Monday, March 16, 2009

1846: "American deserters had been shot while crossing the Rio Grande"

Mexican General Ampudia "had summoned Irish, French and Polish immigrants to assert a common Catholicism"

Adapted from Bernard DeVoto's book, The Year of Decision: 1846.

Pages 132 - 133.

American General Taylor confronts the Mexican, General Ampudia, in the disputed Lower Grande Valley of Texas. Both sides engaged in issuing proclamations and manifestos.

And as our author tells us, in this propaganda war of bluff and bluster, "Neither side really won, but it is only simple justice to say that Taylor's proclamations were no sillier than those his opponents published.

"The enemy won some points at the very beginning.

"On both of the two days preceding his remarks [an engineering officer named] Worth, [another officer named] Hitchcock notes that American deserters had been shot while crossing the Rio Grande.

"Probably they were just bored with army rations but there was some thought that they might be responding to a proclamation of General Ampudia's which spies had been able to circulate in [the American Army] camp.

"Noting the number of Irish, French, and Polish immigrants in the American force, Ampudia had summoned them to assert a common Catholicism, come across the river, cease to defend a robbery and usurpation which, be assured, the civilized nations of Europe look upon with the utmost indignation [Give me a break! :) ], and settle down on a generous land bounty.

"Some of them did so, and the St. Patrick Battalion of American deserters was eventually formed, fought splendidly throughout the war, and was decimated in the campaign for Mexico City -- after which its survivors were executed in daily batches....."

This earliest shooting of deserters as they swam the Rio Grande...

"This earliest shooting of deserters as they swam the Rio Grande, an unwelcome reminder that war has ugly aspects, at once produced an agitation.

"As soon as word of it reached Washington, the National Intelligencer led the Whig [ political party ] press into a sustained howl about tyranny.

"In the House [of U.S. Representatives] J. Q. Adams rose to resolve the court - martial of every officer or soldier who should order the killing of a soldier without trial and an inquiry into the reasons for desertion.

"He was voted down but thereafter there were deserters in every Whig speech on the conduct of the war, and Calm Observer [surely an alias for this same man - of - men! :)] wrote to all [Whig] party papers that such brutality would make discipline impossible.

"But a struggling magazine which had been founded the previous September [of 1845] in the interests of sports got on a sound financial footing at last.

"The National Police Gazette began to publish lists of deserters from the [American] army, and the War Department bought up big editions to distribute among the troops..."

Boy! This is one fascinatingly good read! :)


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