In yesterday’s excitement at the Inquirer piece, I forgot to observe St.Patrick’s Day by saluting the dissenting soldiers who took that saint’s name as inspiration. These Catholic soldiers emerged amid the killing spree known as the Mexican-American War, 1845-47.
In a war staffed entirely by career staff and volunteers, morale started low and got worse. Between nonexistent wages and politically appointed officers, many Volunteers eventually fled to Galveston, where “they easily found employment, one as a school-master at $60 a month,” a Boston newspaper reported.
Desertion was by far the best-known form of dissent in Polk’s war. More than 13,000 deserted, out of a total force of 100,000—surprisingly less among the state volunteers than among the longer-serving regulars.
As for the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, who crossed over to the Mexican side: John Reilly, who left Scott’s army in April 1846 without firing a shot, assembled the battalion from Catholic soldiers discomfited by the nativism and anti-Catholicism of most of the American troops. They were welcomed by the understaffed, under-trained, and under-equipped Mexicans, helped them hold Monterrey, and in 1847 became a foreign legion of the Mexican Army, the First and Second Militia Infantry Companies of San Patricio.
However, after their defeat at Chiarabusco in September 1847, many were tried and some executed, whether or not they had actually fought against the United States. That September, fourteen “San Patricios,” including Reilly, were flogged and branded with two-inch “D”’s on both side of their faces.
You’ve heard the San Patricios saluted at many an Irish bar. If you’re lucky, you’ve also heard this version: