“…it was St. Patrick, the Harp of Erin, the Shamrock upon a green field” – John Riley, Saint Patrick's Battalion and the Mexican–American War
12 September 1847, Condemned as traitors for fighting the US Army as Batallón de San Patricio or Saint Patrick's Battalion after deserting American ranks during the Mexican–American War, 50 men, mainly Irish, were hanged in and around Mexico City, an event commemorated in Mexico and elsewhere on this day as the generally accepted anniversary date of the executions.
“Bring the damned son of a bitch out! My order was to hang 30 and by God I'll do it!“ (Col William Harney, 2nd Dragoons, US Army, on Francis O'Connor of the San Patricios who had lost both his legs in the Battle of Churubusco and was subsequently court-martialled.)
|Soldier, painter and author Samuel E. Chamberlain’s (1829 – 1908) imagination of the mass hangings around 12 September 1847 (c. 1867)|
Contemporary depiction of Major General Zachary
Taylor's Army of Occupation |
fighting green-coated Mexicans during the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847,
possibly the San Patricios
John Riley hailed from Clifden in County Galway, was born around 1818, did his turn in the British Army, possibly in Canada, and did not return home when the Great Famine broke out in Ireland in 1845. Riley ended up in the US Army and deserted from James McIntosh’s 5th Infantry Regiment after crossing the Rio Grande near future Fort Texas, just a few days before war was finally declared on 25 April 1846. The treatment of Irish regulars by nativist officers certainly played a major role in his decision, Mexican promises of money, citizenship and land, already in place for experienced soldiers, might have been an additional motivation as well as sympathy for the Catholic Mexicans and the Mexican cause. During the Battle of Monterrey, the one fought in Nuevo León in Northeastern Mexico in September 1846, the San Patricios had their first appearance as artillery unit, made up from elements of the former “Legión de Extranjeros”, something of a Mexican Foreign Legion. Commanded, at least de facto, by John Riley, half of the seven hundred San Patricios came from Ireland or were Americans of Irish origin, the other half were Catholics from Germany and Poland, Italians and what not, usually with a military background gained in the US and various European Armies. Reorganised as a mixed artillery and infantry unit under a green silk banner, woven and embroidered by the nuns of San Luis Potosí, remarked upon by Riley as “ that glorious Emblem of native rights, that being the banner which should have floated over our native Soil many years ago, it was St. Patrick, the Harp of Erin, the Shamrock upon a green field.” And while the Mexican army was pushed back to the outskirts of Mexico City until mid-September 1847 with the San Patricios fighting bravely in most battles, sometimes threatening to shoot their own comrades if they wouldn’t stand fast, it was to no avail. Riley and his men fought their last fight as Batallón de San Patricio during the Battle of Churubusco on 20 August 1847. Finally forced to surrender, the battalion, already down to 200 men, had 35 dead and 85 captured, Riley among them. Seventy-two were immediately charged with desertion by the US Army.
|Eye-witness Carl Nebel's recollection of the Battle of Churubusco|
|A plaque commemorating the San Patricios|
And more about the Batallón de San Patricio on: