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 on February 22-23, 1847, a few miles away from the city of Saltillo, Mexico. Called the Battle of Buena Vista in the United States, the conflict is one of the most significant battles of the U.S.-Mexican War. This clash was also important to Kentuckians because of the large number of troops who died there.
After the Battle of Monterrey, Gen. Zachary Taylor was ordered to combine his forces with those of General Winfield Scott, the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military. President Polk had been angered that Taylor negotiated a truce with Mexican leaders at Monterrey and sought to strip him of his command. Rumors had also circulated that Taylor was a Whig and Polk hoped to negate his rising popularity.
Polk decided to pursue a new strategy. Instead of having Zachary Taylor move down through northern Mexico, he dispatched General Winfield Scott to launch an invasion of Mexico through the port city of Vera Cruz. Most of Taylor’s forces would be combined with Scott’s invading army, leaving Taylor with the task of holding northern Mexico with a much-reduced army.
Polk also made one other decision. Antonio López de Santa Anna was a Mexican leader who had served several non-consecutive terms as President of Mexico. In 1844, his government was overthrown and he was exiled to Cuba the following year. Polk mistakenly believed that Santa Anna would be amenable to a negotiated peace and so he helped Santa Anna return to Mexico in 1846. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Santa Anna immediately assembled forces to repel the U.S. invasion.
Not only did Santa Anna quickly assemble an army of 20,000 men, he also discovered that Taylor had been stripped of most of his forces to supplement the assault at Vera Cruz. General Santa Anna, with this knowledge, decided to leave Mexico City and destroy Taylor’s small force in northern Mexico. On February 22, 1847, Santa Anna, in command of 15,000 men, demanded the surrender of Taylor and his 5,000 troops. Taylor refused.
The following day, Santa Anna attacked and broke Taylor’s line. Kentucky soldiers endured some of the fiercest fighting. Col. William Robertson McKee and Lt. Col. Henry Clay, Jr. of the 2nd Kentucky infantry were killed. Taylor finally committed his reserves, the 1st Mississippi Rifles, which steadied the U.S. line. During the battle, Kentucky units suffered 63 killed and 91 wounded.
Later that day, Taylor audaciously counterattacked the Mexican army and blunted Santa Anna’s assault. Darkness finally ended the terrible fighting. Although Santa Anna declared the battle to be a Mexican victory before he retreated, his larger army suffered many more casualties. More importantly, Taylor’s forces had not broken and he remained in control of northern Mexico. The Mexicans lost more than 3,400 killed and wounded, while the United States lost about 650.
Buena Vista marked a turning point in the U.S.-Mexican War. Because Santa Anna decided to attack Taylor, he did not reinforce Vera Cruz. Scott landed his men in Mexico in early March and laid siege to Vera Cruz on the 9th. Vera Cruz surrendered on March 29, paving the way for Scott to lead his march on Mexico City. Within the United States, Buena Vista was immediately hailed as the greatest of all U.S. victories. In spite of the inconclusive nature of the battle, the U.S. claimed victory and praised Taylor for his refusal to surrender in the face of great odds. Somewhat ironically, Polk’s decision to strip Taylor of most of his army led to the Battle of Buena Vista, which catapulted Taylor towards the presidency.
In Kentucky the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought at the Battle of Buena Vista was commemorated on monuments erected in Frankfort, Midway, Cynthiana, Paris, and Lawrenceburg. Across the United States, places were renamed Buena Vista, in honor of the conflict.
The marker text reads:
Buena Vista Furnace
Built by William Foster and Co. in 1847, 21/4 miles west, named for Mexican War battle that year. It was an important factor in the Hanging Rock iron industry until dismantled in 1876. Its 1874 iron production was 4113 tons. Stone stack was 40 feet high with a maximum inner diameter of 10 ft., and burned charcoal. See over. Marker presented by Armco Steel Corp.
(Reverse) Iron Made in Kentucky - A major producer since 1791, Ky. ranked 3rd in US in 1830s, 11th in 1965. Charcoal timber, native ore, limestone supplied material for numerous furnaces making pig iron, utensils, munitions in the Hanging Rock, Red River, Between Rivers, Rolling Fork, Green River Regions. Old charcoal furnace era ended by depletion of ore and timber and the growth of railroads. See over.