy Company took part in the battle at the convent of Churubusco,where the San Patricios (see previous question and answer above) were captured. Unlike the San Patricios however, the members of the Spy Company were not deserters. They fought for the United States because they thought the leaders of Mexico were corrupt and had abused their power.

Although only a few Mexicans actually bore arms on the side of the Americans, many more freely traded with the U.S. Army, which paid for everything it needed with cash. In general, relationships between the so-called invaders and ordinary Mexican citizens was cordial. Some soldiers formed romantic attachments to Mexican women and not a few returned home with a Mexican wife. In some cases, the discharged soldier stayed in Mexico with his spouse.

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Were the U.S. volunteers as bad as some historians suggest?

No. Unfortunately, some historians have focused on the misbehavior of a few "bad apples," leaving their readers with the mistaken impression that all the U.S. volunteers who served in the Mexican War were little better than a band of renegades. In truth, some atrocities were committed by persons on both sides. However, the number of American participants in such incidents was very small in comparison to the number of soldiers who served. (As was the number of Mexican perpetrators.) Although General Taylor and General Scott were concerned about these occurrences, both declared that depredations by U.S. volunteers were out of the ordinary. Scott estimated that out of every 100 volunteers, only 3 were troublemakers. The other 97, he said, were "honorable men."

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