The Spot Resolution – Mexican American War
In August 1846 Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress as the Whig representative for his Illinois district and officially embarked on his national political career. When he took his seat in December 1847 he was a freshman representative he found himself in quite a quandary. Most of his supporters back home were supporters of the current Mexican-American War, Lincoln not so much.
While he was not outright opposed to the war he did question how it was being fought and the reasons why it was being fought. Sort of an early version of “I support the troops, but not the war” that has been all the rage the last twenty years by people in Washington. For Lincoln though one particular thing sort of stuck out to him. In most ways the Mexican War was fought over the disputed border between Texas, now a state, and Mexico. Tensions ran hot on both sides. It was not until a unit of the US Army was “bushwhacked’ by the Mexican Army on American soil did the war actually start-up. At least that was the story given by President Polk in 1846 when he asked Congress for a declaration of war.
Lincoln and The Spot
Lincoln decided to challenge the President’s version of events. He requested to be shown on a map the exact spot where the soldiers had been killed. The Spot Resolution, as it became known, was Lincoln’s first real taste of the national stage. It did not go over well. His own party sort of back away from any support for him. The Democrats accused him of being unpatriotic for questioning the President. The resolutions were tabled, never debated or voted upon. Lincoln only ended up serving one term in the House before retiring back to his law practice.
For the record it should be noted that the “spot” of the actual ambushed happened well inside the disputed area. So “technically” the attack happened on Mexican soil. Truth be told it was not the first, nor the last time the US went to war under questionable circumstances.
The Tulacingo Cuirassiers
During the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848) the US forces matched up against a Mexican Army that was on one hand, well-trained professional soldiers and untrained peasants on the other. While outnumbered in almost every battle the US forces were able to dominate almost every battlefield and successfully win their first war on foreign soil. Winning this war gave the United States most of the Southwest portion of the country.
One of the most colorful units of the Mexican Army was the Tulancing Cuirassiers. They were a heavy cavalry unit that saw action in many battles of the war. The chest piece (or cuirass) and helmet above belonged to one of the soldiers from that unit. In effect these men were tanks. Large, heavily armored and used for smashing into the lines of enemy infantry. Normally they would carry a long sword and two pistols.
The Tulancing Cuirassiers uniform was reportedly something spectacular. The officers (which the piece above probably belonged to) wore a sky-blue coat with crimson cuffs an collars. Their pantaloons were crimson, and most likely had a sky-blue stripe. The helmet made of solid brass with a long black horsetail plume attached. Around the base of the helmet was a band of jaguar skin. They were patterned on the classic French Cuirassier units from the Napoleonic Wars, with a bit of hometown flair.
The piece above is missing some parts and it’s a little hard to imagine what it looked like back in the day. The picture under the display gives you an idea of what the full piece looked like. The gentleman in the middle shows the entire uniform in all its glory. All in all, while not much actual protection on the battlefield, but they certainly made for some snappy dressers.
A (Santa Anna) Leg Up On the Competition
That leg in the carriage above belonged to Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. False though it may be the man who owned it is an amazing part of American History. With the nickname “Napoleon of the West” one would expect a man of great ability and military skill, but in reality you would find a politician that talked a good game who found himself as “president” over ten times none for very long.
In 1835 Texas, which at the time was a part of Mexico settled mainly by Americans (look it gets complicated) rebelled against the Mexican government. In 1836 it declared itself an independent state. Santa Anna led the Mexican army north to deal with the rebels. Along the way he stopped at the Alamo where he crushed and murdered the out numbered defenders. In April 1836 at the battle of San Jacinto the Texans defeated Santa Anna and captured him. He was forced into signing a treaty granting Texas its sovereignty.
Once that was settled he found himself facing the French, losing his leg in battle at Veracruz. That win however could not keep him in power and he was forced into exiled. Fast forward now about ten years to 1846 and the Mexican American War.
VS United States
At the start of hostilities, Santa Anna (still in exile) started communications on both sides. He promised the Mexican President that if he were allowed to return he would work with him to drive the Americans out. Meanwhile he told the Americans that if they helped put him back in power he would end the war. Even promising to sell them the Southwest. Everyone agreed to his terms. Soon found himself back in Mexico, reneging on both deals and taking power for himself.
On April 18th, 1847 the Mexican Army led by Santa Anna personally fought the US Army at Cerro Gordo and lost badly. Such was the route that soldiers from the 4th Illinois came upon Santa Anna’s carriage which had been abandoned in haste. In it they found his artificial leg, his roast chicken lunch (still warm) and $18,000 in coins. Numerous times since the war Mexico has asked that the leg be returned. Yet it still sits on display at the Illinois State Military History Museum.
Santa Anna himself was exiled after the end of the war. He passed time living in many places from Cuba to New York. Finally his incredible journey came to an end in 1876 at his villa in Mexico City.
The Mexican War is one of those often overlooked conflicts in American history, almost always overshadowed by the Civil War almost twenty years later. It is however a very important piece of history that should not be overlooked by those studying our past.
See in this conflict you get introduced to many of the major players from the next war. Grant, Lee, Sherman, Davis, Jackson, Longstreet are just a few. They are all here, though younger and perhaps a little less world-weary. It is through their eyes that the author brings the war to life.
Where many historians tend to approach the Mexican War from the top down, delving into the politics and manipulations that brought it about. Dugard instead deals with the officers and specifically those that were schooled at West Point and who shared that bond.
It is through their eyes that the war unfolds. A lust for action, and a desire to seek glory and fame, tempered only by the need to see their homes and loved ones again. The story told is not the war, but how it effected those that fought. Through out the interactions of the men you can’t help but feel a sense of foreboding as you know what the future holds for many of those that survive, and how the lessons they learned in Mexico would be applied in their only country.
Dugard tells the story well and includes many bits from the journals letters and reminiscences of the men involved. At times the writing feels a bit rushed and it seems as if there were bits glossed over. Which takes nothing away from the book, but leaves you wanting more if you are looking for the op down. If you want to get to know the men, then this is a great place to start.