Interesting half hour documentary (English subtitles) on Gaelic language channel TG4 on Wednesday night. Los San Patricios, the regiment of largely Irish soldiers in Mexican Army 1846-48. A story that was largely unknown in Ireland until 1997 (the issue of a joint postage stamp with Mexico) or 1999 (the movie “One Mans Hero”).
The San Patricio Battalion was a regiment of foreigners who fought on the side of Mexico during the 1846-48 War with the United States of America. Although the regiment had Germans, Scots and other European nationalities in their ranks, the majority of the soldiers were Irish born.Many were deserters from the American army. The reasons for desertion included ill treatment of Irish Catholics by American officers, attrocities committed against Mexican civilians and promises of land grants by the Mexican government. Many also felt that the war against Mexico was unjust.
Having fought with Mexicos Foreign Legion in earlier battles, the San
Patricios first fought under their own name at the Battle of Monterrey (September
1846) as an artillary unit which broke up several American assaults., although the
Americans won the battle eventually. They also fought at Buena Vista (February
1847) where they suffered heavy casualties.
In 1847 the San Patricios became an Infantry Batallion under Mexican command
(Col Moreno) and the two companies were led by John Riley and Santiago O’Leary.
The first engagement as an infantry unit was at Cerro Gordo (April 1847). Their
final battle was at Churubusco Convent (20th August 1847). As they could not
expect to be treated as prisoners of war, the San Patricios fought until their
ammunition was totally exhausted. In the battle 35 were killed, 85 taken prisoner
and another 80 managed to retreat with the Mexican army.
Two seperate military trials were convened and 50 San Patricios were
sentenced to flogging and death by hanging by the Americans. Around 30 (including
John Riley the commander) were flogged and branded with the letter
“D” (deserter) on their faces. Only two were found not guilty on the basis that they had
never joined the American army.
Thirty of the executions took place on 13th September 1846 at the Battle of Chapultepec at the precise moment the American flag replaced the Mexican flag on the Mexican headquarters.
The street in front of the Santa Maria Convent in Churubusco is named
Mártires Irlandeses (Irish Martyrs). The San Patricios are regarded as
national heroes in Mexico. They were largely unknown in Ireland until 1997 when the
Irish and Mexican governments recognised them by jointly issuing a postage stamp
to commemorate them. In John Rileys home town (Clifden, County Galway) the
Mexican flag flies every day and in 2004, a statue dedicated to Riley and the San
Patricios was unveiled in Clifden.