Mexican War and Washington County
By Dr. Thomas G. Clemens
In the expansionist-minded mid-Nineteenth Century Americans looked westward for opportunity and adventure. The Texas War for Independence of the 1830’s inflamed the public mind with military glory as well as the idea that our superior culture and institutions would improve any territory acquired under our flag. The annexation of Texas into the United States and its poorly-defined border with Mexico allowed President James K. Polk to add to our western possessions. Using the border issue to ignite a war against Mexico’s harsh dictator Santa Ana, Polk fanned the flames by claiming American blood had been shed on American soil. In the resultant burst of military enthusiasm many young men trooped off to join the forces marshalling in Texas to launch punitive expeditions against Mexico.
The novelty of war, unknown in the United States since 1815, and the improved communication of the telegraph and rapid transit of steam boats and trains combined with the cheap and abundant newspapers made the war with Mexico a public sensation. The descriptions of the exotic far-off land and its varied people and customs caught the imagination of the public for its contrast to our northern-European dominated culture. War news and soldier’s narratives were eagerly sought, and dominated many local newspapers.
A contingent of these volunteers included the Maryland/DC battalion, made up of men from our state and the District of Columbia. Several Marylanders distinguished themselves in the war, including the son and namesake of a prominent Washington County figure, Major Sam Ringgold. Ultimately a verse of our state song, written in 1861 would be devoted to the heroes of Maryland who fought in the faraway lands across the continent. When the war ended with few American casualties and our nation took almost half of Mexico as its tribute Americans felt vindicated in our imperialistic venture. The biggest and most unexpected payoff came a year later when gold was discovered in the newly acquired California territory, and America was changed forever by our first formal war of conquest.
Significantly in the minority were those voices protesting this conflict as unjust and unnecessary. Protest of the war included Ralph Waldo Emerson and his protégé’ Henry David Thoreau, who refused to pay his taxes in protest of the war, and subsequently spent the night in jail. In later years Mexican War veteran President Grant decried war calling it unjust and inhumane, but given the vast wealth and territory we gained, these voices were lost in the celebration of our success.
Some Enlistments From Washington County
James A. Furley; Col. James L. Freaner; Richard Pindell Hammond; Major Samuel Ringgold; Cadwalader Ringgold; George Hay Ringgold; Col. William H. Fitzhugh; Thomas Philips; Jeremiah Corey; Upton Wilson; Calvin Julius; Calvin Bowers; John Anderson; James Anderson; Maj. William B. Clarke; Dr. Frisby Tilghman.
Captian Anniba of the Leitersburg Invincibles offered his unit for enlistment but was refused because the thirty member unit was too small.
Thomas J. C. Williams, A History of Washington County, Maryland. (Hagerstown: Runk & Titsworth, 1906), 241-245.