The San Patricios

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To the dismay of many U.S. officers, men were requesting permission to join O’Sullivan’s outfit. Others were interested in starting ranches or businesses in Mexico and wanted to be mustered out of the Army there. There would be trouble, possibly even a mass desertion, if these men were forced to return to the States just to be discharged. Of all people, Colonel Harney went to Washington to represent their position to the President, and he got honorable discharges for every U.S. veteran who preferred to remain in Mexico. The U.S. Army withdrew from Mexico City on June 1, 1848, and moving in right behind the departing troops as guards at the presidential palace and the legations were O’Sullivan’s men.

 

One of the last duties of the U.S. forces in Mexico City involved a punishment detail. John O’Reilly and his men, heads shaved, were driven from the Citadel by fife and drum rattling out “The Rogue’s March.” Beyond the gates of the Citadel, the guards watched astonished as O’Reilly took off his tattered prison garb and drew on the most magnificent tunic any of the soldiers had ever seen. It was the formal uniform coat of a Mexican colonel, emblazoned with the orders and decorations awarded to a foreigner by a grateful nation. After mounting a fine horse, Don John spurred off in the company of Mexican generals.

It turned out to be bad company. O’Reilly became involved in an aborted military coup at a time when Mexico was tired of dictators, and he was exiled. He probably left to return to Ireland in 1850, but there the trail gives out. There’s no record that he ever got home.

If O’Reilly was not forgotten in Mexico, neither were his men. The people of San Angel raised a monument to the San Patricios after the war. It was a cross bearing three images: a gamecock, a pair of dice, and a skull and crossbones. The imagery was summed up best by the historian Edward S. Wallace in 1950: “These unfortunate men were brave and fought, gambled, and lost.”

In 1960 a commemorative medallion was struck in honor of the San Patricios—“ con la gratitud de Mexico a los 113 años de su sacrificio” “—with the thanks of Mexico on the 113th anniversary of their deaths.” On its face are the escuda national , Mexico’s eagle and serpent, and an Irish cross. Unlike the grim symbols of the cross of San Angel, this one is decorated with sea horses and wolfhounds, and it is inscribed “Al Heróico Batallón de San Patricia—1847.”

On the reverse “un soldado irlandes con la vista fuera” (“a grim-faced Irish soldier”)leads his men to the stock ades at the Río Churubusco. In the background are a heavy cannon and the walls of the Convento de San Pablo.

There are no words inscribed on that side of the coin. In Mexico no words are necessary.