If you live or vacation in Southern – Central Texas, this is especially important to all the winter Texans, take a short drive North of Brownsville to visit the Palo Alto Battlefield. Easy to find and only taking an hour or so see, the Palo Alto Museum was a refreshing overview of sometimes forgotten American, and Mexican, history. The quaint museum displays artifacts from the battlefield as well as detailed information regarding political debate on the subject before, during, and after the war. There are uniforms, guns, cannon balls, maps, and pictures, but if you museumed’ out, you can watch the PBS video on the battle of Palo Alto, which gives a great overview of the battle as well as the museum.
The museum argued that the first battle of the Mexican – American War (Palo Alto) was provoked by President Polk, who had his mind set on the acquisition and extension of the United States to the Western seaboard. According to what we saw at the Palo Alto Museum, after skirmishes and heated debate over Texas, the United States, and the Mexican border was ongoing in congress. Polk himself declared the Rio Grand as the border, although it was not recognized as the official border by either side. When Mexican General Mariano Arista crossed the river with his 3,400 troops, it was portrayed as an invasion by Polk politicians and Zachary Taylor, sent by President Polk earlier to further stir up Mexican fear of a U.S. invasion, moved towards ‘Fort Texas.’ The front line, still visible today, stretched over one mile. The terrain made any type of charge suicide so Taylor used new artillery tactics called ‘flying artillery’ to fire once and relocate the artillery to fire against any flanking attempts by the enemy. The U.S. was unaware of their artillery’s devastation until morning when they discovered that General Arista had pulled out and left over 100 casualties behind in the field. The American artillery used newer explosive cannon balls which shot shards of shrapnel all around the impact area. The Mexican army, on the other hand, used older (non- impact – explosive) weapons and artillery.
General Taylor was ordered to push forward and invaded Fort Brown (modern day Brownsville) and Matamoros before pushing deep into Mexican territory, eventually all the way to Mexico city. In two short years, Polk had negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico in which Mexico lost over half its land to the United States and the US pushed its borders down to the Rio Grand in Texas as well as purchased what is now California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah for 15 million USD (about 370 million in 2009). You can walk through the snake infested trails of Palo Alto in amazement at the epicenter of what would eventually lead to the the largest expansion of the United States since the Louisiana Purchase. A highly worthwhile and recommended visit for anyone who appreciates history, especially the less well known aspects.