General Zachary Taylor’s Influence on U.S. Grant

painting of the Battle of Palo Alto
Historic Print of Battle of Palo Alto

Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot, Carlos Nebel (Public Domain)

On a May Day in 1846, 24-year-old Second Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant experienced second thoughts about enlisting in the U.S. Army. The young Lieutenant was in a place called Palo Alto just north of the Rio Grande River near Point Isabel, Texas, in land that was contested between the United States and Mexico. There he found himself hundreds of miles from both his family in Ohio as well as his fiancé Julia Dent, whom he was forced to leave at White Haven.

On this desolate land, Grant found himself facing his first battle against 7,000 determined Mexicans intent on driving him and his fellow Americans away from land they considered theirs. When later reflecting on this moment in his personal memoirs he said, “I felt sorry that I had enlisted.” During this trying time Grant knew his commander was enduring a “fearful responsibility.” But General Zachary Taylor would soon influence Grant in profound ways during his service in the Mexican American War.

General Taylor was called “Old Rough and Ready,” a nickname which would suit Grant as a General. Not one for pomp and circumstance, Taylor was a rugged, pragmatic general who persisted against long odds and limited resources. He also advocated for a generous surrender with Mexican forces at Monterrey. Grant recalled that “General Taylor never made any great show or parade…rarely wearing anything in the field to indicate his rank…He was known to every soldier in his army and was respected by all.” Years later President Abraham Lincoln praised General Grant in similar fashion stating that “[Grant] is a copious worker and fighter…He isn’t shrieking for reinforcements all the time. He takes what troops we can safely give him…and does the best with what he has got.”

Grant heaped flattering praise on General Taylor’s leadership in his personal memoirs. “General Taylor was not an officer to trouble the administration much with his demands but was inclined to do the best he could with the means given him.” Despite a reduction in his troop numbers by President James K. Polk’s administration, Taylor would win impressive victories in the war with Mexico, including Palo Alto. His leadership gave Grant much needed guidance and experience that he later used while commanding armies in the Civil War. It is only fitting that the military leadership of Generals Taylor and Grant elevated both men to the Presidency shortly after their respective wars.

Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site

Last updated: May 2, 2022