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Our First Foreign War
Long before Vietnam, Korea, the Argonne, or San Juan Hill, there was Mexico. As usual, it was the average G.I. who shouldered the burden of our foreign policy and what it cost in blood. This is the very graphic story of one foot soldier, as he told it in letters to his family back home in Massachusetts
June 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 4
I am perfectly satisfied with my situation. It suits my taste for saving and adventure. Besides, I am in the finest country in the world— a healthy climate ( a little too warm though, sometimes) and surrounded by the varied productions of a southern clime. I march over almost boundless prairies, across large rivers without scarce knowing their names. I see countless herds of buffalo, deer, and wild horses moving unmolested over the mighty plains. There are Indians scattered everywhere in this country, the genuine sons of the forest who have seldom or never seen the white man. I love to see these rude beings in their curious and original costume, their painted faces, their bows and arrows, and then I reflect this race once owned the land now covered by our cities and cultivated farms.
The common people of Matamoros are very ignorant. I have looked on them in pity when I have presented a half dozen in succession with a scrap of a Mexican book. Not one of them could read, though of the age of men and women. How strong the contrast with the people of New England.…
I suppose you can know the movements and events that happen in this quarter of the country as well as I could tell you. It seems that the war is to be carried on in a substantial way, and so it ought to insure a speedy termination. I am in such a hurry that I don’t think I can fill my letter, but it is all the same. The Army moves about so I cannot tell you to direct your letters to any particular place, so you had better direct them: Barna Upton, Company C, Third Regiment, Army of Occupation. …
It seems to me that something will turn up to enable me to go home before the expiration of my time, but I don’t know as I shall tell Mother if I do come. I shall bring her a curious present. I am afraid the socks she made me will get moth-eaten.
Camargo, Mexico August 28, 1846
Dear Friends: I am well. Our brigade is about to move for Monterrey. I shall not have another opportunity [to write] for a long time.
We arrived at this place after a hard march of nine days. The distance is about one hundred twenty miles. A part of the Army has already moved on its way to the interior. Four or five men of the Seventh Infantry were killed, probably by [Antonio] Canales’s [guerrilla] band. They were in the rear to bring up a packed mule that had given out. So it will be all the way: stragglers from the main body will be murdered by robbers. There is a great many Volunteers here, but I don’t know how many.…
There is a good many sick in the Army, though there is no dangerous disease and but few deaths in proportion to the great number of men. I believe the enemy are determined to make every exertion to prevent our Army from advancing into their country. We shall no doubt have some hard fighting. All the troops here seem anxious to be led on to the fray. Is it not sad to think how many, either in battle or by disease, will lay their eye in the sand (as the soldiers say) before the close of this extensive campaign? I realize that my own chance is with the rest in the lottery of life ana death, yet let what will happen, I trust I shall always be found doing my duty.
I know it is the duty now for the Mexicans to prevent if they can an invasion of their country, yet in the first place it was their own haughtiness, stubbornness and narrow-minded, blind self will and foolish, ignorant pride that was the immediate cause of hostilities. They acted like a little snappish puppy biting at a man’s heels. …
It is clear that the United States, independent of what Texas had done, had a right to claim the country to the Rio Grande and to post troops there; … yet the United States, knowing that Mexico still absolutely claimed the country between [the Rio Grande and the Nueces] rivers, were willing to listen to these complaints and settle it in peace. I do not pretend to say that this war is entirely justifiable, for there is not one war in twenty that is, but I believe and I think I have given good reasons for believing that Mexico is more in fault than the United States in bringing on the war.
There is a great many things that would probably interest you that take place in the intervals of my writing for when I write I only think of movements and things that are taking place at present. I remember seeing considerable in the papers about shooting the deserters while we were lying before Matamoros. I think there were three shot in all, and there was not a reasonable man in the Army that did not feel that the order was just. It is an awful thing certainly to deprive a human being of life, but we were a small force and a powerful army were surrounding us. …
There is a great quantity of prickly pears here. They grow about the size of a hen’s egg and when ripe are the most delicious fruit I ever tasted. The inside of the fruit is like the gooseberry which resembles it in taste except it is a little more tart. There is also a species of wild plum grown here. The rancheros cultivate apples, grapes, plums, etc. Rancheros are farmers and a farm house is called a ranch.
The people here are friendly and say they wish to get rid of their tyrannical rulers.…
P.S. I open this letter to say that an express came in last night from the City of Mexico stating that Paredes had been deposed, that Santa Anna had taken the presidential chair, that he had called on the several departments to follow him and restore their tarnished honor, and that he would soon be at the head of a large army to oppose General Taylor. The paper that this letter is written on was taken from the Mexicans at the battle of Resaca Palma.