Columbus thought the world was flat. The Pilgrims first set foot in America on Plymouth Rock. George Washington never told a lie. Abraham Lincoln hastily wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope.
Truth, Myth...a Little of Both?
Many of the people, places, and events of U.S. history have become the subject of popular and familiar legends. Some of these tales hold a grain of truth and some none at all. Palo Alto Battlefield generates many interesting stories as well. Most of the tales linked to the site are true. Some are partly true. Others are myths and unfounded rumors. Have you been misinformed?
Texas: A Whole Other Country?
The Republic of Texas joined the United States through a treaty between two equal Republics. This means Texas can leave the Union whenever it wishes.
Diplomats from the U.S. and Texas did sign an annexation treaty in 1844. The U.S. Congress rejected the document, leaving annexation in question.
When James K. Polk won the presidency later that year, Texas reemerged as an issue. Polk had run for office with a promise to annex Texas. As soon as he was elected, out-going President John Tyler introduced legislation to bring Texas into the Union. That resolution passed both houses of Congress and, on March 1, 1846, Texas was offered a place as a U.S. state.
This invitation was sent to the Republic of Texas, which accepted the offer on July 4, 1845. Texas officials then began the well- established procedure for bringing new territories into the Union. They developed a state Constitution and submitted it to the U.S. Congress for approval.
A State Is Born
The process was completed on December 29, 1845. On that day, the government of the Republic of Texas was formally dissolved and the State of Texas emerged. Texas did not enter the United States as one of two equal republics but as one of 28 equal states.
The Civil War reinforced this bond. Texas left the Union in 1861 and was one of the last Confederate states to rejoin the fold. By retaking its place in the United States, Texas once again accepted the rule of the federal Constitution.
One of the Fold
A Presidential proclamation on August 20, 1866 welcomed Texas' return, but firmly stated that, "...no state, of its own will, has a right or power to go out of or separate itself from, or be separated from the American Union…"
Flag Like No Other?
The Texas flag is the only state flag allowed to fly side-by-side with the U.S. flag. All other state flags must fly below the Stars and Stripes.
The belief the Texas flag has some unique status is often linked to the idea that Texas joined the U.S. in a special way. Others claim Texas is different simply because it is the only state that was once an independent nation. Neither is true.
Texas surrendered special rights when it joined the Union. Texas is also not so unique for operating as a separate nation. Vermont was independent from 1777 to 1791. California was home of the short-lived "Bear Flag Republic". Portions of Florida included in the 1810 Republic of West Florida. Hawaii was also once an independent kingdom. All can claim periods of independence. Like Texas, none have special flag rights.
It is true, however, the Texas flag may be flown on an equal level with the United States flag. However, the same rule applies to all other state flags.
The U.S. flag code states the U.S. flag should always be higher if flown on the same pole with a state flag. If a state flag and the national flag are flown on separate poles, the code simply states no other flag be flown higher than the U.S. flag.
This does not imply the state and national flags are considered to be completely equal. When displayed alongside a state flag, the Stars and Stripes is always given a place of honor on the right. Likewise, the code specifies the U.S. flag is always raised first and lowered last. These rules apply to displays of any state flag.
Samuel Ringgold: The First to Fall
Major Samuel Ringgold was the first U.S. officer to die in the war with Mexico.
Following the battle of Palo Alto, Ringgold became a national hero. His countrymen celebrated his efforts to develop the "flying artillery" that performed so well during the battle. They also mourned his death from wounds received in that fight.
Numerous prints and paintings showed him receiving his fatal wound. Poems and songs praised his bravery. Citizens even named towns, streets, and parks for the first officer to die on the battlefield. But he wasn't the first and he didn't die on the field.
Ringgold was struck by Mexican cannon fire during the battle of Palo Alto on May 8th but did not die that day. Both of his legs were amputated and he was sent to a hospital at Point Isabel. There, he died to his wounds on May 11th. Several other officers died before this date.
The First Casualties
Some fell before a formal war declaration. Colonel Truman Cross and Lieutenant Theodore Porter were killed in April 1846, in separate attacks by bands of Mexican guerrillas. Lieutenant George T. Mason fell in combat on April 25th at Rancho de Carricitos. That skirmish prompted a formal war declaration but occurred before the formal conflict.
Lieutenant Jacob Blake died on the field at Palo Alto on May 9th but not from battle wounds. He shot himself with his own gun in a freak accident the morning after battle.
That leaves Major Jacob Brown as the first officer to die from combat wounds after war was declared. The commander of the U.S. fort on the Rio Grande was struck by Mexican cannon fire on May 6th and died on May 9th—two days before Ringgold.
Brown received recognition for his sacrifice, most notably as the namesake of Fort Brown and the city of Brownsville, Texas. Ringgold, however, remains widely known as the "first killed." in the war.
Appomattox: A Reunion of Friends
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee fought side by side in the Mexican War before leading opposing armies in the U.S. Civil War. The two old friends discussed their shared experiences in the Mexican War just before signing their famous peace treaty at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.
Numerous veterans of the war with Mexico fought in the Civil War, some for the Union and some for the Confederacy. Often, men who had been friends in the first war were force to confront each other in the later conflict.
Lee and Grant both fought in the war with Mexico, but they were not close friends. Grant, a Lieutenant in the infantry, and Lee, a Captain in Corps of Engineers, apparently only crossed paths once during the war.
A Brief Encounter
The two men did speak briefly about the Mexican War before settling down to business at Appomattox. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Grant mentioned their brief encounter. General Lee reportedly replied, "Yes, I know I met you on that occasion, and I have often thought of it and tried to recollect how you looked, but I have never been able to recall a single feature." After a few more words, the two moved on to discuss terms of surrender.
A better example of a meeting of former brothers-in-arms occurred between Grant and Confederate General John Pemberton. Before Pemberton surrendered the besieged city of Vicksburg to Grant on July 4, 1863, the two old friends sat down together under a tree. The veterans of the Battle of Palo Alto sat and reminisced about the time when they fought in the same army and for the same cause.
A Golden Secret
General Mariano Arista buried a payroll box fill with gold somewhere near Palo Alto on May 8, 1846. He was preparing to pay his troops when the U.S. Army arrived at the scene. As he rushed to confront the enemy, Arista ordered paymasters to bury the box of pesos for recovery after the battle.
The clash went poorly for Arista and he withdrew before he disinterred the gold. Following the disastrous loss at Resaca de la Palma, the Mexican army retreated and was unable to retrieve the money. A small fortune may still be hidden in the brush.
Supporters of this myth offer a variety of endings to the tale. Some report those who buried the gold returned years later to claim it. Others insist it remains in the ground. Treasure hunters have searched for the gold in the 150 years since the battle. Stories abound of ghostly fires that flare up in near where the pay box lies. There have even been suggestions that a modern treasure hunter found the box and disappeared with its riches.
Did the Box Exist?
Almost certainly not. Arista had very little money to buy food and even less to pay the troops. In the months leading up to the battle, the Mexican army made its payments in the form of worthless paper or IOUs. Since the Mexican government was bankrupt and its treasury empty, Arista never received a large quantity of gold to disburse to the troops.
There was also no reason to haul payroll across the river. The troops had nowhere to spend the money and, as they prepared for battle. They would have been far happier with a small increase in their rations than a whole chest of gold.