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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
Our baggage is being sent to the steamboat landing at Nachitoches as fast as possible. We are to stop at the New Orleans Barracks to be joined by the Sixth [Infantry], and vessels are waiting at the mouth of the Mississippi to carry us where we are going. Where this place is I do not exactly know myself. We shall start from this post next Monday. There may be a chance of our having to burn a little powder in the face of the Mexicans yet. They appear to be determined to have a fuss.… B. N. Upton
Corpus Christi, Texas August 31, 1845
Here’s another letter from the rambling soldier. I am well: I trust you are all well, too. When you write again, pay the postage to New Orleans. Unless you do, it will not be forwarded, as annexation is not settled by Congress. …
We hear of wars and rumours of war, but at these things I am not troubled. I think Mexico will keep peaceable. It’s a very healthy place here—all our troops are well. There are about two thousand here now including regiments of volunteers, and two thousand more U.S. troops and another regiment [of] volunteers are expected very soon. …
We live first rate here, plenty of beef and mutton, occasionally venison and fish in any quantity. There is a seine belonging to the regiment, and a party go out every day to supply the regiment. I have seen fifty or sixty bushels brought in at one time, each fish weighing from two to ten pounds, some averaging about twelve or fifteen. I cannot say that I positively like the Army, but I am satisfied with it. I like its clockwork regularity and the novelty and excitement of moving from place to place, and then a man don’t have his fare to pay.
Today is muster day, and I have just come off parade. The Third Regiment is acknowledged to be the best disciplined regiment in the United States and [I] have nothing to say to the contrary. Every finger and toe and joint must be placed exactly according to custom, and I rather conclude that I can come it equal to the old buck. Sometimes a recollection of old times and early scenes makes me a little homesick, but the next roll of the drum drives it all away.
As I walk my lonely post at night when the stars are shining so still, and I hear no sound but the murmur of the surf in the bay and the measured tread of my fellow sentinels, I always am thinking of my friends that I have left so far beyond the blue mountains that look so distant here, and of the bright and happy days of early youth. I remember some particular evening or morning when the moon shone softer or the sun brighter on account of some pleasing association or delightful anticipation, but these days are gone and I know from experience the selfish nature of the world, but these are exceptions. I have found even in this Army, where it cannot be denied the majority are profane and wicked, some who possess the true principles of consistent and intelligent men. But what do I see?—the bottom of my paper, so I must come to the conclusion of the whole matter. …
Hold on—today I will fill out my letter. The other day I filled three pages and folded it and laid it away and forgot it, so I concluded to write this page over and fold it in a half sheet which will not increase the postage. The weather is very warm here, and if it was not for the constant sea breeze we should suffer. It would do your heart good to see the hunters come in in the evening with their game on a pole between the two men: deer, wild turkey, and cranes, pelicans and eagles for greens.
The next move we make will be to establish a permanent post up in the country, perhaps on the Rio Grande. … If we should happen to be hard pressed, we have a strong fortification further up on the bay flanked on one side by the sea where we would defy 20,000 men to take us. The land all along on the margin of the bay is considerably higher than it is back. On this broad bank we have made a thick breastwork with a ditch before it of two rows of Spanish bayonet trees. At the foot of the embankment in front of the breastwork there is a strip of thick thorn trees which render it almost impossible to dislodge the infantry. All along the top are planted cannon occupying the places between. …
We landed twenty miles from here and sailed up on small schooners—landing is difficult on account of shallow shores. There are lots of rattlesnakes here, and the lightning bugs are six times as large here as at the North. There is a kind of bird here called the Lady Bird, about half the size of our Humming Bird, with perfect little tail feathers, claws, you know, and all. Cayenne pepper (kian) grows wild here on the prairies, and we burn a kind of logwood to boil our coffee. …
Corpus Christi, Texas November 10, 1845
It has been a long time since I have heard from home. What has been the reason? I sent a letter just before I left Fort Jesup in July, another from New Orleans, and another from this place about the middle of September—no answers. However, I am well and contented for we have a fine country to live in and nobody to shoot but deer and turkey. Why don’t you write to a “feller” once in a while? …
The recall beat just as I was finishing the first page and as there is generally a brigade drill in the afternoon, I gave up writing, but now it rains, it rains hard, and I have no one to disturb me: a sergeant who belongs to the tent is on detached service; one of the men is sick; and the other is on guard.…