The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 72, July 1968 - April, 1969

Zachary Taylor and the Indiana Volunteers
HERMAN J. VIOLA*
GENERAL ZACHARY TAYLOR WON THE BATTLE OF BUENA VISTA ON
February 23, 1847. At a critical moment in the battle a regiment
of Indiana volunteers had retreated and the general censured the
Hoosiers in his official report. "The 2d Indiana regiment, which had
fallen back," Taylor reported, "could not be rallied, and took no
further part in the action, except a handful of men, who, under its
gallant colonel, Bowles, joined the Mississippi regiment, and did good
service, and those fugitives who, at a later period in the day, assisted
in defending the train and depot at Buena Vista."' Historians have
held this report largely responsible for the fact that the people of
Indiana voted against the old war hero in the presidential election
of 1848."
Taylor's words did create quite a stir among the people of Indiana.
Indignant soldiers, citizens, and politicians accused the General of
gross misstatement, malice, and cruelty." The retreat was a fact; no
*Mr. Viola is associate editor of Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives.
1Zachary Taylor to the Adjutant General, March 6, 1847, Senate Documents, 3oth Cong.,
1st Sess. (Serial No. 503), Document No. 1, p. 134. Document No. 1 is hereafter cited
as SD 1.
2John D. Barnhart and Donald F. Carmony, Indiana: From Frontier to Industrial
Commonwealth (2 vols., New York, 1954), I, 403, states: "The retreat of the Second and
Taylor's subsequent censure of the Indiana volunteers, touched off a controversy which
angered the men and was an important factor in causing Indiana to vote against the
general in the presidential election of 1848;" R. Carlyle Buley, "The Political Balance
in the Old Northwest, 182o-1860," Studies in American History Inscribed to James Albert
Woodburn (n.p., 1926), 439, writes that the "Buena Vista controversy and state pride in
its volunteers in all probability lost the state to Taylor;" and Brainerd Dyer, Zachary
Taylor (Baton Rouge, 1946), 240, declares that "Not only the members of the regiment
but also their many friends at home regarded his report as a grave injustice to the men
concerned and a reflection upon the honor of the state. So keen and widespread was
this feeling that it became an issue in the election of 1848 and was partially responsible
for Taylor's failure to carry that state." The same interpretation can be found in Edward
J. Nichols, Zach Taylor's Little Army (New York, 1963), 234; and William E. Wilson
Indiana: A History (Bloomington, 1966), 128.
3Dyer, Zachary Taylor, 240; [Lewis Wallace], Lew Wallace: An Autobiography (2 vols.,
New York, 19o6), I, 177. A captain in the Second Indiana, writing several weeks after
the battle, insisted that "the charges made against the Indiana troops & particularly
against the 2d Regt. are in the main false, & they are base slanders upon as brave men
as God ever made-and upon men who did their duty nobly-." Nathan Kimball to anon.,
April 25, 1847, Nathan Kimball Papers, Robert S. Ellison Collection (Lilly Library,
Indiana University).

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 72, July 1968 - April, 1969. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117146/. Accessed April 27, 2015.