U.S.-Mexican War Swords

Two sides to every conflict

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by Kathryn Siefker, Associate Curator of Exhibition Content

The U.S.-Mexican War, fought between May 1846 and May 1848, remains the largest and most significant armed struggle between two nations in the western hemisphere.

The origins of the war began in 1836 when Texas declared its independence from Mexico. The new Republic of Texas considered the border between it and Mexico to be the Rio Grande River. Mexico, who didn't recognize Texas as an independent nation, considered the shared border to be the Nueces River. No true agreement over the disputed territory was ever reached. When Texas obtained American statehood in 1845, Mexico viewed Texas's annexation as a direct threat to their territory and an act of war by the United States.

In the United States, President James K. Polk was working to fulfill his campaign promise to grow the nation by acquiring Texas, including the disputed border territory. Preparing for the possibility of hostilities with Mexico once annexation was made official, President Polk sent 3,400 soldiers to Texas in June 1845. The following November, Polk sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico with a demand to make the Rio Grande the border and an offer to buy New Mexico and California. When Mexico declined to meet with Slidell, Polk moved the troops in March 1846 from Corpus Christi into the disputed territory along the Rio Grande. There they built Fort Texas and prepared to challenge Mexico's claim to the coveted border.

Stating, "Attack the enemy that is attacking us," Mexican President Mariano Paredes ordered troops to cross the Rio Grande and engage the U.S. Army at Palo Alto on May 8, 1846. U.S. President Polk responded, "Mexico has invaded our territory [and] shed American blood on American soil."

Two years of vicious warfare ensued.

These two swords represent both sides of the conflict. The U.S. model cutlass was one of the principle swords issued to the U. S. Navy beginning in 1841 and continued to be used through the U.S.-Mexican War. The navy played a key role during the war by leading the U.S. attack on Mexico through the Gulf of Mexico. The Mexican Cuirassier saber was a sword carried by the Mexican army's heavy cavalry, mounted soldiers who bore the brunt of the initial attack. These soldiers wore metal breastplates and metal helmets.

When at last the war ended in May 1848, approximately 44,000 Mexican and U.S. soldiers lay dead or wounded.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war between the U.S. and Mexico. Mexico gave up its claims to Texas, the border between the two countries was set at the Rio Grande, and both California and New Mexico were ceded to the United States.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

U.S.-Mexican War Swords Artifact from San Antonio, Texas
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