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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
You ask me to describe the weather on some particular day. Well, today, the first day of summer, is a bright, beautiful, sunshiny day; a gentle breeze is ruffling the leaves of the tall china trees that grow in clusters around the hospital. Everything around today seems peaceful, calm, holy, but it is not so. Though every prospect pleases, yet man is ever vile. You want I should tell about the scenery, inhabitants here, etc. Everything in nature seems different from what it does in New England. There are scarcely any trees here that grow at home. I have seen some beeches, red oak, and there is plenty of yellow pine. The principal forest trees here (and the whole country for twenty five miles around is a forest with the exception of very scattered plantations of cotton) are the pine, cottonwood, gum, china, sassafras, and persimmon. …
It is very healthy here and entirely out of the way of the yellow fever. I do not know how long this regiment will stay at this post. … I shouldn’t wonder if we were sent to Texas or Oregon. There is no backing out of the Army, and for my part I do not want to leave it. I feel perfectly contented and why should I not? I have everything here I want except the society of my friends, and this I cannot expect always to have anyway. …
We have a large garden to every company here, plenty of all kinds of vegetables. There are any quantity of fig trees here; indeed, they hedge in the walks and lanes. They are now full of green figs. There are plenty of peaches, plums, cherries, apples, sweet potatoes, etc. This post was built in 1837-1838, and great pains were taken to have good quarters and gardens. There is great talk of war now. Well, I’ll be glad to have it come if it can’t possibly be helpt. …
In my next letter I shall [write] what kind of officers, quarters, laws and regulations we have here (we have first rate ones for such as will do just right, but a rogue catches it). I shall write also how many women there is in our company (there is five) and how many in other companies (about the same number), and I shall write how many children if I can find out.• On looking at this letter I find Susan asks where I sleep. I sleep in a bunk. …
•Women serving as laundresses frequently accompanied units of the United States Army serving in remote or frontier areas. In the Mexican War the most famous of these was Sarah Borginnes, better known as “The Great Western” or “The Heroine of Fort Brown.”— Ed.
We have a large library here of 2000 volumes of well selected works. Almost every book that I ever heard of are here: Harper’s Family Library complete, all kinds of the latest school books, dictionaries, spelling books, geographies, chemistry, arithmetic, etc., all the good old books, and new novels. I found the other day a book containing about 150 songs and tunes printed by Butler at Northampton, Mass., first-rate old tunes. Its title is The Songster’s Museum, or a Trip to Elysium.
I wish you could hear the turtledoves here. I have often heard how they will mourn if they lose their mates, and they do make a most doleful moaning noise when they go away on some high limb and sit alone, but I’ve sometimes thought that some of them are old maids that can’t find anybody to have them. Deer are plenty, and they are seen almost every day and sometimes shot here, but they are very shy. The Indians bring in venison very often, and now every day the squaws come in with each a half bushel of blackberries to sell for [a] picayune [six and a half cents] a quart. …
As Barna Upton’s earlier letter indicates, the Third Infantry sailed for Fort Jessup, Louisiana, on February 23, 1845, even before Congress, in a joint resolution, had completed the annexation of Texas. As soon as the annexation was proclaimed, the Mexican minister called for his passports and sailed for home. With the threat of war becoming daily more imminent, General Zachary Taylor was ordered to occupy a position “on or near the Rio Grande del Norte … best adapted to repel invasion.” There he was to stand by until President Polk had exhausted all diplomatic efforts to reconcile Mexico. The Third United States Infantry was part of Taylor’s army of occupation, and the letter that follows chronicles Barna Upton’s part in the embarkation for the Rio Grande country.
Fort Jesup Julys 3, l845
Dear friends: I write a short letter today to inform you that I am well and that ere this reaches you, I shall be in Texas near the line of Mexico, where our regiment is ordered. The Third, Fourth, and Sixth Infantry are all ordered there, also the Second Dragoons. Everything is bustling, packing, and preparing for the march. All are eager to start, animation and enthusiasm is the order of the day.
Yesterday the news of General [Andrew] Jackson’s death came to Fort Jesup. We were paraded at ten o’clock this morning and listened to a long eulogy that came with the despatch. The flag was lowered on the staff, the regimental colors were hung in mourning, and the officers had crepe on their left arms. Thirteen guns were fired at sunrise and are to be fired every half hour through the day. …