Friday, May 8, 2009

The Palmetto Regiment Flag Casts a Shadow Over Mexico

The Battle of Chapultepec, Carl Nebel
The Gallant Palmettos, who showed themselves worthy of their state and country, lost nearly one half. The victory will carry joy and sorrow into half the families in South Carolina.” Brigadier General W.J. Worth, August 26th, 1847.

The Charge of the Palmettos at Churubusco (In Harper's Weekly, 1855)

The Mexican War (1846-1848) was one of the major outcomes of United States beliefs of Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny’s major tenet was the belief that the United States should encompass the whole of North America from east to west. Winning the war with Mexico led to the Mexicans surrendering vast new territories to the United States. These lands would one day be the states of Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and portions of the states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. The war was a pivotal event that contributed to the United States spreading its system of government and culture from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores. Men from South Carolina would volunteer for this war, as would thousands of other Americans, and they would all become a part of the story of American Westward Expansion.

Historical Marker for Palmetto Regiment in Saluda, South Carolina

In South Carolina, President James Polk’s call for volunteers led to the formation of the Palmetto Regiment. This regiment was composed of 10 companies of men from both the United States professional army and volunteers. Most volunteers served in the war as infantry. The regiment joined General Winifred Scott’s regular army in February 1847. The Palmettos, as they were known, were landed at Vera Cruz by the United States Navy to assist Scott in his siege of that city. They went on to serve bravely in four additional campaigns including battles at Contreras, Churubusco, Chapultepec, and Belén Gate.

The Battle of Chalpultepec, Carl Nebel

Many from the regiment suffered death from diseases rather than from combat. In fact, as many as 13,000 U.S. soldiers died in the war but only about 2,000 from combat. In the Palmetto Regiment 1027 served. 292 died but 236 died from disease and only 56 died in combat or wounds received in combat. The exception was the relatively large number of Palmettos lost in the Battle of Churubusco. Most deaths during the war came from yellow fever, malaria, measles, and dysentery that swept through whole regiments as they served along the humid, tropical coasts near Vera Cruz as well as in the rugged, plateaus of the Valley of Mexico near Mexico City. The Palmetto Regiment had the highest death rate in General Scott’s army. The Highest Ranking Officer from South Carolina, Colonel Pierce Butler (a former governor of the state) was killed by enemy fire during the Battle of Churubusco. His body was later laid to rest near his hometown in Edgefield, South Carolina.

After Scott’s successful siege and taking of the port of Vera Cruz in March 1847, the U.S. Army, now supplied through this port with supplies and manpower slowly fought its way toward Mexico City. Although outmanned in every battle, superior training and equipment helped the United States to slowly push the Mexicans back toward their capital. Here General Scott halted before the gates of Mexico City in August, 1847. The capital itself was defended by over 30,000 men as well as several citadels and forts. One of these forts sat on top of a hill and was known as Chapultepec Castle. After asking for surrender and once more being refused, Scott then led his troops on a charge up the hill of Chapultepec. The Palmetto Regiment fought bravely here and in the end planted their flag along side the regiment of New York’s flag atop Chapultepec Castle, the citadel that guarded one of the approaches to Mexico City. Scott then continued to advance the fight to the center of the Mexico City. On September 13, 1847, U.S. troops raised the Stars and Stripes over the Palace of Montezuma. Soon, afterwards the Mexicans sued for peace.

The Palmetto Regiment Monument at the South Carolina State House

The Palmetto Regiment veterans came home as heroes. Today you can find few relics of their deeds. There is a monument to this regiment on the state house grounds in Columbia. There are a few historical markers scattered throughout the state as in Saluda. And there are some old but interesting artifacts from the war and commemorating the war at the South Carolina State Museum and the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia. Many of the veterans of this war went on to also serve in the Civil War. And it was this terrible civil war, rather than a war that advanced United States lands clear to the Pacific, that would overshadow what happened in Mexico. It would also overshadow the accomplishment of Manifest Destiny that led the United States to become one of the great powers of the world during the late 19th and early 20th century. So, for a short time the Palmetto Regiment’s flag cast its shadow over Mexico and the Mexican capital and symbolically signaled the march of Manifest Destiny and the happy and bitter fruits of Westward Expansion.

Andy Thomas

Works I consulted in writing this blog:

1) See South Carolinians in the War with Mexico at

2) South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum’s Exhibit on the Mexican War at

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