St Patricks Batallion
m_zehr at hotmail.com
Sat Apr 7 19:41:20 MDT 2001
Deserters or unsung heroes: St. Patrick's Battalion
The St. Patrick Battalion ( El Batallón de San
Patricio) was a unique unit of the Mexican Army during the
Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. Some say they were
heroic men, some say they were just deserters.
What made this outfit exceptional was that it was composed
almost entirely of deserters from the United States Army who, after
defecting, fought on the Mexican side in five major
In Occupied America, Rodolfo Acuña states that "there is
ample evidence that the United States provoked the war...Zachary Taylor's
(General of the US Army of Occupation) artillery leveled
the Mexican city of Matamoros, killing hundreds of innocent civilians with
bomba (the bomb)...The occupation that followed was even
more terrorizing. Taylor's regular army was allegedly kept in control, but
the volunteers (about 2,000 in Matamoros) presented another
Taylor knew about the atrocities, but...little was done to
restrain the men, of which Taylor himself admitted 'there is scarcely a form
crime that has not been reported to me as committed by
"An interesting sidelight is that many Irish immigrants, as
well as some other Anglos, deserted to the Mexican side, forming the San
Patricio Corps (El Batallón de San Patricio)...due 'to the
inborn distaste of the masses of war, to bad treatment, and to poor
subsistence.' Many of the Irish were also Catholic, and
they resented the treatment of Catholic priests and nuns by the invading
According to Miller's book, Shamrock and Sword, renegades
who crossed the Rio Grande formed the nucleus of the unique San
Patricio unit of the Mexican Army. The Irish-born
deserter, John Riley, later claimed credit for organizing the outfit. In a
letter to the
Mexican president he stated: 'Since April 1846 when I
separated from the North American forces...I have served constantly under
Mexican flag. In Matamoros I formed a company of 48
Irishmen...' By July of 1847, the number of San Patricios had increased to
more than 200.
During the two years of war, Mexicans called this unique
outfit by various names; some designations were official, others coined by
people. Unofficially, the group was called the Irish
Volunteers, or the Colorados - or Red Guards - so named because of the many
redheaded and ruddy-complexioned men in it, or the San
Patricio Guards. Officially, the unit began as the San Patricio Company, an
artillery outfit that later expanded to two companies. In
mid-1847, the Mexican war department reassigned the men as infantrymen and
merged the San Patricio companies into the newly-created
Foreign Legion (Legión Extranjera), which some Britons and Americans
called the Legion of Strangers. In 1848, the Mexican
president expanded the companies and formed the Saint Patrick's Battalion.
The San Patricios served under a distinctive military
banner. John Riley said the emerald green ensign had an image of Saint
emblazoned on one side, with a shamrock and the harp Erin
outlined on the other. A Yankee soldier commented of the San Patricio's
standard: "A beautiful green silk banner waved over their
heads; on it glittered a silver cross and a golden harp, embroidered by the
hands of the fair nuns of San Luis Potosí."
A wartime newspaper correspondent from New Orleans
described the San Patricio flag captured at the battle of Churubusco: The
banner is of green silk, and on one side is a harp,
surmounted by the Mexican coat of arms, with a scroll on which is painted,
para la República Mexicana.' Underneath the harp is the
motto 'Erin go Bragh' (Ireland for Ever). On the other side is
to represent St. Patrick, in his left hand a key and in his
right a crook or staff resting upon a serpent. Underneath is painted San
The San Patricios fought in five major battles with the
Mexican Army: On May 3, 1846 in Matamoros; on September 21, 1846 in
Monterrey; on February 22, 1847 at the Battle of Buena
Vista (Angostura, for the Mexicans); on April 17, 1847 at Cerro Gordo, and
August 20, 1847 at Churubusco.
Its name being derived from an Aztec word meaning 'place of
the war god,' Churubusco became the site of one of the bloodiest battles
of the Mexican war, an engagement that also marked the
military zenith of the San Patricios and their last battle in the war as a
For the Americans, their victory at Churubusco was a
momentous and dramatic event. Besides its strategic and psychological
importance, the battle yielded 1,259 prisoners, including
104 officers...Of special importance were the captured San Patricios, among
them Brevet Major John Riley.
Although the San Patricios were defeated at Churubusco,
their proficiency and bravery elicited praise from various Mexicans: Santa
Anna said that if he had commanded a few hundred more men
like them, he would have won the battle.
San Patricio casualties at Churubusco were devastating:
when the battle began, the two companies were apparently at full strength of
102 men each. Three hours later 60 percent of the men were
either dead or had been captured by the enemy; 85 were taken prisoner,
72 of whom were accused of deserting the US Army and the
remaining up to 90 men had escaped.
In Occupied America, Acuña states that it is estimated that
as many as 260 Anglo-Americans fought with the Mexicans at Churubusco
in 1847. Some 80 appear to have been captured...A number
were found not guilty of deserting and were released. About 15, who had
deserted before the declaration of war, were merely branded
with a "D," and 50 of those taken at Churubusco were executed.' Others
received 200 lashes and were forced to dig graves for their
With the exception of two prisoners, Ellis and Pieper, the
military courts at Tacubaya and San Angel found all (the San Patricios)
of desertion and they sentenced 68 men "to be hanged by the
neck until dead."
While these sentences were being reviewed by the
commander-in-chief, dozens of individuals begged American authorities to
lives of the San Patricios. In his General Orders 281 and
283, issued the second week of September of 1847, General Scott confirmed
the capital punishment verdict for 50 San Patricios, but he
pardoned five men and reduced the sentences of 15 others.
Instead of being hanged, John Riley and 14 others reprieved
San Patricios were to be given 50 lashes, "well laid on their bare back,"
to be hot-iron branded with a two-inch letter "D" for
deserter; 12 were branded on the right cheek, the others of the right hip.
Still dressed in their Mexican uniforms, the Americans
hanged 16 other San Patricio traitors, who had white caps drawn over their
heads. Their bodies were buried nearby; ordered to do it,
John Riley and the other branded prisoners dug graves directly under the
gallows for nine of their companions. The other seven were
interred by priests in the nearby cemetery of Tlaquepaque (Tlacopac).
The 16 San Patricios who were hanged in San Angel dangled
from a wooden gallows erected for that purpose, but two American
writers claimed that the culprits were hanged "from limbs
of a large tree."
Two days after the San Angel hangings, Colonel William
Selby Harney executed with unwarranted cruelty the remaining 30 convicted
With medals, memorial plaques, annual ceremonies and public
schools honoring them, clearly the San Patricios are treated as heroes in
North of the Rio Grande, by contrast, the story of the
Saint Patrick's Battalion is hardly known. Occasionally, there is a passing
reference, often erroneous, in United States history books.
As for the individual San Patricios- at least those who deserted from the
United States Army- they have always been regarded by North
Americans as traitors. Yankee writers invariably have maintained that
those defectors who were caught deserved their fate.
For most, the story of the San Patricios is a tragedy, as
all war stories are.
from Shamrock and Sword, Robert Miller and Occupied
America, Rodolfo Acuña . Special thanks to Prof. Roberto Treviño, UC-CS.
>From: "Macdonald Stainsby" <mstainsby at tao.ca>
>Reply-To: marxism at lists.panix.com
>To: "Leninist International" <leninist-international at lists.wwpublish.com>,
> <marxism at lists.panix.com>
>Subject: St Patricks Batallion
>Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 18:51:47 -0700
>"from Dublin City to San Diego
>We witnessed freedom denied
>so we formed the St Patrick Batallion
>and fought on the Mexican side"
>-lyrical clip to a song performed by David Rovics
>I have absolutely no idea what this event refers to, aside from Irish
>siding with Mexicans during the conquest, but that's just from the song.
>here? It seems to have stumped local friends as well.
>Rad-Green List: Radical anti-capitalist environmental discussion.
>Leninist-International: Building bridges in the tradition of V.I. Lenin.
>In the contradiction lies the hope.
> --Bertholt Brecht
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