Devotion to the Adopted Country: U.S. Immigrant Volunteers in the Mexican War

Devotion to the Adopted Country: U.S. Immigrant Volunteers in the Mexican War

Devotion to the Adopted Country: U.S. Immigrant Volunteers in the Mexican War

Devotion to the Adopted Country: U.S. Immigrant Volunteers in the Mexican War


In Devotion to the Adopted Country, Tyler V. Johnson looks at the efforts of America.s Democratic Party and Catholic leadership to use the service of immigrant volunteers in the U.S..Mexican War as a weapon against nativism and anti-Catholicism. Each chapter focuses on one of the five major events or issues that arose during the war, finishing with how the Catholic and immigrant community remembered the war during the nativist resurgence of the 1850s and in the outbreak of the Civil War. Johnson.s book uncovers a new social aspect to military history by connecting the war to the larger social, political, and religious threads of antebellum history.

Having grown used to the repeated attacks of nativists upon the fidelity and competency of the German and Irish immigrants flooding into the United States, Democratic and Catholic newspapers vigorously defended the adopted citizens they valued as constituents and congregants. These efforts frequently consisted of arguments extolling the American virtues of the recent arrivals, pointing to their hard work, love of liberty, and willingness to sacrifice for their adopted country.

However, immigrants sometimes undermined this portrayal by prioritizing their ethnic and/or religious identities over their identities as new U.S. citizens. Even opportunities seemingly tailor-made for the defenders of Catholicism and the nation.s adopted citizens could go awry. When the supposedly well-disciplined Irish volunteers from Savannah brawled with soldiers from another Georgia company on a Rio Grande steamboat, the fight threatened to confirm the worst stereotypes of the nation.s new Irish citizens. In addition, although the Jesuits John McElroy and Anthony Rey gained admirers in the army and in the rest of the country for their untiring care for wounded and sick soldiers in northern Mexico, anti-Catholic activists denounced them for taking advantage of vulnerable young men to win converts for the Church.

Using the letters and personal papers of soldiers, the diaries and correspondence of Fathers McElroy and Rey, Catholic and Democratic newspapers, and military records, Johnson illuminates the lives and actions of Catholic and immigrant volunteers and the debates over their participation in the war. Shedding light on this understudied and misunderstood facet of the war with Mexico, Devotion to the Adopted Country adds to the scholarship on immigration and religion in antebellum America, illustrating the contentious and controversial process by which immigrants and their supporters tried to carve out a place in U.S. society.


In December 1846, over seven months after the first shots of the U.S.-Mexican War, the federal government finally called on Pennsylvania to send volunteer troops to the conflict. As the designated assembly point for the state’s soldiers, Pittsburgh became the center of the state’s attention, watching company after company of eager volunteers march in and set up camp. The city’s Democratic newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post, took particular notice of the units filled with German and Irish immigrants, both representing crucial voting blocks. The paper praised the “military tact, courage, and devotion to their country” of the German Grays and noted with pleasure the growing numbers of Pittsburgh’s own Independent Irish Greens. In early January, the editor published an Irish soldier’s paean to his unit, “The Song of the Irish Greens.” The opening stanza of the piece declared the author’s sentiments regarding his enlistment:

O could I sing no [?] other men, or yet acquire their noble fame,
‘Midst the Irish Greens I’d tune my string, from Pittsburgh to the
battle plain;

From the Green flag yet no man lag, to freedom’s cause here boldly

And let them know in Mexico, we are the sons of Paddy’s land.

Taking advantage of an opportunity to bolster the spirits of the city’s volunteers, the Post paid to distribute copies of the song to every Irish soldier who passed through Pittsburgh. Even when eight of the Greens got embarrassingly drunk the night before the unit’s departure for Mexico, the paper supported the men and pointed out the financial and emotional sacrifices made by the Irishmen in order to serve their adopted country.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.