by Victoria Proctor Copyright © 1999
According to U.S. Government documents published in 1848, a little more than 100,000 men
served in the armed forces of the United States during the War with Mexico. Of these, approximately
75,000 served in volunteer organizations raised by the following states: Alabama; Arkansas; California;
Florida; Georgia; Illinois; Indiana: Iowa (Mormon Battalion); Kentucky; Louisiana; Maryland and the
District of Columbia; Massachusetts; Michigan; Mississippi; Missouri; New Jersey; New York; North Carolina;
Pennsylvania: Ohio; South Carolina; Tennessee; Texas; and Virginia. The remainder served in the regular
U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, or the Marines. The number of men employed by the Quartermaster's Dept. as teamsters
or steamboat hands or the number of women who served as cooks or laundresses is presently
unknown. (Descendants of Mexican War Veterans)
SOUTH CAROLINA'S PALMETTO REGIMENT
In December 1846,
after President James K. Polk’s administration called for volunteers,
South Carolina's Palmetto Regiment was organized, providing ten companies of men from both
the professional U.S. army and volunteers. The regiment served valiantly
during the campaign in the Valley of Mexico: notably at Vera Cruz, Contreras, Churubusco,
Chapultepec, and the Gaita de Belen (a main gate into Mexico City). Many South
Carolinians who fought in the Mexican War went on to serve less than thirteen years later
in the War Between the States.
(See Roster of South Carolinians)
Battle of VERA CRUZ
Scott took Vera Cruz in March 1847 and worked his way slowly but surely, against forces always
superior to his own, up to the very gates of Mexico (August, 1847). Here he paused, by the
President's orders, to allow the Mexicans another chance to accept the terms of peace which
the United States offered. The Mexican commissioners, however, declined, and there was
nothing left for Scott to do but to resume military operations.
Battle of CHAPULTEPEC
Santa Anna defended the capital with
a force of 30,000 men, but the Mexicans were no match for the American soldiers.
Scott stormed the fortified hill of Chapultepec and advanced to the gates of the city.
On the thirteenth of September 1847, Scott's troops entered the Mexican capital and raised
the Stars and Strips over "the palace of the Montezumas.
Most volunteers and regulars served in the infantry. Only in Texas were all the regiments mounted.
The average Mexican War soldier was a young man in his late teens or early twenties. In all
likelihood he grew up on a farm and was unable to read or write. Probably, he was native-born. If he was
an immigrant, he was most likely to be Irish or German. He joined the army for adventure and glory. What
he got, in most cases, was boredom, tedium, and misery.
Of the approximately 13,000 U.S. soldiers and sailors who died in the Mexican War, only about 2,000
were killed by the enemy or died of battle wounds. The majority of deaths were caused by disease or
illness, often the result of poor sanitary conditions in camp. Yellow fever, malaria, measles, and
dysentery were the most common ailments. Nearly 10,000 men were given disability discharges before their
terms of enlistment expired. Some died before reaching home. About another 10,000 deserted (but only
a handful went over to the Mexican side).
After two years of long marches, disease and battles interspersed with long periods of
boredom, the Palmetto Regiment returned home, reduced in numbers but welcomed as heroes.
Of all the soldiers who died and were buried in Mexico, only 750 were interred in the
U.S. National Cemetery in Mexico City. These were primarily casualties of the battles in and around Mexico City
in September 1847, as well as soldiers who died during the occupation of the capital. Most U.S. soldiers who
died during the Mexican War lie buried in graves that are unmarked and forgotten.
Mexican War veterans with a service-connected disability were eligible for a federal pension of half-pay.
For a private, this amounted to $3.50 per month. The widow or orphan of a Mexican War soldier was also
eligible for this same amount.
Immediately upon discharge, Mexican War veterans were eligible for a federal bounty land warrant, redeemable
for 160 acres of land anywhere in the United States. These warrants were also redeemable for $100 in
scrip. Not a few veterans were swindled out of their warrants by unscrupulous land speculators who took
unfair advantage of returning veterans ignorant of the warrant's true worth. Many parted with their
warrant for $50 or less.
Mexican War Research
The National Archives in Washington, D.C. keeps records of individual
service on file, along with bounty land and pension records.
Some state archives also contain records relating to the Mexican War.
The holdings of some large public libraries, genealogical libraries, and regional branches of the
National Archives may include microfilmed indexes of federal records pertaining to individual service
in the Mexican War. It is suggested that you contact these before making a special trip, to be sure they
have the records you want to examine.
Copies of individual military service records, bounty land records, and pension records may be ordered
directly from the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C.
Although the majority of Mexican War veterans served in volunteer regiments raised by the several
states, those organizations were all mustered into federal service. As a result, both volunteer and regular
service records are on file in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
rather than in state archives. It was also the federal government, not the states, which awarded Mexican War
veterans bounty land warrants as a reward for their service. Additionally, it was the federal government,
rather than the states, to which veterans had to apply for disability pensions, widows pensions, orphans
pensions, and service pensions. Consequently, there may be from one to three files relating to any given
Mexican War veteran in the National Archives. The following is a brief description of what researchers
might hope to find.
MILITARY SERVICE FILES
Military Service Files are of limited use to genealogists since they rarely contain papers which would
be useful in establishing familial links. The files usually contain one or more cards stating the name of
the soldier, his rank, the identifying letter, number, or name of the military organization to which he
belonged and the date and place where he was mustered into service. The file might also reveal whether he was
killed or wounded, died in service, or was discharged for disability or some other reason. Sometimes there is
a physical description of the soldier (height, hair color, complexion, and so on) and his place of birth might
also be stated. Some soldiers were offered a cash bounty for enlisting. Payment of the bounty may be recorded
in the service file as well as payments for clothing, etc. The file's primary importance lies in establishing
that the man was indeed a veteran. Of course, this information is vital for any person who wishes to apply
for membership in The Descendants of Mexican War Veterans. The National Archives has produced an alphabetical
index of Mexican War volunteer on microfilm as well as microfilm of the regular army enlistments, and marine
corps and naval enlistments.
BOUNTY LAND FILES
Veterans of the Mexican War were eligible, upon discharge, to receive a federal bounty land warrent
redeemable for 160 acres of land anywhere in the United States. All the veteran had to do was send a request
to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., along with some proof of service, such as a
discharge certificate. Sadly, unscrupulous land speculators preyed on young, uneducated veterans who probably
did not realize the true worth of these warrants, purchasing them for as little as $25. Some received no money
at all. A number of these speculators did business in New Orleans, where many regiments were mustered out of
service. Copies of papers in the bounty land file should reveal whether or not the veteran sold his warrant or
redeemed it. If the latter, the redeemed warrant may be among the papers in the file. The discharge certificate
is also likely to be there. Both documents should be of interest to genealogists since the former will show where
the veteran settled after the war and the latter not only gives a physical description of the soldier but also
states his age and place of birth, information not always given in the service file. Unfortunately, there is no
alphabetical index to these files available to researchers in the form of either microfilm or print.
Veterans who were disabled by illness, war wounds or service-connected injuries were eligible for a federal
pension of half-pay (for a private this amounted to $3.50 per month) from the day they were discharged. Widows of
men who were killed or died in service were also eligible. Children of deceased veterans could apply for an orphan's
Service pensions were granted by an act of Congress approved January 29, 1887. Both veterans and widows
were eligible for an $8 per month pension. After the turn of the century these were increased to $12, then $20 per
month. It appears the majority of recipients applied within the first three years of the pension's availability.
Applications were accepted until 1926.
Papers found in pension files are probably the most valuable to genealogists in terms of
establishing relationships. They might also provide answers to long-held questions. Each applicant not only
had to fill out a lengthy application but also had to back up his or her claim with affidavits from witnesses.
Date and place of marriage, date and place of death, and former or present places of residence might be among
the information these papers provide.
Meyer, Jack Allen.
An Annotated Roster of the Palmetto Regiment of South Carolina in the Mexican War 1846-1848
(Winnsboro, S.C.: Greenbrier Press, 1994).
Meyer, Jack Allen.
SOUTH CAROLINA IN THE MEXICAN WAR: A History of the Palmetto Regiment of Volunteers,
(Columbia, SC: South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History)
examines the roll of the Palmetto Regiment in the Mexican War. It Looks at the formation of
the various companies that make up the Regiment, journeys with them as they march to Mobile
and across Mexico, describes the conditions under which the soldiers lived, and recalls
the regiment's actions in the battles of Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec.
Maps trace the routes the Palmettos took, rosters list both companies and individuals,
and photographs and text describe the swords and medals many of the soldiers received
at welcoming ceremonies held upon their return home.
Steven R. Butler (ed.)
A Complete Roster of Mexican War Officers, 1846-1848, Both Army and Navy
(Richardson, Texas: Descendants of Mexican War Veterans, 1994).
Steven R. Butler (ed.)
Roll of Honor: Battle Casualties of the Mexican War
Peterson, Clarence Stewart.
Known Military Dead During Mexican War 1846-1848
(Baltimore: Clarence S. Peterson, 1957).
Wolfe, Barbara (transcriber).
Index to Mexican War Pension Applications
(Indianapolis: Heritage House, 1985).
MEXICAN WAR LINKS
The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848)
PBS series web site on the history of the war and the era
South Carolina Confederate Relic Museum Exhibit
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