Saint Patrick's Battalion

Saint Patrick's Battalion

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The Saint Patrick's Battalion , formed and led by Jon Riley
Jon Riley
Jon Patrick Riley , also known as John Patrick O'Riley, , a United States Army private, was one of the several hundred immigrant Catholic Irishmen who defected from the US Army and formed the Saint Patrick's Battalion to fight for Mexico in the 1846-48 Mexican-American War...

, was a unit of 175 to several hundred immigrants (accounts vary) and expatriate
An expatriate is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing...

s of European descent who fought as part of the Mexican Army against the United States in the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. Most of the battalion's members had deserted
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning...

 or defected
In politics, a defector is a person who gives up allegiance to one state or political entity in exchange for allegiance to another. More broadly, it involves abandoning a person, cause or doctrine to whom or to which one is bound by some tie, as of allegiance or duty.This term is also applied,...

 from the U.S. Army. Made up primarily of ethnic Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 and German Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 immigrants, the battalion included Canadians
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

, French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

, Italians, Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

, Scots
Scottish people
The Scottish people , or Scots, are a nation and ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically they emerged from an amalgamation of the Picts and Gaels, incorporating neighbouring Britons to the south as well as invading Germanic peoples such as the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse.In modern use,...

, Spaniards
Spanish people
The Spanish are citizens of the Kingdom of Spain. Within Spain, there are also a number of vigorous nationalisms and regionalisms, reflecting the country's complex history....

, Swiss, and native Mexicans, most of whom were Roman Catholics. Disenfranchised Americans
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 were in the ranks, including escaped slaves from the American South. The Mexican government offered incentives to foreigners who would enlist in its army: granting them citizenship, paying higher wages than the U.S. Army and the offer of generous land grants. Only a few members of the Saint Patrick's Battalion were actual U.S. citizens.

Members of the Battalion are known to have deserted from U.S. Army regiments including: the 1st Artillery, the 2nd Artillery, the 3rd Artillery, the 4th Artillery, the 2nd Dragoons, the 2nd Infantry
2nd Infantry Regiment (United States)
The 2nd Infantry Regiment is an infantry regiment in the United States Army. It has served the United States for more than two hundred years. It is the third oldest regiment in the US Army with a Lineage date of 1808 and a history extending back to 1791...

, the 3rd Infantry, the 4th Infantry, the 5th Infantry
5th Infantry Regiment (United States)
The 5th Infantry Regiment is the third-oldest infantry regiment of the United States Army, tracing its origins to 1808...

, the
6th Infantry, the 7th Infantry
7th Infantry Regiment (United States)
The United States Army's 7th Infantry Regiment, known as "The Cottenbalers" from an incident that occurred during the Battle of New Orleans, while under the command of Andrew Jackson, when soldiers of the 7th Infantry Regiment held positions behind a breastwork of bales of cotton during the...

 and the 8th Infantry.

The Battalion served as an artillery unit for much of the war. Despite later being formally designated as infantry, it still retained artillery pieces throughout the conflict. In many ways, the battalion acted as the sole Mexican counter-balance to U.S. horse artillery
Horse artillery
Horse artillery was a type of light, fast-moving and fast-firing artillery which provided highly mobile fire support to European and American armies from the 17th to the early 20th century...


Historical perspective

For Americans of the generation who fought the Mexican-American War, the San Patricios were considered traitors. For Mexicans of that generation, and generations to come, the San Patricios were heroes who came to the aid of fellow Catholics in need.

The great majority of these men were recent immigrants who had arrived at northeastern U.S. ports, part of the Irish diaspora
Irish diaspora
thumb|Night Train with Reaper by London Irish artist [[Brian Whelan]] from the book Myth of Return, 2007The Irish diaspora consists of Irish emigrants and their descendants in countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Mexico, South Africa,...

's escaping the Irish Potato Famine and extremely poor economic conditions in Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

. The U.S. Army often recruited Irishmen and other immigrants into military service shortly or sometimes immediately on arrival. , with promises of salaries and land after the war.
Numerous theories have been proposed as to their motives for desertion, including cultural alienation, mistreatment of immigrant soldiers by nativist soldiers and senior officers, their not being allowed to attend Sunday Mass or to practice their religion freely
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any...

, the incentive of higher wages and land grants starting at 320 acres (1.3 km²) offered by Mexico, and their witnessing poor conduct of U.S. troops following battle victories.

Some historians believed a primary motivation was shared religion with the Mexicans and sympathy for the Mexican cause, likely based on similarities between the situations in Mexico and Ireland. This hypothesis is based on evidence of the number of Irish Catholics in the Battalion, the letters of Jon Riley
Jon Riley
Jon Patrick Riley , also known as John Patrick O'Riley, , a United States Army private, was one of the several hundred immigrant Catholic Irishmen who defected from the US Army and formed the Saint Patrick's Battalion to fight for Mexico in the 1846-48 Mexican-American War...

, and the field entries of senior officers. Another hypothesis is that the members of the Saint Patrick's Battalion had been unhappy with their treatment in the U.S. Army. Another theory some historians hold is that the soldiers were attracted by the valuable incentives offered by the Mexican government: higher wages and generous land grants. For poor people coming from famine conditions, economics was often an important incentive.

Mexican author José Raúl Conseco noted that many Irish lived in northern Texas, and were forced to move south due to regional insecurity. Early in the war they helped Gen. Taylor attack the fort and supply depot in St. Isabel, now the city of Port Isabel
Port Isabel, Texas
Port Isabel is a city in Cameron County, Texas, United States. It is part of the Brownsville–Harlingen–Raymondville and the Matamoros–Brownsville metropolitan areas...

, Texas.

Irish expatriates had a long tradition of serving in military forces of Catholic countries, for instance, serving with Spain in groups of young men known as the Flight of the Wild Geese
Flight of the Wild Geese
The Flight of the Wild Geese refers to the departure of an Irish Jacobite army under the command of Patrick Sarsfield from Ireland to France, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3, 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland...

 in the 17th century. In addition, many Irish fought as soldiers in South American wars of independence
South American Wars of Independence
The Latin American Wars of Independence were the various revolutions that took place during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and resulted in the creation of a number of independent countries in Latin America. These revolutions followed the American and French Revolutions, which had profound...



There are conflicting accounts of the design of the flag of the Saint Patrick's Battalion. No flags or depictions of them are known to have survived to the present day. The only version of the flag known to have survived the war was subsequently lost or stolen from the chapel at West Point.

Jon Riley, who left an account of the battalion, noted the flag in a letter:
According to an American journalist covering the war with Mexico:

Two other eye-witness accounts of the flag exist, both from American soldiers. The first describes it as:

The second notes only:
A radically different version of the flag was described in this Mexican source:
Whatever the case, in 1997 a reproduction military flag was created by the Clifden and Connemara Heritage Group. Another was created the following year for the MGM film One Man's Hero
One Man's Hero
One Man's Hero is a 1999 film starring Tom Berenger and directed by Lance Hool. The film has the distinction of being the last one released by Orion Pictures....

. The film was a romanticised version of the San Patricios' history. A third version embodying the description of the San Luis Potosí flag was made for the Irish Society of Chicago, which hung it in Chicago's Union League Club
Union League
A Union League is one of a number of organizations established starting in 1862, during the American Civil War to promote loyalty to the Union and the policies of Abraham Lincoln. They were also known as Loyal Leagues. They comprised upper middle class men who supported efforts such as the United...


Some theories suggest that the Saint Patrick's Battalion might have used different banners (as an artillery unit, an infantry company and as a reconstructed unit).

Formation and early engagements

Present in the Mexican Army for the battles of Palo Alto
Battle of Palo Alto
The Battle of Palo Alto was the first major battle of the Mexican-American War and was fought on May 8, 1846, on disputed ground five miles from the modern-day city of Brownsville, Texas...

 and Resaca de la Palma were the Legión de Extranjeros (Legion of Foreigners); the men who would later make up the core of the Saint Patrick's battalion. Meanwhile, Riley and "a company of 48 Irishmen" manned Mexican artillery at the Siege of Fort Texas
Siege of Fort Texas
The Siege of Fort Texas marked the beginning of active campaigning by the armies of the United States and Mexico during the Mexican-American War. The battle is sometimes called The Siege of Fort Brown, but this is not entirely accurate — the name Fort Brown was taken from Major Jacob Brown,...

, which took place concurrently to the two other battles.

The Saint Patrick's Battalion first fought as a recognised Mexican unit in the Battle of Monterrey
Battle of Monterrey
In the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican-American War, General Pedro de Ampudia and the Mexican Army of the North was defeated by U.S...

 on 21 September 1846, as an artillery battery
Artillery battery
In military organizations, an artillery battery is a unit of guns, mortars, rockets or missiles so grouped in order to facilitate better battlefield communication and command and control, as well as to provide dispersion for its constituent gunnery crews and their systems...

. Popularly they were called Los Colorados by the Mexicans because of their ruddy, sun-burnt complexions and red hair color. They were commanded by Jon Riley
Jon Riley
Jon Patrick Riley , also known as John Patrick O'Riley, , a United States Army private, was one of the several hundred immigrant Catholic Irishmen who defected from the US Army and formed the Saint Patrick's Battalion to fight for Mexico in the 1846-48 Mexican-American War...

, an Irish artilleryman and veteran Non-commissioned officer
Non-commissioned officer
A non-commissioned officer , called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who has not been given a commission...

 of the British Army, who possibly arrived in Canada in 1843 whilst serving in the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 (the assertion that he served as a Sergeant
Sergeant is a rank used in some form by most militaries, police forces, and other uniformed organizations around the world. Its origins are the Latin serviens, "one who serves", through the French term Sergent....

 in the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot
66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot
The 66th Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army, formed in 1758 and amalgamated into The Princess Charlotte of Wales's in 1881....

, is known to be a fabrication) going on to join the U.S. Army in Michigan in September 1845. He deserted in Matamoros in April 1846. Upon meeting Mexican forces he was initially given the Officers
Officer (armed forces)
An officer is a member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority. Commissioned officers derive authority directly from a sovereign power and, as such, hold a commission charging them with the duties and responsibilities of a specific office or position...

 rank of Lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

 by General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 Pedro de Ampudia
Pedro de Ampudia
Pedro de Ampudia was born in Havana, Cuba and served Mexico as a Northern army officer for most of his life. He was also governor of the state of Nuevo León in 1846 and from 1853 to 1854....

At the battle of Monterrey the San Patricios proved their artillery skills by mowing down many American soldiers, and they are credited with defeating two to three separate assaults into the heart of the city. Among their targets were companies led by such officers as Braxton Bragg
Braxton Bragg
Braxton Bragg was a career United States Army officer, and then a general in the Confederate States Army—a principal commander in the Western Theater of the American Civil War and later the military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.Bragg, a native of North Carolina, was...

, many of whose soldiers would end up in their own ranks later in the war. Their tenacity, however, did not affect the Mexican commanders' decision to capitulate and abandon the position.

Following the engagement at Monterrey
Monterrey , is the capital city of the northeastern state of Nuevo León in the country of Mexico. The city is anchor to the third-largest metropolitan area in Mexico and is ranked as the ninth-largest city in the nation. Monterrey serves as a commercial center in the north of the country and is the...

, the San Patricios grew in number, by some estimates reaching an enlistment of over 700 men. Forces re-assembled at San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí
San Luis Potosí officially Estado Libre y Soberano de San Luis Potosí is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 58 municipalities and its capital city is San Luis Potosí....

 and they had their distinct green silk flag embroidered there.

Buena Vista

They then marched northward after joining a larger force commanded by Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón , often known as Santa Anna or López de Santa Anna, known as "the Napoleon of the West," was a Mexican political leader, general, and president who greatly influenced early Mexican and Spanish politics and government...

 sent from Mexico City, the "liberating army of the North". At the Battle of Buena Vista
Battle of Buena Vista
The Battle of Buena Vista , also known as the Battle of Angostura, saw the United States Army use artillery to repulse the much larger Mexican army in the Mexican-American War...

 (known as the battle of Angostura in Mexico) in Coahuila
Coahuila, formally Coahuila de Zaragoza , officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Coahuila de Zaragoza is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico...

 on 23 February, the Patricios became engaged with U.S. forces. They were assigned the three heaviest — 18 and 24 pound — cannons the Mexican army possessed, which were positioned on high ground over-looking the battle
Generally, a battle is a conceptual component in the hierarchy of combat in warfare between two or more armed forces, or combatants. In a battle, each combatant will seek to defeat the others, with defeat determined by the conditions of a military campaign...

field. They were later described as "a strong Mexican dint of extraordinary exertions...[that] commanded the entire plateau".

They started the battle supporting Mexican infantry by firing on U.S. lines as the Mexicans advanced on them, then later decimating an artillery battery directly opposite them on the battlefield (Washington’s 4th Artillery, D Battery). A small number of San Patricios were dispatched with a division
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

 commanded by Manuel Lombardini
Manuel Lombardini
Manuel José María Ignacio Lombardini de la Torre was a Mexican general and politician who supported Antonio López de Santa Anna. From 8 February 1853 to 20 April 1853 he served as president of Mexico....

 with the express purpose of capturing the 4th's cannons once the crews had been dealt with. As the division got close enough they charged the artillery battery, bayoneting whoever remained and rout
A rout is commonly defined as a chaotic and disorderly retreat or withdrawal of troops from a battlefield, resulting in the victory of the opposing party, or following defeat, a collapse of discipline, or poor morale. A routed army often degenerates into a sense of "every man for himself" as the...

ing the rest, leaving the attached San Patricios free to haul away two six-pound cannons. These cannons would later be used by Mexican forces at the Battle of Contreras
Battle of Contreras
The Battle of Contreras, also known as the Battle of Padierna, took place during August 19–20, 1847, in the final encounters of the Mexican-American War. In the Battle of Churubusco, fighting continued the following day.-Background:...


In frustration U.S. Commander Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor was the 12th President of the United States and an American military leader. Initially uninterested in politics, Taylor nonetheless ran as a Whig in the 1848 presidential election, defeating Lewis Cass...

, referring to the Saint Patrick's Battalion, ordered a squadron
Squadron (cavalry)
A squadron was historically a cavalry sub unit. It is still used to refer to modern cavalry units but can also be used as a designation for other arms and services.-United States:...

 of the 1st Dragoons to "take that damned battery". In this task they failed, and, badly bloodied, were forced to retreat. At about 1 p.m. the San Patricios covered a Mexican retreat as a disordered mass of infantry sought refuge during a lull in the fighting. The San Patricios rode out the day in a costly artillery duel with several American batteries, which killed and injured roughly one third of them. Several Irishmen were awarded the War Cross by the Mexican government for their conduct in that battle, and many received field promotions.

Re-organization and final battles

Despite their excellent performance in a number of engagements as artillery, the much-reduced San Patricios were ordered to muster a larger infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

 in mid-1847 by personal order of Santa Anna. It was re-named the The Foreign Legion of Patricios and consisted of volunteers from many European countries, commanded by Col. Francisco R. Moreno, with Riley in charge of 1st company
Company (military unit)
A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–225 soldiers and usually commanded by a Captain, Major or Commandant. Most companies are formed of three to five platoons although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure...

 and Santiago O'Leary heading up the second.

As an infantry unit, the San Patricios continued to serve with distinction. Knowing that they were likely to face the death penalty if captured, the San Patricios are known to have threatened wavering Mexican troops with death by "friendly fire
Friendly fire
Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire...

" at the Battle of Cerro Gordo
Battle of Cerro Gordo
The Battle of Cerro Gordo, or Battle of Sierra Gordo, in the Mexican-American War saw Winfield Scott's United States troops flank and drive Santa Anna's larger Mexican army from a strong defensive position.-Battle:...

 if they retreated. When the San Patricios were too-heavily engaged to carry out their threat, the Mexican troops broke and ran, leaving the San Patricios as they fought U.S. troops in hand-to-hand combat.

The Battle of Churubusco
Battle of Churubusco
The Battle of Churubusco took place on August 20, 1847, in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Contreras during the Mexican-American War. After defeating the Mexican army at Churubusco, the U.S. Army was only 5 miles away from Mexico City, the capital of the nation...

 (20 August 1847) took place two days after the defeat at Cerro Gordo. Gen. Santa Anna gave a verbal order to "preserve the point at all risk". The San Patricio Companies initially met the attackers outside the walls of the convent at a tête-de-pont
A bridgehead is a High Middle Ages military term, which antedating the invention of cannons was in the original meaning expressly a referent term to the military fortification that protects the end of a bridge...

, which was about 500 yards (457 m) from a fortified convent. A battery of three to five heavy cannons were used from this position to hold off the American advance along with support from Los Independencia Batallón and Los Bravos Batallón. Several U.S. charges towards the bridgehead were thrown off, with the San Patricio companies serving as an example to the supporting battalions. Unlike the San Patricios, most of whom were veterans (many having served in the armies of the United Kingdom and assorted German states), the supporting Mexican battalions were simply militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

 (the term 'National Guard' is also used) who had been untested by battle.

A lack of ammunition led the Mexican soldiers in the trenches between the bridgehead and the convent to disband; without ammunition, they had no way to fight back. Santa Anna had ordered half of these soldiers to a different part of the battlefield. When the requested ammunition wagon finally arrived, the 9 ½ drachm cartridges were compatible with none but the San Patricio Companies "Brown Bess
Brown Bess
Brown Bess is a nickname of uncertain origin for the British Army's Land Pattern Musket and its derivatives. This musket was used in the era of the expansion of the British Empire and acquired symbolic importance at least as significant as its physical importance. It was in use for over a hundred...

" muskets, and they made up only a fraction of the defending forces. Further hampering Mexican efforts, a stray spark from an artillery piece firing grape shot at the on-coming U.S. troops caused the just-arrived ammunition to explode and set fire to several men, including Cap. O'Leary and Gen.l Anaya. A withdrawal
Withdrawal (military)
A withdrawal is a type of military operation, generally meaning retreating forces back while maintaining contact with the enemy. A withdrawal may be undertaken as part of a general retreat, to consolidate forces, to occupy ground that is more easily defended, or to lead the enemy into an ambush...

 behind the walls of the convento de Churubusco
Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

 was called when the threat of being outflanked proved too great.
The San Patricios used this battle as a chance to settle old scores with U.S. troops. "The large number of officers killed in the affair was ... ascribed to them, as for the gratification of their revenge they aimed at no other objects during the engagement". Though hopelessly outnumbered and underequipped, the defenders repelled the attacking U.S. forces with heavy losses until their ammunition ran out and a Mexican officer raised the white flag of surrender. Officer Patrick Dalton of the San Patricios tore the white flag down, prompting Gen. Pedro Anaya to order his men to fight on, with their bare hands if necessary. American Private Ballentine reported that when the Mexicans attempted to raise the white flag
White flag
White flags have had different meanings throughout history and depending on the locale.-Flag of temporary truce in order to parley :...

 two more times, members of the San Patricios shot and killed them. After brutal close-quarters
Close quarters battle
Close quarters combat or close quarters battle is a type of fighting in which small units engage the enemy with personal weapons at very short range, potentially to the point of hand-to-hand combat or fighting with hand weapons such as swords or knives...

 fighting with bayonet
A bayonet is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear...

s and sabers
The sabre or saber is a kind of backsword that usually has a curved, single-edged blade and a rather large hand guard, covering the knuckles of the hand as well as the thumb and forefinger...

 through the halls and rooms inside the convent, U.S. Army Captain James M. Smith suggested a surrender after raising his white handkerchief. Following the U.S. victory, the Americans "ventilat[ed] their vocabulary of Saxon expletives, not very "courteously," on Riley and his beautiful disciples of St. Patrick."

Gen. Anaya stated in his written battle report that 35 San Patricios were killed, 85 taken prisoner (including a wounded Jon Riley, Captain O'Leary and Anaya). About 85 escaped with retreating Mexican forces. The survivors were reformed before the Battle of Mexico City some two weeks later and were stationed at Querétaro
Querétaro officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Querétaro de Arteaga is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided into 18 municipalities and its capital city is Santiago de Querétaro....

. New units were made up of the free survivors of the battle of Churubusco and a roughly equal number of fresh deserters from the U.S. Army. Following the war, the battalion never regained its former numbers; it was officially mustered out of Mexican military service in 1848. Some members were alleged to have been involved in an abortive military coup; historians have said the group was disbanded because of Mexican budget cuts.


The San Patricios captured by the U.S. Army were treated and punished as traitors for desertion in time of war. In addition, they had been responsible for some of the toughest fighting (and the heaviest casualties) that the U.S. Army had faced. Seventy-two men were immediately charged with desertion by the Army.

Two separate courts-martial were held, one at Tacubaya
Tacubaya is a section of Mexico City located in the west in the Miguel Hidalgo borough. The area has been inhabited since before the Christian era, with its name coming from Nahuatl meaning “where water is gathered.” From the colonial period to the beginning of the 20th century, Tacubaya was...

 on 23 August, and another at San Ángel
San Ángel
San Ángel is a colonia or neighborhood of Mexico City, located in the southwest in Álvaro Óbregon borough. Historically, it was a rural community, called Tenanitla in the pre Hispanic period. Its current name is derived from the El Carmen monastery school called San Ángel Mártir...

 on 26 August. At neither of these trials were the men represented by lawyers nor were transcripts made of the proceedings. Neither was required by law. This lack of formal legal advice could account for the fact that several of the men claimed that drunkenness had led them to desert (a common defense in military trials at the time that sometimes led to lighter sentences), and others described how they were forced to join the Mexican Army in some form or another. The majority of the San Patricios either offered no defense or their defenses were not recorded. In any case, military law required death as the punishment for the crime of desertion during a time of war.


One soldier who claimed he was forced to fight by the Mexicans after he was captured by them, and who subsequently refused to do so, was sentenced to death by firing squad instead of hanging, along with another who was found not to have officially joined the Mexican Army.

Most of the convicted San Patricios were sentenced to death by hanging: 30 from the Tacubaya trial and 18 from San Ángel. The rationale was that they had entered Mexican military service following the declaration of war. Execution by hanging was in violation of the contemporary Articles of War
Articles of War
The Articles of War are a set of regulations drawn up to govern the conduct of a country's military and naval forces. The phrase was first used in 1637 in Robert Monro's His expedition with the worthy Scots regiment called Mac-keyes regiment etc. and can be used to refer to military law in general...

, which stipulated that the penalty for desertion and/or defecting to the enemy during a time of war was death by firing squad, regardless of the circumstances.

Hanging was reserved only for spies (without uniform) and for “atrocities against civilians”, neither of which activities were among the charges brought against any members of the Saint Patricio's Battalion. Although more than 9,000 U.S. soldiers deserted the army during the Mexican-American War, only the San Patricios were punished by hanging.

Those soldiers who had left military service before the official declaration of war
Declaration of war
A declaration of war is a formal act by which one nation goes to war against another. The declaration is a performative speech act by an authorized party of a national government in order to create a state of war between two or more states.The legality of who is competent to declare war varies...

 on Mexico (Riley among them) were sentenced to:


En masse hangings for treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 took place on 10 September 1847, at San Ángel (where 16 were hanged) and the village of Mixcoac (where 4 were hanged), and 13 September at Chapultepec
Chapultepec Park, more commonly called the "Bosque de Chapultepec" in Mexico City, is the largest city park in Latin America, measuring in total just over 686 hectares. Centered on a rock formation called Chapultepec Hill, one of the park's main functions is to be an ecological space in the vast...

. At the San Ángel hangings all prisoners were executed without incident except for Patrick Dalton, who, as an American captain described, was "literally choked to death". Dalton had previously voiced concerns regarding his treatment. By order of Gen. Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott was a United States Army general, and unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Whig Party in 1852....

, 30 San Patricios were to be executed at Chapultepec in full view of the two armies who had fought there, at the precise moment that the flag of the U.S. replaced the flag of Mexico atop the citadel. This order was carried out by Col. William Harney. While overseeing the hangings, Harney ordered Francis O'Connor hanged even though he had had both legs amputated the previous day. When the army surgeon informed the colonel that the absent soldier had lost both his legs in battle, Harney replied:

The U.S. flag appeared on the flagpole at 9.30 a.m. The Mexican flag had been taken by cadet Juan Escutia to his death after leaping with it from Chapultepec Castle to deny the Americans the honor of capturing it. In a final act of defiance, the men about to be hanged cheered the Mexican flag, as one onlooker remarked; "Hands tied, feet tied, their voices still free". At Harney's signal, the carts holding the tied and noosed men pulled away. Harney was subsequently promoted to brigadier general, a post which he held while the U.S. Army occupied Mexico City. The Mexican government described the hangings as “a cruel death or horrible torments, improper in a civilised age, and [ironic] for a people who aspire to the title of illustrious and humane”, and by a writer covering the war as "a refinement of cruelty and...fiendish".


Those who survived the war generally disappeared from history. A handful are on record as having made use of the land claims promised them by the Mexican government.

The men have continued to be honored and revered as heroes in Mexico. The Batallón de San Patricio is memorialised on two separate days; 12 September, the generally-accepted anniversary of the executions of those convicted by the U.S. Army of desertion at time of war, and 17 March, Saint Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick's Day is a religious holiday celebrated internationally on 17 March. It commemorates Saint Patrick , the most commonly recognised of the patron saints of :Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion , the Eastern...


Numerous schools, churches and other landmarks in Mexico take their name from the battalion, including:
  • Monterrey — The street in front of the Irish School is named Batallón de San Patricio ("Battalion of Saint Patrick").
  • Mexico City — The street in front of the Santa María de Churubusco
    Churubusco is a neighbourhood of Mexico City. Under the current territorial division of the Mexican Federal District, it is a part of the borough of Coyoacán...

     convent was named Mártires Irlandeses ("the Irish martyrs").
  • The coastal town of San Patricio, Jalisco
    San Patricio, Jalisco
    San Patricio - Melaque in the Mexican state of Jalisco is a busy community located 4+ kilometers northwest of Barra de Navidad on Bahia de Navidad. It was named for a unit of 175 mainly Irish immigrants, Saint Patrick's Battalion, that fought with the Mexican Army against the US during the...

  • The battalion's name is written in gold letters in the chamber of Mexico's House of Representatives.

In the U.S. the memory of the battalion has been different. The U.S. Army denied the existence of the Saint Patrick's battalion as a cover-up
A cover-up is an attempt, whether successful or not, to conceal evidence of wrong-doing, error, incompetence or other embarrassing information...

 and attempt to discourage other deserters. In 1915 an inquiry
An inquiry is any process that has the aim of augmenting knowledge, resolving doubt, or solving a problem. A theory of inquiry is an account of the various types of inquiry and a treatment of the ways that each type of inquiry achieves its aim.-Deduction:...

 was initiated by U.S. congressmen William Henry Coleman
William Henry Coleman
William Henry Coleman was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.-Biography:...

 and Frank L. Greene
Frank L. Greene
Frank Lester Greene was a United States Representative and Senator from Vermont. Born in St. Albans, Vermont, he attended the public schools and was employed by the Central Vermont Railway Co. in various capacities from 1883 to 1891...

. This resulted in the U.S. Army's admitting its denial of the matter. The U.S. Congress ordered the army to turn over its records on the battalion to the National Archives.
In the past most Irish Americans distanced themselves from the battalion, as they did not want to be associated with deserters or thought to be disloyal.

In 1997, President Ernesto Zedillo
Ernesto Zedillo
Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León is a Mexican economist and politician. He served as President of Mexico from December 1, 1994 to November 30, 2000, as the last of the uninterrupted seventy year line of Mexican presidents from the Institutional Revolutionary Party...

 commemorated the 150th anniversary of the execution of the San Patricios at a ceremony in Mexico City's San Jacinto Plaza
San Jacinto Plaza
San Jacinto Plaza is an historic park located on the corner of Oregon and Mills in the heart of Downtown El Paso, Texas.-History:When the US government leased land from Smith's ranch, for the first Post opposite El Paso , U.S. Army troops would drill in the plaza...

. This is where the U.S. Army conducted the first 16 hangings after the men were convicted of desertion at court martial. Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 and Mexico jointly issued
Joint issue
A joint issue is the release of stamps or postal stationery by two or more countries to commemorate the same topic, event or person of relevance to both countries...

 commemorative postage stamps to mark the anniversary.

In 2004, at an official ceremony attended by numerous international dignitaries including directors Lance and Jason Hool, as well as several actors from the film One Man's Hero
One Man's Hero
One Man's Hero is a 1999 film starring Tom Berenger and directed by Lance Hool. The film has the distinction of being the last one released by Orion Pictures....

(1999), the Mexican government gave a commemorative statue to the Irish government in perpetual thanks for the bravery, honor and sacrifice of the Saint Patrick's Battalion. The statue was erected in Clifden
Clifden is a town on the coast of County Galway, Ireland and being Connemara's largest town, it is often referred to as "the Capital of Connemara". It is located on the Owenglen River where it flows into Clifden Bay...

, Connemara, Ireland, where leader Jon Riley was born.

The battalion has inspired numerous responses: it is the name of a soccer team club Deportivo Chivas USA's supporters association
Saint Patrick's Battalion (MLS supporters association)
The Union Ultras, formerly known as St. Patrick's battalion is a Football supporters group based on the South American Barra brava, who follow Major League Soccer team, Club Deportivo Chivas USA....

, was evoked in a Saint Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick's Day
Saint Patrick's Day is a religious holiday celebrated internationally on 17 March. It commemorates Saint Patrick , the most commonly recognised of the patron saints of :Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion , the Eastern...

 message from Subcomandante Marcos
Subcomandante Marcos
Subcomandante Marcos is the spokesperson for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation , a Mexican rebel movement. In January 1994, he led an army of Mayan farmers into the eastern parts of the Mexican state of Chiapas protesting against the Mexican government's treatment of indigenous...

 of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation
Zapatista Army of National Liberation
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation is a revolutionary leftist group based in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico....

, and has been remembered as a symbol of international solidarity with Mexico.
In honor of Jon Riley
Jon Riley
Jon Patrick Riley , also known as John Patrick O'Riley, , a United States Army private, was one of the several hundred immigrant Catholic Irishmen who defected from the US Army and formed the Saint Patrick's Battalion to fight for Mexico in the 1846-48 Mexican-American War...

, on 12 September the town of Clifden
Clifden is a town on the coast of County Galway, Ireland and being Connemara's largest town, it is often referred to as "the Capital of Connemara". It is located on the Owenglen River where it flows into Clifden Bay...

 flies the Mexican flag.


  • "St Patrick's Battalion" — by David Rovics
    David Rovics
    David Rovics is an American indie singer/songwriter. His music concerns topical subjects such as the 2003 Iraq war, anti-globalization and social justice issues. Rovics has been an outspoken critic of former President George W...

  • "San Patricio Brigade" — by Black 47
    Black 47
    Black 47 are a New York City based celtic rock band with Irish Republican sympathies, whose music also shows influence from reggae, hip hop, folk and jazz...

  • "The San Patricios" — by The Fenians
  • "San Patricios" — by Street Dogs
    Street Dogs
    Street Dogs are a punk rock band originally from Boston, Massachusetts. The band's current line-up includes Mike McColgan, former lead singer of Dropkick Murphys, Johnny Rioux, Marcus Hollar, Tobe Bean III and Paul Rucker.-History:...

     (State of Grace
    State of Grace (album)
    State of Grace is the fourth album by the Street Dogs. It was released on July 8, 2008. It was produced by Ted Hutt and is the band's first album on Hellcat Records. It includes a cover of the The Skids' "Into the Valley"...

  • "San Patricios" — by Ollin (song and EP)
  • "Pa Los Del San Patricio" — by Charlie O'Brien
  • "The Men That God Made Mad" — by Niamh Parsons with Graham Dunne
  • "San Patricios" — by The Plankrunners
  • "St Patrick's Battalion" — by The Wakes
  • "San Patricio" — by The Chieftains
    The Chieftains
    The Chieftains are a Grammy-winning Irish musical group founded in 1962, best known for being one of the first bands to make Irish traditional music popular around the world.-Name:...

  • "John Riley" — by Tim O'Brien

Films and fiction

  • 1962 — Saint Patrick's Battalion by Carl Krueger
  • 1996 — The San Patricios, Directed by Mark R. Day
  • 1997 — In the Rogue Blood, Winner of Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, by James Carlos Blake
  • 1999 — One Man's Hero
    One Man's Hero
    One Man's Hero is a 1999 film starring Tom Berenger and directed by Lance Hool. The film has the distinction of being the last one released by Orion Pictures....

    (1999), film directed by Lance Hool, written by Milton S. Gelman
  • 1999 — St. Patrick's Battalion, Directed by Jason Hool
  • 1999 — The Rogue's March: John Riley and the St. Patrick's Battalion 1846-1848 by Peter F. Stevens
  • 2001 — Gone for Soldiers
    Gone for Soldiers
    Gone for Soldiers is a 2000 historical novel by Jeffrey Shaara about the Mexican-American War. It was written as a stand-alone novel, but could also be seen as a prequel to the Civil War trilogy written by Shaara and his father, Michael Shaara, introducing some of the key protagonists in the...

    , novel by Jeff Shaara
  • 2006 — Saint Patrick's Battalion, novel by James Alexander Thom
    James Alexander Thom
    James Alexander Thom is an American author, most famous for his works in the Western genre and colonial American history; known for their historical accuracy borne of his painstaking research. Born in Gosport, Indiana, he graduated from Butler University and served in the United States Marine Corps...

     published by Blue River Press of Indianapolis

See also

  • Battles of the Mexican-American War
    Battles of the Mexican-American War
    The battles of the Mexican–American War include all major engagements and most reported skirmishes, including Thornton's Defeat, the Battle of Palo Alto, and the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, which took place prior to the official start of hostilities....

  • Connolly Column
    Connolly Column
    The Connolly Column was the name given to the Irish volunteers who fought for the Second Spanish Republic in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. They were named after James Connolly, the executed leader of the Irish Citizen Army...

  • Irish Brigade (French)
    Irish Brigade (French)
    The Irish Brigade was a brigade in the French army composed of Irish exiles, led by Robert Reid. It was formed in May 1690 when five Jacobite regiments were sent from Ireland to France in return for a larger force of French infantry who were sent to fight in the Williamite war in Ireland...

  • Irish Brigade (US)
    Irish Brigade (US)
    The Irish Brigade was an infantry brigade, consisting predominantly of Irish Americans, that served in the Union Army in the American Civil War. The designation of the first regiment in the brigade, the 69th New York Infantry, or the "Fighting 69th", continued in later wars...

  • Irish Migration Studies in Latin America
    Irish Migration Studies in Latin America
    Irish Migration Studies in Latin America is an open access journal dedicated to the links between Ireland and Latin America. It is published three times a year by the Society for Irish Latin American Studies, and it is considered the only publication focusing on this field worldwide.The journal is...

  • Niños Héroes
    Niños Héroes
    The Niños Héroes , also known as the Heroic Cadets or Boy Soldiers, were six Mexican teenage military cadets. These cadets died defending Mexico at Mexico City's Chapultepec Castle from invading U.S. forces in the 13 September 1847 Battle of Chapultepec, during the Mexican–American War...

  • John Murphy (Saint Patrick's Battalion)
    John Murphy (Saint Patrick's Battalion)
    John Murphy, Irish soldier, fl. 1846-48.Murphy was a native of County Mayo who later served with the Saint Patrick's Battalion. He had deserted the U.S. army on 17th May 1846, and joined the Mexican army. Upon his release from prison, he received his pay from the Mexican government in May 1848, and...

Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Bauer, K. Jack. The Mexican War, 1846-48, Bison Books, 1992 ISBN 0803261071.
  • Callaghan, James.
  • Connaughton, Michael G.
  • Cress, Lawrence Delbert & Wilkins, George. Dispatches from the Mexican-American War, University of Oklahoma Press, 1999 ISBN 0806131217.
  • Downey, Fairfax.
  • Ferrigan III, James J. "Three flags for the Batallón de San Patricio?" 8 February 2000
  • Fogarty, James.
  • Frías, Heriberto. La guerra contra los gringos Mexico City: Ediciones Leega/Jucar, 1984 ISBN 968495011X
  • Gonzales, Manuel G. Mexicanos: A history of Mexicans in the United States, Indiana University Press, 2000 ISBN 0-253-33520-5.
  • Hogan, Michael. Irish Soldiers of Mexico, Guadalajara: Fondo Editorial Universitario, 1998 ISBN 978-9687846002.
  • _________.
  • Hopkins, G. T., The San Patricio Battalion in the Mexican War, Cavalry Journal 24, September 1913.
  • Fast, Howard
    Howard Fast
    Howard Melvin Fast was an American novelist and television writer. Fast also wrote under the pen names E. V. Cunningham and Walter Ericson.-Early life:Fast was born in New York City...

  • Howes, Kelly King. Mexican American war, U·X·L, 2003 ISBN 0787665371.
  • Lloyd, David. Ireland After History, University of Notre Dame Press, 2000 ISBN 0268012180.
  • McCornack, Richard. The San Patricio Deserters in the Mexican War, 1847, The Irish Sword
    The Irish Sword
    The Irish Sword is the official journal of the Military History Society of Ireland containing articles on the military history of Ireland, book reviews, notes, notices, queries, illustrations and proceedings....

    . Volume 3, 1958.
  • Mermann-Jozwiak, Elisabeth.
  • Miller, Robert Ryal. Shamrock and Sword, The Saint Patrick's Battalion in the US-Mexican War, Norman, Oklahoma; University of Okiahoma Press, 1989 ISBN 0806129646.
  • Meltzer, Milton. Bound for the Rio Grande; the Mexican Struggle, 1845-1850, New York: Knopf, 1974 ISBN 0394824407.
  • Nordstrom, Pat.
  • Wallace, Edward S. The Battalion of Saint Patrick in the Mexican War, Military Affairs, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Summer, 1950), p. 84-91.
  • Wunn, Dennis J. San Patricio Soldiers: Mexico's Foreign Legion, Texas Western Pr 1985 ISBN 0874041503.
  • Smith, Justin H. The War with Mexico, vol 1, The Macmillan Company, 1919.
  • _________. The War with Mexico, vol 2, The Macmillan Company, 1919.
  • Stevens, Peter F. The Rogue's March: John Riley and the St. Patrick's Battalion, Washington, DC: Brassey's, 1999 ISBN 1574887386.

Further reading

External links