tv History Bookshelf Joseph Wheelan Invading Mexico CSPAN August 27, 2019 7:09pm-8:01pm EDT
using the free cspan app. the united states declared war on mexico, may 13th 1846. what became known as mr. polk's war resulted in more than 500,000 square miles of new u.s. territory. right now on american history tv, author joseph weilan talks about his book "invading mexico." in which he chronicles james polk's desire to acquire california through war. this is 50 minutes. . good evening, on behalf of the staff and the owners of -- books and music, i both welcome you and thank you for supporting your own independent bookstore. we're honored to have mr. joseph weiland. to discuss his book.
a graduate of the university of wyoming and the university of colorado, denver. joseph began his early stent in writing as a reporter and state editor for the casper, wyoming, star tribune. he spent the last 30 years as a reporter and editor for the denver and raleigh bureau of the associated press. mr. wieland and his wife pat now live in carrie, north carolina. in fall of 2003 he released his first book "jeffersons war, america's first war on terror" which the telegram wrote a bit of sturdy history that informs the reader about the dances of diplomacy and daily life. it was followed by the release of "jefferson's vendetta, the pursuit of aaron burr and the judiciary." which was eloquently written and smartly relieved. now his newest reless lease,
"invading mexico." join me in giving a warm welcome to mr. joseph wieland. i want to thank you for coming. and i want to thank quail ridge for inviting me to the third visit here. i really appreciate it. i'll start by talking about what the mexican war was and was not. and then i'll go into some more of the details. mexican war is one of america's forgotten wars. civil war, 15 years later, all but erased its memory. this has robbed us of insights into the origins of other wars. for example, an important ways the mexican war is a distant echo of the iraqi war. and mexico's abiding distrust and resentment of the united states can be traced to the
mexican war. mexican war also hastened the civil war. it might not have been fought if the mexican war had not opened the volatile slavery debate. now the mexican war is often confused with the texan war for independence. from mexico ten years earlier in 1836. the texas revolution is known for the battle of the alamo in san josito and the mexican war is known as polk's war. the eleventh president, james k polk, supervised it from its beginning in may 1846 to the treaty signing 21 months later. the peace treaty transferred 530,000 square miles from mexico to the united states, incredible territory. for mexico, we obtain the future states of california, new mexico, arizona, nevada,
utah and parts of colorado and wyoming. literally 42% of mexico's territory at that time. major battles fought at palo alto, monterey, and bueno vista, bear cruise, and the gates of mexico city. always out numbered, the americans won every major battle. sometimes as in buena vista, they were at a three to one disadvantage. 13,000 americans died during the war. more than 11,000 of them from disease and other noncombat causes. american officers who received their baptist of fire in the mexican war later led the armies during the civil war. among them, ulysses s granted, robert lee, william sherman, stone wall jackson, george
mcclellan and james long street. the mexican war is america's first war of invasion. it was fought on multiple fronts across thousands of miles. from the texas border to mexico city. to san francisco bay. in snowy mountains and deserts. and summer heat and winter cold. on tropical beaches and densely populated cities. general zachary taylor's army fought on the rio grande river and mexico. this is where the war started. taylor's thrust into northern mexico followed this red line. the other -- the second front that opened after about a year of the war was at bear cruise by general winfield scott. he landed here in march, 260 miles to mexico city. there are other fronts too.
john c fremont led fighting in california. general stephen carney, marched from kansas to santa fe to san diego. and fought two major battles outside los angeles. a brigade of mormons that followed carney's path nearly starved and never fought. alexander donathan led a famous troop of mounted missouri volunteers from santa fe to mexico. the missourians marched more than 2,000 miles and won two battles. after they marched from here to here, they marched all the way to monterey and then to the coast and then they took a ship back to new orleans. donovan was called the zinefon of the age. the treaty that ended the war, in february of 1848 cost the
united states $18 million or 37 cents per acre. the second best land bargain in u.s. history after the louisiana purchase, which brought the u.s. 828,000 square miles for $15 million. just as the mexico war treaty was being signed, california was learning of a gold strike that would become the gold rush of 49. during the -- what they called the roaring 40s. america's industrial age was in its early years. railroads and steamships were being rapidly built. and samuel morris' telegraph linked washington and baltimore and soon there after, richmond, the rotary press launched the penny press and the dime novel. waves of immigrants arriving from ireland and germany. every spring when the snows melted, immigrants and their
prairie scooners poured out bound for oregon and california. manifest destiny was the era's catch phrase. in 1845, the ed forof the new york morning news, john o'sullivan wrote that america had a manifest destiny to over spread the continent. allotted by providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions. in other words, america was entitled by divine sanction to occupy north america from the atlantic to the pacific. most americans believe this. manifest destiny was more than an expansion of slogan. it was actually part of a subterranean ideological struggle that dated to the nation's founding. the champions of the two competing visions of america were thomas jefferson and alexander hamilton. hamilton envisioned in america, cities with busy harbors and smoke stacks. jefferson favored a nation of
independent landowners. he did not want america to become like europe. where people worked for wages and became political subjects and not participants. jefferson's ideological descendants, included andrew jackson and james k polk. the president responsible for the mexican war. jackson and polk new for jefferson's so-called yoman farmers to flourish, large amounts of virgin land were needed. they added 2.1 million square miles to the united states. when jefferson took office in 1801, u.s. was 1,891,000 square miles. when polk left office in 1849. it covered 3 million square miles but became the 48th
contiguous state. since then, just 700,000 square miles have been added. most of it alaska. i emphasize land because the mexican war was all about taking hand from mexico. and the mexican war was the first but by no means the last american war. it began on a questionable pretext. we have soon it happen since then. sinking into havana. and the reported weapons of mass destruction in iraq. polk said the war was about indemnities in the disputed texas-mexican border but a secret purpose that he never publicly revealed was to obtain california. in 1846, the united states had no pacific ports. but longed to have them. england shared occupancy of the territory. and california belonged to
mexico. despite repeated attempts by the united states to buy it. mexico wouldn't sell california until the issue of texas was resolved. even nine years after the texas revolution, mexico still regarded texas as a rebellious province. but the united states refused to discuss texas. which had become a state in 1845. and with good reason, mexico regarded the river, whose mouth is at the rio grande, or is at corpus christi, as it rightful border where as the united states said that it was the rio grande river. territory there is 120 miles in length. so neither side would give in on this. polk calculated that applying pressure on the border would force mexico to the bargaining table or begin a short relatively bloodless war ending
with america getting california. zachary taylor troops to corpus christi to prevent texas from invasion. that was a very remote possibility at that time. when mexico still did not negotiate and when rumors reached polk that england might make a play for california he sent taylor to the rio grande. and that did it. mexico indignantly declared it had been invaded and proclaimed a defensive war. mexican calvary ambushed u.s. along the rio grande river in april 1846. polk now claimed american blood was shed on american soil. but some of taylor's officers, including ulysses s grant believed they had been used as bait to catch a war.
so when word of the attack reached washington, polk's allies pushed a war resolution through congress and put a two hour time limit on debate. then they used up an hour and a half of the two hours reading the accompanying documents out loud. the 14 house members and two senators who voted against the bill were vilified as traitors. by then, taylor won two battles along the rio grande and was preparing to invade mexico. battles were fought right along here. palo alto. and risakco de la palma. >> public rallies were held around the country. young men rushed to enlist in the militia when their own
militia quotas were filled they went to neighboring states and enlisted. public support was needed as the war dragged on and the casualty list grew with no end in sight. polk believed the wore would last three months but national pride would not permit mexico to quilt so long as an invader occupied its soil. even as it lost every battle. during the 1846 midterm election, president polk's democratic party lost control of the house of representatives. the reconstituteed house demanded ream of documents from the white house. and it passed a resolution declaring the war had been unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the president of the united states. a freshman congressman from illinois, abraham lincoln, said
the president cannot be permitted to make war at his pleasure. congressman stephen a douglas said anyone who criticized the war was no friend of the united states. and was a traitor in their hearts. so war opponents were forced to walk a tight rope. voting for war fronts to show they supported the troops while criticizing the policies that necessitate these expenditures. we've seen this happen too during the vietnam and iraq wars. mexico had struggled from coup to coup since winning independence from spain in 1821. they had been an independent country for 25 years when the war started. generals such as antonio lopez de santa anna rose to power again and again by forming shifting coalitions among the wealthy landowners, catholic church, and the military.
when they were toppled for power, they eluded the treasury on the way out the door. santa anna had all ready been president three times and was in exile in cuba in 1846. he promised polk he would stop the war and negotiate a treaty. if polk let santa anna through the american blockade of mexico. polk did so. and santa anna became president a fourth time. but instead of making peace, he led the mexican army in several battles against the americans. mexican war inspired the first major american anti-war movement. war opponents thought it morally reprehensible for a rising industrial giant of 20 million people to invade a backward, bankrupt nation of 7 million in order to take its territory. congressman john quincy adams
and joshua giddings led the congressional opposition of the war. clergymen, abolitionists, and trans own dentallists like ralph waldo emerson and henry david thero. thero was living at walden pond at this time. he refused to support the war in any way. one day, thero went into concord to have his shoe repaired and he was arrested for not paying his polk tax. he spent the night in jail. his aunt paid the tax, and he was freed the next morning. free to join a huckelbe arerry picking party actually. the essay that inspired mahatma gandhi, the vietnam antiwar movement and martin luther king. many war opponents believe the war's secret purpose was to add
new slave territories. but this was not true. polk was a slave holder himself, slavery was not a factor, none the less, the mexican war reopened the explosive national debate over slavery. laying the foundation for the civil war. slavery largely lain dormant since the missouri compromise. but in august 1846, congressman david willmot of pennsylvania proposed abolishing slavery. the south bristled at this direct threat and the so-called willmot provisa led to congress' first far reaching debate of slavery. the debate intensified until 1861 when words no longer sufficed. mexican war was the war of firsts.
first war began adu ronald mcdonald house pretext. first anti-war movement. first successful offensive war. first u.s. occupation of an enemy capitol. it also marked the debut of large numbers of west point graduates in combat. and for the first time, american news papers sent reporters to cover a war. public now read dramatic battle accounts rather than dull government reports. in 1846, five new york news papers began sharing war news and costs. and so is born the associated press. world's largest and oldest news gathering organization. the new american field artillery was the war's great military innovation. using horses, gun crews quickly moved around the battle field to support troops. u.s. field artillery was the best in the world.
and decisive in several battles. when the war began, america had just 8,000 regular troops. tens of thousands of volunteers from pancreatic tick hi practically every state. volunteers were largely untrained. many could not even take care of themselves. they succumb to diseases in shocking numbers. the best of them in addition to donathan's missouri volunteers were the mississippi rifles led by jefferson davis. future president of the confederate states of america. and the texas rangers, were superb horse men and ruthless gorilla fighters. the american and mexican people vastly under rated the u.s. regulars who were arguably the best troops in the world at that time it was true the
enlisted ranks contained a large number of recent immigrants and men who failed in civilian life. they served long enlistments at low pay. but the regulars were well drilled and disciplined. hardened to living outdoors and well equipped. their confidence in victory never -- no matter how out numbered they were. late in life, ulysses grant, a lieutenant during the mexican war, raided zachary taylor's little army the best in which he had ever served. 50 civil war generals received their baptism of fire in mexican wars more than 30 battles and squirmishes. from start to finish, it was polk's war though. from the white house, president james polk over saw every detail. the commanding generals in the
field, scott and taylor often were not consulted at all. polk's plan was to capture the mexican providences. the 32nd parallel. today's u.s.-mexican boundary. that's up here. and to send taylor's army to conquer northern mexico. this was taylor's army. when mexico refused to concede, polk opened the second front down here at veracruz. the largest u.s. amphibious assault until world war ii. more than 80 ships. more than 10,000 troops. veracruz surrendered following a siege. scott embarked on his epic march then to mexico city in
montezuma. 260 miles away. interestingly the duke of wellington, the victor at, waterloo, kept a wall map of the campaign in his study and followed scott's campaign. he thought scott was the great estrogen rall of his time. which he was. -- greatest, general of his time, which he was. polk wanted to be president of the whole country. not a partisan president. but he was a democrat to the core. he worked hard to prevent scott and taylor who were both wigs from reaping any political profit from the war. there's reason for this. george washington, andrew jackson, and william henry harrison had all been generals who became presidents. but in the process, polk made enemies of both his generals. yet congratulated himself on remaining nonpartisan. his efforts failed to prevent zachary taylor from succeeding him as president. polk wound up the -- leading
troops home. but survived his presidency by treemonts. he died of cholera in nashville in 1849. taylor lived a yearlonger. dying in office in 1850. his successor was millard fillmore. throughout the 19th century, the mexican war was deplored. and polk was vilified for it. historians of the era. and many generals during the civil war who were junior officers thought the whole affair was morally reprehensible. but polk's reputation improved with the rise of american nationalism. today, historians rate james polk as one of the ten best u.s. presidents. he remains one of the most obscure. as harry truman observed in
ranking polk with george washington, thomas jefferson, and andrew jackson, quote, he said exactly what he was going to do and he did it. and this is true. polk in fact accomplished everything he promised when he took office. he lowered the tariff. established an independent treasury. he annexed texas and took possession of oregon. and most importantly, achieved his fifth secret goal to obtain california. it all turned out well for the united states. but not for mexico. bankruptcy and ravaged by chaos and revolution. only with dictator diaz's iron fisted regime beginning in 1876 did mexico stabilize and begin to develop an industrial base. i want to add something about james polk. he's one of two presidents born in north carolina. the other one being andrew
johnson. he was born near charlotte. andrew jackson may count as half a he was born on the north carolina and south carolina border near waxhaw. both states is camed him at various times -- claimed him at various times. polk's family moved to tennessee when he was eleven. but he returned to north carolina to attend the university of chapel hill. he graduated with first honors in mathematics and the classics. then he went back to tennessee and became a lawyer and politician. he was so closely hey headlined with andrew jackson -- aligned with andrew jackson that he was called young hickory. this was a huge advantage because no one knew first of all when he ran in 1844 who polk was. and but because jackson was the most popular president of his era, being associated with him was a great thing. 1844, polk had become the first
dark horse presidential nominee. kind of emerged from the democratic convention in baltimore. to hold the party together, he pledged to serve one term and he stuck to his pledge. polk once wrote in his diary that he's the hardest working man in america. and if he wasn't that, he was certainly the hardest working american president. every waking hour, six days a week, sometimes seven was occupied by public business. sara polk, his wife, his partner in politics and government. they had no children. and this was their life. politics. and running the country. he was educated at the maravian female academy in say hem, north carolina. and she was the only first lady to serve as her husband's secretary. in the white house, polks often
worked side by side at their desks far into the night. polk was a micro manager who distrusted wigs. taylor and scott paid a steep price for being wigs and sometimes acting on their own. nicholas who negotiated the peace treaty also fell out of favor with polk for disobeying orders and was punished for it. he was the negotiator chosen by polk and secretary of state james buchanan to accompany winfield scott to mexico city and negotiate a treaty. at the time he was chief clerk in the state department. but he was fluent in spanish. and earlier a council in havana. he studied law at the law offices of thomas jefferson and married a jefferson granddaughter, virginia jefferson randolph. when he got to mexico, tryst
angered polk by agreeing to an ill advised arames us the that gave santa anna time to fortify the city. polk and buchanan recalled him. by the time the recall reached him. there was a three week lag in communications between mexico city sometimes longer and washington. by the time the recall reached mexico city. it surrendered. peace talks had begun. and tryst received the recall and he packed up to leave. to obey it. but mexican officials, british diplomats and scott urged him to stay and continue the talks. so tryst disobeyed his orders, resumed the negotiations, and he signed the very treaty that polk had wanted but polk never forgave tryst. even though his actions spared the united states of gorilla war, tryst was dismissed from the state department.
polk refused to pay his salary or expenses after the date tryst received his recall. for years after words, tryst bare hi avoided bankruptcy -- barely avoided bankruptcy. in 1871, when he was 70 years old. during president grant's administration, congress voted him back pay with crude interest. and grant named him postmaster in a zverev sangria, virginia. -- alexandria, virginia. any questions at this point? yes, sir? >> you mentioned early in your presentation that when the war began, mexico claimed a defensive -- did they have any military strategy other than just to fight defensive hi and maybe kill enough that we go home and leave them alone. what was their military strategy? could you elaborate just a little bit? >> i don't know what their strategy was other than to send troops to the rio grande.
and to stop the united states from sending troops down there. they had no invasion strategy. and i think, actually, i think they believed they could beat the u.s. army. the mexicans held the u.s. forces in low esteem. and theyed had a larger force -- they had a larger force. i think they thought they could defeat them down there and that would be the end of it. but as soon as they taylor crossed the river, the mexican general command sent anemosis up there to warn them to warn them they crossed and they were in mexico and to please go back and nothing would happen. but of course, he had his orders to go all the way to the rio grande. so something was going to happen. and everyone knew it.
was it a repudiation of the war, the wig party which was the opposition party to pope, won the presidency, right? oddly enough, won it with the general who had been the main commander in polk's war. but was this about -- was the main issue in the election the war and was there a repudiation of the war, i guess is my question. >> i don't think it was. because polk wasn't running again. the candidates were taylor, was a wig, and lewis cass, the governor of michigan. was the democrat.
candidate. but then, martin van bu areron was involved in the race too -- buron was involved in the race too. they split the democratic vote. especially in new york where van buron was strong. and taylor won new york and he won the election. but it was a matter of the democrats who formed this coalition to -- behind james k polk, fragmenting again in 1848 and not really clearly deciding on a candidate. in fact, the democrats came to polk and asked him to run again in 1848. but he said he had given his pledge and he really wanted to leave office. buzz it bureon this time or earlier or later that the french designed on mexico. >> that was later on, that was 20 years later.
that was during the civil war. the emperor maximilian went to mexico, yeah. that happened in the 1860s. the french, or part of the french, had banked on the south winning the war. and or at least splitting the country. and then they were going to be age to deal with confederate states of america. a french entity down in mexico. but of course the south lost the war. and they were just kind of stuck down there and eventually the emperor was over thrown and executed. yeah. >> tell us about the flying artillery please. and did he come from napoleon. and did any other tactics come from napoleon. >> okay. that did not come from napoleon.
but it came from europe. the -- in the 1830s. the u.s. command sent similar top officers over to europe to study the european artillery. they wanted to revamp the american artillery at that time. so they foured europe. they went to germany, france, all these countries in the 1830s. and they came back with a plan to establish this flying artillery. and demonstrated it to i think to martin van buron at that time. and they got funding to establish an artillery, a flying artillery outfit in every artillery regiment in the army. so there are like four artillery battalions flying artillery battalions in the army. one was led by braxton brag.
who you probably recognize his name from the civil war in fort bragg. he was one of the outstanding ones. in fact, at buena vista he performed tremendously. and was at this pivotal part of the battle. but the european tactics, winfield scott was a student of as far as infantry tactics go. he was a student of napoleon. he read "the art of war." and carried it. he had a whole library that he carried around with him. and he -- scott had fought in the war of 1812 and he had been forced into a couple situations where he had to fight defensively. and he was wounded. and it was really a bad situation and campaign in
canada. he vowed that he'd never fight defensively again. he would always go on the offensive. so he's studying napoleonic tactics. and he came up with his method was to never attack the front always attack the flanks. faint going this way, go this way. taylor was just the opposite. he would fix bayonets and charge straight ahead. but scott was not only a strategist but he was an excellent -- he's probably the best tactician in the war. and i would say he was the best general the united states had. between the revolutionary war and the civil war. yes, sir? >> william hayward, he and polk were at chapel hill together.
i read that he was considered one of the most powerful men in congress because of his association with polk. how did -- how did senator hayward feel about the mexican war? do you know? what happened with this? >> i don't know -- >> and also how would polk proceed to north carolina? >> i think it was a democratic state down here generally. and he was well received too. he came back i think for a reunion of his class in chapel hill. but he knew hayward even in washington. and hayward, when hayward decided to leave office, polk tried to talk him out of it. but it seemed like he left office during the war. so i don't know. i would imagine he supported polk. it seemed like all the
democrats did. and a lot of the southern wigs did too. . >> you mentioned the battle of buena vista. and santa anna both. what's your assessment of who won the battle of buena vista? and further, why did santa anna there after retreat and go back to mexico city? what do you understand about the military aspects of it? and then the mexican response and internal reaction? >> well, that was kind of interesting, the whole thing. the reason that polk -- that santa anna went to buena vista, santa anna was here san luis pitotsi. here's buena vista. here's veracruz. santa anna, someone in the
mexican army intercepted and killed a messenger, u.s. army officer who had orders from scott to taylor that said taylor was to hand over all of his regulars to scott for this invasion at veracruz. and it talked about the invasion and about when it would occur too. so this document was rushed back to santa anna, san louise potosi and taylor who knew he was supposed to get two sets of these orders but only got one, went out and found out what happened to the other messenger, that he had been murdered in this town. so he knew that santa anna had this information. he assumed, and the americans assumed that he would go to veracruz and reinforce veracruz to repel scott's invasion. but santa anna was a pretty good strategist. not a good tactician. but a good strategist.
he decided the thing to do with taylor's army weakened up there at monterey. and at satillo, he would go north he would go north instead of to veracruz. he thought he could drive all the way to the rio grande, captured territory taken by the americans, and force them to negotiate a treaty more favorable, and that would preempt the invasion of veracruz. it was a great gamble so he set out with 20,000 men from san luis potosi . he had about 5000 troops and at some point, and
he didn't have that many scouts either. he didn't know santana was coming until he was almost there. one of his officers had chosen bonavista-- buena vista as a battleground because it was kind of boxed in by the mountains. there were ravines that cut it up and it looked defensible. he crossed the high desert in late winter and lost about 3000 men crossing it. and then they just died along the way. they got to bonavista and they were out of food. he told them they would beat the americans and they would get their food supplies. that was the incentive. so the battle began. santa anna was not a good tactician.
he could have won that battle probably if he did what napoleon said to do, bring your forces to bear on fragments of the army. he tried to attack everywhere and instead of attacking everywhere once when he could have overwhelmed the americans, he tried to attack one area and then another. they were able to shift troops around and then he never used his reserves at all. at the end of the day there was no clear victor your but he left the battlefield at night to begin his withdrawal, his march back to send the waste pitocin-- san luis potosi. he had no place to go. his troops had no food. what he did was race ahead to the army, went to san luis
potosi and proclaimed he had one this great victory. church bells are ringing and he sent a mexico-- he celebrated this great vic three. then the army arrived, what was left of it, and they were in terrible shape. people saw what happened. he took a fragment of that army, went down to this area to try to stop scott and then started all over again losing battles. >> yes or. >> would you mind telling the stories about the volunteers of -- going to santa anna? >> they were mainly irish
immigrants and were in the regular army. in the unit-- u.s. army there is a lot of nativists who did not like the irish so they were punished more severely and felt like they were abused and left out. they didn't get the promotions so mexicans who are catholic like the irish were started sending leafless. this started happening along the rio grande. we share the same religion, join our forces, and at one point they gave them cash and
40 acres or something like that. they crossed the river in great numbers. at one point he orders shoot to kill because every night they were trying to-- the river. it was a pretty bad situation but enough of them formed a brigade. they were made and artillery brigade and they were affect this. bonavista they were the best thing that the mexican army had going there. down in mexico city a bunch of them were captured. about 40 of them were executed and
timed it so that they were hanged just as the american flag went up. it wasn't a capital offense and they were branded as traitors. they were deserters with a d branded on their cheeks. really awful. >> can you speak to the military academies chapultepec and west point? we hear about the gods of our civil war and here little about the military academy in chapultepec's. >> when american forces attacked them, the mexican officers tried to evacuate.
some of them stayed and some of them committed suicide actually, as americans came in . there is a monument to these cadets of chapultepec, the national academy. there's some ceremony they do to honor these cadets. as far as them being a force in the mexican army, they were very young. some of them may have become officers. the rich got in there and was so top-heavy it's just