The Mexican War
History of The Iowa National Guard
CW2 David L. Snook
In the 1840s, expansionist fever in the United States, symbolized by the doctrine of "Manifest Destiny," was on a collision course with Mexican pride, still suffering from the humiliation of defeat at the hands of American settlers in Texas in1836. The annexation of Texas to the United States in 1845 brought on a war with Mexico in the spring of 1846. The war, which lasted for a year and a half, involved three major campaigns – General Zachary Taylor’s invasion of northern Mexico, Colonel Stephen Kearny’s occupation of California and General Winfield Scott’s capture of Vera Cruz and Mexico City. The result of these victories was the addition of more than half a million square miles of territory to the United States.
As war clouds gathered, Iowa was still a territory but was taking the steps necessary to become a state. Congress authorized President James K. Polk to issue a call for fifty thousand volunteers. The Territory of Iowa was requested to furnish a regiment. Mass meetings were held in many towns and enlistment began at once. By the 26th of June, twelve companies had enlisted, consisting of two companies in each of the counties of Lee, Van Buren and Des Moines and one in each of the counties of Dubuque, Muscatine, Johnson, Louisa, Washington and Linn.
The twelve companies which were raised under President Polk’s first call to arms were never called into active service. The men were anxious to serve, but so many regiments had been accepted from the various states that the Secretary of War, on the 25th of November, 1846, notified Governor James Clarke that the Iowa regiment would not be needed.
Although an all-Iowa regiment did not materialize, Iowans did serve in the Mexican War. Captain Edwin Guthrie of Fort Madison and Major Frederick Mills of Burlington raised an independent company of one hundred men, which was accepted and became "Company K" of the Fifteenth Unites States Infantry. The company became part of General Winfield Scott’s army, taking part if the capture of Veracruz, the Battle of Churubusco, the occupation of Mexico City and many other engagements. Both Captain Guthrie and Major Mills were killed in action, Guthrie at Churubusco and Mills at Mexico City.
Another unique Iowa unit was the "Mormon Battalion." In June of 1846, soon after the war had begun, Captain James Allen of the First Dragoons was sent by the War Department to Iowa to confer with Mormon leaders at Mount Pisgah and Kanesville for the purpose of enlisting volunteers for the army. With the encouragement of Brigham Young, the foremost Mormon leader of the time, five hundred men were enlisted and organized into what came to be known as the "Mormon Battalion." These men joined the army of Colonel Stephen Kearny. Kearny’s forces occupied California in 1847.
The most decorated Iowa soldier of the war was Benjamin S. Roberts of Fort Madison. Roberts went into the army as a lieutenant of mounted volunteers, at the beginning of the war. He was in General Scott’s army and participated in all of its battles. He led the advance into Mexico City and pulled down the Mexican flag with his own hands. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In 1849, the Iowa legislature voted him a sword in honor of his courageous service.
The Mexican War furnished names for several Iowa counties and towns. The Legislature of 1850 created new counties in the northern and western parts of the state. The battlefields and heroes of the late war were fresh in the minds of the people, and their memory was perpetuated in many of the counties named. Buena Vista, Cerro Gordo and Palo Alto were named for famous battlefields. Taylor, Ringgold, Mills, Worth, Butler, Hardin and Guthrie were named for distinguished officers. Numerous towns and townships commemorated other heroes of the war.