War with Mexico was coming.
By 1836, the conflict exploded when the United States Government annexed Texas. Mexico prepared.
In California, the Mexican government, with its new-found independence from Spain and watching the Americans getting ready for war, was suspicious of strangers. Sonoma was recognized as the unofficial capitol of the state and the center of influence for Alta California. Twelve military garrisons of Mexican soldiers administered the area, and military law was harsh with few individual civil rights.
In the 1840s, settlers were pouring into California, and the fast-growing numbers in California frightened the Mexicans. To more completely cement their hold on the new lands Mexico proclaimed a host of new restrictions and laws on the newest inhabitants.
When the settlers showed signs they wanted independence the Mexican government tried a compromise. The Mexican Constitution of 1824 gave the Americans the right to live on Mexican land if they swore an oath of allegiance to the Republic of Mexico and became Catholic. To sweeten the pot, any American who married a Mexican woman was given 4605 acres of land. Steven Austin was delegated by the Mexican government to enforce the decree.
With war inevitable, abruptly, on 17 April 1846, General Castro and the Mexican Government ordered all foreigners out of California. It was a demand that could not be ignored. There was no appeal, and they were given forty days to pack up and get out.
Forty-five days later, on the first day of June, General Castro purchased two hundred horses from Vallejo. Captain Fremont, believed this was a sign the horses would be mounted by Mexican Cavalry to drive the Americans out of California by force. He called the settlers to a meeting to plan a revolt. The plan was to capture the horses before the Mexicans could make use of them and force Vallejo to surrender to the Americans.
The brash Americans, moving quickly, captured the horses and took them to the Fremont camp. Meanwhile, a large party of Americans, who called themselves the ‘Bear Flaggers,’ were gathering. They crossed the hills in the dark of night, coming from all directions to meet in Lake County in the Napa Valley just before noon, on 12 June, at Bale’s Mill near St. Helena.
At midnight they left in a party, galloping on their way over the hills and dirt roads, to Sonoma, the Mexican headquarters in that part of California. With no hesitation or delay, hoping for surprise, the leaders rode to Vallejo’s home and woke him up to draw up the terms of surrender. Vallejo’s surrender was the opening gun on the fighting to follow.
For the next three months, until March of 1847, the United States sent more expeditions into California and New Mexico. The flag was hoisted at San Francisco and Santa Fe, and the Mexican Pacific seaports were blockaded. Soon after, the American Army, with forces already in California, took possession of Sonoma and Upper California. Within months, by the following year of 1848, American forces advanced on Mexico City and all of California became a part of the United States.
The war with Mexico was an elaborate confidence game purposely started by politicians in Congress to add new territory to the United States. Many of the men, who fought in the Mexican-American battles, men such as Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, expressed in their letters a horror of the trumped-up reasons for that war.
Grant wrote later, ‘Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions: we got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times. I should have resigned, but I had not the moral courage.’
He was not alone. Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, commander of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, wrote in his diary about the war with Mexico, ‘I have said from the first that the United States is the aggressors… We have not one particle of right to be here… It looks as if the government sent a small force on purpose to bring on a war, so to have a pretext for taking California and as much of this country as it chooses. Whatever becomes of this army, there is no doubt of a war between the United States and Mexico… My heart is not in this business… As a military man, I am bound to execute orders.’
Next Week: War with Mexico.
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