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Thread: 85 Irish Traitors Hanged - New Mexico Territory 1846

  1. Polk & Taylor

    President James K. Polk, ordered General Zachary Taylor to take a position south of the Nueces River in Texas with a force of 4,000 men, by January 1846 the general had built a fort in disputed territory on the northern banks of the Rio Grande.

    On April 26, 1846, a Mexican cavalry troop crossed the Rio Grande upstream of Taylor’s army, a patrol sent by Taylor to intercept them was attacked, and in the skirmish, 11 Americans were killed and 5 wounded.

    When Polk received word of the attack, he delivered his war message, declaring that since the Mexicans had “shed American blood on American soil,” a state of war existed between the United States and Mexico.

    Before the declaration of war, a group of Irish headed by John Riley deserted from the American forces and joined the Mexicans, they were apprehended by General Taylor, then tried by military court martial and hanged.

    In September 1847, the Americans put the Irish soldiers captured at the Battle of Churubusco on trial, forty eight were sentenced to death by hanging, those who had deserted before the declaration of war were sentenced to whipping at the stake, branding, and hard labor.
    Most American historians contend that the punishments were neither particularly brutal nor unusual given the fact that there was no prescribed code.

    However, clear documentation exists that the codified Articles of War (1821) and William De Hart’s Observations on Military Law, and the Constitution and the Practice of Courts-Martial (1847) governed courts-martial at that time and clearly stipulated the exact punishments these soldiers should have received.

    The Articles of War stipulated that the penalty for desertion and/or defecting to the enemy during a time of war was death by firing squad. Hanging was reserved only for spies (without uniform) and for “atrocities against civilians.” Nevertheless, 48 of the San Patricios were hanged, 18 in San Angel and 30 in a place called Mixcoac.

    Desertion before a declaration of war was punishable by one of the following punishments: branding on the hip in indelible ink, 50 lashes, or incarceration at hard labor. However, the San Patricios received more than 50 lashes, “until their backs had the appearance of raw beef, the blood oozing from every stripe,” according to one American witness.

    In addition, the punishment was administered by Mexican muleteers who were threatened with the same lash if they did not “lay it on with a will.” These same Irishmen were also branded with “D” for deserter on the cheek by a red-hot branding iron, and they were sentenced to imprisonment and hard labor.

    The sentence of the court, according to the Articles of War, should always be carried out promptly. “To prolong the punishment beyond the usual time would be highly improper, and subject the officer who authorized or caused such to be done to charges.” In the case of the last of group of 30 San Patricios to be hanged, this Article of War was cavalierly ignored.

    Pursuit of the Mexicans by the U.S. Dragoons: under the intrepid Col. Harney, at the Battle of Churubusco Aug. 20th 1847

    The Hangings by Colonel Harney

    General Winfield Scott had chosen an officer who had been twice disciplined for insubordination as his executioner of the last group of 30 San Patricios. Colonel William Harney had been soldiering for almost 30 years and was notorious for his brutality. During the Indian Wars he was charged with raping Indian girls at night and then hanging them the next morning after he had taken his pleasure.

    In St. Louis, Missouri, he was indicted by a civilian court for the brutal beating of a female slave that resulted in her death. The choice of Harney as executioner of the San Patricios seemed calculated by the American high command to inflict brutal reprisals on the Irish Catholic soldiers. Harney would not disappoint them.

    At dawn on September 13, 1847, some days after the first group of 18 had been executed, Harney ordered the remaining San Patricios to be brought to a hill in Mixcoac a few kilometers from Chapultepec Castle where the final battle of the war was to be fought.
    Observing that only 29 of the 30 prisoners were present, Harney asked about the missing man. The army surgeon informed the colonel that the absent San Patricio had lost both his legs in battle. Harney, in a rage, replied: “Bring the damned son of a bitch out! My order was to hang 30 and by God I’ll do it!”

    After the guards dragged Francis O’Conner out and propped him up on his bloody stumps, nooses were placed around the necks of each of the men, and they were stood on wagons. Harney then pointed to Chapultepec Castle in the distance and told the prisoners that they would not be hanged until the American flag was raised over the castle signifying that the Yankees had won the battle.

    The prisoners yelled out in incredulity and protest. Some made jokes and sarcastic remarks trying to goad the unstable colonel into giving an impulsive order. One prisoner asked Harney to take his pipe out of his pocket so that he might have one last smoke.

    Then, with a glint in his eye, he asked if the colonel would not mind lighting it with his “elegant hair.”
    The redheaded Harney did not appreciate the joke. He drew his sword and struck the bound prisoner in the mouth with the hilt, breaking several of the man’s teeth.

    The prisoner was not intimidated, however. Spitting out blood and broken teeth, the irrepressible Irishman quipped: “Bad luck to ye! Ye have spoilt my smoking entirely! I shan’t be able to have a pipe in my mouth as long as I live.”

    James Walker 1819 – 1889, The Storming Of Chapultepec, September 12, 1847

    Meanwhile the Battle of Chapultepec raged on. Finally, at 9:30 a.m. the Americans scaled the walls of the castle, tore down the Mexican flag, and raised the Stars and Stripes. With that, Harney drew his sword and, “with as much sangfroid as a military martinet could put on,” gave the order for execution.

    The San Patricios, after four and a half hours of standing bound and noosed in the 90-degree sun, were finally “launched into eternity.”
    Harney’s violation of the Articles of War requiring prompt execution did not result in charges being brought against him. Rather, his behavior was rewarded. A month later Harney was promoted to brigadier general and accompanied the commander in chief in a triumphal march in Mexico City.

    The punishments ordered for the San Patricios and the way they were carried out conveyed more than the mere judgment of the court. They were clear examples of religious and racist reprisals. In spite of the fact that more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers deserted during the Mexican War, only the San Patricios were so punished, and only the San Patricios were hanged.


    The Battle of Chapultepec September 1847, was a U.S. victory over Mexican forces holding Chapultepec Castle west of Mexico City during the Mexican-American War.
    On September 13, 1847, in the costly Battle of Molino del Rey, U.S. forces had managed to drive the Mexicans from their positions near the base of Chapultepec Castle guarding Mexico City from the west. However Army engineers were still interested in the southern approaches to the city. General Winfield Scott held a council of war with his generals and engineers on September 11.

    Winfield Scott & Beauregard

    Scott was in favor of attacking Chapultepec and only General David E. Twiggs agreed. Most of Scott's officers favored the attack from the south including Major Robert E. Lee. A young Captain Pierre Beauregard gave a text book speech that persuaded General Pierce to change his vote in favor of the western attack.

    Antonio López de Santa Anna was in command of the army at Mexico City. He understood that Chapultepec Castle was an important position for the defense of the city. The castle sat atop a 60 m tall hill which in recent years was being used as the Mexican Military Academy.
    General Nicolás Bravo, however, had fewer than 1,000 men, 832 Total including 250 10th Infantry, 115 Queretaro Battalion, 277 Mina Battalion, 211 Union Battalion, 27 Toluca Battalion and 42 la Patria Battalion with seven guns, to hold the hill, including 200 cadets, some as young as 13 years old. A gradual slope from the castle down to the Molino del Rey made an inviting attack point.

    According to military records at the General National Archives in Mexico City, Chapultepec Castle was only defended by 400 men, 300 from de Batallón de San Blas under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Felipe Xicoténcatl, and the castle's garrison of 100 men, including the cadets.

    Scott organized two storming parties numbering 250 hand-picked men. The first party under Captain Samuel Mackenzie would lead Gideon Pillow's division from the Molino east up the hill. The second storming party under Captain Silas Casey would lead John A. Quitman's division against the southeast of the castle.

    Engagement .. The Americans began an artillery barrage against Chapultepec at dawn on September 12. It was halted at dark and resumed at first light on September 13. At 08:00, the bombardment was halted and Winfield Scott ordered the charge. Following Captain Mackenzie's storming party were three assault columns from George Cadwalader's brigade of Pillow's division.

    On the left were the 11th and 14th regiments under Colonel William Trousdale, in the center were four companies of the Voltigeur regiment under Colonel Timothy Patrick Andrews, and on the right were the remaining four Voltigeur companies under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Johnston.
    Pillow was quickly hit in the foot but ordered the attack forward. Andrews's column followed Mackenzie out of the Molino and cleared a cypress grove to the front of Mexican troops as Trousdale and Johnston moved up on the flanks. The attack stalled when Mackenzie's men had to wait for storming ladders to arrive, and there was a lull in the battle.

    To the southwest, 40 Marines led Captain Casey's storming party followed by James Shields' brigade of volunteers north towards Chapultepec. Again the storming party stalled while waiting for ladders, and the rest of Shields' men halted in the face of Mexican artillery. The scaling ladders arrived, and the first wave ascended the walls.

    In fact so many ladders arrived that 50 men could climb side by side. George Pickett, later famous for "Pickett's Charge" and the Battle of Five Forks during the American Civil War, was the first American to top the wall of the fort, and the Voltigeurs soon planted their flag on the parapet. Colonel Trousdale's column supported by Lieutenant Thomas J. Jackson's artillery faced superior numbers of Mexicans in a spirited defense.

    Newman S. Clarke's brigade brought new momentum to the fight on Pillow's front. General Shields was severely wounded when his men poured over the walls, but his troops managed to raise the U.S. Flag over the castle. Caught between two fronts, General Bravo ordered a retreat back to the city. Before he could withdraw, Bravo was taken prisoner by Shields' New York volunteers.

    Antonio López de Santa Anna

    The Mexicans retreated at night down the causeways leading into the city. Santa Anna watched the Americans take Chapultepec while an aide exclaimed "let the Mexican flag never be touched by a foreign enemy".
    Belén and San Cosmé Gates .. General Scott arrived at the castle and was mobbed by cheerful soldiers. He detached a regiment to garrison Chapultepec and the prisoners there. Scott then planned for the attack on the city. He ordered a secondary attack against the Belén Gate and brought up the rest of William J. Worth's division to support Trousdale's men on La Verónica Causeway, now Avenida Melchor Ocampo for the main attack against the San Cosme Gate.

    Defended by Gen. Rangel Granaderos Battalion, part Matamoros, Morelia & Santa Anna Battalions, part 3d Light, & 1st Light Trousdale, followed by John Garland's, Newman Clarke's and George Cadwalader's brigades, began advancing up the causeway.

    However, General Quitman quickly gathered the troops in Chapultepec and Persifor F. Smith's brigade turned east and immediately headed down the Belén Causeway. Intended only to be a feint, Quitman's attack soon became the center of the attack as he chased Chapultepec's retreating defenders back into the city. His troops were met by strong resistance in front of the gate, which was supported by a battery of artillery.

    Using the stone arches of the aqueduct running down the center of the causeway, Quitman's men crept forward. General Andrés Terrés' troops (three guns and 200 men : 2d Mexico Activos) began to desert and flee back to the citadel. Led by the Mounted Rifles (fighting on foot), Quitman breached the Belén Gate at 1:20 p.m. General Scott later commented "Brave Rifle, Veterans, you have been baptized in fire and blood and come out steel".

    Robert E. Lee

    To the north, Robert E. Lee led Worth's attackers down the La Verónica Causeway. It was 4 p.m. by the time Worth reached the junction of the La Verónica and San Cosme causeways, where he beat back a counter attack of 1,500 cavalry before turning east down the San Cosme causeway.
    Progress was slow, and casualties were mounting. Finding the buildings alongside the roadway filled with enemy troops, Colonels Garland and Clarke were sent with the 1st and 2nd brigades to approach the defenses under cover by burrowing through the buildings on both sides with crowbars and pickaxes.

    Ulysses S. Grant

    Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant discovered the bell tower of San Cosme Church south of the causeway, where he mounted the howitzer and began firing shots down onto the defenders from his lofty position. On the north side of the road, naval officer Raphael Semmes repeated Grant's successful maneuver.
    Lieutenant George Terrett then led a group of Marines behind the Mexican defenders and, climbing to the roof, unleashed a deadly volley on the artillery gunners. By 6 p.m., Worth had broken through the gate, and the defenders scattered. Many retreated to the ciudadela, sweeping Santa Anna along with them. As night fell, Worth lobbed five mortars into the city which fell near the National Palace.

    Aftermath .. The battle had been a significant victory for the U.S. Lasting throughout most of the day, the fighting had been severe and costly. Generals Twiggs, Pillow, and Shields had all been wounded as well as Colonel Trousdale. The heaviest losses occurred during Quitman's attack on the Belén Gate. Every member of Quitman's staff lost his life in the close fighting on the causeway.

    Santa Anna lost General Bravo as a POW, and General Juan N. Pérez was killed. In a fit of rage Santa Anna slapped General Terrés and relieved him of command for losing the Belén Gate. In his memoirs Santa Anna branded Terrés as a traitor and made him the scapegoat for the defeat at Mexico City.

    Legacy .. The efforts of the U.S. Marines in this battle and subsequent occupation of Mexico City are memorialized by the opening lines of the Marines' Hymn, "From the Halls of Montezuma..." .

    Marine tradition maintains that the red stripe worn on the trousers of the Blue Dress uniform, commonly known as the “blood stripe,” commemorates those Marines that stormed the castle of Chapultepec in 1847, though iterations of the stripe predate the war.

    In 1849, the stripes were changed to a solid red from dark blue stripes edged in red, which dated from 1839, in 1947, President Harry S. Truman laid a wreath on the Cadets Monument as a gesture of goodwill after Mexico aided the U.S. in World War II.

    Los Niños Héroes, Gabriel Flores 1967

    Los Niños Héroes During the battle, six Mexican military cadets refused to fall back when General Bravo finally ordered retreat and fought to the death. Their names were:Lieutenant Juan de la Barrera, and cadets Agustín Melgar, Juan Escutia, Vicente Suárez, Francisco Márquez and Fernando Montes de Oca.

    Saint Patrick's Battalion Thirty men from the Saint Patrick's Battalion, a group of former United States Army soldiers who joined the Mexican side, were executed en masse during the battle.

    They had been previously captured at the Battle of Churubusco, General Scott specified that they were to be hanged with Chapultepec in view, and that the precise moment of their death was to occur when the U.S. flag replaced the Mexican tricolor atop the citadel.
    The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.

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