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, 1847. The battle is considered by most historians to be one of the most significant battles of that conflict. This clash was also important to Kentuckians because of the large number of troops-and leaders-lost there.
After the September 1846, Battle of Monterey, which also included many Kentucky troops, Gen. Zachary Taylor was ordered to combine his forces with that of the overall U.S. commander, Gen. Winfield Scott. Upon learning of this movement, Mexican Gen. Santa Anna planned to attack Taylor’s force before turning on Scott’s army.
On February 22, 1847, Santa Anna, in command of 20,000 men, demanded the surrender of Taylor and his 5,000 troops. Taylor refused and deployed his forces in a mountain pass at Buena Vista in order to offset his inferior numbers.
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, led by Col. Jefferson Davis, which steadied the U.S. line. During the battle, Kentucky units lost 63 killed and 91 wounded. Davis later became president of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
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. The Mexicans lost more than 3,400 killed and wounded, while the United States lost about 650.
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. Taylor’s leadership at Buena Vista helped catapult him to the Whig party nomination, and ultimately the office of president a year later.