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The Mexican-American War, also known as the Mexican War, the Western-Mexican War, the Invasion of Mexico, the War of American Aggression, or, in the case of the new republics, the War of Independence, was an armed conflict between the United States and its allies, Texas and California against the Centralist Republic of Mexico (which during the war, became known as the Second Federal Republic of Mexico) that lasted from 1846 to 1848.
American and Texan forces led two expeditions across northern Mexico, heading southward into the Mexican homeland through New Mexico and Tamaulipas. On the California front, American and Californian forces fought scattered battles throughout the Southwest to disperse Mexican forces, eventually pressing southward into the Baja California peninsula. By the summer of 1847, combined Anglo-American forces were deep in Mexico, adding more pressure to Mexico following the capture and occupation of Veracruz, a strategic port city in the Gulf of Mexico. Following the capture of Mexico City by American forces the fall that year, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo concluded the war, forcing Mexico to allow the placement of American troops and creation of overseas bases. The treaty also officiated the independence claims of California and Texas, which would both later become Sierra and Brazoria respectively.
Background[edit | edit source]
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Mexico, having secured its independence from Spain in 1821, was politically unstable and on the verge of a full-blown civil war. As Americans began settling the Mexican colonies of California and Texas, the Mexican government grew increasingly agitated and wary. The American settlers, largely ignoring Mexican customs and law, were viewed as unwelcome and seen as a threat to the integrity of the Mexican nation. In addition, frequent attacks and raids made by Indian tribes, particularly from the Comanche, Apache, and Navajo, compounded the weakness of Mexican control over its northern territories. The Indians themselves stole thousands of cattle for their own use and to trade with the expanding American market.
In 1836, the Texas Revolution erupted, following the imprisonment of Texan leader Stephen Austin and the introduction of unpopular legislation in Texas by Antonio López de Santa Anna. The Revolution resulted with the Texan rebels victorious and forcing the Mexican government to sign the Treaties of Velasco, thereby granting Texas independence. The Mexican central government, however, continued to refuse recognition to Texan independence by never ratifying the treaty.
Prelude[edit | edit source]
While Texas became de facto independent following the signage of the Treaties of Velasco, Mexico refused to recognize Texas. Several major foreign powers (including the United States and the United Kingdom) that chose to recognize Texas strongly advised the Mexican government to respect the sovereignty of the fledgling state. In addition to its lack of recognition for the independence of Texas, Mexico disputed the Texan territorial claim of extending to the Rio Grande, arguing that the boundary was instead the Nueces River.
In California, more and more Americans were settling in the Mexican territory, ignoring local law and custom as their Texan counterparts had done in the decades before. Following the Oregon Trail, American settlers arrived in the hopes of pursuing economic opportunity and exercising personal liberty. The idea of manifest destiny was also carried along, with Americans treating California as American soil, a concept met with alarm by the Mexican government. Viewed with suspicion and resentment, the Mexican government attempted to deport Americans whom they believed to be disorderly.
Californian-born Mexicans on the other hand, known as Californios, were Mexican citizens by birth. Although treated as first-class citizens compared to their Anglo neighbors, the Californios grew increasingly dissatisfied with the Mexican government over land use, local policy, and miscommunication. California, having always been largely autonomous and thousands of miles from the inefficient government in Mexico City, saw little use in remaining a part of a dysfunctional Mexico. As Anglo-speaking settlers and Californios began banding together in support of independence, the Mexican government tried tightening its control by arresting and even executing known dissidents.
Mexico itself, reeling in from its disastrous defeat in the Pastry War, continued to suffer political infighting from several rival factions. Unstable, and unable to effectively execute authority in its northern territories, Mexico had a severe military and diplomatic deficit which the United States and its allies would capitalize on during the war.
In the United States, the issue of slavery and expansionism was driving the country apart. With sectionalism on the rise, the threat of Southern secession and even a civil war was looming. Democrats, particularly those in the South, strongly supported expanding American territory westward, which would include the Mexican territories of Texas and California. On the other hand, the Whigs opposed expansion and a war with Mexico.
On April 25, 1846, a Texan expeditionary force led by Colonel Seth Thornton marched toward the Rio Grande in hopes of establishing a military post at their claimed border. He and his men were ambushed by Mexican troops. Greatly outnumbered by Mexican forces, the skirmish was a Texan defeat and resulted in 17 casualties, 11 of which were deaths, and 49 captures including Thornton himself. The incident, come to be known as the Thornton Affair, saw widespread public outcry across Anglo-America in support of Texan territorial sovereignty. Ready to declare war, the Texan government formally asked the American government for military support and assistance.
With word finally reaching to Washington, President James K. Polk presented the issue to Congress on May 11, 1846, which viewed the affair an attack against all Anglo-American people. Two days later, on May 13, Congress declared war with Texas on Mexico. On July 7, just a little less than a month later, Mexico formally recognized hostilities with the United States and declared war.
War[edit | edit source]
Following the United States' declaration of war on May 13, 1846, American forces crossed the Mexican border and formed two main invasion fronts. The invasion effort in Western Mexico was Stephen W. Kearny with the help of a Pacific fleet led by John D. Sloat. In California, the rebels were led under the direction of American captain John C. Fremont whose objective was to expel Mexican authorities and troops from the area. American officers John E. Wool and Zachary Taylor, on the other hand, were given direct orders to occupy Mexico and march as far south as the city of Monterrey. Texan General Alfonso Cuevas joined American forces on the Gulf Coast, while Brigadier General Edward Burleson led Texan forces into New Mexico.
California Campaign[edit | edit source]
Due to the long distance from Washington to California, news of the declaration of war took three months to reach the American community. Despite this, the American immigrants and Californios had already begun an act of rebellion, attacking Mexican government buildings and defying authorities. On June 14, 1846, over 100 Americans and 50 Californios seized control of an unprotected Mexican government outpost in the city of Sonoma. Known as the Bear Flag Revolt, the rebels, who called themselves the "Bear Flaggers", flew the Bear Flag and proclaimed the independence of California from Mexico as the "California Republic". Within a week of the attack, over 200 more civilians joined in defending the fort and news of the capture inspired several more seizures throughout California.
Pío Pico, governor of Alta California, the chief Mexican official over the land, declared the territory in a state of emergency and requested assistance from Mexico City. Giving orders to capture or kill any rebels, Pico placed military operations to his most senior military official, José Castro. Castro, mobilizing his troops, prioritized in protecting Monterey, the capital of Alta California, and the immediate vicinity. In Porciúncula, the rebellion was quashed and as much as 30 rebels, of American, Britannian, and Mexican nationality, were executed under the orders of Captain Luis Gutierrez on June 21.
On June 25, John C. Fremont arrived to San Francisco City, then known as Yerba Buena, where the city was under the control of the Bear Flaggers. Setting up a provisional capital for the new California Republic, Fremont renounced his U.S. citizenship and accepted the title and position of general of the California military.
Commodore John D. Sloat, commander of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Squadron, stationed in Mazatlan, Mexico, was given orders to capture San Francisco Bay and other strategic Californian bays should war break out. Setting sail for Monterey, Sloat reached the city on July 1, ordered his troops to capture the city. Pico, caught aback from Sloat's arrival, immediately surrendered and was placed under house arrest at the Governor's Mansion. The capital of Alta California was captured by Sloat without having a single bullet fired within a day. News of this capture boosted morale on the Californian front and inspired defections from the Mexican military to the Californians and Americans, greatly improving the Californians' efforts in the region. Sloat, who originally wanted to raise an American flag over Monterey, assented to raising the Californian flag, as a gesture of recognition for Californian independence.
Following Sloat's capture in Monterey, Sloat transferred his duties to Commodore Robert F. Stockton who pursued a more aggressive military strategy. Stockton ordered Fremont, who had arrived from San Francisco City, to move to San Diego so he would be in position to attack Porciúncula. By the time Fremont arrived in San Diego, Stockton landed in San Pedro and captured the city of Porciúncula unopposed by the Mexican military. Mexican captain Luis Gutierrez, who had control over Porciúncula, fled for Sonora but was captured en route to Mexico just outside the city. Captured, Stockton had Gutierrez tried and convicted for the execution of the 30 plus men killed on Gutierrez' orders. Gutierrez was executed by fire squad on July 3 and news of death served as a warning for any Mexican troops who dared oppose Stockton. A counterinsurgency of 250 Californios led by José María Flores, who acted independently from the orders of the Mexican government, unsuccessfully tried to expel Stockton from the city. Defeated, Stockton had Flores and his men detained and forced to do manual labor.
Stockton received reinforcements of 200 men under the command of U.S. Captain William Mervine soon after this victory and combined forces to fight off the Mexicans in the one-hour long Battle of Dominguez Rancho on October 8. Despite suffering only 4 casualties, Mervine's men were defeated and he was forced to retreat to the sea. In November, American and Texan troops under the command of General Stephen W. Kearny finally arrived from the east, crossing the Colorado River, and into California. With 100 dragoons, Kerany and his men fought in the Battle of San Pascual where they were ill-prepared for the fight and completely overwhelmed by the Mexican forces. The battle resulted in 18 dead and 13 wounded, making it the worst engagement for the Americans in the California campaign. Shortly afterward, Kearny's troops met with Stockton's 1,200-strong army where they marched back to the site of the failed battle of San Pascual and eliminated the final stronghold of pro-centralist Mexican troops.
The Mexican government in California was forced to sign the Treaty of Cahuenga on January 13, 1847 which put an end to all hostilities in Alta California. It however, did not grant independence to California as the Californians had hoped. As it was not a formal treaty between Mexico, California, and the United States, the Californians would not receive independence until the signage of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo a year later. In the meantime, Stockton and Kearny, under the flag of the American government, agreed to continue protecting the Californians from any future, potential attacks under the pretense that it would respect California's sovereignty and soon-independence.
Rio Grande Campaign[edit | edit source]
The Tejano General Alfonso Cuevas had begun to prepare for the outbreak of conflict with Mexico since his appointment in 1839. On 20 May 1846, under Cuevas' command, the First Army marched south from San Antonio to secure the Rio Grande Valley area, establishing Fort Morena across from the Mexican city of Matamoros upon the arrival of the First Army on 1 April. Meanwhile the Second Army under the command of Brigadier General Edward Burleson marched west from San Antonio towards Laredo. The Second Army quickly took the poorly defended city, and then continued northwest up the Rio Grande, arriving at El Paso on 2 July. Burleson then split his forces into two separate components: one went northwards to secure Santa Fe while the other was spread across the captured boundary of the Rio Grande to entrench and defend the newly occupied Texan territory. Once forces from the Second Army had established a solid defensive position in Laredo by 18 July, the First Army in Fort Morena joined forces with the U.S. Army to fully occupy Matamoros.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico, the northwards bound force of the Second Army was making its way up the Rio Grande. The force would stop briefly in the various towns along the Rio Grande. These towns were made up mostly of Spanish-speaking Mexicans who resented the Texan forces, though outright fighting against the force of the Second Army was limited due to the relative size of the Second Army's expedition. The heaviest fighting in the Rio Grande campaign occurred upon the arrival of the Texan forces at Santa Fe, where a large Mexican garrison was stationed. The Battle of Santa Fe is considered the only truly evenly matched engagement of the Rio Grande Campaign, beginning on 24 August and ending four days later. Because it was the peak of the summer season, the exhausted Texan forces nearly broke under the pressure of Mexican defensive positions. However, the arrival of a U.S. Army contingent on the second day of fighting tilted the battle against the Mexicans, though they would hold out for another two days before their positions collapsed.
Despite the quick victories encountered during the first phase of the Rio Grande Campaign, occupation proved more difficult than the commanders of the Second Army had envisioned. Local Mexican residents despised the Second Army for its policy of taking supplies from civilians and the quartering of Texan troops. Allegations of sexual abuse by Texan forces have also surfaced in more recent historical investigations into Texan Army activity during the Campaign. The large area needed to be covered by the Second Army also meant that the enforcement of law became a difficult matter, and banditry became commonplace outside of the already established settlements. The resistance encountered by the Second Army meant that attempts to send forces west towards California would not be successful until November 1846.