Heroism and Treachery at Chapultepec

Today in History, September 13, 1847:

In the midst of the Battle for Mexico City during the Mexican-American War, The US Army, US Marines, work together to storm Chapultepec Castle, and take it. It was a key defensive position for General Antonio López de Santa Anna.

While the battle itself was of importance in establishing American presence on the international stage, it is much more important in my estimation for other reasons.

Key players amongst the American forces were US Army Capt Robert E. Lee, who convinced commanding General Winfield Scott of the winning strategy, along with a young US Army Lieutenant, Pierre G. T. Beauregard. Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston fought in the battle, and George Pickett was the first soldier to top the wall of the castle. Lt. Thomas J. Jackson (Stone Wall) fought valiantly;

Lt. Ulysses S. Grant found a strategic artillery position from which to fight during the taking of Mexico City; Naval officer Raphael Semmes saw Grant’s actions and found an equal position on the opposite side of the road to cover the enemy.

Can you imagine? All of these men served together, bled together, and then in the end took up arms against each other in the Civil War over ideological differences.

Think of your very best friend…and then think about taking up arms against him. This was an enigma of the Civil War. There are countless stories of episodes where, during a lull in a battle, or after a defeat, Confederates and Unionist soldiers took the opportunity to meet and commiserate with old friends on the opposite side.

Another aspect is that the US Marines played an important part in the seizure of the castle, thus the beginning lines of the Marine Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma…”. My research also indicates that the red stripe down the side of the blue slacks of the US Marine uniform represents the blood shed by US Marines during this battle.

Also that day, the last 30 of the “Saint Patrick’s Battalion”, deserters from the US Army who served as artillery for the Mexican Army, are publicly hanged en masse…by the US Army. They had been poor immigrants who, disenchanted with their lot, were coaxed to the opposite side, making them traitors to their new nation.

Bloody Antietam’s Importance¬†


Today in History, September 17: 1862 – The Battle of Antietam during the Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee made the first of several attempts at taking Washington, DC. The Army of the Potomac met Lee’s army at Antietam Creek to defend the city. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and James Longstreet lead the Southern forces, While George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside and Joseph Hooker lead the Union forces. In 13 hours of fierce fighting, 23,000 of 100,000 combatants are killed or wounded, more in one day than all of America’s wars to that point, and the most American’s ever killed in a single day in our history. Typically, while Hooker’s and Burnside’s commands moved on their enemy, McClellan stayed in place, not engaging. The end of the battle found both armies where they were when it began. But Lee soon retreated back to Virginia. Two important consequences of the battle…it gave President Lincoln a victory that gave him the confidence to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and European powers decided against recognizing the Confederacy.

Presidential Protests are Nothing New


Today in History, August 16: 1841 – Rioters burn President John Tyler in effigy directly in front of the White House. The importance of this act is complicated and involved Tyler’s former rivals. The Bank of the United States had been in charge of the nation’s finances off and on since it was originally established during President Jefferson’s tenure. One of the major events of President Andrew Jackson’s presidency involved the bank. Jackson found the bank to be corrupt, manipulating markets and committing fraud. Jackson refused to renew the bank’s charter, preferring instead to have the nation’s moneys spread amongst many banks. Many criticized Jackson for this, including then Senator Tyler. Later President Martin Van Buren again refused to renew the bank’s charter. When Tyler became President, the Whigs thought he would renew the bank’s charter. However from his new position he was able to see what Jackson observed, and he too refused to renew the charter. Another important note in this series of events….the District of Columbia established a police force to deal with such violence after the events in front of the White House.

As an interesting aside, President Tyler had many children, who also went forth and multiplied. John Tyler was born in 1790 and still has two living grandsons. 

Thank you, Henry James Hungerford…

 

Today in History, June 27: 1829 – Strange that we should be thankful that Henry James Hungerford died childless in 1835. On this date in 1829 a British scientist who had never set foot on American soil died in Genoa, Italy. James Smithson was a wealthy man. He wrote in his will, “In the case of the death of my said Nephew without leaving a child or children, or the death of the child or children he may have had under the age of twenty-one years or intestate, I then bequeath the whole of my property… to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.”.

So thanks to James Smithson’s eccentricity, which he never explained, and the untimely death of his nephew, the US came into possession of over $500,000.00 in funds dedicated to research and learning. President Andrew Jackson sent a diplomat to receive the funds, President James K. Polk signed the bill creating the Smithsonian Institute once Congress agreed how to use the money. President Theodore Roosevelt saw to the movement of Smithson’s body from Italy to “The Castle” of the Institute in 1904. Smithson was escorted from Genoa to Washington by none other than Institute regent Alexander Graham Bell and his wife. Today the Smithsonian has 19 museums and the national zoo, including the National Aeronautics and Space Museum, the most visited museum in the world. Thank you, Mr. Smithson.