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Remains of (another) day

19 July 2008

From the BBC (only indirectly quoting AP)

The remains of what appear to be four US soldiers who died in 1846 during the Mexican-American war have been found, Mexican officials have said.

The skeletons were found at the site of the Battle of Monterrey in northern Mexico alongside relics indicating the bodies were US soldiers.

Mexico lost the battle and the war, ceding much territory to the US.

Experts had previously thought the site contained a mass grave for Mexicans but only the US troops have been found.

Measurements of the skulls and bones, plus US coins and other items found with the skeletons, have led Mexican archaeologists to conclude the remains are US war dead.

Mexico’s state archaeological agency said the bodies were found in several digs between 1996 and 2008 but it took a long time to identify the remains because it was believed only Mexicans were buried at the battle site.

An official with the agency told the Associated Press news agency there were plans to carry out DNA tests and inform the soldiers’ relatives, if possible.

“There are proposals… to return those individuals found so far to the United States, and for them to return those that they have from battles that took place in their country,” said the National Institute of Anthropology and History in a statement quoted by AP.

(Sombrero tip to the NEW AND IMPROVED “Unapologetic Mexican”).

I’ll be interested to find out what these skeletons can tell us. The battle itself (21-23 September 1846 ) ended in house-to-house combat with the Mexican forces only withdrawing when civilian casualties began to mount (the Cathederal, where civilians had taken refuge, was coming under artillery attack… General Pedro de Amupia also had to worry about gunpower stored in the Cathederal basement).  Ampudia and General Taylor negotiated a two month truce.  With Tayor having political ambitions (he would be elected President of the United States in 1848), President Polk forced him to hold his position in Monterey for the remainder of the War.  These soldiers may have died in the battle itself, or been killed by irregulars (what in Iraq are called “insurgents”) of which there were many, or died of any number of 19th century diseases.

Many of the occupation troops were themselves “irregular” military units, volunteers and Texas Rangers (Texas had been an independent country until 1845 — which was the cause of the war — and the Rangers had been a Republic of Texas guerrilla unit).  Samuel Chamberlain, at the time a dragoon corporal (and later a Civil War General), wrote about his experiences with the occupation of Monterrey, which included several hair-raising episodes (literally — he came across an Arkansas volunteer unit scalping a priest) suggest the regulars sometimes got into fire-fights with the “volunteers” when both weren’t fighting insurgents.

(Image from “Viva Computer Links”, SUNY Albany)

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