Battle of Palo AltoOn this date back in 1846, Zachary Taylor led American forces against an attacking Mexican Army in the Battle of Palo Alto.

Mexico had never recognized the independence of Texas, and when the U.S. annexed Texas, Mexico sent troops into the disputed Rio Grande River area.

President Polk ordered General Taylor into Texas to defend the border. It was viewed by Mexico as a hostile invasion and the Mexican Army attacked the American forces. 

Taylor, however, was in no position to await formal declaration of a war that he was already fighting. In the weeks following the initial skirmish along the Rio Grande, Taylor engaged the Mexican army in two battles. On May 8, near Palo Alto, and the next day at Resaca de la Palma, Taylor led his 200 soldiers to victories against much larger Mexican forces. Poor training and inferior armaments undermined the Mexican army’s troop advantage. Mexican gunpowder, for example, was of such poor quality that artillery barrages often sent cannonballs bouncing lazily across the battlefield, and the American soldiers merely had to step out of the way to avoid them.

Although the Mexican forces were much larger in number, General Taylor was not only victorious in this battle; he won four additional battles and gained control over the three northeastern Mexican states.

Taylor emerged from the war a national hero. Americans admiringly referred to him as “Old Rough and Ready” and erroneously believed his military victories suggested he would be a good political leader. This eventually catapulted him into the Presidency. Unfortunately, he was a much better general than President. Elected president in 1848, he proved to be an unskilled politician who tended to see complex problems in overly simplistic ways. In July 1850, Taylor returned from a public ceremony and complained that he felt ill. He died several days later at age 65.

Filed under: Old West History

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