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Monroe County, Indiana in the Mexican War

By H. C. Duncan

This paper will not discuss the war with Mexico, the cause of the war, its campaigns and results. That is all history and can be found in the many histories of that short but decisive conflict.

By reason of pressing demands on my time I have not been able to give the subject the time and attention I desired and its importance demanded. I was compelled to depend largely upon the memories of persons then living in which two persons rarely agreed. Time had either obliterated the early impressions or had left them so blurred that the information sought was at least of doubtful authenticity. With-in the past few years General Oran Perry, a late adjutant general of the State, has compiled a work on Indiana in the Mexican War which has the general orders, proclamations, etc., of the governor and adjutant general of the State covering that period, together with extracts from the newspapers of the time, giving copies of private letters written from the front to individuals and published in the papers, and from letters written to the papers, but nearly all of these were local, referring only to the particular company and concluding with lengthy contemporaneous letters discussing the conduct of the Second Indiana Regiment at the battle of Buena Vista. It has also the roster of the five regiments furnished by Indiana to the Mexican War, together with the mounted riflemen. There is but little in these except to show the time of muster in and out, deaths, discharges and desertions, and nothing showing the residence of the individual soldier.2 In fact, the opportunities for getting information with reference to the particular part played by Monroe county men in that campaign with all it accomplished, with what it added in wealth and numbers to United States, are indeed meager. At that time the special correspondent had not been discovered, the modern newspaper had not been developed and there is nothing to which we can go except the ill kept records and the memories of old people. The former is never of interest, the latter uncertain.

On May 13, 1846, President Polk approved the Act of Congress declaring war with Mexico and calling for 50,000 volunteers to serve for one year, or during the war, and appropriating $10,000,000 for defraying its expenses. On May 16, 1846, the secretary of war called on the governor of Indiana for three regiments of infantry or riflemen, practically 3,000 men, as its quota. On the 22nd of May Governor James Whitcomb issued his proclamation calling for companies to be raised, each company to report its organization to him as soon as filled and the officers selected, to march to New Albany preparatory to organizing into regiments and to moving on to Mexico, saying the communication from Washington, calling for the volunteers was dated "the 16th and was received late last evening." This you will see was before the days of telegraph or fast mail and required five days to reach Indianapolis from Washington, and then got there "late in the evening."

The order of the adjutant general, accompanying the governor's message goes into very great details of the organization of the troops. It limited each company to eighty privates, four corporals, four sergeants, two lieutenants and one captain. It did not authorize anyone to raise a company, but promised that after a company was filled there should be an election for all of the officers from captain down which should be certified to the governor who would issue commissions to the commissioned officers.

At that time Indiana was without any military organization. There had been no war since that of 1812. The country was new; everybody was engaged in subduing the wilderness and in other peaceful pursuits. Peace reigned through-out the country. The old days of militia muster had passed and there was no military establishment from which to draw or around which the military spirit could concentrate. So far as Indiana was concerned the military organization must be built from the ground up. As soon as the governor's proclamation calling for troops was received at Bloomington, recruiting began. Lieutenant Governor Paris Dunning, James S. Hester, Willis A. Gorman and John M. Sluss all had military aspirations and entered into the work of recruiting with energy and enthusiasm. By the 15th of June the full company had been recruited; an election of officers was held and John M. Sluss was elected captain, John Eller, first lieutenant; Aquilla Rogers, second lieutenant, and Thomas Rogers, third lieutenant. The regulation made no provision for a third lieutenant, but nearly all the companies elected one and I have not been able to learn their duties or what became of them. The company was recruited and organized, reported to the governor and commissions received, and the company was ready to march in twenty-four days from the time the governor's proclamation was issued. When it is considered there was no telegraph nor telephone, that mail came only by stage which took a whole day from Blooming-ton to Indianapolis; that the stage made only about two trips a week, it will be understood that the company was recruited and organized in a remarkably short space of time. On the 15th of June, 1846, the company started to the front. While the company was being recruited the ladies of Bloomington bought the silk and with their own hands made a flag for presentation. This was presented to the company by Miss Sarah E. Markle, late the wife of our honored and esteemed fellow-townsman, William F. Browning. Fortunately the speech of presentation has been preserved and is as follows:

"Gentlemen of the Monroe Guards: On behalf of the ladies of Monroe County, I present to you this flag and with it their warmest applause for the choice you have made. You are about to sacrifice the comforts to which you have been accustomed, to undergo and endure the privations of a soldiers' life, and to exchange your peaceful and happy homes with their cheerful firesides for the field of battle and camp life. Yet in this there is no cause for regret. You make the sacrifice not at the call of a despot nor to satisfy a criminal ambition, but in the name of that beloved liberty which is dearer to you and to us than life. Your choice is that of patriotic, brave men, and as such we honor it and you. And while you are fighting the battles of our beloved country for liberty, thereby endangering your lives, we shall wait with impatience for the glad tidings of your welfare and success. A portion of the glory achieved by you will be reflected upon the thousands who are here today to say goodbye and to bid you Godspeed and to pledge you our prayers and good wishes for the glorious triumph of this flag and of our country.

"Take this flag as the emblem of liberty and union and may its presence ever be the true emblem of the downfall of the enemies of American freedom."

It is not certain just where the presentation took place. One who was present says that it was in front of the Butler Corner, now the Bowles Hotel. Another who was also present, says that it was on the common just east of the Christian church. Mr. Markle, the father of Miss Markle, lived in the two story, hewed log house in which Elias Able died, at the southeast corner of Rogers and Seventh streets. The departure of this company was a sad day for Bloomington. Many of the best young men were going to a foreign land, to an inhospitable climate, to endure the hardships of a military campaign. They were to go to New Albany where they would be organized in regiments. There was no railroad and the farmers of the community gave a lift with wagons and teams. Our old friend, Esquire William L. Adams, was then a young man of seventeen and at the time was working for Isaac Buskirk, who lived near Mt. Gilead church on the Unionville road. He had two boys in the company and sent a wagon which Esquire Adams drove. John Whisenand, Isaac Whisenand, James Storms, David Rader and Joseph Dearman all sent wagons. The line of march was down Walnut street on to the Salem road, past Fairfax, where the company camped the first night, on through Heltonsville, Leesville and Salem to New Albany which was reached on the third day. The company went into camp there and became Company A of the Third regiment, commanded by Colonel James H. Lane of Lawrenceburg, afterwards a major general in the Civil War and a United States senator from the State of Kansas. At that time the science of war had not advanced to its present efficiency. The volunteer army of this State was organized on a decidedly democratic basis. Both the field and line officers were elected by the men of the regiment, the staff officers were appointed by the President and the non-commissioned staff by the colonel of the regiment. While the company was the actual unit in the Mexican war, it was designated by name. Each company had a name and carried it with it into history. The men were not known as members of a regiment or brigade, but of a certain named company. Thus Captain Sluss's company was the "Monroe Guards," the company from Lawrence County, the "Lawrence Grays," the Brown county company, "Brown County Blues," the Greene county company, "Greene County Volunteers," etc.

The men furnished their own clothing, although subsequently they were reimbursed by the government. This company got its uniforms at New Albany, which consisted of a gray cashmere sack coat with black velvet stripes up the front, pants of the same material with black velvet stripes up the legs, broad brim, gray hat with the brim turned up at the side. By an order from the ordinance office at Washington, the Indiana troops were to be supplied at Baton Rouge with musketry and accoutrements, forty cartridges and two flints for each musket. The old muskets issued were pretty crude. They were smooth bored with flint locks and muzzle loaders. The cartridges were handmade and consisted of one large ball and three buck shot.

Of course there was great enthusiasm manifested during the organization of the company. The military spirit was thoroughly aroused. A desire to march into the enemy's country and to resent the insults to the flag were manifested on all sides. Some of the volunteers in their fiery zeal while on the streets of Bloomington delighted to shoot down imaginary Mexicans who might be straying into the interior. Two of these blood-thirsty ones, who delighted in this harmless but appalling pastime, after marching to New Albany and seeing the probabilities of war, remembered the helpless condition of loved ones at home, cried and begged so piteously to be returned that Captain Sluss permitted them to go.

Footnotes:
1. Read before the Monroe County Historical Society, Jan. 13, 1911. Judge Duncan died Jan. .30, 1911. See Indiana Magazine of History VII, 31.
2. It would be a valuable contribution to State History if some competent person in each county which sent soldiers to the Mexican War would do what the author has done in this paper. - Ed.
3. Duncan: Monroe County in Mexican War 289

Index

Source: Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. XII March, 1916

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