deserters fight against u.s. -- 8/22/22

Today's selection -- from A Wicked War by Amy S. Greenberg. In the Mexican-American War, many of the U.S. Army's regular soldiers were Catholic immigrants, serving in a largely Protestant army against the Catholic nation of Mexico. That, coupled with the perceived unjustness of the war, led some to desert and fight against the U.S.:
"Among the most tenacious soldiers fighting for Mexico were the U.S. deserters who made up the San Patricio (or St. Patrick's) Battalion. Deser­tions had been a problem for the U.S. Army since Taylor first entered Texas, particularly among the 40 percent of the regular army who were recent immigrants. Raised in foreign cultures, many immigrants looked at Amer­ica's fantasy of Manifest Destiny with skepticism, if not outright hostility. One Prussian volunteer from Ohio, Otto Birkel, noted in his diary that 'the Founding Fathers of the [American] Republic were right to ... rec­ommend the strongest neutrality in all world affairs to their grandsons; but these grandsons thought themselves wiser, and now there is talk of uniting the entire continent of North and South America into one enor­mous state.' While anyone who had traveled through Europe 'can very well see the madness of these plans,' in the United States 'the majority of the people ... do not doubt the possibility of the undertaking, and are sup­ported ... by countless demagogues.' 

The mass hanging of San Patricios, as portrayed by Samuel Chamberlain, c. 1867

"Furthermore, while a significant proportion of immigrant soldiers were Catholic, the officers, for the most part, were Protestant, and the army reflected the virulent anti-Catholicism of American society in the 1840s. Anti-Catholic riots were common events in northeastern cities in the 1830s and 1840s. Just two years before the start of the war, objections by Catho­lics to the use of the King James Bible in public schools led to a major riot in Philadelphia and a national conversation about the place of Catholicism in America. There were plenty of soldiers who claimed 'that the present war in favored by the Almighty, because it will be the means of eradicating Papacy, and extending the benefits of Protestantism.’"



Amy S. Greenberg


A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico


Vintage Books a division of Random House


Copyright 2012 by Amy Greenberg


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