Useful Notes / Mexican-American War

"Manifest Destiny was a slogan popular in the 1840s. It was used by people who claimed it was God's will for the U.S. to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean. These people did not include many Mexicans."
Daria Morgendorffer, Daria

The year is 1846. The Southern United States' plantation economy is becoming less and less practical as Europe gets more of its cotton from other sources, particularly India and to a lesser extent Egypt. Industry is driving more and more people north, and the balance between free and slave states is rapidly shifting. This only increases when the Oregon Territory is annexed. The answer: build a railroad from New Orleans to the Pacific coast, where many American expatriates already live. But the land in between is in the hands of a hostile Mexican government...

Meanwhile, European powers are developing spheres of influence in China, and the US government finds itself in need of a large Pacific port, and there's a big one in the Mexican province of Alta California, which everyone knows is much more valuable than the newly-annexed Texas. Unfortunately, relations with the British Empire are tense and there's a great fear that this will be their next conquest.

Lasting from 1846-1848, the Mexican American War was fought between the United States and Mexico over a small land dispute in Texas. Despite its small origins, it eventually resulted in the invasion of Mexico. Though the war is seldom depicted in contemporary media, both the United States and Mexico as we know them exist, in part, as a result of this war.


Tropes Associated With This War Include:

  • Curb-Stomp Battle: A very nasty series of those, where Mexican side was routinely getting the short end of the stick. If the battle involved navy, it could hardly even qualify as fight.
  • Dangerous Deserter: As a rule of thumb, Mexican deserters were forming organised bandit groups, looting everyone and everything just to feed themselves, often still in uniform. Meanwhile, St. Patrick's Battalion was a group of deserters who changed their colors and gave hell to American troops, since they've run away with artillery battery and training how to use it.
  • Didn't See That Coming: It was only after the war everyone fully realised Arizona and New Mexico are absolutely useless for plantations (or any contemporary agriculture for that matter), while all the South was having big hopes to spread there with cotton.
  • Divided We Fall: In the same time, Mexico was busy dealing with a rebellion in Yucatan, since Maya population wasn't even considered citizens. Sizable part of Mexican military was tied out there, making it all that easier for American invasion.
  • Eagle Squadron: Several hundred American troops, consisting mostly of Irishmen who had little love for the US government and knew what it was like to have a foreign power dominate your land (not to mention sharing a common Catholicism with the Mexicans), defected and formed the St. Patrick's Battalion to fight for Mexico. The battalion's bravery would pass into legend, and they are today considered heroes in both Mexico and Ireland.
  • From Bad to Worse: Mexico barely scraped out of the war as an integral state. Cue French Intervention a decade later, keeing the country down and making sure Mexicans started openly hating outsiders.
  • General Failure: General Santa Anna used the war as a way to not only get back to Mexico from exile, but quickly seize the power and again become El Presidente. Just like always, his military "cunning" backfired spectacularly.
  • Life Will Kill You: One of the most infamous cases in warfare history. Americans reported only minor loses due to combat, but soldiers died by the dozen due to malnourishment, low higiene and related diseases.
  • Never Live It Down: More than justified. Foreign policy of Mexico toward United States was shaped by this war up until the 1920s and for good reason - from Mexican point of view, third of their land was conquered, their military destroyed and nation humiliated. It didn't helped how rich in resources the lost area was.
  • Old Shame: Part of the reason why this war is so rarely brought up in fiction. After negotiations to simply buy all that land from Mexico (a la Luisiana Purchase) failed, President Polk decided to declare war for it instead. Even back in the day the war was highly controversial.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Most slaveholders were ferociously opposed to the war and to US expansionism into Mexican and Native American lands in general. Not out of any concern for these people, mind you, but because the expansion of the country's agricultural base brought about by the homesteaders threatened to undercut their plantations.
  • The Quisling: Santa Anna, already being an extremely controversial figure in Mexican history, was making a backroom deals with American diplomats to cease all hostilities and sell the land the war was about, if they will allow him to rule over Mexico.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Desertion was bigger problem for Mexican side than actual casualties. Meanwhile, American soldiers tend to desert to re-enlist in another unit and grab a conscription bonus or simply to see more fighting in different units.
  • The Siege: Of Veracruz. It lasted whole 12 days, after which the fortress was reduced to rubble and the 3 thousands of Mexican soldiers preferred to surrender than face American landing force of 12 thousands, backed by powerful navy taking potshots from ship's artillery pieces.
  • Silly Reason for War: A minor, almost insignificant land claim on Texan border was used as casus belli to swallow what now constitutes for American Southwest.
  • Storming the Castle: American troops seized every single city, port or fort of any strategic or tactical importance and then proceed to mop up remaining Mexican soldiers, most notably in the Battle of Chapultepec, which leads to the capture of Chapultepec castle, and later the capture of Mexico City itself.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Slaveholders with large plantations and abolitionists, making it one of the weirdest political alliances imaginable. Slaveholders saw the expansionist war as a danger to their economic position, especially after figuring out it will be impossible to spread with cotton plantations to new lands. Abolitionists meanwhile saw the expansion as a way of adding new slave-holding territories and future states to the Union. Both were putting pressure in Congress to first prevent the war and then to end it as soon as possible, thus trying to limit the land gains.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Definitely for profit and after it became clear how disorganised the Mexican resistance is, a lot of people surged into rank and file of US Army to claim status of "war hero".
  • Young Future Famous People: A lot of future Civil War commanders gained their combat experience in this war, including people like Grant, McClellan, Sherman, Meade, Rosecrans and Burnside, but also Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Longstreet, Johnston, Bragg, Price and even the future Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Since all members of St. Patrick's Battalion were deserters from US Army, all who were caught alive were put on trial and sentenced to death for treason. The following hangings are among the biggest mass executions in history of US Army.


Depictions in fiction

  • In the Dear America series, Valley of the Moon, is the diary of Maria Rosalia de Milagros, who lives in Alta California in 1847. The novel primarily deals with Maria's personal life, but it also has bits about the early parts of the war when California briefly becomes a country.
  • It must count for something that Zorro lives in California in the era before this war, i.e. California when it was under Spanish/Mexican rule. The Mask of Zorro is actually set on the eve of the Mexican-American War, while its sequel, The Legend of Zorro, picks up shortly after the war and is set on the backdrop of California becoming a state.
  • Similar to the Zorro example, The Lone Ranger takes place in the brief interlude of Texas statehood prior to the war.
  • In one of Sound Horizon's songs, "A Beautiful Starry Night," the protagonist's winding path at one point leads him right into the Mexican American War in 1846, where his knee is shattered from a musket wound.
  • The 1999 Tom Berenger film One Man's Hero is about the Saint Patrick's Battalion.
  • Serves as the backdrop during the first part of the North And South 1985 miniseries, where the two main characters are lieutenants fresh from West Point serving in this war. Even with the series focused on the American Civil War, it needed to set up their heroes in this war since most generals in the Civil War served first in Mexico.
  • The war serves as the background for Ravenous. The main character is a decorated war "hero", who for his cowardice is reassigned to former Catholic mission, now adapted as an US military outpost in freshly captured Sierra Nevadas.

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