History Today: February 23
On February 23, 1847, during the Mexican-American War, arguably the most famous confrontation of the war, the Battle of Buena Vista, was fought in Coahuila, Mexico. With the outbreak of the war in 1846, General Zachary Taylor and his army quickly swept down through northern Mexico winning multiple victories over Mexican troops. These victories gained the U.S. a foothold in Mexican territory, a foothold that Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was determined to break. As Taylor moved out to gain more ground in Mexico, Santa Anna moved against him. Santa Anna brought an army three times larger than Taylor’s. Disaster might have befallen the Americans, but fortunately, a group of Texas Rangers located the advancing Mexican army.
With all possible speed, they raced back to inform Taylor, and the General promptly set up his army in a narrow mountain pass. Santa Anna reached the pass days later, during which time his army had been drastically depleted from 16,000 to 10,000 on account of desertion and exhaustion from the arid climate. Regardless, Santa Anna launched an assault on Taylor’s force, which had entrenched itself on high ground. Even though Taylor had advantageous positions and the Mexican army was physically depleted from marching, the attack was ferocious, and the American line began to waiver. More and more regiments were thrown into the breach by the Americans, but soon their flank began to falter as well. Santa Anna saw this, and promptly hurled more troops under General Pedro de Ampudia at the line.
However, Colonel Jefferson Davis and his Mississippi Rifles stood in their way, and using their model 1841 .54 caliber rifles, they inflicted massive casualties on the Mexican attackers, driving them back. After a few more forlorn attacks, Santa Anna reluctantly called it quits and retreated south, leaving the Americans the masters of the field and the victors of the day. More than 4,000 men were lost in the fighting. This American victory was the most well-known of the war, and it would catapult both Jefferson Davis and Zachary Taylor into the national spotlight. Zachary Taylor would end up with the Presidency just a year later, and Jefferson Davis would become the Secretary of War and eventually President of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Also, on this day in U.S. history:
1822: Boston, Massachusetts is incorporated as a city.
1896: The tootsie roll candy is introduced by Leo Hirshfield.
1904: The United States acquires control of the Panama Canal Zone for $10 million.