St. Patrick’s Battalion: The Incredible Story Of The Irish-American Soldiers Who Defected To Mexico

History
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

With the U.S. annexation of Texas in 1846, tensions with Mexico had reached a critical point. At the same time, many Irish Catholics were immigrating to America in the wake of famine and unrest in Ireland.


In the Army, as with the rest of the country, the Irish Catholics faced discrimination, and were often given dirty, lowly jobs.

Mexican generals learned of the plight of the Irish soldiers and took advantage of it — offering land, money, and potential for advancement for any soldier who deserted and joined them. The prospect of defecting to fight for Mexico meant better conditions overall. Unlike the U.S. Army, the Mexican Army treated the Irish like heroes.

Originally, the immigrants were assigned to the “legion of foreigners” under the Mexican Army. After the Battle of Resaca de la Palma — one of the earliest battles of the Mexican-American War — the legion was organized into the St. Patrick's Battalion.

Many of the defectors had prior artillery experience, and they were assigned as an elite artillery unit. Though it consisted mainly of Irish Catholics, a handful of other nationalities were also included.

Related: The most interesting war tactics of all time, according to the internet »

Their banner included a bright green standard with an Irish harp, under which read the words “Erin go Bragh,” meaning “Ireland forever,” paired with the Mexican coat of arms with the words “Libertad por la Republica Mexicana.” On the reverse side was an image of St. Patrick and the Spanish iteration of his name, “San Patricio.”

During the battles of Buena Vista and Churubusco, the St. Patrick’s battalion was led by Irish defector John Riley, formerly of Company K under the U.S. Army’s 5th Infantry Regiment, according to the Texas Historical Association.

The Battle of Churubusco did not go well for the battalion, however.

On Aug. 20, 1847, the U.S. Army was in position to take the bridge over the Churubusco River and enter the city. The Mexican defenders, including the St. Patrick’s Battalion, managed to stave off the attack under Gen. Gabriel Valencia earlier in the day. But they later ran out of ammunition, which led to their surrender.

During the skirmish, most of the battalion was captured or killed.

According to Latin American history expert Christopher Minster, 85 members of the battalion were taken prisoner. Seventy-two of them were tried for desertion. Though some were pardoned, 50 of them were hanged, and one was shot.

Riley, however, was not among those executed. He was instead whipped and branded by the U.S. Army.

Today, the U.S. Army still considers the St. Patrick’s Battalion as traitors. But in Mexico they are highly regarded. There, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated particularly in the places where the Irish soldiers were hanged, Minster wrote.

WATCH NEXT:

An Austrian Jagdkommando K9 unit conducts training (Austrian Armed Forces photo)

An Austrian soldier was apparently killed by two military working dogs that he was charged with feeding, the Austrian Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday.

Read More Show Less

Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario has seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya, and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.

Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.

The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.

Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Read More Show Less

My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."

Opinion

Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

Read More Show Less
Photo: ABC News/screenshot

Federal court judge Reggie Walton in Washington D.C. has ruled Hoda Muthana, a young woman who left her family in Hoover, Alabama, to join ISIS, is not a U.S. citizen, her attorneys told AL.com Thursday.

The ruling means the government does not recognize her a citizen of the United States, even though she was born in the U.S.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- The Marine Corps could train as many as eight co-ed companies at boot camp each year, and the general overseeing the effort is hitting back against those complaining that the move is lowering training standards.

"Get over it," Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the head of Training and Education Command told Military.com on Thursday. "We're still making Marines like we used to. That has not changed."

Mullen, a career infantry officer who has led troops in combat — including in Fallujah, Iraq — said Marines have likely been complaining about falling standards since 1775.

"I'm assuming that the second Marine walking into Tun Tavern was like 'You know ... our standards have gone down. They're just not the same as it they used to be,'" Mullen said, referring to the service's famous birthplace. "That has always been going on in the history of the Marine Corps."

Read More Show Less