Zachary Taylor National Cemetery

Historical Marker #1412 in Louisville notes the location of the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.

In June 1991, the national media focused attention on the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, as news broke that the body of Zachary Taylor was to be exhumed. A researcher at the University of Florida requested to exhume Taylor’s body. According to her research, Zachary Taylor’s sudden death in 1850 was because he had been poisoned by his political opponents, who were upset that he wanted the lands taken from Mexico in the U.S.-Mexican War to be turned into free states. Taylor’s body was exhumed and although a coroner found traces of arsenic, there was no evidence that he had been poisoned. His body was subsequently returned to the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.

Taylor’s exhumation in 1991 placed the typically forgotten twelfth president of the United States back in the national spotlight. Taylor had been born in Orange County, Virginia, in 1784 to Richard and Sarah Dabney Taylor. Richard Taylor, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, moved the family to Kentucky, where he slowly acquired a small fortune. Richard Taylor built a brick home - called Springfield - for his family on his estate, which sat outside of Louisville. Zachary Taylor lived at Springfield longer than any other location. The Taylors relied upon the labor of over twenty enslaved persons.

In spite of his family’s growing affluence, Zachary Taylor received a rudimentary education. He attended a small academy in Middletown, Kentucky and then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1808. From that point onward, Taylor’s life was that of a soldier. The War of 1812 proved to be Taylor’s first combat experience. He had been transferred to Indiana Territory in 1811, and was promoted to major for defending Fort Harrison against the British and their Native American allies. During the Second Seminole War, Taylor was promoted to brigadier general. Later, when his superior resigned, Taylor was placed in command of all troops in Florida.

When the annexation of the Lone Star State occurred in 1845, he and his troops were deployed to the border along the Rio Grande River. Mexico did not recognize the Rio Grande as the border between Texas and Mexico. They believed that the border was the Nueces River to the north. In April 1846, when Mexican forces attacked a U.S. detachment in the disputed territory, President James K. Polk used the opportunity to ask Congress to declare war on Mexico.

At the outset of the war, Taylor led the U.S. forces in northern Mexico. He fought and won battles at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Taylor’s popularity soared, and, with his capture of Monterrey in September 1846, Democratic President James K. Polk saw Taylor as a potential political threat. Taylor’s popularity hit its zenith after winning the Battle of Buena Vista, in February 1847. He remained in Mexico until November 1847, but his military career was basically over. He returned to his home in Louisiana in December.

In 1848, Taylor received the Whig Party nomination for president. With vice presidential candidate Millard Fillmore, Taylor won the election over Democrats Lewis Cass and Kentuckian William O. Butler. Taylor, however, did not live out his term as president. After participating in fundraising ceremonies for the Washington Monument, Taylor ate a large amount of fruit and drank cold milk, which apparently caused severe gastroenteritis. He died on July 9, 1850.

After first being buried in Washington, Taylor’s remains were reinterred at his old boyhood home of Springfield in Jefferson County, Kentucky. The site became the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in 1928.

The marker reads:
Gen. Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), distinguished lifetime soldier and twelfth President of United States, buried here in family cemetery. Commissioned Lt. 1808. Served in War of 1812; Black Hawk War, 1832; Seminole War, 1836-43. Major Gen., 1846. Active leader in Mexican War, 1846-47. Western Army Command, 1847. Elected President, 1848. Died in office.