Texas had grown very tired of Mexico’s harsh rule. So Stephen Austin and Samuel Houston, two Americans who had received large grants of land in Texas, encouraged the people to revolt and form a republic of their own. They did so, and when the Mexicans tried to force them to obey, they won their freedom at the battle of San Jacinto (1836).
The most exciting event during this war was the siege of the Alamo, a large building in the town of San Antonio Here about one hundred and fifty Texans held an army of more than four thousand Mexicans at bay, until all but seven of the men in the fort were killed. When the Mexicans finally forced their way into the place, they cruelly killed these men, too, although they begged for quarter. Among the dead was the great Kentucky hunter and pioneer, Davy Crockett, whose motto, “Be sure you are right, then go ahead,” you will often hear quoted. The Mexicans’ lack of mercy made the Texans so angry that after this event they used the words, “Remember the Alamo!” as a battle cry.
Eight years later, Texas asked permission to join the United States. This pleased the Southern people, for although Texas had been free soil according to Mexican law, slavery was permitted in the “Lone Star Republic” when it gained its independence.
Just before Tyler finished his four year term, therefore, Congress decided to admit Texas (1845); but as a dispute soon arose about its southern boundary, the eleventh President, James K. Polk, found himself with a war on his hands. Many good Americans say that Texas had no right to claim the land between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, and that this was an unfair and needless war, but others claim that it was for the best.
The new President began his term by sending General Zachary Taylor down to Texas to occupy the disputed strip of land. There he was met by the Mexicans, who attacked the American troops. A skirmish took place, blood was steed, and soon after war was declared. Instead of waiting until more troops could join him, Taylor pressed on, and, meeting the Mexicans at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, near the mouth of the Rio Grande, he defeated them both times, in spite of their superior numbers.
The Mexicans having fled over the Rio Grande, Taylor pursued them, took Matamoros, and began to besiege Monterey. This place, too, was carried, though defended by a garrison of about ten thousand men. In the meantime, two other armies had been sent out; so the Mexicans were obliged to defend themselves not only against Taylor in the north, but also against General Scott, who took his army by sea to Vera Cruz, and marched thence across country toward the city of Mexico. The third American army, under Colonel Stephen W. Kearny, was directed toward New Mexico and California, both of which belonged to Mexico at that time, and included all the land from the Pacific Ocean to Texas and the Rocky Mountains, up to the parallel of 42°.
After the siege of Monterey, the Mexican general, Santa Anna, tried to crush the Americans, under Taylor, in a mountain pass at Buena Vista (1847). But Taylor was a very good general, and as cool as he was brave. Sitting sidewise on his horse, he calmly directed the troops, paying no heed to the bullets raining around him. We are told that one of his officers suggested that his white steed made such a fine target for the enemy that he had better withdraw; but Taylor quietly patted “Whitey,” and said: “The old fellow missed the fun at Monterey; he must have his share this time.” A little later, a Mexican brought a message from his army, and; seeing Taylor sitting there, wonderingly asked what he was waiting for. “Oh,” said Taylor, coolly, “I am waiting for Santa Anna to surrender.”
Taylor’s men, following his example, were just as cool as he. One of them was sent over to the Mexican camp with a message, and Santa Anna told him that he would treat General Taylor well if the latter would only surrender. The officer, looking straight at him, is said to have proudly answered: “General Taylor never surrenders.” This remark so delighted the Americans that they quoted it very freely during the Mexican War, and even long after.
The battle of Buena Vista lasted all day, and toward evening Bragg‘s artillery came up to help our troops. They poured their shot upon the Mexicans, who, in spite of all their courage, began to give way. When Taylor saw this, he is reported to have cried: “A little more grape, Captain Bragg.” In obedience to this order, a few more rounds were fired, and the Mexicans, unable to face the shot any longer, turned and fled.
While Taylor was holding the ground he had won, Santa Anna hurried off to meet and stop General Scott, on the road Cortez had traveled when he came to conquer Mexico, more than three centuries before. Scott’s advance was one continual fight; but although he lost many men from wounds and disease, he won several battles.
The principal engagements took place at Cerro Gordo, not far from the coast, and at Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultopec, near the city of Mexico. In this campaign our troops did wonders, for they had to climb tall mountains and scale high walls before they could march in triumph into the capital of Mexico (1847).
Taylor and Scott were not the only ones to win laurels during this war, for Kearny, after leaving Fort Leavenworth, went on to take Santa Fe and all New Mexico. He next intended to conquer California, but when he got there he found the work nearly done, and could only help win the struggle against the Mexicans. This was because Captain Fremont, who was surveying there, had taken command of the American settlers as soon as the Mexicans tried to turn them out. Helped by Commodore Stockton, who was on the Pacific coast at the same time, this small force beat the Mexicans. Next, the Americans decided that California should be called the “Bear State Republic,” and govern itself until it could join the United States.