The Mexican War

Battle of Chapultepec printWar was declared between Mexico and the United States in May 1846 in the wake of disputes over contested territory along the Rio Grande and the U.S. annexation of Texas. Fierce battles followed, in Mexico and the Southwest and on the Pacific coast. One of the most important of these was the Battle of Chapultepec in Mexico City, in which U.S. forces captured the castle of Chapultepec, on high ground, putting them in a favorable position to take the city. Involved in the battle were a number of American officers who would later find themselves on opposite sides in the War between the States, including Lee, Grant, Beauregard, Jackson, Longstreet, and Pickett, as well as Winfield Scott, commander of the U.S. army at Chapultepec. As a result of the Mexican War (1846–1848), the United States added extensive lands which would become the states of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, and parts of Colorado.

Artist James Walker (1819–1889), who was present at the event, painted a dramatic scene of the storming of Chapultepec for hanging in the U.S. Capitol. It may have been the same Walker who produced a color lithograph of the subject, The Storming of Chapultepec, Sept. 13th. 1847, published in 1848 by Sarony & Major, New York. Walker also possibly made in mid-September 1847, in pen and ink, a drawing which provides a pictorial and textual key to the lithograph; copies evidently accompanied Gen. Scott’s report on the battle to the War Department, but only one is known still to exist, and is now in the Chapin Library.

American opinion of the war was divided, but news was eagerly sought, as depicted by Richard Caton Woodville (1825–1855) in his painting War News with Mexico (Metropolitan Museum of Art). This work was so popular that the American Art-Union commissioned Alfred Jones to make an engraving of it, retitled Mexican News.

The pen and ink drawing and lithograph of Walker’s Chapultepec scene, and the Jones engraving, are currently on display in the Steven Schow ’81 Gallery of Sawyer Library (Room 455). The Storming of Chapultepec Sept. 13th. 1847 is the recent gift of the Stanton E. & M. Elaine Tefft Foundation. The related drawing is the recent gift of the late Stanton E. Tefft, Williams Class of 1947, and the Marie Elaine Tefft Revocable Trust. Mexican News is the gift of the late John M. Topham. – WGH

Shown are the Chapultepec lithograph and Mexican News in the Steven Schow ’81 Gallery.

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