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Devotion to the Adopted Country

U.S. Immigrant Volunteers in the Mexican War

Tyler V. Johnson

Publication Year: 2012

In Devotion to the Adopted Country, Tyler V. Johnson looks at the efforts of America’s Democratic Party and Catholic leadership to use the service of immigrant volunteers in the U.S.–Mexican War as a weapon against nativism and anti-Catholicism. Each chapter focuses on one of the five major events or issues that arose during the war, finishing with how the Catholic and immigrant community remembered the war during the nativist resurgence of the 1850s and in the outbreak of the Civil War. Johnson’s book uncovers a new social aspect to military history by connecting the war to the larger social, political, and religious threads of antebellum history.


Having grown used to the repeated attacks of nativists upon the fidelity and competency of the German and Irish immigrants flooding into the United States, Democratic and Catholic newspapers vigorously defended the adopted citizens they valued as constituents and congregants. These efforts frequently consisted of arguments extolling the American virtues of the recent arrivals, pointing to their hard work, love of liberty, and willingness to sacrifice for their adopted country.


However, immigrants sometimes undermined this portrayal by prioritizing their ethnic and/or religious identities over their identities as new U.S. citizens. Even opportunities seemingly tailor-made for the defenders of Catholicism and the nation’s adopted citizens could go awry. When the supposedly well-disciplined Irish volunteers from Savannah brawled with soldiers from another Georgia company on a Rio Grande steamboat, the fight threatened to confirm the worst stereotypes of the nation’s new Irish citizens. In addition, although the Jesuits John McElroy and Anthony Rey gained admirers in the army and in the rest of the country for their untiring care for wounded and sick soldiers in northern Mexico, anti-Catholic activists denounced them for taking advantage of vulnerable young men to win converts for the Church.         


Using the letters and personal papers of soldiers, the diaries and correspondence of Fathers McElroy and Rey, Catholic and Democratic newspapers, and military records, Johnson illuminates the lives and actions of Catholic and immigrant volunteers and the debates over their participation in the war. Shedding light on this understudied and misunderstood facet of the war with Mexico, Devotion to the Adopted Country adds to the scholarship on immigration and religion in antebellum America, illustrating the contentious and controversial process by which immigrants and their supporters tried to carve out a place in U.S. society.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-8

In December 1846, over seven months after the first shots of the U.S.-Mexican War, the federal government finally called on Pennsylvania to send volunteer troops to the conflict. As the designated assembly point for the state’s soldiers, Pittsburgh became the center of the state’s attention, watching company after company of eager volunteers march in and set up camp. The city’s Democratic newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post, took particular notice of the units filled with German ...

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Chapter 1: “To Stop the Mouths of Mendacious Croakers” : Defeating Nativists through Enlistment

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pp. 9-27

On May 23, 1846, the St. Louis Catholic News-Letter passed along a troubling report to its readers. The editors related a recent conversation with a man just arrived from New Orleans. The anonymous source informed the News-Letter of a storm brewing in New Orleans over the supposed antiwar preaching of several Catholic clergy. The Catholic population of the Crescent City feared that even mere rumors of such activity might incite violence against Catholic churches. ...

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Chapter 2: The Most Valuable Men: Immigrants on Campaign in Mexico

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pp. 28-50

While volunteers gathered in cities and towns across the United States in the spring of 1846, the nation’s military and political leadership began laying the groundwork for the coming campaigns. To President James K. Polk, General Zachary Taylor, and other leading figures, conciliating Mexican civilians ranked as a high priority of wartime military policy. They were especially sensitive to this issue, knowing that massive popular resistance could prove fatal to U.S. troops ...

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Chapter 3: Defending the Fatherland: Proving Loyalty in Combat

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pp. 51-67

In June 1847, the German Catholic community of Cincinnati gathered to mourn the death of First Lieutenant Matthew Hett. Hett had perished at the Battle of Monterrey the previous September while fighting with the First Ohio Regiment of Volunteers, but his funeral was delayed until the discharge of his comrades from the service in spring 1847, at which time they brought his body home with them. On June 29, Hett’s company, the German Lafayette Guard, accompanied his corpse to ...


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pp. 68-76

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Chapter 4: “A Most Disgraceful and Violent Encounter” : Damage Control of the Jasper Greens Riot

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pp. 77-90

On September 22, 1846, from his camp near Camargo, Mexico, assistant quartermaster Franklin Smith noted in his diary the departure of a pack train loaded with specie. He also mentioned that General William Patterson had ordered 250 men from Colonel Henry Jackson’s First Regiment of Georgia Volunteers to accompany the train for protection. Smith described these soldiers as “fine looking men” and “the choice companies” of their regiment, including “the...

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Chapter 5: “Eminent and Beloved Chaplains” : Father John McElroy and Anthony Rey in the Army

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pp. 91-107

On May 19, 1846, President James K. Polk sat down for a meeting with some of his cabinet to discuss the prosecution of the war with Mexico. During the course of that conversation, Secretary of State James Buchanan arrived at the president’s office to introduce New York’s Bishop John Hughes. Polk had invited the bishop to Washington in order to secure his assistance “in disabusing the minds of the Catholic priests and people of Mexico in regard to what they most...

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Chapter 6: Laurels Won by Adopted Citizens: Ethnic Memory of the War

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pp. 108-120

Unlike others from St. Louis’s German community, the Jaegers did not get a chance to see much of Mexico. Since they signed up before the official call upon Missouri for volunteers, this volunteer company in the First Missouri Regiment of Volunteers, known as the St. Louis Legion, had only agreed to serve six months, as did hundreds of other volunteers from Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama. General Taylor found little use for men who would depart for home so soon, and ...

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pp. 121-126

Depending on their circumstances (those disabled from military service could ask for a pension at any time), veterans of the U.S.-Mexican War and their widows began applying for pensions to the U.S. government in the 1880s. Hundreds of ethnic veterans and widows joined in this process, sometimes revealing their memories of the war. In a few cases, these memories shed light on how ethnic volunteers viewed their service and the war in general. ...


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pp. 127-138


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pp. 139-162


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pp. 163-167

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272751
E-ISBN-10: 0826272754
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219732
Print-ISBN-10: 082621973X

Page Count: 179
Illustrations: 2 maps, 10
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1