Fayette County Kentucky in the Mexican-American War

Fayette County Kentucky
in the
Mexican-American War

Source: History of Lexington Kentucky: its early annals and recent progress, George W. Ranck, Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1872, pp. 352-359

The trouble between the United States and Mexico, growing out of the annexation of Texas, resulted in a declaration of war by the Federal Congress, May 11, 1846, and a call for fifty thousand volunteers. Hardly a week after these exciting events, a great war-meeting was held in Lexington, and the organization of a number of companies was commenced. Only two companies, however, were perfected, and these were only accepted on condition of going as mounted infantry. The following are complete lists of the officers and men belonging to the companies, which were commanded respectively by Captains Oliver H.P. Beard, and Cassius M. Clay, and were attached to Colonel Humphrey Marshall's regiment:

CAPTAIN BEARD'S COMPANY.--Oliver H.P. Beard, captain; John H, Morgan, first lieutenant; Lowry J. Beard, second lieutenant; T.L. Campbell, first sergeant; A.S. Jouett, second sergeant; N.B. Scott, third sergeant; Edmund Protzman, fourth sergeant; C.F. Coppage, first corporal; Richard Adams, second corporal; Isaac Smith, third corporal; S.O. Berry, fourth corporal; James W. Forsee, first musician, Thomas Bryan, second musician; Isaac Sheppard, blacksmith; James F. Megowan, Calvin C. Morgan, William Weigart, John M. Lowe, James M. Taylor, Edward McCarty, Lawrence Daly, R.P. Whitney, Henry Bitterman, Henry Parrott, Abner Hudgins, James B. Harris, Edward Long, Samuel P. Bascom, George Hampton, A.B. Weigart, Henry Carty, G.W. Carter, Hervey Cummings, H.I. McIntyre, John Dishman, W.W. Bayles, M.W. McCracken, James Mahoney, William Bowman, Ezekiel Twaits, Henry Fox, R.H. Jeter, James Wait, C. Jackson, M. Barrone, C. Jones, William Rainey, B. Castleman, S.R. Patterson, John Gallegher, A.G. Morgan, J.J. Levasy, J.W. Levasy, Robert Anderson, James Moore, Christopher Tempy, William Thomas, G.W. Runyan, S.E. Roberts, George M. Gorham, James G. Martin, William Fitzpatrick, David Sheppard, James Leonard, John Wise Carver, Sylvester Conover, Samuel Byles, Joseph J. Patterson, Thomas O'Haver, Thomas T. Hawkins, G.W. M. Delph, William Twaits, Samuel Pigg, Eli Estill, John Shelton, G.B. Williams, J.B. Callaghan, James G. Burch.

CAPTAIN CLAY'S COMPANY.--C.M. Clay, captain, Jesse Woodruff, first lieutenant; Geo. M. Brown, second lieutenant; James B. Woodruff, first sergeant; Enoch Bryan, second sergeant; Robert C. Richardson, third sergeant; Samuel F. Wilmott, fourth sergeant; S. Lanckhart, first corporal; J.M. Friday, second corporal; W.H. Mullay, third corporal; James Schooley, fourth corporal; W.D. Radcliffe, farrier; Geo. Mason, musician. Privates--Alfred Argabright, Wm. Beaver, Ambrose Burton, John W. Bell, Henry C. Beaver, David Barry, A.G. Bryan, A.C. Bryan, James Bailey, Geo. W. Benjamin, S.L. Barkley, Hubbard Buckner, Dempsey Carroll, David Curtis, Nathaniel Crouch, B.A. Chapman, J.C. Currie, W. Duke, Charles C. Ellis, Richard L. Ellis, John C. Faulkner, John J. Finch, Henry M. Gaylord, R.M. Gaines, Jr., John Gallagher, Wm. Glass, Henry H. Hillox, Wesley Holley, Harrison Igo, James S. Jackson, Henry C. Jackson, David C. Jones, G. Lanckhart, John W. Letcher, John McMain, James McGuire, James H. Miller, Thomas Maupin, C.E. Mooney, J.L. Merchant, Lewis H. Nicholson, W.S. Prentiss, Thomas Powell, James Poindexter, J.J. Phillips, Sam. E. Rogers, Wm. Ragin, John Richardson, Lewis H. Redman, Wm. Smith, Alexander Sumk, Geo. W. Snyder, Henry Seesill, Wm. Shaw, John Stafford, Geo. Step, John H. Simpson, Charles Taylor, Jos.Thornton, Jackson Taylor, James M. Taylor, Thomas Weigart, Thomas White, Jackson Yarbour, Alfred Young.

On the 4th of June, the volunteers started for Louisville, having accomplished their organization and equipment in less than two weeks. On the day the soldiers bade adieu to Lexington, to which many of them were destined never to return alive, they gathered at Morrison College and were addressed by Professor McCown, and each man was presented with a Bible. The reply to the address was made by the adjutant of the regiment, E.M. Vaughn, who afterward fell so heroically at Buena Vista. The solemn and affecting farewell ceremonies concluded with prayer by the Rev. J.B. Brown, of the Second Presbyterian Church.

On the 9th of June, at Louisville, the companies were mustered into service by the celebrated Colonel George Croghan, and on the 4th of July following, they embarked on the steamer "Bunker Hill" for Memphis, from which place they went overland to Little Rock, and through Texas to Camargo, on the Rio Grande, when they entered Mexico. […]

The volunteers from Lexington did not reach Mexico until after the battle of Monterey, owing to unavoidable delays incident to army organization and the error of going by land. No incident worthy of special mention occurred before the battle of Buena Vista, except the capture by Mexicans of Captain C.M.Clay and ten of his men, at Encarnacion. Lieutenant Jesse Woodruff then took the captain's place and commanded the company from that time until its return home. The Encarnacion prisoners were only released after a long and dreary confinement.

Both of the Lexington companies had a large and glorious share in the bloody and gallantly contested battle of Buena Vista, which occurred on the 22d and 23d of February, 1847, and to their share in the fight we confine ourselves. Marshall's regiment occupied the post of honor on the extreme left of the line, on a plateau which had a ravine both in the front and rear of the command. The men dismounted and fought as infantry. It was in this position that Marshall's regiment was charged upon by an overwhelming force of Mexican lancers and hussars. We give Captain Beard's account* of the scene which ensued:

"The enemy came rushing down the hill like so many devils, cursing us, and crying no quarter! As soon as we reached our horses we made for the plain, and when we turned the foot of the mountain, we discovered about four thousand lancers at full speed trying to cut us off. It beggars all description to relate what followed. We had a deep ravine to cross, with rugged banks to climb, and only one could pass at a time. In ascending, my horse reared back and threw me within fifty yards of the enemy. I succeeded in reaching the opposite back, however, but was compelled to witness the murdering of six of my best men, without being able to render them any assistance, viz: A.G. Morgan, Clement Jones, Nathaniel Ramey, William Thwaits, Henry Carty, and William Bayles, all of whom died with their faces to the enemy. They fought with desperation, until, overpowered by superior numbers, they were run through with the enemy's lances." In this terrible charge, Adjutant E.M. Vaughn of Lexington, and Private Thomas Weigart, of Captain Clay's company, were killed. Two other gallant sons of Lexington died upon their sanguinary field. The brave Colonel William R. McKee fell badly wounded, but struggled heroically until overpowered by the enemy, who stabbed him to death with their bayonets as he lay upon the ground. Lieutenant-colonel Henry Clay, or "Young Henry," as he was commonly called, having been wounded, was being borne from the field by a detachment of his men--by whom he was greatly beloved--when a discharge of grape-shot from the enemy's batteries killed three of the men, and inflicted another mortal wound upon him. He commanded his men to leave him and save themselves. They did so. A moment more, and a Mexican lance pierced his bosom and his heart's blood sealed his devotion to his country.

One of the thousand incidents of the battle has a home interest. The Lexington boys had nothing to eat and but little to drink for two days; but Lieutenant John H. Morgan, afterward the famous cavalry leader of the South, had succeeded in procuring a canteen of water. An officer of an Indiana regiment saw the precious fluid, and, parched with the thirst which then tormented all the army, eagerly offered him "twenty-five dollars for a drink." Morgan shared it with him, remarking that "a Kentuckian never accepted money for water."

After the battle, the Lexington companies sadly gathered their dead heroes, whose bodies were found covered thick with wounds from Mexican lances. No timber grew near the battle-ground, so the brave volunteers were wrapped in their soldier-blankets and buried in coffins made from the sides and bottoms of army-wagons, and the same material furnished the simple head-boards which bore their names and marked their honored graves. They were buried near the little blood-baptized village of Buena Vista, which then became doubly fraught with mournful interest to Lexington.

The news of the battle was received in Lexington while the circuit court was in session. It was immediately adjourned in respect to the Kentucky slain, and the citizens offered every token of sympathy and regard to the families of the soldiers who had do gloriously fallen.

On the 12th of April, 1847**, a great public meeting was held, at which the following committee on resolutions was appointed, viz: John C. Breckinridge, M.C. Johnson, R.A. Buckner, R. Wickliffe, Sen., Edward Oldham, Waller Bullock, Geo. R. Trotter, J.O. Harrison, Robt. N. Wickliffe, Edward A. Dudley, Jas. L. Hickman, and George B. Kinkead. The committee reported as follows:

"The gallant deeds of our brave sons who shed their blood on the glorious battle-field of Buena Vista, have added additional lustre to the Kentucky character for courage and patriotism, and it is just and proper that their dead bodies should not remain in a foreign country and on an enemy's soil, but that they should be removed to their native land, and rest under the protection of their kindred and friends.

"Resolved, therefore, That while the citizens of Lexington and Fayette County rejoice with those who survived that memorable conflict of arms, and congratulate them on its great result, they mourn and sympathize with the friends and families of those who fell in battle, and will take immediate measures to remove their bodies for interment in Kentucky.

"Resolved, that Capt. George P. Jouett and Nelson Dudley, Esq., be requested and appointed to proceed to the battle-ground of Buena Vista in Mexico, and bring home the bodies of Col. Wm. R. McKee, Lieut. Col. Henry Clay, Jr., Adjutant Edward M. Vaughan, and Messrs. A.G. Morgan, Wm. M. Bayles, Clement Jones, Nathaniel Ramey, Henry Carty, Wm. Thwaits, and Thomas Weigert."

About the middle of June, 1847, the volunteers returned to Lexington, Captain Clay's company being under the command of Lieutenant Jesse Wooruff. Captain Beard's company went out with seventy-eight men and returned with forty-three. Captain Clay's, which had numbered seventy-five, had fifty-four left. The soldiers were welcomed home by an enthusiastic crowd of citizens and military, and were addressed by Judge George R. Trotter, and soon after their return a grand barbecue was given in their honor. Captain Clay, after a painful and protracted imprisonment, returned in December and was warmly greeted and congratulated.

The bodies of the heroes who had fallen, were tenderly conveyed from their distant resting places to a glory bed prepared for them in the Frankfort cemetery by the commonwealth, whose honor they had so nobly defended.

There, on Tuesday, July 20, 1847, an immense concourse assembled at the spot where now rises the stately and beautiful monument erected to the Kentucky soldiers who fell in the war with Mexico. After appropriate and impressive ceremonies, an oration was delivered by General John C. Breckinridge and an address by Rev. John H. Brown. The remains of the lamented dead were then borne to the graves by the pall-bearers, and after a military salute of three guns by the whole line of infantry and rifles, the ceremonies were concluded by the Masonic fraternity. The bodies were then lowered into the graves, and the most impressive scene of the day transpired. By an apparently impulsive movement, the large body of returned volunteers, headed by Colonel Humphrey Marshall, formed in line, marched around the graves uncovered, and in that way left the grounds with slow and solemn tread, and with sincere sorrow depicted in every countenance. It was a silent, but impressive manifestation of their feelings, which was communicated to all around. Three rounds of blank cartridges were then fired from the whole line, and the burial was completed. It was this solemn and beautiful occasion which inspired the gifted Theodore O'Hara to pen that unequaled martial requiem, the "Bivouac of the Dead," commencing with that sublime stanza:

"The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
That brave and daring few.
On fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead."

*Letter in the Observer and Reporter
**City Papers

Transcribed by pb, February 2000