Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Schuylkill County In the Mexican War 1846-1848

General Winfield Scott

Schuylkill County in the Mexican

In the year 1831 the United States concluded a treaty of commerce and navigation with Mexico. This was repeatedly violated by the Mexicans, who in numerous instances imprisoned Americans, seized their ships, and confiscated their goods. President Jackson, in a message to Congress in 1833, declared that the outrages of the Mexicans justified a declaration of war. Our government made repeated remonstrance’s to Mexico, but without any satisfactory results.

This action of the Mexicans caused a widespread feeling of dislike and hatred throughout the United States, and the Americans retaliated by assisting the Texans in their struggle for independence.

The friction between the two countries reached a climax when Texas applied for admission to the United States. For ten years previous it had been an independent state, and had been recognized as such by this country; but Mexico refused to acknowledge this to be a fact, and regarded Texas as a part of itself. So that the American Government well knew, that if Texas became a part of this country Mexico would regard it as an act of war, and hostilities would begin at once.

Nevertheless the majority of Congress, with President Polk and his Cabinet, resolved to fight. Their reasons were: First, a desire to acquire new and vast territories, and then to introduce slavery into those domains. Therefore on March 1st, 1845, Texas was admitted to our Union. After the Act was passed, but before it was ratified by the Texan convention, General Taylor was ordered to proceed with an army corps to Texas and prevent any invasion from Mexico. His force was called The Army of Occupation.

On October 16th, 1845, Taylor was directed to drive all Mexican troops beyond the Rio Grande; and finally on January I3th, 1846, was instructed to march to that river, and, if attacked by the Mexicans, to capture Matamoras and other places.
In obedience to this order General Taylor left Corpus Christi with his army March 2ist, 1846, and crossed the Colorado River, considered by the Mexicans to be the boundary of their republic. Mexico promptly declared war; and General Arista was ordered to attack the Americans at once.

War having begun, the United States Government made a requisition on Pennsylvania for two regiments of infantry. Therefore, in November, 1846, Governor Shunck issued a call for volunteers. This was responded to in Schuylkill County by the Washington Artillery of Pottsville, now Co. F., 4th Regiment National Guard of Pennsylvania.
The Company originated in the Independent Blues, organized in 1840. The command was reorganized as Heavy Artillery in 1842, and was thenceforth known as The Washington Artillery.

November 3Oth, 1846, the company was accepted to serve as infantry during the war; and ordered to report at Philadelphia. So on a cold snowy day, December 5th, 1846, the Artillery left for the seat of war. The command consisted of:

Muster Roll of Co. B, 1st Regt., Pa. Vols., War With Mexico
December 5, 1846

(From copy in possession of Col. Daniel Nagle, Pottsville, Pa.)


Captain, James Nagle age 25 years, Pottsville
1st Lieut., Simon S. Nagle 25 "
2nd Lieut., Franklin B. Kaercher 25 "
3rd Lieut., Jacob Fellnagle, 20 "
1st Sergt., Edward Rehr, 32 "
2nd Sergt., William S. Nagle, 20 "
3rd Sergt., Edward Kaercher, 21 "
4th Sergt., J. L. McMicken, 24 "
1st Corporal, Enos Zentmyer, 25 "
2nd Corporal, David Llewellyn, 22 "
(On way to New Orleans)
3rd Corporal, J. Egbert Farnum, 23 "
4th Corporal, Edward W. Masson, 25 "
1st Musician, Daniel Nagle, Drummer, 18 "
2nd Musician, Reuben Stamm, Fifer, 23 "


William C. Boland, Pottsville
Charles Scrimshaw, 23 "
Daniel Shappell, 36 "
Elias Shelly, 26 "
Emanuel Shelly, 26 "
A. H. Berger, "
Nelson Berger, "
Henry Smink, 27 "
George Seitzinger, 27 "
William Seitzinger, 40 "
John Stegner, 29 "

John Shuster, 22 "
(Discharged at Perote Castle, January 7th, 1847.)
Jacob W. Shoub, 22 "
Michael Sands, 22 "
(Left at New Orleans, January 15th, 1847.)
James Sands, 25 "
Robert H. Savage, 28 "
(Left at New Orleans, January 12th, 1847.)
Samuel Shadman, 22 "
Henry Fisher, 21 "
George W. Garrett, 24 "
John C. Gilman, 34 "
Thomas W. Guthrie, 21 "
(Discharged at Vera Cruz.)
Elias F. Hiney, 26 "
John Hays, 22 "
Peter Hass, 26 "
William H. Hatcheley, 25 "
John Jennings, 24 "
(Left at New Orleans, January 12th, 1847.)
Elias Kelly, 26 "
(Discharged at Vera Cruz, March 17, 1847.)
John Kepply, 28 "
Singleton Kimmel, 22 "
Michael Lust, 37 "
William Tyson, 24 "
Abel B. Macy, 28 "
Alexander McDonald, 22 "
Ferdinand Mammerank, 20 "

John Mooney age 21 years, Pottsville
(Left sick at Pittsburg, December 21st, 1846.)
John Myers, 21 "
Samuel McLaughlin, 35 "
(Discharged at Vera Cruz, April 2nd, 1847.)
Thomas Simpson, 18 "
(Left in Mexico.)
Robert F. Walter, 26 "
Gottloeb Wishue, 22 "
Robert Welsh, 22 "
William Wolfinger, 22 "
William Witecomb, 25 "
Owen D. Thomas, 29 "
Andrew Stamm, 20 "
John Douty, "
(Killed at San Angel, by Mexican Greaser in ambush.)
Joel Metz, "
James H. Ruckel, 23 "
David Jones, 22 "
(Discharged at Vera Cruz, April, 1847.)
Benjamin Shell, 20 "
Benjamin Smith, 20 "
(Died at Perote Castle, June 29th, 1847.)
Augustus H. Boyer, 21 "
Bernard Barr, 32 "
Valentine K. Mills, 30 "
(Died at Perote Castle, August 8th, 1847.)

William Merkle, age 25 years, Pottsville
(Killed by Mexican Greaser in ambush at San Angel, about August 1.)
Benjamin Nagle, 26 "
(Died at San Angel, Mexico.)
John M. Nolan, 24 "
Francis M. Wynkoop, 28 "
(Elected Colonel from the ranks at Pittsburg.)
Francis C. McGeen, 23 "
Henry Richards, 22 "
John Hand, 19 Philadelphia
Thomas W. Guthrie, 22 "
Henry Graeff, 26 "
(Died at Jalapa, Mexico.)
Patrick H. McElroy, 23 Pittsburg
(Left January 5, 1847, at New Orleans.)
Joshua Jenkins, 24 "
Thomas Quiddington, 42 "
John McCormick, 19 "
William Hines, 20 "
Thomas J. Gilpin,
Mahlon A. Fraser, age 25 years, New Orleans.
(Left at Vera Cruz, April 8th, 1847.)
William Knockhouse. age 22 years, Schuylkill Haven.
William H. Stackpole, age 21 years, Waynesburg.
Samuel Montgomery, age 22 years, Waynesburg.
(Died at Perote Castle, August 26th, 1847.)
James H. Ross, age 20 years, Waynesburg.
Levi Bright, age 30 years, Reading.
(Lost on march from Pueblo to Perote.)
Charles Seagraves, age 22 years, Reading.
George W. Hesser, aged 27 years, McVeytown.
Seth Price, age 26 years, Orwigsburg.
Edward Robins, age 21 years, Port Carbon.
Levi Essler.

Commissioned officers .............................................. 4
Musicians .......................................................... 2
Non-commissioned officers .......................................... 8
Private soldiers .................................................... 83
Total ....................................................... 97

Number of men enlisted in Pottsville ............................. 74
Number of enlisted outside of Pottsville, but in county ........ 10
Number enlisted outside of county along route to New Orleans ...... 13
Total ..................................................... 97

How The Boys From Schuylkill Would Have Looked

From Philadelphia the Artillery went by way of Harrisburg and Johnstown to Pittsburg. Here the regiment assembled; six companies from Philadelphia, two companies from Pittsburg, one company from Wilkes-Barre and one company from Pottsville.

Having been mustered in, an election of regimental officers was held. The Pottsville men made an agreement with the Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburg companies, that if Francis W. Wynkoop, serving as a private in their company, was elected colonel, instead of Captain William Small of Philadelphia, Black of the Pittsburg contingent
should be Lieutenant-Colonel, and Bowman of the Wilkes Barre command would be made Major. Wynkoop, therefore, became colonel.

The regiment was now uniformed, armed and equipped. It now became The First Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Col. Francis W. Wynkoop commanding, of the First Pennsylvania Brigade, General Robert Patterson commanding. The Washington Artillery standing on the roster as Co. B.

After leaving Pittsburg, the regiment passed down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, and encamped on Jackson's famous battle ground.
After staying ten days at New Orleans, the First Pennsylvania took ship and sailed on one of the most famous military expeditions that ever left the United States; grand in its conception, brilliant in its execution and far-reaching in its consequences.

The. army for the reduction of the City of Mexico rendezvoused at the island of Lobos. It was commanded by General Winfield Scott, and consisted of about twelve thousand men, instead of the twenty-five thousand recommended by General Taylor. and even for this small force Scott was obliged to requisition Taylor for some of his best regiments. Having assembled his army, General Scott now proceeds straight to the City of Vera Cruz.

Vera Cruz was a strongly fortified city on the Gulf of Mexico. It contained about five thousand people; was surrounded by stone walls, mounting one hundred guns, with an hundred more on other defences; and was further protected by the castle of San Juan d'Ulloa, mounting two hundred guns. The garrison numbered about five thousand men, commanded by General Morales.

Around the city stretched sandy arid expanses, broken by numerous sand hills of considerable height, and partly covered by chaparral, small gnarled trees, mingled with cactus. This extended in some places to the city walls.
The army landed in three divisions. First Division, General Worth; Second Division, General Patterson, including the First Pennsylvania; and Third Division, General Twiggs. Havingj landed, the troops bivouaced without any molestation from the enemy.
But next morning the Mexican guns opened fire, which continued with more or less vigor during the siege.

General Scott now proceeded to invest the city on the land side. A battery of two guns first opened a desultory fire to attract the enemy, and then the army moved. The First Pennsylvania took their line of march through a dense chaparral, along a narrow path in Indian file. The Mexicans, ambuscaded in the woods, began a sharp fire, but without much effect. Emerging from the forest, the regiment took a position on a high sand hill in full view of the city.

General Scott now occupied himself by inspecting the line. Approaching the First Pennsylvania and seeing that the men were much exposed to the fire of Fort Santiago, he ordered them to take cover and lie down; when a soldier replied: "Lay down yourself, General, or the Mexicans will presently knock you over." "No, sir," said Scott, "my duty requires me to be here, where I am. The President of the United States can make Generals every day, but he cannot make good soldiers."

The army now began to land siege guns, ammunition, supplies, and to construct batteries; the First Pennsylvania being principally engaged in the construction and equipment of what was known as the Navel Battery. This was located under cover of a thick forest of chaparral, so near the city that our men could at night hear the dogs bark in the streets of Vera Cruz. This battery was constructed of sand bags and armed with two 64 lb. and four 24 tb. guns.

When all was ready, the woods were cut down, and a United States artilleryman leaped on the parapet and waved the flag; falling dead the next moment. The battery at once began firing.

The bombardment of Vera Cruz began on March 22, 1847, the Mexicans firing with every gun they possessed and at times pouring a perfect tempest of shot and shell into the American batteries, but, owing to their bad marksmanship, not doing a very great amount of injury.

The American fire was terribly effective, and searched every part of the city; causing great destruction of life and property.

At last, after a brave defense, General Morales surrendered on March 27th, 1847, the garrison giving their parole not to serve during the war. On March 29th, the Mexicans marched out of the city and surrendered their guns to our army. All but the banner of Mexico. This a soldier tore from the pole and, placing it in his bosom, swore that he "would ever protect it, stand by it and defend it from falling into the hands of the enemy." He \vas allowed to keep the colors.

General Scott now sent a dispatch to Washington: "The flag of the United States of America floats triumphantly over the walls of this city and the castle of San Juan d'Ulloa."

General Scott was obliged to parole his prisoners, being absolutely without the means of providing for them. All through this campaign, the army was hampered by a lack of reinforcements and supplies of all kinds. The government's whole action to Scott's army was unwise, impolitic and unjust; the army being at times in an almost destitute condition. During the march to Cerro Gordo, there were no provisions, not even salt, and the soldiers subsisted on the wild cattle they shot along the line of march. This, and the poor pay, may have accounted for the numerous desertions during the war, much to the discredit of the army and resulting in some very strenuous hangings. Scott on one occasion having recaptured forty deserters, found in the service of the enemy, hung them all in one batch.

General Scott now formed his army into a compact body and, depending entirely on the courage and skill of his soldiers, plunged into the heart of a hostile country. When the Duke of Wellington heard of it, he said: "Scott is lost. His success has turned his head. He will never be heard of again."
Leaving Vera Cruz with the army, the Washington Artillery marched to the Plan del Rio; and, still continiting to advance, came face to face with the enemy at the Pass of Cerro Gordo.

The Pass of Cerro Gordo was a long, deep, narrow ravine between Vera Cruz and Jalapa. Around it extended rugged, almost inaccessible mountains. On each side were perpendicular rocks rising to a height of several hundred feet, and through it wound the National Road. Santa Anna's position on the left of the pass was one of great strength. On the right and left it was Impregnable, the front very difficult to storm, but in the rear it was inadequately protected.

Here were concentrated a force of fourteen thousand men and forty-three guns. The Mexican general did not suppose that the Americans would deliver a front and rear attack at the same time, and this is exactly what the Americans did do.
The United States engineers cut a road from a point of the National Road, below the Mexican position, over the hills to the right of the Pass, and, making a wide detour, circled around the enemy coming out at a point behind the town of Cerro Gordo,. so that a column of infantry and artillery could turn the Mexican's flank and assault them in the rear.

When all was ready, on the 17th of April, 1847, the column of Generals Worth, Twigs and Shields marched off to the right, over the new road; and Pillow's division, which included the First Pennsylvania, moved to the left to attack the enemy in front. The Division formed with First Pennsylvania leading, then First Tennessee, next Second Pennsylvania, and last Second Tennessee. Then, turning to the buglers, Col. Wynkoop said: "Play up Yankee Doodle!" and the division rushed forward to assault the Mexican line.

They were met by a perfect tornado of schrapnel and bullets. The sound of the bugles concentrated the whole fire of the enemy on them, and Yankee Doodle never had a warmer reception than at Cerro Gordo.

Still the division kept on until General Pillow, being wounded, left the field. General Patterson was nowhere to be found, and the troops came to a halt, as there was no one to give orders. The total destruction of the division was prevented by being partly protected by a hill and by the bad marksmanship of the Mexicans, owing to the fact that they fired from the hip instead of the shoulder. Col. Wynkoop sent several requests for permission to advance and charge, but received no reply. So the division held their ground while the bullets fell in showers and men dropped right and left. The whole division would in fact have been annihilated, had not the Mexicans suddenly ceased firing, and hoisted a white flag; for the troops of Worth, Shields and Twiggs had turned the enemy's flank; and, assaulting them in the rear, swept all before them, and compelled the Mexicans to surrender.

Part of the Mexican army laid down their arms. The rest retreated towards Jalapa. Hotly pursued by United States dragoons, the retreating Mexicans making a desperate resistance and the fight continuing as far as Jalapa, the road to that place being a charnel house. The dead laying in piles; and the highway covered with the wrecks of wagons and all the impedimenta of an army. Santa Anna took to his heels, leaving in his hurry his wooden leg behind him; also sixty thousand dollars, that he had begged, borrowed or stolen, to pay his troops.
The total loss of our army amounted to 434 killed and wounded; that of the Mexicans, 500. Our forces captured three thousand prisoners and forty-three guns; also six thousand stand of arms.
From Cerro Gordo, the army marched to Jalapa, and from there proceeded to the town of Perote. Here the First Pennsylvania was divided. Four companies, including the Washington Artillery, remained in garrison at the strong castle of Perote. The other six companies being sent to garrison the City of Pueblo. The rest of the army continued its march to the City of Mexico, which surrendered to our forces September 14th, 1847.
It was after the fall of the City of Mexico that the garrison of Perote was startled by news that Santa Anna with the remnant of the Mexican army had besieged Pueblo and was ordered to join General Lane's relief column,
Santa Anna besieged Pueblo with eight thousand men. The garrison consisted of six companies of First Pennsylvania, about three hundred strong. They occupied the San Jose quarter where the hospital of our army was located. The rest of the city was captured by the Mexicans who surrounded the garrison, cutting off their supplies. Then having erected batteries, opened a hot fire on the Americans. Every man was put on duty. All the invalids capable of bearing arms, took part in the defense. On the approach of Lane's column Santa Anna inarched to meet it, leaving Gen. Rial to prosecute the siege. This was done with great vigor. The Mexicans bombarding our troops, and making repeated assaults, which were repulsed after hard fighting. The garrison returning the fire of the enemy; and making numerous sorties, resulting in desperate fighting through the streets of the city.

When this force approached Huamantla, they saw the enemy in force near that place. Lane advanced to seize the town. The Mexicans did likewise, and both arrived there about the same time. Captain Walker with the Rangers dashed ahead of the column and penetrated to the plaza. Here he was attacked by a large force of Mexicans, and a desperate fight ensued, in which Captain_Walker was killed and his command driven back with heavy loss. A gun was now hurried to the plaza, and six men rushed ahead of the infantry to assist the gunners, one of them being Daniel Nagle, drummer of the Washington Artillery. Lane's main column now came up, and the enemy retreated. The American troops reached Puebla October 12th, 1847, and at once made a vigorous attack on the Mexicans. After a hot engagement, in which the Washington Artillery took part, the enemy was driven from the town and the siege raised.

The whole of the First Pennsylvania regiment now returned to Perote. Near the town of Atlexico they attacked a force of the enemy, and drove them some distance, the Mexicans retreating and fighting for seven miles. And this was the last battle qf the Washington Artillery in Mexico.

All through this war our army was obliged to contend with the guerillas. They surrounded our troops like a swarm of noxious insects, and it was dangerous for any one to leave our line of march even for a short time as the guerillas perpetrated every kind of outrage on the Americans. After the siege of Puebla, the First Penna. being on the way to Perote, one Levi Bright of the Washington Artillery left the column to rest by the road. He was warned of his danger; but paid no attention. The regiment passed on and he was never seen or heard of again.

From Perote the regiment was ordered to the City of Mexico; and while there, was presented with a handsome stand of colors by General Scott.
The command now went into garrison at the town of San Angel, remaining there until the conclusion of peace. The First Pennsylvania Infantry left Mexico from Vera Cruz, June 19th, 1848, and arrived in Philadelphia, July 24th, 1848, where the regiment disbanded.

By the treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo February 2nd, 1848, Mexico ceded to the United States the territories of New Mexico, Upper California and the disputed boundary of Texas, altogether 977,111 square miles. For this the United States paid Mexico $15,000,000, and further agreed to compensate those persons who had claims against Mexico, to the extent of $3,250,000.

The consequences of the war with Mexico were far reaching; and the end is not yet. The field of Buena Vista was the beginning of a world power. The guns at Vera Cruz were re-echoed at Manila Bay, and the march that began at Cerro Gordo, ended before the gates of Pekin.


The following is a copy of a letter written by William Merkle,
July 16, 1847, to his mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Merkle, of Spring
Garden, Schuylkill Haven, several days before his death.
Col. Daniel Nagle says: William Merkle and John Douty went out
for a walk, one morning, beyond the picket line, when they were
shot by Mexican Greasers lying in ambush. Their bodies were
recovered and buried within the redoubts. (History of Merkles.)
The original is in the possession of his great nephew, Prof.
Bartolet, Instructor of Mathematics, Collegiate Institute, York,
Pa. The stamp bears the dare of November 5, 1847, Vera Cruz,
Mexico. Wm. Merkle was an uncle of W. M. Zerbey, deceased, of

Castle of Revote, Mexico, July 16, 1847.

My Dear Mother: -

I am now in this castle, 36 miles from Jalapa, about 110 from
Vera Cruz, and more than 2,000 from you and my own dear home.
I am in good health, good spirits, and pleased with my companions.
Here we live on the best productions of Mexico, without work, and
permitted to enjoy ourselves as we most desire; and so long as we
enjoy health, no one could wish for more happiness. The building is
very large, the city of Revote a short mile distant, and the whole
country around is a level plain of cultivated land, bounded by
mountains of immense heighth, for their tops are always covered
with snow. Beef, pork, potatoes, onions, beans, peas, tomatoes,
etc., are very plenty, but very dear here.
We have had some hard fighting, but, thank God, I am yet
among the living, although in the midst of all the trials. On the
evening of the 21st of June, our company, with some others, left
here to relieve a train of wagons from Vera Cruz, and the next
morning at three oƕclock we routed our savage enemies at
Lavidia, about 16 miles from here. The Mexicans numbered about
500 -- our force about 300; but we routed and defeated them,
killing about 100 of them, without loss of a single man, although we
lost four horses.
We are now awaiting fresh orders, and expect to have another
engagement with more than 5,000 Mexicans who have fortified the
National Bridge, between here and Vera Cruz. When or whither
we go is uncertain.
The sick and wounded are dying very fast in our hospital. The
funerals average from 10 to 13 every day. We have only lost five
out of our company by death, but many by desertion and
We are uncertain when peace will be agreed upon, or when
we will return home.
I have never received an answer to any of my letters home,
and you need not expect another until you write to
Your affectionate son,
William Merkle.