You are here

Mecklenburg County in the Mexican American War

Event Type: 
Antebellum Days 1820-1852


Mecklenburg County in the War with Mexico


In the 1840s, the population of Mecklenburg County was falling, and had been since 1830. The county's young adults and families were relocating to other states and territories where they found more productive soil and greater opportunity. The United States' War with Mexico (1846-1848) would not have such significant economic consequences for Mecklenburg as the Civil and World Wars that followed. Instead, it shone a light on the people's character. Whatever the business outlook, Mecklenburgers had not lost their sense of leadership in the state. The legacy of the Revolutionary era, though almost out of living memory, still made them believe that they had a special responsibility in matters of national urgency.

As an example of this historically rooted sense of local pride consider a toast drunk at an Independence Day celebration in Lincolnton, 1847. It called the soldiers from Mecklenburg and neighboring counties the "sons of those who first hurled forth the Declaration of Independence." (Lincoln Courier, July 7, 1847, p3, col.3)

The political character of Mecklenburg County inclined the citizens to support the war with Mexico. During the 1840s, when Whigs held power in state government, Mecklenburg County remained a Democratic stronghold. Its citizens could point with pride to President Polk, who was born to a leading Mecklenburg family in 1795. In 1844, Polk, a Democrat, did not carry the state of North Carolina, but he did win his native county. Polk requested a declaration of war against Mexico. When Congress obliged him on May 13, 1846, the county sprang into action.


The Mecklenburg Dragoons


Mecklenburg followed its own path in wartime. The President asked for 50,000 soldiers, of which North Carolina's share was to be 1,000. The number of adventure-seeking young men in North Carolina eager to support the expansion of the United States far exceeded the statewide quota (Hoffman, p.14). The superintendent of the United States Mint in Charlotte was an up-and-coming young Democratic politician named Green Caldwell. He began raising a company of volunteers who would make up Mecklenburg's contribution to the North Carolina regiment.

Political factors made the plan of joining the state regiment impossible to achieve, however. A Democratic President had argued for war against vigorous opposition from the rival party, the Whigs. After the Congressional declaration of war, A Whig administration in Raleigh had the responsibility of overseeing North Carolina's participation in the national war effort. Mistrust between Whig commanders and Democratic volunteers ran so high that on January 27, 1847, the officers of the company raised in Mecklenburg County refused to accept their commissions and returned them to the Adjutant General of North Carolina.

Regarding the field officers of the state regiment, Captain Caldwell said, "[If] Cols. Paine and Fagg want men to command, they will have to get them elsewhere than in Mecklenburg." (Wallace, p.31) His actions earned the praise of the local Democratic newspaper, which called it "a proud day for the sons of old Mecklenburg." (Mecklenburg Jeffersonian in Wallace, p.31)

The story might have ended there, but the Mecklenburg soldiers were determined to serve. They applied directly to the US Army, bypassing the state authorities. In April of 1847, they were mustered in as Company A of the Third United States Dragoons. (Lincoln Courier, April 29, 1847, p.2, col.3). Thus began the story of seventy eight volunteers who, though not important in the larger story of the war with Mexico, saw more action than any company in the state regiment. (Hoffman, p.18) (Blythe and Brockman, p.399)


Service in Mexico

Once mustered in, the Mecklenburg Dragoons rode to Columbia, SC in April of 1847. (The rail connection to Columbia would not be established until 1852. It would prove a turning point in Charlotte's fortunes.) Sixty years later, the company's experience would be recalled this way:

From [Columbia] to Charleston where the men boarded the brig Forest. For 29 days the boat was out and finally landed at the Brazos Island on the southeast coast of Texas.

From that point the company went to Matamoros, Mexico, where it joined the Third Regiment.

While the Third Regiment never did very much active service, the men were engaged in several skirmishes. But, it was not the bullets of the Mexican soldiers that the Americans feared. It was yellow fever and smallpox that depleted their ranks.

("Of The Entire Co., Only Four Live," Charlotte News, 1906(?) - clipping in vertical file "Mecklenburg-History-Mexican War," Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, NC. )


The Veterans of the Mexican War

The surviving members of the Mecklenburg Dragoons pursued a variety of postwar careers. Some never came home but settled in Texas or joined the Gold Rush to California. Some signed up again for military service a dozen years later when the Civil War broke out. Some went back to quiet lives as farmers. Capt. Green returned to politics and pursued a medical career in Charlotte before dying in 1864. For details, see our database of all the Mecklenburg Dragoons.


Works Cited:


Blythe, LeGette and Brockman, Charles. Hornets' Nest: The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Charlotte, NC: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1961.

Hoffman, William S. North Carolina in the Mexican War, 1846-1848. Raleigh, N.C.: State Department of Archives and History, 1959

Wallace, Lee A. "Raising a Regiment for Mexico," The North Carolina Historical Review. Vol. 35, no.1, (January, 1958), pp.20-33