28 June 2010

What the Hell Got Me Started?

I freely admit that there is always something that tips me over into a nearly obsessive interest in a subject. There is an incident that led up to my historical disquisition in the previous entry. On March 21 I encountered this plaque on a little plaza in Mexico City:

My rough translation of the text on the plaque reads:

In memory of the Irish soldiers of the heroic St. Patrick's Battalion, martyrs who gave their lives for the cause of Mexico during the unjust North American invasion of 1847. [There follow the names.] With the gratitude of Mexico 112 years after their sacrifice. September 1959.

One of my undergraduate majors was History, education that I credit in great part for the wealthy independence that I now enjoy. I was passing familiar with the war against Mexico. Still, I was thoroughly mystified when I saw this plaque. Would you not be? I had no idea what the hell it was referring to.

The story in a nutshell is this. Ulysses Grant and many of his fellow officers were not the only ones repulsed by the United States of America's intervention in Mexico. A great many enlisted men of Irish descent were, also. It is difficult for us to imagine how badly the Irish immigrants in our country were treated generally in the early 1800's. We have a history of thoroughly hazing our immigrants. In this case, it had the natural consequence of attenuating their blind loyalty to their adopted country.

Their Catholicism, one of the primary reasons for their persecution at home, clearly played a part in a sympathy that they began to feel for Mexico's plight. Furthermore, they had an historically induced sensitivity to oppression of the weak by the strong. They knew it when they saw it. A bunch of them deserted from the American army to fight for the Mexican cause. They were constituted into the St. Patrick's Battalion of the Mexican army and became renowned for their skill with artillery.

Most of the members of the St. Patrick's Battalion were ultimately captured, tortured, and hanged by the U.S. Army, the torture and hanging done under the orders of an American officer named Colonel William Harney in contravention of the then-equivalent to the Code of Military Justice. There is another plaque similar to this one on San Jacinto Plaza where the torture and executions took place.

Every year there is an elaborate memorial ceremony on September 12 in Mexico City for these Irish-American soldiers that involves the parading of the Mexican and Irish colors together.

Just as importantly, all this took occurred almost exactly 100 years before my own birth. (Again, this blog is not called The Solipsist for nothing.)


Robyn said...

Hey, thanks for the history lesson! I still faithfully catch up on your blog weekly.

Candy Minx said...

Wow that is an amazing section of history. Thanks!

Señor Steve said...

I hope that you did truly enjoy it, Robyn and Candy. I fear becoming a bore on this sort of subject. The problem is that stuff like this is so fascinating to me.