Last updated: November 12, 2023
Zachary Taylor was still an infant when his family left Virginia and moved to Louisville, KY. Young Zachary grew up on his family’s plantation and eventually joined the Kentucky militia. In 1808, Zachary Taylor began his long career in the U.S. Army, serving in the 7th Infantry Regiment.
The future general steadily rose through the ranks. Taylor served in the War of 1812, Black Hawk War, and the Second Seminole War. Taylor gained the rank of Commander of the Second Department of the Army's Western Division after his service in Florida. As annexation of Texas pressed forward, tensions with Mexico increased. In preparation of the impending conflict, Taylor took command of a U.S. garrison at Fort Jesup, Louisiana.
Known as “Old Rough and Ready”, Zachary Taylor was a seasoned U.S. Army veteran by the time he led his men into Texas. Taylor’s Army of Occupation encamped at Corpus Christi and then moved on to the banks of the Rio Grande. After some posturing by the U.S. and Mexican armies along the river banks, Taylor’s army would hold their own against General Arista's force on the prairie of Palo Alto. Taylor would go on to defeat the Mexican general the following day at Resaca de la Palma.
The veteran U.S. general would continue his push into northern Mexico. He clashed with the Mexican army at Monterrey and captured the city after taking heavy losses. He would then battle the mercurial Antonio López de Santa Anna at Buena Vista and secure a victory there even though he was badly outnumbered.
Zachary Taylor returned to the U.S. a war hero and rode the wave of popularity all the way to the White House. The 1848 election pitted Taylor against the Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass. Taylor’s military service and his slaveholder status appealed to both northern and southern voters.
Although he ran as a Whig candidate, Taylor did not commit firmly to party politics. Some northerners were not pleased with the choice of Taylor and Cass. They were opposed to the extension of slavery to territories gained in the U.S.-Mexican War and created third party in opposition, the Free Soil Party. The new party pulled enough votes from Cass to elect Taylor the 12th President of the United States.
Sadly for Taylor, his term in office would be cut short. President Taylor became violently ill with a stomach ailment after attending Fourth of July celebrations on the future grounds of the Washington Monument.
While at the event, Taylor consumed large quantities of cherries and iced milk. His exact cause of death is still debated. Some believe it was a bout of severe gastroenteritis, while others believe it was cholera. President Zachary Taylor died on July 9, 1850.