Mexican War, 1846-48

Historical Marker #964 in Paducah highlights the service of Kentucky’s soldiers during the Mexican-American War.

The U.S.-Mexican War began over a boundary dispute. In 1845, the United States annexed the Republic of Texas. Texas had claimed the Rio Grande as its southern border, while Mexico argued that the boundary was the Rio Nueces. Shortly after annexation became official, President James K. Polk ordered U.S. troops into the disputed region. On April 25, 1846, fighting broke out. The United States officially declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846.

In his request for a war against Mexico, Polk claimed that “American blood had been shed on American soil.” Many men willingly signed up to defend what they believed was a defensive war against Mexico. Although the most famous statesman in Kentucky, Henry Clay, was an opponent of both annexation and the conflict, Kentucky had no problem raising troops. The federal government asked Kentucky for only two regiments of infantry and one cavalry unit, but more than 100 companies volunteered. The governor had to refuse the service of 75 companies. The federal government asked for only 2,400 troops from Kentucky, but nearly 13,000 men tried to answer the call.

These citizen-soldiers hoped to find adventure, experience military glory, and preserve Kentucky’s legacy of military service. As time passed, most Kentuckians who made it to Mexico found little martial glory. Instead, they suffered from extreme heat, a lack of healthy water and food, and long periods of boredom. Diseases contracted in Mexico, and not actual combat, claimed the majority of lives. Of the more than 5,000 Kentuckians who served in the conflict, over 500 men died from disease; slightly over 70 men died from wounds received in combat.

Kentucky’s most famous casualty was Henry Clay, Jr., the third son, and namesake, of Henry Clay. Although his father considered the war to be immoral, Henry Clay, Jr., who had graduated from West Point, volunteered for service and died at the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847.

Zachary Taylor, who had been born in Virginia but who grew up in Kentucky, became a national hero and won the presidency in 1848, largely based upon his military exploits. Kentuckian William O. Butler likewise became a military hero and was placed on the Democratic ticket in 1848 to counter the nationwide appeal of Taylor. Butler remained a prominent figure in the Democratic Party and was considered as a possible Democratic candidate in 1852 (the party chose Franklin Pierce instead). Jefferson Davis gained fame after being wounded at the Battle of Buena Vista and utilized his military experience to further his own political career.

Most Kentuckians, however, did not emerge from the war as national heroes and they returned to their daily lives. In spite of political disagreements over the meaning of the war, most Kentuckians remained proud of the service Kentucky had rendered to the nation. Monuments in honor of those who served were constructed in Frankfort, Paris, Lawrenceburg, Midway, and Cynthiana.

The marker text reads:
From this point a company of 90 Paducahans-3,500 population-formed by Lt. Harry Easton, left to take part in the Mexican War. The men lodged at old Fisher Hotel nearby during time of recruiting. Later they joined volunteers from other counties in the Jackson Purchase. Kentuckians led in turning tide, battle of Buena Vista. Over. Sponsored by Paducah Colonial Baking Co.

(Reverse) Liberty of Texas, 1836 - From here 18 "Paducah Volunteers" led by Captain Amon B. King embarked for Texas in 1835 in response to Sam Houston's appeal for aid in fight for freedom from Mexico. Two weeks after the Alamo, in battle at Refugio, Urrea's Mexican troops captured and executed Capt. King and his men. Many other Americans suffered same atrocities. See over. Sponsored by Paducah Colonial Baking Co.