Explore KY's Mexican-American War

Tour curated by: The ExploreKYHistory Team

Kentucky’s long history of military service is evidenced by the many monuments found across the commonwealth. When the state’s military history is studied, however, Kentucky’s role in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) is often forgotten. This conflict not only vastly expanded the geographical size of the nation, but the U.S. victory essentially ensured that the nation would ultimately become split over the issue of slavery. Scholars widely recognize the Mexican-American War’s influence on the Civil War. Unfortunately, the significance of this conflict is neither emphasized nor fully understood.

Kentucky’s participation in the Mexican-American War was unsurprising considering Kentuckians’ past experiences in serving the nation. From fighting Native Americans and the British in the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812, the Bluegrass State had a strong martial tradition that generations of 19th century Kentuckians felt obligated to uphold. When war came in 1846, Kentuckians enlisted with an unsurpassed enthusiasm. More men volunteered than were needed or could be equipped. Few of the Kentuckians who made it to Mexico found the martial glory and adventure they were looking for, but their commitment to service was widely recognized by the state’s citizens.

This tour sheds some much needed light on the state’s participation in this largely forgotten chapter of our history. While the people, places, and events examined here have made their way onto Kentucky’s historical markers, many of these subjects are not known or traditionally remembered for their connections to the Mexican-American War. This tour provides an opportunity to discover how these individuals, groups, and places were impacted by that conflict. Also included here are numerous primary source images and documents that illustrate Kentucky’s participation.

Locations for Tour

Historical Marker #533 in Madison County notes the life of Kentucky emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay. During his long life, Clay participated in many battles. Some were fought to ensure free speech for antislavery advocates. Others,…

Historical Marker #24 commemorates Danville native Theodore O'Hara, a Civil War veteran and poet who wrote the famous poem "The Bivouac of the Dead." Today, O'Hara's poem is inscribed on monuments across the nation,…

Historical Marker #877 in Mason County, Kentucky, notes the birthplace of Mexican-American War hero Alexander William Doniphan. Born in Mason County on July 9, 1808, Doniphan came from a long line of soldiers, including both of his grandfathers, who…

Historical Marker #1 in Lexington notes the location of Ashland, the home and estate of Kentucky statesman Henry Clay. Clay and his wife, Lucretia, were blessed with eleven children. One of these, Henry Clay, Jr., was killed in the Mexican-American…

Historical Marker #1010 in Boyd County notes the location of the Buena Vista Furnace. Established in 1847, it was named for the Mexican-American War battle fought that same year. U.S. and Mexican forces clashed at Buena Vista on February 22-23,…

Historical Marker #634 in Carroll County notes the residence of Mexican-American War hero and 1848 vice presidential candidate, William Orlando Butler. William O. Butler was born in Jessamine County, Kentucky, in 1791. He attended Transylvania…

Historical Marker #1809 in Lexington notes the military career of Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Years before Morgan became known as the "Thunderbolt of the Confederacy," he gained valuable military experience during the Mexican-American War. …

Historical Marker #79 in Richmond, Kentucky, notes the birthplace of famed western scout and soldier Christopher "Kit" Carson. Carson was born in Madison County, Kentucky, near Richmond, in 1809. His father, a Revolutionary War veteran,…

Historical Marker #1589 in Louisville notes the military service of the Louisville Legion. Kentuckians responded enthusiastically to the call for volunteers to fight in the Mexican-American War. One of the first units to offer their services was…

Historical Marker #964 in Paducah highlights the service of Kentucky’s soldiers during the Mexican-American War. When war broke out with Mexico in 1846, Kentuckians enthusiastically responded to the call for troops. In an address to the state,…

Historical Marker #925 in Owen County notes the location of the town of Monterey, which was established in 1847 and named for a Mexican-American War battle that had been fought the previous year. Fought from September 19-25, 1846, the Battle of…

Historical Marker #1849 in Louisville notes the location of the boyhood home of general and president Zachary Taylor. U.S. President Zachary Taylor was born in Orange County, Virginia, in 1784 to Richard and Sarah Dabney Taylor. The Taylor family…

Historical Marker #1412 in Louisville notes the location of the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery. By the time Zachary Taylor fought in the Mexican-American War, he was already an accomplished soldier in the U.S. Army. During the Second Seminole…

Historical Marker #823 in Jessamine County commemorates the birthplace of General William O. Butler, a War of 1812 veteran. Born in Jessamine County in 1791, Butler was raised near present-day Carrollton. Military service was in William's…