Louisville Legion

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 the respected Louisville Legion.

Although the Louisville Legion had roots starting in 1837, the unit was formally organized by the Kentucky legislature in 1839 as an official state militia unit. The Mexican-American War provided the Legion their first opportunity for real military service.

When Kentucky Governor William Owsley issued the call for troops, the Louisville Legion was the first unit to respond and to be accepted for service. Members of the Legion were well-known for their military bearing and high standards and companies prided themselves on drill and discipline. While other Kentucky militia units used their muster and drill dates as social occasions, the Legion trained and drilled faithfully. Competition to be accepted into the Legion was fierce, and, once in, few members left.

Although the Legion quickly responded to Governor Owsley’s call for troops, so many men across the nation volunteered that the federal government nearly rejected the Legion. Owsley, however, convinced the secretary of war to accept the unit since they were fully armed, equipped, and ready to deploy to the seat of war, which they did in the summer of 1846.

Before embarking for Mexico by steamboat, the Legion was treated to a patriotic send-off by the citizens of Louisville. Sally Ward, reputedly the most beautiful woman in the city, presented the Legion with regimental colors. The Legion traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans before taking ships to northern Mexico. There, they joined the forces of Gen. Zachary Taylor.

The Legion missed the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, but participated in the Monterrey campaign. During the Battle of Monterrey they guarded a mortar battery and did not return fire. The Legion did as ordered, and, although they were praised by their commander, the press disparaged the unit for not firing upon the enemy.

Instead of participating in the Battle of Buena Vista, the Legion was retained at Monterrey for garrison and occupation duty. When the unit was finally relieved of duty, the peple of Monterrey asked them to be returned due to the harsh treatment that citizens received from other American units.

The Louisville Legion’s service to Kentucky and the nation did not end with the Mexican-American War; they also distinguished themselves in the Union army during the Civil War and in the Spanish-American War. And, although designated as different units in 20th and 21st century conflicts, the civic pride and martial spirit of the Louisville Legion continues to this day.