After over thirty years of peace with other nations, we were again engaged in war, the third in our national history. It is known as the Mexican war. The contention was over the territory north of the Rio Grande river, and resulted in the cessation to the United States of that territory and California. The war came late in 1846. There was something glorious, in the opinion of the average American youth, about going to a far-off land to fight an enemy about whom they knew nothing. They knew of the victory of General Sam Houston at the battle of San Jacinto, in 1836, around which a glamour of romance had been thrown. Mexico was, moreover, old in civilization when we were struggling colonies. Its untold wealth of architecture rivaled that of the city on the Tiber in the days of the Caesars. They were now to see its luxuriant marble baths, its magnificent porticoes, its temples dedicated to the Sun, and the grand palaces and halls of the ancient Montezumas. The magnificent yet decaying splendor of all this was extremely attractive to the youthful Westmorelander whose traveling had been limited in almost every case to his native state. There, too, were the tempting fruits which ripened all the year round under the bright rays of the tropical sun.
Prior to this we had had militia companies with their attendant parade or review days, in nearly every section of the county, and these had engendered a martial spirit among our young men which, at all events, has not been surpassed since that day. In the Greensburg company were attorneys, doctors, preachers, merchants, clerks, mechanics, etc. They responded promptly to the call for troops, and about one hundred young men in the county, and in nearly every case came from what might be called our best families. Nearly one-third of all who left, never returned. But few of them fell in battle, and perhaps their greatest mortality was due to diseases incident to the hot climate. Some were laid in the hot sands at Vera Cruz, others were buried in the City of Mexico, and still others, who died on the way home, were committed to the waves of the great Gulf.
There was but one company in the war from our county, and it was raised in and around Greensburg. The company roll is as follows:
Commissioned Officers: -Captain, Jno. W. Johnson; first lieutenant, James Armstrong; second lieutenant, Washington Murray; second junior lieutenant, James Coulter.
Non Commissioned Officers: -First sergeant, Henry C. Marchand; second sergeant, Thomas J. Barclay; third sergeant, H. Byers Kuhns; fourth sergeant, James M. McLaughlin; first corporal, James M. Carpenter; second corporal, Andrew Ross; third corporal, William Bigelow; fourth corporal, Daniel C. Byerly. Musicians: -drummer, Andrew J. Forney; fifer, Michael J. Kettering.
Privates: -John Arkins, Andrew Bates, Hugh Y. Brady, George W. Bonnin, William A. Campbell, Humphrey Carson, Richard Coulter, Archibald Dougherty, Henry Fishel, Samuel Gorgas, John R. Grow, Frederick Kaines, James M. Hartford, James Hays, Andrew R. Huston, James Johnson, Jacob Kagarize, John Kerr, Jacob Kuhn, Philip Kuhn, Jacob Linsebigler, ----- Macready, George May, William H. Melville, Samuel Milner, Samuel C. Moorhead, Peter McCabe, Samuel McClanen, James H. McDermott, Robert McGinley, Amon McLean, William McWilliams, Frederick Rexwood, Joseph Shaw, Thomas Spears, Henry Scickle, Nathaniel Thomas, James Underwood, William R. Vance, Lebbeus Allshouse, McClure Bills, Samuel Byerly, Henry Bloom, Hagen Carney, Milton Cloud, George Decker, James L. Elliott, Henry Gresyn, Andrew D. Gordon, George Haggerty, Edward Hansberry, George W. Hartman, Michael Heasley, Jacob Haffer, Richard H.L. Johnston, William Kelly, Henry Keslar, Daniel D. Kuhns, Edmund B. Landon, Benjamin Martz, Jacob Marrhead, David Mechling, Jacob P. Miller, Samuel H. Montgomery, Lewis Myers, Richard McClelland, John McCollum, Charles McGarvey, William McIntire, James McWilliams, David R. McCutcheon, James Reager, Chauncey F. Sergeant, William R. Shields, Frederick D. Steck, John Taylor, Israel Uncapher, Samuel Waters.
The troops bound for Mexico from the southern part of Pennsylvania, came west largely on the Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia turnpike, and all along the farmers and others who had sleds, wagons and teams turned out to haul them a few miles, and thus hasten their westward journey. The farmers and others in the western part of Somerset county hauled them over the Laurel Hill, where the Ligonier Valley people took them up and delivered them at Youngtown, and so on.
On December 23, 1846, a public meeting was held in Greensburg to raise a fund to transport our company in the best of style to Pittsburgh. The company was organized late in December, and all its members were entertained during most of the holiday season by the citizens of Greensburg in their private houses. Christmas came on Sunday that year, but the day following the women of Greensburg gave the soldiers a "complimentary supper" in the court house. On Tuesday Rev. Brownson, of the Presbyterian church, presented each member of the company with a neatly bound Bible. They were received by Mr. Andrew Ross, who was a member of the bar and a member of the company. On Wednesday morning, December 28, they started in wagons, coaches, etc., for Pittsburgh. They started early, so that with their baggage they might reach the city the same day, the accomplishment of which was regarded as quite a success as to its rapidity in the mobilization of armies.
In Greensburg they were called the "Westmoreland Guards," but in the service they were designated as Company e, Second Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, and were in General Pillow's brigade, General Patterson's division, and of course, under General Winfield Scott. Ninety-four were mustered into service at Pittsburgh, on January 1, 1847. They left Pittsburgh on January 8, and passed down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, and thence to Vera Cruz, which they reached on March 9th. They were engaged in many battles. Only forty-four of them were mustered out on July 14, 1848. Their first colonel was William B. Roberts, but, on his being taken sick, John W. Geary, who afterwards became Governor of Pennsylvania, succeeded him.
General Stephen W. Kearney commanded the "Army of the West," General Zachary Taylor commanded the "Army of Occupation," and General Scott commanded the "Army." On March 22d, our armies demanded a surrender of Vera Cruz. This being refused, the batteries and the fleet which lay near by in a bay of the Gulf, opened fire on the city. San Juan was the name of the gate to the city, and it offered a stubborn resistance until out soldiers had determined to carry the works by an assault. The Mexican commander then offered to surrender, the terms were agreed upon, and our troops took possession of Vera Cruz.
On April 14 our army again confronted the Mexican army at Cerro Gordo. To cut off the retreat, General Scott cut a road to the left of Cerro Gordo and around the base of the mountain, and came in at the rear of the Mexican forts. This took several days. A part of our army charged the enemy with such impetuosity that they drove them back like sheep. Our batteries now occupied the heights in front of Cerro Gordo. General Harney stormed the heights, while General Shields guarded the left to prevent the escape of the enemy. The city was taken and the enemy completely cut to pieces. Our army took three thousand prisoners and killed and wounded one thousand two hundred,
Then the hot weather began to tell on the army, and there were only about five thousand out of fourteen thousand troops who were able to march against the City of Mexico. For this reason further movements were delayed till August, at which time the effective army was increased to eleven thousand troops. With these General Scott marched from Pueblo on May 5. This was a long march for northern soldiers in that hot climate, and, when they were about worn out, they passed over the crest of the mountains and suddenly came in full view of the valley of Mexico with the famous capital in the distance. There, glittering in the sunlight, were the lofty domes and castles of the Montezumas, and beyond were the snow-capped mountains and volcanoes. But the road to the city was the most strongly fortified in Mexico, and to reach it by that route which lay before them seemed out of the question. They therefore decided to cut a road around Lake Chalo, though the Mexicans thought that was impossible. On the 18th the army was on the Acapulco road, near San Augustine, and within nine miles of the city. But between them and the city still lay the pass of San Antonio. It was a narrow gorge between two mountains that were strongly fortified. General Scott concluded not to attempt the pass until he would first fake Contreras, a fortification which guarded the pass. On August 19 four brigades of our soldiers fought the enemy around Contreras all day. The Mexicans were superior in numbers and in fortifications, and held their own very well all day. To the west was Santa Anna with about ten thousand troops. Finally our infantry was moved to the rear of the enemy, and the fight began from that section about an hour before daybreak. At sunrise the other divisions of the army began the attack, each from its position, bringing to bear against the enemy all the force it could command. Though General Smith was not the senior officer, he had command of and outlined the place of the battle. After the battle properly began from all sides, at break of day, it only took them a few minutes more than a quarter of an hour to thoroughly defeat the enemy. Among other events of the battle was the capture of two guns which had been taken by the Mexicans at Buena Vista. They were recaptured by Simon H. Drum, of the well known Drum family of Greensburg.
Four miles from Contreras was the fortress of Cherubusco. When Contreras was once thoroughly commanded by our army, General Worth's division was sent to attack San Antonio and thus open a shorter route to the city of Mexico. After taking San Antonio they were to move on to join another division which was at that time moving towards Cherubusco. The Mexican troops at San Antonio did not wait to be attacked, but fled before our army reached them. In fleeing, however, they fled to Cherubusco, and added great strength to that fortress, so that our army met with a strong resistance at that place. It was situated on a hill, and our forces crossed ditches, and by sheer force and fearless charging took one intervening point after another until at length they entered the citadel of Cherubusco with drawn swords and drove the Mexicans out, even pursuing them till they reached the gates of Mexico. Our army lost about one thousand men while the Mexican army lost about seven thousand, or nearly one-fourth of all they had engaged. Nearly all this fighting, the reader must understand, was done in one day, August 20, 1847.There were really five battles in two days, but very little fighting was done on the first day. The battles of Contreras, San Antonio, Cherubusco, and that of the one wing of Santa Anna's army, were of such magnitude that a nation might exult in the glory of winning any one of them. Our army then marched towards the City of Mexico. When they came within two and a half miles of the gates the Mexicans sued for peace, and these negotiations lasted over two weeks. In the end the negotiations were of no avail.
General Scott had established his headquarters in a large stone building of thick high walls, and high towers at each end. This building was at the foot of a hill, and about a mile from Chapultepec and was called Molino del Rey. Santa Anna's army, about fourteen thousand strong, lay west of this. On September 8th, Scott attacked their lines in three places. He cut the Mexican army in two, but could not support this advanced position, and was driven back by the Mexicans, who reunited their army. On another attack he opened the army again, and this time held his ground. There were now two wings of the Mexican army, and Scott's forces were between them. It was in this second attack that Drum's battery, in which were the Westmoreland soldiers, did more effectual fighting than in any other part of the entire war. Drum himself was killed, and with him fell the brave young officer, "Dick" Johnston.
While the attack was being made the Mexican army was recruited, and a division of cavalry and one of infantry came suddenly upon the left of our army, but they were met and driven back with considerable loss of life. This battle is known in history as the battle of Molino del Rey, and was the bloodiest battle of the Mexican war, but our troops won a great victory. Our loss was 1787, of whom fifty-eight were officers. The Mexican loss was still greater. Counting killed, wounded and prisoners, their army was reduced not less than three thousand.
Four days after the battle of Molino del Rey, that is, on September 12, our army began firing on Chapultepec. They shelled the fortress all day till night fell, but with little or no effect. It was situated on a steep, rocky hill on hundred and fifty feet above the surrounding grounds, and, like all Mexican fortresses, was additionally strengthened by heavy stone walls. The fort was nearly one thousand feet long. At the foot of the hill was a high, thick stone wall, and behind it were several companies of Mexican troops. In addition, the ground over which our army must pass to approach the fort was mined and supposedly very dangerous. Beyond this was a strong redoubt, heavily guarded. Farther on was another wall, and outside of each wall was a deep ditch. In these strongholds were the Mexican soldiers whom our army must dislodge, and, in addition to all this, the entire fortifications were protected by eleven heavy guns. In the early forenoon of September 13th the command was given for a general move on the enemy from all sides. By this time the fortress, or the bluff upon which it was located, was almost surrounded. They were met by a perfect hail of bullets from the fortress, and by the incessant firing from the eleven heavy guns surmounting all. Our soldiers bridged the ditches with fascines and passed over them quickly. Each company carried scaling ladders, and these were placed against the walls so that they were soon escaladed, and, regardless of a loss of life, hundreds of soldiers rushed into the citadel. The South Carolina and New York volunteers and the Second Pennsylvania, in which it will be remembered were the Westmoreland soldiers, were all in the thickest part of the battle at the final assault. The fierce struggle lasted but a moment, and then victory came to the Union armies. They took all of the artillery of the fort, and a large number of prisoners.
Weakened and discouraged as the Mexican army necessarily was by all these defeats, the city of Mexico, which was originally supposed to be the stronghold of the nation, and the place where our armies would be compelled to unite in order to conquer, was comparatively easily taken. It was a walled city, and a few soldiers defended their gates stubbornly. But early on September 14, 1847, our army marched into the city with but little resistance. In all these battles from Vera Cruz to Mexico our Westmoreland troops participated, and in every instance gave splendid account of themselves.
In order to appreciate the work done by our Westmoreland soldiers it is necessary to consider a few matters not patent on the bare narration of the incidents of the war. The Union soldiers who fought in Mexico were largely brought up in states south of Pennsylvania, and consequently were somewhat accustomed to the hot climate. As a result of this they suffered much less from the blazing sun of the tropics that the northern soldiers did. It must also be remembered that from Vera Cruz to Mexico they were marching through a hostile country, and much of the time had no base of supplies with which the rear of the army could communicate. They were compelled during much of this long and weary march to subsist entirely on what they carried with them and on what they could procure from the surrounding country. They were in a country the topography of which was entirely unknown to them, while around them skirted hungry and desperate guerrillas who required most constant vigilance on the part of those who would protect themselves or their property. Nor were there any railroads nor navigable streams upon which they could transport their army. The route from Vera Cruz to Mexico lay over mountains, through deep valleys and across malarial swamps, all of which told with peculiar severity on the northern troops. Much of the road was cut through a wilderness renowned for its density.
Simon H. Drum, who was killed at the great gate of the City of Mexico, on September 13, 1847, was born in Greensburg, and was the son of Simon Drum, one of the pioneers of the town. He was a brother to Richard C. Drum, late adjutant-general of the United States army. In the Mexican war he was captain of the Fourth United States Artillery. The charge at Contreras, whereby he recovered the two cannon taken a Buena Vista, was one of the most daring in the whole war. At some distance before them and within the enemy's lines, he saw and recognized the guns, and at once gave the order that they must be taken at all hazards. This was accordingly done by a number of his men whom he led in the charge. They ran forward regardless of the consequences, and quickly overpowered the Mexicans who were in charge of them. They brought them safely within army lines, and they were never captured again. During the battle of Cherubusco, Drum's battery kept up a constant and destructive fire all day.
At the hour of his death most of his men had been cut down, and he was unable to move his guns on this account. Near by him in the arches of an aqueduct, lay many of the Westmoreland Guards. Drum had known most of them in boyhood, and many of them had been schoolmates with him. He accordingly appealed to them for help. At his call a band of Westmoreland soldiers ran forward and moved the cannon to a place where they would be more effectual, but they left the dead body of the brave Captain Drum in the rear. He was born June 8, 1807, and was graduated from West Point in July, 1829. He served in the Black Hawk war, and was for three years an officer in the artillery of the Regular Army. In 1846 he entered the service in the war with Mexico. He came under General Scott at Vera Cruz, and was with the army till his death the day before the great city was taken. In the battles of Cerro Gordo and Contreras his gallantry reflected great credit upon himself and upon his native county.
Richard H. J. Johnston, generally called "Dick" Johnston, was killed the same day. He entered the army at the breaking out of the war as a private, and was shortly appointed a lieutenant by the President. He had two brothers in the war. He escaped through all the battles of the campaign, and also the sickness to which most of the soldiers were subjected - all this, only to be cut down at the last, when in view of the city. He was a son of Alexander Johnston, of Kingston House, the old stone mansion on the pike near Kingston Station, on the Ligonier Valley railroad.
Andrew Ross was a member of the Westmoreland bar. He was born in Allegheny township, was graduated at Union College in New York, and was admitted to the bar. Shortly after this he enlisted in the Mexican war service, and served through the campaign from Vera Cruz to Mexico, but had contracted a sickness from the great heat, and died on a ship while homeward bound. His body was cast overboard into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. James Kerr was a student at law when he entered the Guards. He was taken sick at New Orleans, and never reached Vera Cruz, dying on March 11th. George May, of Youngstown: James M. Hartford, of Stewartsville, and Lewis Meyers, of Carlisle, were also members of the company, and all died at Vera Cruz before the march began. Lieutenant Murry lost his health in the campaign between Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo. After the battle at the latter place he started home to regain his health, but died before he reached here. His remains were sent home and were buried at Long Run churchyard. The drummer, A. J. Forney, died on his way home at Louisville, Kentucky. Andrew R. Huston was detailed to care for yellow fever patients at Vera Cruz. While thus engaged he contracted the disease and soon died himself. William A. Campbell reached home in a greatly debilitated health, and died shortly after. Robert McGinley, of Salem township, a brave young man of much promise, died and was buried in Mexico. Sergeant James McLaughlin, son of Randall McLaughlin, of Greensburg, participated in all the battles from Vera Cruz to Mexico. His health was badly broken and he returned home but never regained it. He died March 30, 1848.
There were six Westmorelanders who were not in the Greensburg company, but with the Duquesne Grays, First Regiment. They were John C. Gilchrist, killed October 12, 1847; James Keenan, Jr., promoted to second lieutenant of the Eleventh Infantry; Richard C. Drum, also promoted to second lieutenant of the Eleventh Infantry; Joseph Spender, and Henry Bates, both died at Puerto, Mexico; and William Burns, of whom there is no return.
The largest part of the Greensburg company who lived to return home came up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and reached Pittsburgh on the morning of July 11, 1848. Great arrangements were made to welcome them at Greensburg and in the county generally. People came from all sections to attend a public meeting called to perfect the preparations for a grand welcome. When the boat arrived at the wharf in Pittsburgh a delegation of Westmorelanders was on hand to meet them. "A host of warm hearts from Old Westmoreland," says a Pittsburgh paper, "were soon on the steamer. Fathers, sons, wives and sweethearts were found in happy communion." "They were escorted to their quarters by a number of out citizens and by the Westmoreland friends. We got a fair look at them. They were the best looking fellows that have yet returned. This is the opinion of all. Captain Johnston, as well as his men, deserves great credit for the really good appearance they made." The committee brought them to Greensburg, after which they were feted and feasted wherever they went. Ball rooms were opened, banquets were spread, and both young and old, but particularly the young women, vied with each other in doing honor to the returned soldiers. Captain Johnston lived at Kingston House, near Youngstown, and great preparations were made there to receive him and his soldiers, several of whom were from that neighborhood. The old town was hung with garlands, flags and streamers, and across the street were several triumphal arches of evergreens.
Source: Page(s) 271-278, History of Westmoreland County, Volume 1, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed November 2000 by Kat Lowrie for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Kat Lowrie for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
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