Mexican War

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Mexican War,

1846–48, armed conflict between the United States and Mexico.


While the immediate cause of the war was the U.S. annexation of Texas (Dec., 1845), other factors had disturbed peaceful relations between the two republics. In the United States there was agitation for the settlement of long-standing claims arising from injuries and property losses sustained by U.S. citizens in the various Mexican revolutions.

Another major factor was the American ambition, publicly stated by President PolkPolk, James Knox
, 1795–1849, 11th President of the United States (1845–49), b. Mecklenburg co., N.C. Early Career

His family moved (1806) to the Duck River valley in Tennessee and there, after graduating from the Univ.
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, of acquiring California, upon which it was believed France and Great Britain were casting covetous eyes. Despite the rupture of diplomatic relations between Mexico and the United States that followed congressional consent to the admission of Texas into the Union, President Polk sent John SlidellSlidell, John
, 1793–1871, American political leader and diplomat, b. New York City. He became a prominent lawyer and political figure in New Orleans and served as a Democrat in Congress (1843–45). In 1845, Slidell was appointed special U.S.
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 to Mexico to negotiate a settlement. Slidell was authorized to purchase California and New Mexico, part of which was claimed by Texas, and to offer the U.S. government's assumption of liability for the claims of U.S. citizens in return for boundary adjustments.

When Mexico declined to negotiate, the United States prepared to take by force what it could not achieve by diplomacy. The war was heartily supported by the outright imperialists and by those who wished slave-holding territory extended. The settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute (June, 1846), which took place shortly after the official outbreak of hostilities, seemed to indicate British acquiescence, for it granted the United States a free hand.

The Course of Hostilities

Early in May, 1845, American troops under Gen. Zachary TaylorTaylor, Zachary
, 1784–1850, 12th President of the United States (1849–50), b. Orange co., Va. He was raised in Kentucky. Taylor joined the army in 1808, became a captain in 1810, and was promoted to major for his defense of Fort Harrison (1812) in the War of 1812.
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 had been stationed at the Sabine River preliminary to an advance to the Rio Grande, the southern boundary claimed by Texas. They advanced to Corpus Christi in July. In Mar., 1846, after the failure of Slidell's mission, Taylor occupied Point Isabel, a town at the mouth of the Rio Grande. To the Mexicans, who claimed the Nueces River as the boundary, this was an act of aggression, and after some negotiations Gen. Mariano Arista ordered his troops to cross the Rio Grande. On Apr. 25 a clash between the two armies occurred, and Taylor reported to Washington that hostilities had begun.

On May 3 the guns of Matamoros began to shell Fort Brown (then Fort Taylor), an advanced American position near the present Brownsville, Tex. President Polk called these Mexican actions an invasion of American soil, and on May 13, 1846, the United States declared war. Meanwhile, Taylor had defeated the Mexicans at Palo AltoPalo Alto,
locality not far from Brownsville, Tex., where the first battle of the Mexican War was fought on May 8, 1846. American troops under Gen. Zachary Taylor defeated a Mexican force led by Gen. Mariano Arista, who retreated to Resaca de la Palma.
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 (May 8) and Resaca de la PalmaResaca de la Palma
, valley, an abandoned bed of the Rio Grande, N of Brownsville, Tex., where the second battle of the Mexican War was fought, May 9, 1846. Mexican troops under Gen.
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 (May 9). The Mexicans retreated across the Rio Grande. Taylor followed them and on May 18 took Matamoros. After a delay he then advanced on Monterrey, which he occupied after a five-day battle (Sept. 20–24, 1846).

In June, 1846, Gen. Stephen W. KearnyKearny, Stephen Watts
, 1794–1848, American general in the Mexican War, b. Newark, N.J. At the beginning of the Mexican War he was made commander of the Army of the West with the rank (June, 1846) of brigadier general.
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 left Fort Leavenworth for New Mexico with some 1,600 men, including a force of Missouri volunteers under Alexander DoniphanDoniphan, Alexander William
, 1808–87, American lawyer and soldier, b. Mason co., Ky. He began (1830) to practice law in Lexington, Mo., and served three terms in the state legislature, becoming involved in the Mormon issue.
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. Santa Fe was taken (August), a provisional government was set up, and Doniphan was placed in command of the area. Kearny pushed on to California to find that this province, through the agency of Commodore John D. SloatSloat, John Drake,
1781–1867, American naval officer, b. near Goshen, N.Y. He entered the navy as a midshipman in 1800 and resigned after a year's service, but reentered for service in the War of 1812.
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 (later relieved by Robert F. StocktonStockton, Robert Field,
1795–1866, American naval officer, b. Princeton, N.J. He left the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) to enter the U.S. Navy at 16 and served in the War of 1812 and in the subsequent campaigns against the Barbary pirates.
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) and John C. FrémontFrémont, John Charles,
1813–90, American explorer, soldier, and political leader, b. Savannah, Ga. He taught mathematics to U.S. naval cadets, then became an assistant on a surveying expedition (1838–39) between the upper Mississippi River and the Missouri.
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, was already under American rule. After reinforcements reached Santa Fe, Doniphan invaded (Dec., 1846) N Mexico, taking El Paso and Chihuahua before he joined forces with Gen. John E. Wool (who had advanced southwest from San Antonio) and with Taylor at Saltillo.

Gen. Antonio López de Santa AnnaSanta Anna, Antonio López de
, 1794–1876, Mexican general and politician. He fought in the royalist army, but later joined Iturbide in the struggle that won independence for Mexico (1821). Santa Anna then entered upon a long and tortuous political career.
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, who had been in exile in Cuba and had been allowed passage through the U.S. blockade at Veracruz, had now assumed the presidency of Mexico; he gathered a large force to stop Taylor's advance. Taylor, whose army had been greatly reduced in size, was in an extremely vulnerable position when hit by Santa Anna in the battle of Buena VistaBuena Vista, battle of,
military engagement in the Mexican War, fought Feb. 22–23, 1847. The battle site was just S of Saltillo, Coahuila, in Mexico. Gen. Zachary Taylor, disobeying orders from the U.S. government, had advanced here. Gen.
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 (Feb., 1847). The fighting was hard and appeared indecisive for a time, but in the end the Mexicans withdrew in confusion.

The final campaign of the war began with the landing of U.S. forces under Gen. Winfield ScottScott, Winfield,
1786–1866, American general, b. near Petersburg, Va. Military Career

He briefly attended the College of William and Mary, studied law at Petersburg, and joined the military.
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 at Veracruz in Mar., 1847. Scott was supported by a naval task force under David Conner (who was relieved by Matthew C. PerryPerry, Matthew Calbraith,
1794–1858, American naval officer, b. South Kingstown, R.I.; brother of Oliver Hazard Perry. Appointed a midshipman in 1809, he first served under his brother on the Revenge and then was aide to Commodore John Rodgers on the
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); they landed some 12,000 men and after a three-day bombardment took the city. Scott then began his drive on Mexico City. In April, Santa Anna was defeated at the mountain stronghold of Cerro GordoCerro Gordo
, mountain pass, E Mexico, on the road between Veracruz and Xalapa, site of a decisive battle (Apr. 17–18, 1847) of the Mexican War. General Santa Anna, having established himself firmly at and behind the pass, attempted to halt the advance of Gen.
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. After hard fighting Mexican forces were also routed at ContrerasContreras
, village, central Mexico, near Mexico City, site of an important battle (Aug. 19–20, 1847) of the Mexican War. Gen. Winfield Scott, continuing his advance after the battle of Cerro Gordo, approached Mexico City.
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 and Churubusco (August).

On Aug. 24 the Mexicans accepted an armistice, but after two weeks of futile peace negotiations, fighting was resumed. The Mexican capital was heavily defended by garrisons at Casa Mata and Molino del Rey and by the great fortress of ChapultepecChapultepec
[Nahuatl,=grasshopper hill], 1,600 acres (650 hectares), park in Mexico City. It was originally developed as a residence for Aztec rulers. A castle built on a hill there in the late 18th cent.
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. William J. WorthWorth, William Jenkins,
1794–1849, American army officer, b. Hudson, N.Y. He served with distinction on the Niagara frontier in the War of 1812 and later became commandant of cadets and instructor of infantry tactics at West Point (1820–28), even though he was not a
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 carried Casa Mata and Molino del Rey, and the supposedly impregnable Chapultepec was stormed in a savage American assault led by Gen. John A. QuitmanQuitman, John Anthony,
1798–1858, American general and politician, b. Rhinebeck, N.Y. He settled in Natchez, Miss., where he practiced law and held a series of political offices, serving in the state legislature and as acting governor (1835–36).
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. On Sept. 14, 1847, American troops entered Mexico City, where they remained until peace was restored.

The Settlement

The United States had won an easy victory, partly because Mexico, torn by civil strife, could not present a united front to face the invader. The Mexican presidency had changed hands a number of times during the war, and some Mexican states had refused to cooperate with the central government. Peace negotiations were conducted on behalf of the United States by Nicholas P. TristTrist, Nicholas Philip,
1800–1874, American diplomat, b. Charlottesville, Va. He attended West Point, studied law under Thomas Jefferson, whose granddaughter he married, and was private secretary to Andrew Jackson. He served as U.S.
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, a secret envoy, whose relations with General Scott were at first strained. Although recalled by President Polk, Trist decided to ignore the order and continue his negotiations, which resulted in the Treaty of Guadalupe HidalgoGuadalupe Hidalgo
, shrine, central Mexico, in the Federal District. The basilica of Guadalupe containing the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe (feast: Dec. 12) is the focal point of the most famous pilgrimage in the Western Hemisphere.
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 (Feb. 2, 1848). By the terms of the treaty, Mexico ceded to the United States two fifths of its territory and received an indemnity of $15 million and the assumption of American claims against Mexico by the U.S. government. The boundary between the two countries, as outlined, was to follow the Rio Grande from its mouth to the New Mexico line, then run west to the Gila River, follow the Gila to the Colorado River and then follow the boundary between Upper California and Lower California to the Pacific.


See G. L. Rives, The United States and Mexico, 1821–1848 (1913, repr. 1969); J. H. Smith, The War with Mexico (1919, repr. 1963); B. De Voto, The Year of Decision (1943, repr. 1961); A. H. Bill, Rehearsal for Conflict (1947, repr. 1969); R. S. Henry, The Story of the Mexican War (1950, repr. 1961); O. A. Singletary, The Mexican War (1960); R. E. Ruiz, The Mexican War: Was It Manifest Destiny? (1963); D. M. Fletcher, The Diplomacy of Annexation (1973); K. J. Bauer, The Mexican War (1974); J. H. Schroeder, Mr. Polk's War (1974); G. N. Brack, Mexico Views Manifest Destiny (1975); J. M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (1988); A. S. Greenberg, A Wicked War (2012).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mexican War


(in Russian, American-Mexican War of 1846–48), a war of conquest waged by the United States against Mexico from 1846 to 1848. In 1835, American plantation owners who had settled in Mexican Texas began a rebellion with the support of US ruling circles and announced the secession of Texas from Mexico, proclaiming it an “independent state” in 1836. In 1845, Texas was admitted to the Union in spite of the fact that the Mexican government, as early as 1843, had warned that it would regard the annexation of Texas as a declaration of war. In January 1846 the United States sent its troops southward from Texas into Mexico. The Mexican army resisted the invaders. Then, on May 13, 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. Despite the technical superiority of the American forces, the Mexican troops put up stubborn resistance, and guerrilla warfare broke out in areas occupied by the Americans.

However, in response to the Mexican government’s attempt to confiscate some of the church’s wealth to meet military needs, reactionary circles of clerics and large landowners organized rebellions in the capital and other cities in February and March 1847, rendering direct assistance to the invading enemy. In 1846 and early 1847, US troops occupied California and a considerable part of northern Mexico. In March 1847 an American expeditionary force landed at the port of Veracruz and began a drive toward the Mexican capital, which was successfully taken in mid-September 1847. Despite the loss of the capital and several other cities, the Mexican people continued to wage guerrilla warfare. The ruling circles, however, hastened to conclude peace with the United States. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, concluded Feb. 2, 1848, Mexico lost over half of its territory.


Potokova, N. V. Agressiia SShA protiv Meksiki, 1846–1848. Moscow, 1962.
Ivanov, G. I. “Bor’ba meksikanskogo naroda protiv amerikanskoi agressii.” Uch. zap. Ivanovskogo ped. in-ta, vol. 11, 1957.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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