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On Sunday morning, May 5, 2013, the CBS show “Sunday Morning” presented the following broadcast (abbreviated).

For the people of Mexico, the "Halls of Montezuma" are much more than the words of a song; they represent a humiliating military defeat at the hands of the United States in 1847. Not even the 1862 victory over France that Mexico celebrates today -- Cinco de Mayo -- is enough to fully heal the wound:

Every year, in a small cemetery in Mexico City, 750 unknown American soldiers who died in the Mexican-American War are remembered.

"That conflict marked a dark chapter in the long relations between our countries," said U.S. Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne. "Here in Mexico, of course, they remember it because large parts of the United States were parts of Mexico before that war," said Ambassador Wayne.

North of the border, the war is all but forgotten.

Penn State historian Amy Greenberg says it was the first war in U.S. history that was fought for greed rather than principle: "There was no great ideological reason why we were going to war against Mexico. It was the first war that was started with a presidential lie." Greenberg argues in her book, "A Wicked War," that the war was engineered by President James Polk.

"James K. Polk went to Congress and said American blood had been shed on American soil, but almost nobody except Americans claimed that the land where the blood was shed was actually American soil," Greenberg said. "When Zachary Taylor marched his troops between the Nueces and the Rio Grande, he was marching through land which everybody, including the residents of that territory, believed to be Mexican land."

They were looking for a fight because President Polk had a vision for America called "Manifest Destiny." "He really, firmly believed that it was America's destiny to spread to the Pacific and to take California," said Greenberg. "And he was going to do anything necessary to accomplish that goal. . . . God had singled him out to do this."

And so a long and bloody war began. It would prove to be the training ground for many officers who later became famous in the Civil War.

For one of them, Ulysses S. Grant, the experience was troubling. In his 1879 memoir Grant wrote, "I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico." Historian Greenberg: "He also says that he thought so as a youngster, but he had not the moral courage enough to resign."

Grant saw action in almost every major battle, as did Robert E. Lee -- the future Union and Confederate leaders fighting on the same side of a war that brought them all the way to Mexico's capital . . . and the "Halls of Montezuma."

The opening line of the Marines' Hymn refers to the battles that took place in Mexico City. The Marine Corps uniform is a memorial to that bloody struggle. Corporals and above wear a red stripe as part of the rank insignia that is called the “blood stripe."

Every weekend thousands of Mexican families and tourists gather in the city's vast Chapultepec Park, in the middle of which stands Chapultepec Castle -- once Mexico's West Point, where future officers came to be trained.

In 1847 this was the scene of a very different gathering, as American troops approached from the west and south of the castle. Mexican General Santa Anna, who had massacred Texans at the Alamo 11 years earlier, posted his troops alongside the cadets.

Salvador Rueda, director of the national historical museum at Chapultepec Castle, said the cadets were students at the military academy. "Boys between 14 through 19 years old." he said.

"When Mexican troops withdrew from their position, the cadets stayed there and continued fighting," said Greenberg. "And according to history and lore, one of the cadets wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and threw himself over the castle walls rather than have the flag captured by Americans." For Mexicans, the six cadets who chose to die rather than surrender have made this site hallowed ground.

Professor Fabiola Garcia Rubio says the monument of Chapultepec is a very special symbol for Mexicans, much like the Alamo is for Texans, and that from the fiery Battle of Chapultepec was forged a fierce sense of Mexican nationalism.

"So the emotions about that are still alive today?" asked Mo Rocca, the Sunday Morning interviewer.

"Yes. It's too alive and too emotional," said Professor Rubio.

Despite the victory at Chapultepec, many Americans had soured on the war. It inspired the first national anti-war movement, when journalists reported atrocities suffered by Mexican civilians.

One staunch opponent of the war: a young Congressman named Abraham Lincoln.

His first major political address on the national stage was in opposition to the war with Mexico, said Greenberg -- and he paid for it. "He got a lot of flak from his constituency back home."

"Is there any evidence that he regretted it at all, his stand on the war?" asked Rocca.

"Absolutely not, absolutely not," replied historian Greenberg. "He never wrote a single word in opposition to what he said about fighting in Mexico."

With the American Army occupying Mexico City, the war ended with a treaty that realized President Polk's vision.

And that's not all: The U.S. still has possession of General Santa Anna's captured wooden leg.

"Mexico's asked for the leg back many times; Illinois won't give it up," said historian Greenberg. "The Fourth Illinois Volunteers took that leg as a trophy of war. It belongs to them."

So how do Mexicans today view the war?

"Well, as a disaster," said museum director Salvador Rueda. "Mexico lost half of their own territory."[The war] is known to the [People of Mexico] as Invasion Americana -- "American Invasion."

Historian Greenberg says the conflict matters today: “I believe a lot of the immigration debate that's going on now operates in a vacuum, where people are not realizing that in fact Mexicans are here in lands that once belonged to Mexico."

Many years ago I posted onto the old “Friends of Lincoln” mailbag a statement in opposition to the Iraq War, which I had been protesting here in San Francisco. The title of the posting was “Congressman Lincoln and the Iraq War."

Back in March of this year I requested of Roger that if he had access to my posting some ten years earlier, I would appreciate a copy since I did not keep a copy for myself. That same day, Roger kindly responded to me by email with a copy of the posting.

The complete posting follows as a presumptive statement of what may have been Lincoln’s stand on the question at hand:

We, the Friends of Lincoln, have been discussing what would Lincoln do in similar situation as President regarding the Iraq War question. Maybe we should be thinking about the same question but from a different perspective -- that of Lincoln as a Congressman. I was rereading, after many years, Herndon’s Life of Lincoln and came across some passages (pages 223-26) pertinent to the question at hand.

On the 19th [January, 1848] inst., having occasion to write me with reference to a note with which one of our clients, one Louis Candler, had been “annoying” him, “not the least of which annoyance,” he complains, “is his cursed unreadable and ungodly handwriting,” he adds a line, in which with noticeable modesty he informs me: “I have made a speech, a copy of which I send you by mail.”

He doubtless felt he was taking rather advanced and perhaps questionable ground. And so he was, for very soon after, murmurs of dissatisfaction began to run through the Whig ranks. I did not, as some of Lincoln’s biographers would have their readers believe, inaugurate this feeling of dissatisfaction. On the contrary, as the law partner of the Congressman, and as his ardent admirer, I discouraged the defection all I could.

Still, when I listened to the comments of his friends everywhere after the delivery of his speech, I felt that he had made a mistake. I therefore wrote him to that effect, at the same time giving him my own views, which I knew were in full accord with the views of his Whig constituents.

My argument in substance was: That the President [Polk] of the United States is Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy; that as such commander it was his duty, in the absence of Congress, if the country was about to be invaded and armies were organized in Mexico for that purpose, to go--if necessary--into the very heart of Mexico and prevent the invasion. I argued further that it would be a crime in the Executive to let the country be invaded in the least degree.

The action of the President was a necessity . . . . Briefly stated, that was the strain of my argument. My judgment was formed on the law of nations and of war. If the facts were as I believed them, and my premises correct, then I assumed that the President’s acts became lawful by becoming indispensable.

February 1 he wrote me, “Dear William: You fear that you and I disagree about the war. I regret this, not because of any fear we shall remain disagreed after you have read this letter, but because if you misunderstand I fear other good friends may also.”

February 15 he wrote me again in criticism of the President’s [Polk] invasion of foreign soil. He still believed the Executive had exceeded the limit of his authority.

“The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress,” he insists, “was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons; kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.”

It has been quite some time since Congress issued President Bush a “blank check” for a war upon Iraq. Perhaps significant, only one person in the 535 member Congress has a child in the military. The members of Congress should not skulk about regarding their duty of advice and consent on issues of war. George Bush and Tony Blair will be meeting in the Azores tomorrow to decide the fate of the Iraqi people and the military personnel of the United States and Great Britain.

Our soldiers, sailors, and airmen have their duty to be done; so too, do the members of Congress have a duty to provide advice to the President in accordance with “the provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress. George Bush thinking by himself, without the thoughtful advice of Congress, reminds me of that old Buddhist saying: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Last night, I was reading Volume I of the “PERSONAL MEMOIRS OF U. S. GRANT” as regards his participation in the Mexican War and, specifically, his description of the “Storming of Chapultepec.” I also include General Grant’s commentary upon the circumstances and courage of the private Mexican soldier.

I should like to comment at the outset that I had previously marked as being important the exact words of Grant, similar to the quote used by historian Greenberg in the Sunday Morning presentation, regarding the United States’ justification for war. Grant expressed his thoughts at the time on the subject as follows:

“Generally the officers of the army were indifferent whether the annexation [of Texas] was consummated or not; but not so all of them. For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.” (Grant Memoirs, Vo. I, page 53.)

Regarding the necessity of attacking the Mexican stronghold at Chapultepec, Grant wrote the following:

“In later years, if not at the time, the battles of Molino del Rey and Chapultepec have seemed to me to have been wholly unnecessary. When the assaults upon the garitas of San Cosme and Belen were determined upon, the road running east to the former gate could have been reached easily, without an engagement, by moving along south of the Mills until west of them sufficiently far to be out of range, thence north to the road above mentioned; or, if desirable to keep the two attacking columns nearer together, the troops could have been turned east so as to come on the aqueduct road out of range of the guns from Chapultepec. Molino del Rey and Chapultepec would have been necessarily evacuated if this course had been pursued, for they would have been turned.” (Grant Memoirs, Vo. I, page 154.)

As regards the poor circumstances and courage of the private Mexican soldier, Grant wrote the following:

“The Mexican army of that day was hardly an organization. The private soldier was picked up from the lower class of the inhabitants when wanted; his consent was not asked; he was poorly clothed, worse fed, and seldom paid. He was turned adrift when no longer wanted. The officers of the lower grades were but little superior to the men. With all this I have seen as brave stands made by some of these men as I have ever seen made by soldiers.” (Grant Memoirs, Vo. I, page 168.)

To conclude, it is my considered opinion that both of our esteemed Presidents of the Civil War era, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, would be in favor of the proposition that the wooden leg of General Santa Anna be returned to the People of Mexico in an appropriate formal military ceremony by the Fourth Illinois Volunteers at the location of the monument commemorating the Battle of Chapultepec. It is just and right that this should be done.

The important question that remains: How to convince and persuade the command of the Fourth Illinois Volunteers that this ceremonial duty of honor and respect should take place? How would Lincoln proceed to answer this question if he were a private citizen?
Before we all go bonkers about the evil President Polk and the cruel United States, we ought to read the introduction to North America Divided: The Mexican War, 1846-1848, by Seymour V. Connor and Odie B. Faulk. They present quite a different story that was unavailable to Lincoln and Grant and other Americans against the war.

The land below the Nueces was not accepted by anyone as the southern boundary of Texas until the US advanced below Corpus Christi and Mexico made that spurious claim. Further, both California and Texas were practically separated from Mexico on their own--the only problem being who would get them, the US or the British, or some other European power, like Spain or France. All of these other nations had already attacked Mexico during the Pastry War in 1839, to collect debts owed them by Mexico, during which Santa Ana had lost his leg successfully defending Mexico. They would do it again in 1861 during our Civil War, leaving France to rule Mexico until 1867.

The real quarrel was internal between Mexican political parties, the Centralists and the Federalists, and had been since 1821 and the final Mexican separation from Spain. It lasted until Porfirio Diaz took over Mexico City after the death of Benito Juarez, who had thrown the French occupiers out in 1867.

Mexico went to war with the US fully expecting to march on New Orleans and Mobile and win. After all they had been fighting a war with themselves since 1821 and had one of the largest veteran armies in the Western Hemisphere, regardless of their methods of command and conscription. Mexico's real problem was they their officers lacked a West Point education. But no one knew this would be a critical factor until after the war. Another advantage the US has was the "flying artillery," 6-gun batteries drawn by 6 horses per gun. These proved a critical factor in the US winning so many battles. None of these factors had proved decisive in any US war before that time. Both sides were surprised at the effectiveness of the US artillery and the US volunteers (mostly westerners and southerners who loved to fight) and the American officer corps.

What really happened was that Mexico declared war on the US before Polk got Congress to do it. But communications were so bad that no one knew this until later. Thornton's US dragoons were attacked in the disputed area after Mexico declared war in a legal attack as far as Mexico was concerned. This news reached Washington City before the Mexican declaration of war and Polk used it to sucker Congress into a defensive declaration of war that proved to be all he need to conquer Mexico and take half of her territory.

Given the political desires of certain Americans of Mexican descent (often referred to Chicanos in the Southwest today, as opposed to the rest of the media calling them Latinos or Hispanics) and their organizations, like La Raza, MECha, Lulac, to recreate the independent Spanish-speaking entity La Republica de Aztlan out of the Mexican cession of 1848, returning Santa Ana's wooden leg might mean more to the US than the above post indicates so casually. Mexicans don't call their presidents past and present los Ladrones (the Thieves) for nuttin'.

So let's call it a draw. Mexico got Santa Ana's leg bones when a couple of old soldados saved them from a mob hell-bent to throw him and all his bones out of the country one more time for his incompetent ruining of his homeland (the Texas Revolution, the Mexican War, the Gadsden Purchase), and we got his prosthesis. They got the real thing--we got the fake. History is never so simple as we Americans assume. Que viva!
What excellent history lessons from both Mr. Lockmiller and Dr. Richter, from both the pro and con perspective. Thank you both for giving us a taste of history a la mid-19th century politics.
It is interesting that Lincoln supported Gen. Zachary Taylor for president in 1848 and never returned the Mexican Cession to Mexico. The Mexican Cession did help produce a terrible case of indigestion called the US Civil War.

If I thought that returning Santa Anna's leg would appease the devotees of Aztlan,I would do so but I think it would only whet their appetite for something far more substantial.

I am all for understanding the historical grievances of other peoples provided they understand our own and each side understands that what is past is past and can not be undone.

I would treat attempts to undo the results of the Mexican War in the same way Pres. Abraham Lincoln dealt with attempts to divide the United States.

Examining the deficiencies of our ancestors is a proper subject of historical study but wallowing in guilt over our very existence as a nation is prejudicial to our perpetuation as a nation state with all the evil consequences that would entail.
Let's be reasonable, Tom. I am willing to return Santa Ana's wooden leg to Mexico in exchange for Mexico returning to us the tattered flag of the New Orleans Grays who fought to the last man at the Alamo.
Another example of what makes this Forum great.
(05-13-2013 08:14 AM)william l. richter Wrote: [ -> ]Let's be reasonable, Tom. I am willing to return Santa Ana's wooden leg to Mexico in exchange for Mexico returning to us the tattered flag of the New Orleans Grays who fought to the last man at the Alamo.

That sounds like a good idea!
OK, so where is the leg currently? Is it on display? Is there a picture of it? Can we post it?
Santa Anna's artificial limb is at the Decatur Mansion in Decatur, IL. I am not sure I know how to add the photo, so will ask Roger for help.


(05-17-2013 08:08 AM)Joe Di Cola Wrote: [ -> ]Santa Anna's artificial limb is at the Decatur Mansion in Decatur, IL. I am not sure I know how to add the photo, so will ask Roger for help.


I guess I did know how to add a photo!
President Juarez told Santa Anna prior to his last battle "if you loose your leg, don't come running back to me."
We're sinking to new lows here, y'all...
(05-17-2013 05:22 PM)Rsmyth Wrote: [ -> ]President Juarez told Santa Anna prior to his last battle "if you loose your leg, don't come running back to me."

A very funny story but I doubt its truthfulness as Santa Anna and Juarez were enemies. Please,please prove me wrong
As I understand it, Santa Ana was a Centralist or a caudillo out primarily for himself and Juarez was a Federalist or democrat, which is why Lincoln, Johnson, and Seward backed Juarez against the French. But Juarez was one of the few Mexican leaders who kept the faith with the people. The Juarez revolution was betrayed in the usual manner by Porfirio Diaz, one of his generals, a dictator until the 1910 revolution.
Ah, yes, you got me Thomas. I made it up.
That is one of the greatest oddball relics out there.
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