Looking Back

A lithographic print depicting a scene in the Battle of Monterey in 1846.

CHANDLER E. POTTER’S military history of New Hampshire, produced for the state’s Adjutant General, included a chapter on the Mexican War of 1846-1848 (also known as the Mexican-American War). As he did throughout the book, Potter incorporated transcribed military documents in the text, such as company rolls with enlistment data of the New Hampshire men who fought in the war, and examples of official correspondence.

Potter enlivened his story of the war with quotes from the first-person accounts of three New Hampshire officers who had fought in Mexico. As mentioned in last week’s column, Potter quoted from Brig. Gen. Franklin Pierce’s journal that told of his experiences in the summer of 1847 leading a brigade on three-week trek to meet up with Gen. Winfield Scott’s army near Mexico City. Soon after joining Gen. Scott, Pierce led troops in the Battle of Contreras (Aug. 19-20, 1847).

In his history, Potter included a letter written by 2nd Lt. Thomas P. Pierce telling of his engagements in several conflicts. T.P. Pierce, who apparently was not related to Franklin Pierce, was an ornamental painter in Manchester who had enlisted in April 1847.

In one passage, T.P. Pierce described how the American soldiers scrambled along the “rough volcanic grounds, so full of fissures and chasms” and of “the shells and grape of twenty cannon, besides the balls of thousands of muskets, showering down among us.” He mentioned “the gallantry of Gen. Pierce, who rode boldly forward (in Contreras), urging us on, not only in word, but by example. Unfortunately, his horse stumbled on the rough ground, throwing his rider, who was injured severely. Though scarcely able to stand, he again took the field in the morning, leading us on to Churubusco; but so severe was the injury he had received, that he became exhausted and fell from his horse. As an officer, New England may well be proud of her Pierce, and the old Granite State can behold with delight the deeds of her favorite son.”

The Americans were victorious at both Contreras and Churubusco. During the weeks that followed, Pierce suffered terribly from groin and knee injuries and from bouts of diarrhea. He returned home to Concord in December 1847 and resigned from the army effective March 20, 1848. Despite his limited military experience, Pierce was able to cultivate a public image as a dashing war hero. He was elected president of the United States in 1852, serving one term (1853-1857). One of the things that Pierce did as president in his first year in office was to appoint Thomas P. Pierce as postmaster of Manchester.

In writing about the early months of the Mexican War, Potter quoted from another interesting first-person source. This was his own nephew, 2nd Lt. Joseph Hayden Potter, who had composed a detailed account of the Battle of Monterey (Sept. 21-24, 1846). He had written the report while recuperating from injuries suffered in the battle.

J.H. Potter described how the fight concluded: “The Mexicans, seeing that things were not going as well as they could wish, sent in a flag of truce. The truce lasted until night, when they came to terms. Gen. Taylor allowed them to march out with the honors of war, under arms, and to take with them six pieces of artillery … Thus ended the taking of Monterey; but it had cost us some of our best officers and men. We had about five hundred killed and wounded.”

The United States won the Mexican War in February 1848, and territorial disputes between the two countries were subsequently mitigated with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This, along with the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, which was negotiated during Franklin Pierce’s term as president, resulted in the tremendous expansion of U.S. territory and the demarcation of the permanent U.S.-Mexico border.

Joseph Hayden Potter would serve as an officer in the U.S. Army for over 40 years. During the Civil War he was wounded once, and was twice taken prisoner by the Confederates. After being exchanged, he returned to active duty. J.H. Potter served in various command positions through the remainder of the war and during the two decades that followed. He retired in 1886 at the age of 64 and died in 1892.

Next week: C.E. Potter’s military history of New Hampshir — his crowning achievement, but did it also lead to his death?

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter.