Mexican American War Relic Hunting

by Daniel Bernzweig

The Mexican American War was the first major conflict between the United States and Mexico. Initially, the war took place over the issue of slavery but ended up being about the westward expansion of the United States. The Mexican American War was a turning point in American history. It led to the annexation of California and New Mexico and solidified the United States as a major world power. The war also had a lasting impact on Mexican Americans, who were forced to confront their place in American society. The Mexican American War was a complex and controversial conflict. It is important to understand the causes and consequences of the war to understand the history of both the United States and Mexico.

Few wars were more consequential in the formation of the United States than the Mexican American War of 1846 to 1848. Initially, the war erupted due to a dispute over where the Mexican American border would lie in what is now Texas, with the US favoring the Rio Grande and the Mexican government claiming it should lie at the more northerly Nueces River. A near two-year war followed in which the US military won a total victory, even advancing into central Mexico and taking Mexico City. As a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, it was possible to claim an enormous expanse of Mexican territory which stretched from Texas all the way west through the modern-day states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California, as well as many of Colorado. Through the treaty, Mexico lost upwards of half of its territory, while nearly 30% of the continental United States today is land that was acquired in 1848.

California Goldrush and the War

Moreover, vast gold seams in California were discovered within months of the region becoming part of the United States. In the six or seven years after that, over 300,000 '49ers' journeyed from the eastern states out west to find their fortunes in the newly acquired territories on the West Coast. California was also quickly given statehood status in 1850 and became the epicenter of American settlement on the Pacific Coast. One has to wonder how American history might have evolved differently if those same gold seams had been discovered when California was still part of Mexico. Thus, the Mexican American War of 1846 to 1848 was a much more significant conflict than we sometimes give it credit for.

Compared to other wars with North American involvement, i.e., World War I, World War II, and the American Civil War, the US Mexican War is often forgotten. This is likely because the war did not have as many casualties or spill as much American blood as other wars. Nevertheless, the Mexican American War was a significant event in history. It led to the Mexican cession with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The war also had a lasting impact on the Mexican government, Mexican war veterans, and American forces that served during the war.

Important Figures in the Mexican American War

During his presidency, Polk served as the 11th president of the United States. He served from 1845 to 1849. Polk was a Democrat, and he ran on a platform of expansionism. During his time in office, Polk oversaw the annexation of Texas and the Mexican American War. The war resulted in the annexation of California and New Mexico. Polk is often considered one of the most successful presidents in American history. He was a master politician, and he achieved all of his goals while in office. General Zachary Taylor was a general in the United States Army. General Taylor served during the Mexican American War and led many American troops to victory in battle. Taylor was a national hero, and he was later elected president of the United States. He served from 1849 to 1850. General Winfield Scott was a general in the United States Army. Scott is considered one of the greatest generals in American history. After the war, he served as the military governor of Mexico City. He also ran for president in 1852. Sam Houston was a politician, and he served as governor of Texas. Houston was a strong supporter of annexation, and he played a significant role in the Mexican American War. The Mexican American War was of great interest to Abraham Lincoln. In his opinion, expanding westward into Mexico would benefit the United States. General Winfield Scott was sent to take control of California after he became president. Despite this, the Mexicans refused to surrender, escalating the fight. Eventually, the U.S. won the war, but at a high cost, with thousands of Americans killed and many more wounded.

What You Could Find if You Metal Detect at a Mexican American Battlefield

The Mexican American War was a significant event in Mexican, Native American, and American military history. Many brave men fought on both sides of the war, and it is very important to remember and honor them. If you are interested in finding Mexican War artifacts, then these are some of the best places to start your search. Metal detecting is a great way of finding these artifacts, and it can be a very rewarding process. When you start looking for them, you never know what you might find!

The Mexican American War was fought in many different places. The Rio Grande was one of the main battlefields. The Alamo was fought in San Antonio, Texas. In many people's minds, the Alamo is the first thing that comes to mind. The Mexican American War was shaped by the Battle of the Alamo.

The Alamo symbolizes the Texas Revolution and the fight for freedom. The battle was fought between the Mexican army and a group of Texan rebels. The Texans were outnumbered and outgunned, but they fought bravely against the Mexican army.

Santa Anna's Sword is one of the most famous artifacts from the Mexican American War. It was used by the Mexican general Santa Anna during the Battle of San Jacinto. The sword was captured by the Texans and is now on display in the Alamo.

Some relics you may likely find while metal detecting on a Mexican American Battle site include: 

  • Bullets - Bullets were used in the war from Texas to California in the 1840s.
  • Buttons - From the mid-Nineteenth-Century American and Mexican troops. Buttons utilized during the Mexican American war include brass, copper, and pewter.
  • Jewelry - Rings, necklaces, bracelets, etc., that may have belonged to either soldiers or civilians caught in the crossfire.
  • American and Latin American Coins - American, Mexican, and Texan coins from the 1840s. Some coins include the 1843 Liberty Head Half Cent and the 1847 Braided Hair Large Cent.
  • Belt Buckles - American, Mexican, and Texan belt buckles from the 1840s. A US Army Belt Buckle from the Mexican American War depicting the Federal Seal is an example of one belt buckle found on a battle site.
  • Cannonballs - Used during the Siege of Veracruz in 1847.

Mexican war artifacts are interesting because they offer a glimpse into what life was like during that time period. They can be found both on Mexican territory and on American soil. Some of the most common places to find these artifacts are:

  • Battlegrounds - These are some of the most common places to find Mexican War artifacts. Bullets, buttons, and other small items can be found.
  • Sites of Importance - Places like the Alamo and San Jacinto are also good places to look for Mexican War artifacts. Santa Anna's sword was found at the Battle of San Jacinto.
  • Important Trails and Landmarks - The Santa Fe trail was a trade route that connected Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The trail was used by American traders and settlers before the Mexican American War and is undoubtedly home to many artifacts.
  • Cerro Gordo - The Cerro Gordo site is located in Mexico and was the scene of a major battle during the Mexican American War. The Battle of Cerro Gordo was a turning point in the war as it showed that the Americans could defeat the Mexicans in open battle.
  • Along Rivers - The Rio Grande River was a major battleground during the Mexican American War. The river was a natural barrier between the two countries, and many battles were fought along its banks.
  • Forts - Forts were built along the American borders with Mexico to protect against Mexican attacks. Fort Bliss is one such fort that was built in 1854. Fort Texas was also built in 1849 and was the site of the Battle of Palo Alto.

Weapons of the Mexican American War

The American armed forces were technically more advanced than Mexico's when the war broke out in 1846. This was considerably owing to the superiority of their weapons. Front and center was the Springfield Model 1842 Musket, a .69 caliber smoothbore musket which had been developed by the Springfield Armoury a few years before the conflict began. The new model Springfield used a percussion cap or primer, which allowed the gun to ignite in any kind of weather, in contrast to the earlier flintlock type. Interestingly the Model 1842 was produced with a thicker than average gun bore in the belief that developments in rifling and new bullet types would lead many individuals to rifle the musket down the line (i.e., add grooves onto the inside of the barrel). The Model 1842 could fire an average of three rounds per minute and could fire effectively at a range of 300 yards. By way of contrast, Mexico was a poor nation that did not have its own major armory. Accordingly, it was largely reliant on legacy weapons that it had inherited from the period of Spanish colonial rule before independence in 1821 or purchases of outdated weapons from the European powers after they had replaced their own weapons with more modern firearms. As a result, the Mexican armed forces in 1846 often carried outdated muskets and rifles from the Napoleonic Wars in Europe thirty to forty years earlier. For instance, in the 1830s, it had ordered large numbers of British India Pattern 'Brown Bess' Muskets from the British, a gun which had been first produced in 1797 and which had also developed a reputation for being unreliable and inaccurate. Indeed some of these legacy guns had even come from the United States, which had supplied Mexico with its own unwanted weaponry in the 1810s during its independence fight with Spain. Beyond these staples of the war, musket and revolver side arms would have been carried by many, as were shotguns for close quarters combat, and a wide range of swords and knives were still employed.

Bullets were Used from Texas to California in the 1840s

Bullets during the 1840s continued to employ plain musket balls. However, the Minié Ball, which revolutionized the manufacture of ammunition in the nineteenth century, was invented in France by Claude-Étienne Minié in 1846, just as the war was commencing on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Minié Ball would transform how guns operated and how lethal they were in the years that followed, a development which is explored in more depth in our series on the material remains of the American Civil War. Nevertheless, this particular type of ammunition did not impact the Mexican American War. Instead, the standard musket shot remained the order of the day in the late 1840s. As seen in our articles on the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, these more elementary bullet types typically consisted of Buck and Ball shot, while Canister Shot was often used for cannons and ordnance.

Buttons in mid-Nineteenth-Century America and Mexico

Most European and American powers in the nineteenth century wore army uniforms with buttons as signifiers of rank. Thus, for instance, Major W. H. Polk's uniform in the North Carolina Museum of History today would have originally had two rows of seven large buttons down the front for a total of fourteen buttons. Consequently, all would have known the rank of this commander, who played a leading role in the war in 1847 and 1848, simply by looking at the button arrangement on his coat. Lower-ranking officers had fewer buttons, and standard servicemen would have had as few as seven or eight buttons tying up their jackets. The design of these could vary, but the most common were brass or pewter buttons bearing the federal insignia or plain white metal buttons. The latter were often worn by officers. Mexican army soldiers dressed to some extent like their American counterparts, using the parade dress synonymous with military attire in the nineteenth century before more practical types of dress and khaki began to become prominent from the early twentieth century onwards. Like their enemy, Mexican soldiers had coats with brass and pewter buttons thereon, and these also would have borne the Mexican federal insignia. Thus, there was little to distinguish the two sides in this respect. Bullets had a practical use in some instances beyond just tying up a jacket, and it has been noted that some tied a brush and wire vent pricker to a button on the front of their jacket. This was used for cleaning the vents of their firearms if they became blocked.

Buckles and Cartridge Boxes at the Dawn of the American West

The Mexican American War was being fought at the dawn of the age of the American West, a period in which belt buckles became synonymous with shoot-outs as individuals reached for holstered side-arms at famous shoot-outs such as that at the OK Corral in Tombstone in 1881. It is curious to learn that the belt buckles worn by US and Mexican soldiers in the Mexican American War were sometimes almost indistinguishable. American buckles often carried the federal seal of an eagle, while the Mexican seal was very similar, also depicting an eagle, though this one was perched on a cactus. Other items bearing these federal insignia that people might discover from the Mexican American War while out metal detecting include metallic cartridge boxes used to store ammunition. As with buttons, these buckles and cartridge boxes could come in various materials and designs depending on one's rank and division. For instance, American infantrymen wore two leather buff belts, one around the shoulder and down the chest as a bandolier and the other around the waist. The bandolier belt was secured at the center of the chest with a brass circular plate filled with lead bearing the federal insignia of the eagle. The waist belt was secured with a brass plate on which the letters 'U.S.' were raised. Thus, even a low-ranking infantryman went to war with multiple buckle types.

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