The Mexican War
American history books call it the "Mexican War;" Mexican history books refer to it as "The U.S. Invasion." Whatever it's called, it involved the loss of American and Mexican lives and it had an impact on Iowa.
Boundary Disputes in Texas
The war started over boundary disputes between the U.S. and Mexican governments in the current state of Texas. Texas was part of Mexico until 1836 when it won its independence and became a separate country called the Republic of Texas.
The Mexican government made peace with the Texans but never officially recognized the independence of Texas. At the time the Mexican government warned the United States that annexing the area as an American state would be interpreted by Mexico as a declaration of war. With the election of President James K. Polk in 1844 American interest in annexation increased. In 1845 Texas entered the union as the 29th state.
The U.S. "Invasion"
In January 1846 American Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor’s army was ordered into a disputed area between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers. The Americans claimed the Rio Grande was the dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico. The Mexicans viewed the Nueces River as the dividing line. The Mexicans saw the movement of American troops into this area as an invasion. Mexican troops attacked a detachment of Unites States dragoons. After news of the attack reached the capital in Washington, D. C. Congress declared war against Mexico in May 1846.
On the eve of the Mexican War the ranks of the U.S. Army numbered 734 officers and 7,885 enlisted soldiers. In response to the outbreak of war Congress more than doubled the size of the Regular Army.
Iowans Answer the Call to Action
In addition to increasing the Regular Army, Congress authorized the recruitment of 50,000 volunteer soldiers from the states and territories in May 1846. Iowa Territory (Iowa did not become a state until December 28, 1846) responded to the national call for 50,000 volunteers by organizing 12 companies of men. Des Moines, Lee and Van Buren counties recruited two companies per county. Muscatine, Louisa, Washington, Dubuque and Jefferson counties recruited one company per county. Johnson and Linn counties together organized one company.
Only three of the companies organized were called into federal service. They served at Fort Atkinson, Iowa. The three companies relieved Regular Army troops for service in Mexico. Captain John Parker’s Company of Iowa Dragoon Volunteers served from September 9, 1846 to November 5, 1846. Captain James Morgan’s Company of Iowa Infantry Volunteers served from July 15, 1846 to July 15, 1847. And Captain James Morgan’s Company of Iowa Mounted Volunteers served from July 15, 1847 to September 11, 1848.
In the spring of 1847 the War Department recruited a company from southeastern Iowa to serve with the United States Army’s 15th Infantry Regiment. Company K was mustered for duty at Fort Madison and traveled by steamboat to New Orleans. The Iowans then traveled by ocean steamer to Vera Cruz, Mexico. There they joined Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott’s 13,000 man army.
Iowa's Company K participated in the American victory at the Battle of Cerro Gordo in April 1847. The company fought with Scott’s forces in the drive to Mexico City and lost 40 percent of its men to combat and disease. Among those killed were Maj. Frederick Mills and company commander Capt. Edwin Guthrie.
A special distinction is associated with Iowan Benjamin S. Roberts from Fort Madison during the surrender of Mexico City. While serving with the U.S. Mounted Rifle Regiment he personally removed the Mexican flag and hoisted the American flag over the Mexican National Palace after Gen. Scott’s army captured the city on September 14, 1847.
Mormons Leave Iowa for Battle
At the time the United States went to war with Mexico members of the Mormon Church were traveling across southern Iowa in their migration west to Utah. U.S. Army Capt. James Allen met with church leaders in June 1846 at Council Bluffs in order to recruit members for a “Mormon Battalion” to march westward with Brig. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny. Five companies were recruited from Iowa with the stipulation that their army pay would be directed into the church treasury and their weapons and equipment issued by the Army would become private property when their enlistments expired.
The Mormon Battalion, 500 strong, assembled at Council Bluffs and marched south to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. They followed behind Brig. Gen. S. W. Kearny’s 1,000 man “Army of the West” marching for California. The Mormon Battalion eventually traveled more than 1,500 miles across the southwestern United States before the war ended with an American victory on February 2, 1848. The troops of the Mormon Battalion traveled to Utah at the conclusion of the war.
The Results of the War
Overall, Iowans played a small role in the Mexican War. However, on the home front, news of the war during this early period of Iowa’s history and settlement resulted in the naming of Buena Vista, Butler, Cerro Gordo, Clay, Fremont, Guthrie, Hardin, Mills, Page, Palo Alto, Ringgold, Scott, Taylor and Worth counties after persons, places and events of the Mexican War. In addition, the settlement of early frontier Iowa benefited from the granting of over 14 million acres of Iowa land to Mexican War veterans.
- Dilts, Harold. From Ackley to Zwingle: Origins of Iowa Place Names. 2nd ed. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1993.
- Gue, Benjamin F. History of Iowa. Vol. I. New York: Century History Company, 1903.
- Henry, Robert S. The Story of the Mexican
War. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing
- Lokken, Roscoe. Iowa Public Land Disposal. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1942.
- May, George S. ed. “An Iowan in the Mexican War.” Iowa Journal of History 53 (1955): 167-174.
- Roster of Iowa Soldiers and Sailors: Volume VI Miscellaneous. Des Moines: Iowa General Assembly , 1911.
- Sage, Leland L. A History of Iowa. Ames:
Iowa State University Press, 1974; reprinted
- Singletary, Otis A. The Mexican War.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1960.