Muster Roll of the Second Regiment of Ill-Fated Kentucky Volunteers
401. [MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR]. MUSTER ROLL. UNITED STATES. ARMY. KENTUCKY VOLUNTEERS (Second Regiment, June 1846-June 1847). Printed muster roll form, completed in ink, commencing: Muster Roll of Captain [William Daugherty] Company of the [Second] Regiment, [Ky & Ohio] Brigade of [Kentucky] Militia, commanded by [Col. Wm. R. McKee] ordered into service of the United States by [Gov. Wm. Owsley] from the [thirty first] day of [October 1846] [thirty first] day of [December] 184…. Signed at end by William Daugherty (Commander of the Company) and William R. McKee, Colonel (Inspector and Mustering Officer). Bifolium (43.5 x 65.8 cm), pale grey paper ruled in brown and pale blue. Creased at folds and with a few minor splits (no losses), mild browning and edge wear, overall a very good example of a rare type of documentation. Mexican-American War muster rolls are uncommon on the market.
The muster roll provides the names of privates and officers, ranks, dates of arrival and enlistment (early June 1846), by whom mustered (Col. George Croghan), period of enlistment (twelve months), distance of travel, clothing expenses, and remarks (a goodly number were lucky enough to be “left sick at Cerralvo, December”). The Kentucky Volunteers were known for their “boisterous” behavior or “lawless propensities,” depending on one’s point of view. By June 29, 1846, the Louisville Journal reported on a “disgraceful row” between volunteers and citizens which was calmed after Colonel McKee and others addressed the crowd and one of the volunteers was jailed. However, the enthusiasm of the Kentucky Volunteers for the cause of Manifest Destiny was never in question. Following the official declaration of war against Mexico and the call for troops, Kentucky was required to furnish four regiments of volunteers, comprising 2,400 men, but so great was the zeal of the people that nearly 15,000 men responded to the call.
The Kentucky Volunteers were led by Colonels Henry Clay, Jr. (second son of the U.S. statesman) and William R. McKee, both of whom perished in the terrible ravine episode at the Battle of Buena Vista, the last major battle of the Northern Campaign (February 23, 1847, seven miles south of Saltillo). Taylor ordered regiments, including the Second Kentucky Volunteers, to block the road by holding the plateaus and tangled arroyos at the base of the mountain barricade. The most vulnerable point in the U.S. position was guarded by dismounted Arkansas and Kentucky riflemen. Afternoon wore into night as both sides desperately fought for higher ground. Darkness finally brought a short break in the violence, only to be renewed shortly before dawn, by which time Santa-Anna was able to access the vulnerability of the U.S. volunteers’ position. When the Mexicans advanced against the U.S. center held by the regiments, Colonels William R. McKee and Henry Clay and a large number of their men were forced into a deep ravine, where the Mexican infantry lined the rim and fired down into the Americans. McKee, Clay, and many others were slain. Nevertheless, the next morning the Mexicans began their retreat, the U.S. pivotal position was held, and Taylor salvaged his political career with the assistance and ultimate sacrifice of men like those recorded in the present document.
The bravery of the Kentucky troops occasioned the composition by fellow veteran Theodore O’Hara of “Bivouac of the Dead,” a hauntingly beautiful elegy composed in remembrance of the Battle of Buena Vista. Verses from the poem are found not only on the Kentucky monument but also at many military cemeteries in the U.S., including Arlington.
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Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2009