Thornton Affair

Last updated

Thornton Ambush
Part of the Mexican–American War
Rancho de Carricitos.jpg
Rancho de Carricitos
DateApril 25, 1846
2.5 miles east of Bluetown, Texas
26°03′43″N97°47′03″W / 26.0619°N 97.7842°W / 26.0619; -97.7842

Mexican victory

Flag of the United States (1845-1846).svg  United States Flag of Mexico (1823-1864, 1867-1893).svg Mexico
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United States (1847-1848).svg Seth Thornton
Flag of the United States (1847-1848).svg William J. Hardee
Flag of Mexico (1823-1864, 1867-1893).svg Anastasio Torrejón
80 [1] 1,600 [1]
Casualties and losses
14 killed
6 wounded
1 fatally wounded
59 captured [1]

The Thornton Affair, also known as the Thornton Skirmish, Thornton's Defeat, or Rancho Carricitos, [2] was a battle in 1846 between the military forces of the United States and Mexico 20 miles (32 km) west upriver from Zachary Taylor's camp along the Rio Grande. [1] :48 The much larger Mexican force defeated the Americans in the opening of hostilities, and was the primary justification for U.S. President James K. Polk's call to Congress to declare war. [1] :48



Although the United States had annexed Texas, both the US and Mexico claimed the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. [1] :11 Polk had ordered Taylor's Army of Occupation to the Rio Grande early in 1846 soon after Mexican President Mariano Paredes declared in his inaugural address that he would uphold the integrity of Mexican territory to the Sabine River. [1] :26

Mariano Arista assumed command of the Division of the North on April 4 and arrived at Matamoros on April 24, making the total force there about 5000 men, and notified Taylor hostilities had commenced. [1] :47 Arista promptly ordered General Anastasio Torrejón to cross the Rio Grande fourteen miles upstream at La Palangana. [1] :48


Taylor received two reports on April 24 of Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande, the first crossing below his camp, the other a crossing upriver. [1] :48 Taylor ordered Captain Croghan Ker to investigate downriver and Captain Seth B. Thornton with two Dragoon companies to investigate upriver. [1] :48 Ker found nothing but Thornton rode into an ambush and his 80-man force was quickly overwhelmed by Torrejon's 1600, resulting in the capture of those not immediately killed. [1] :48 Thornton's guide brought news of the hostilities to Taylor and was followed by a cart from Torrejón containing the six wounded, Torrejon stating he could not care for them. [1] :48


In the fierce encounter, fourteen of Thornton's men were killed, six wounded and one was fatally wounded, while the rest were taken prisoner (including Captain Thornton and his second in command Captain William J. Hardee). [1] :48 Mexican casualties are unknown. Torrejón continued on to the Matamoros-Point Isabel road, surprising Samuel H. Walker's Texas Rangers on April 28, before continuing on to Longoreno to cover the crossing of the main Mexican army. [1] :48

Following the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, Arista and Taylor agreed to a prisoner exchange which resulted in the release of Thornton, Hardee and their men. [1] :81 Thornton was killed on August 20, 1847 in an engagement at Churubusco outside Mexico City. Coincidentally, this soldier who was wounded at the war's opening act was killed in this last conflict of the war. [1] :291 [3] [1] :139 [4] [ page needed ]

Declaration of war

Upon learning of the incident, President James K. Polk asked for a Declaration of war before a joint session of the United States Congress, and summed up his justification for war by famously stating:

"The cup of forbearance had been exhausted even before the recent information from the frontier of the Del Norte [Rio Grande]. But now, after reiterated menaces, Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil. She has proclaimed that hostilities have commenced, and that the two nations are now at war.".[ citation needed ]

On May 13, 1846, the U.S. Congress declared war on Mexico, despite the Mexican government's position that Thornton had crossed the border into Mexican Texas, which Mexico maintained began south of the Nueces River (the historical border of the province of Texas). Opposition also existed in the United States, with one senator declaring that the affair had been "as much an act of aggression on our part as is a man's pointing a pistol at another's breast". [5] Congressman Abraham Lincoln demanded to know the "particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed" (the spot resolutions). [6] The ensuing Mexican–American War was waged from 1846 to 1848 which cost the lives of many thousands and the loss of all northern provinces from Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war on February 2, 1848, and established the Rio Grande as the border between the U.S. and Mexico, and led to Mexico recognizing Texas as a part of the United States.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Palo Alto</span> Major battle of the Mexican-American War

The Battle of Palo Alto was the first major battle of the Mexican–American War and was fought on May 8, 1846, on disputed ground five miles (8 km) from the modern-day city of Brownsville, Texas. A force of some 3,700 Mexican troops – most of the Army of The North – led by General Mariano Arista engaged a force of approximately 2,300 United States troops – the Army of Occupation led by General Zachary Taylor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Resaca de la Palma</span> 1846 battle of the Mexican–American War

The Battle of Resaca de la Palma was one of the early engagements of the Mexican–American War, where the United States Army under General Zachary Taylor engaged the retreating forces of the Mexican Ejército del Norte under General Mariano Arista on May 9, 1846. The United States emerged victorious and forced the Mexicans out of Texas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Monterrey</span> 1846 battle of the Mexican-American War

In the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican–American War, General Pedro de Ampudia and the Mexican Army of the North was defeated by the Army of Occupation, a force of United States Regulars, Volunteers and Texas Rangers under the command of General Zachary Taylor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Siege of Fort Texas</span>

The siege of Fort Texas marked the beginning of active campaigning by the armies of the United States and Mexico during the Mexican–American War. The battle is sometimes called the siege of Fort Brown. Major Jacob Brown, not to be confused with War of 1812 General Jacob Brown, was one of the two Americans killed in action.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William J. Hardee</span> Confederate general and businessman

William Joseph Hardee was a career U.S. Army and Confederate States Army officer. For the U.S. Army, he served in the Second Seminole War and in the Mexican–American War, where he was captured and exchanged. In the American Civil War, he sided with the South and became a general. Hardee served in the Western Theater and quarreled sharply with two of his commanding officers, Braxton Bragg and John Bell Hood. He served in the Atlanta Campaign of 1864 and the Carolinas Campaign of 1865, where he surrendered to General Joseph E. Johnston to William Tecumseh Sherman in April. Hardee's writings about military tactics were widely used on both sides in the conflict.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lower Rio Grande Valley</span> Location in south Texas and Northeast Mexico

The Lower Rio Grande Valley, commonly known as the Rio Grande Valley or locally as the Valley or RGV, is a region spanning the border of Texas and Mexico located in a floodplain of the Rio Grande near its mouth. The region includes the southernmost tip of South Texas and a portion of northern Tamaulipas, Mexico. It consists of the Brownsville, Harlingen, Weslaco, Pharr, McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, San Juan, and Rio Grande City metropolitan areas in the United States and the Matamoros, Río Bravo, and Reynosa metropolitan areas in Mexico. The area is generally bilingual in English and Spanish, with a fair amount of Spanglish due to the region's diverse history and transborder agglomerations. It is home to some of the poorest cities in the nation, as well as many unincorporated, persistent poverty communities called colonias. A large seasonal influx occurs of "winter Texans" — people who come down from the north for the winter and then return north before summer arrives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park</span> National Historical Park of the United States

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park near Brownsville, Texas, United States, is a National Park Service unit which preserves the grounds of the May 8, 1846, Battle of Palo Alto. It was the first major conflict in a border dispute that soon precipitated the Mexican–American War. The United States Army victory here made the invasion of Mexico possible. The historic site portrays the battle and the war, and its causes and consequences, from the perspectives of both the United States and Mexico.

Jean-Louis Berlandier was a French-Mexican naturalist, physician, and anthropologist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spot Resolutions</span> Work by Abraham Lincoln

The spot resolutions were offered in the United States House of Representatives on 22 December 1847 by future President Abraham Lincoln, then a Whig representative from Illinois. The resolutions requested President James K. Polk to provide Congress with the exact location upon which blood was spilled on American soil, as Polk had claimed in 1846 when asking Congress to declare war on Mexico. So persistent was Lincoln in pushing his "spot resolutions" that some began referring to him as "spotty Lincoln." Lincoln's resolutions were a direct challenge to the validity of the president's words, and representative of an ongoing political power struggle between Whigs and Democrats.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Samuel Ringgold (United States Army officer)</span> American Army artillery officer

Samuel B. Ringgold was an artillery officer in the United States Army who was noted for several military innovations which caused him to be called the "Father of Modern Artillery." He was also, according to some records, the first U.S. officer to fall in the Mexican–American War, perishing from wounds received at the Battle of Palo Alto.

The following are synopsis of the campaigns of the Mexican–American War (1846—1848).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Presidency of James K. Polk</span> U.S. presidential administration from 1845 to 1849

The presidency of James K. Polk began on March 4, 1845, when James K. Polk was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1849. He was a Democrat, and assumed office after defeating Whig Henry Clay in the 1844 presidential election. Polk left office after one term, fulfilling a campaign pledge he made in 1844, and he was succeeded by Whig Zachary Taylor. A close ally of Andrew Jackson, Polk's presidency reflected his adherence to the ideals of Jacksonian democracy and manifest destiny.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mexican–American War</span> Armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848

The Mexican–American War, also known in the United States as the Mexican War, and in Mexico as the United States intervention in Mexico, was an invasion of Mexico by the United States Army from 1846 to 1848. It followed the 1845 American annexation of Texas, which Mexico still considered its territory because Mexico refused to recognize the Treaties of Velasco, signed by President Antonio López de Santa Anna after he was captured by the Texian Army during the 1836 Texas Revolution. The Republic of Texas was de facto an independent country, but most of its Anglo-American citizens who had moved from the United States to Texas after 1822 wanted to be annexed by the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles A. May</span> United States Army officer (1818-1864)

Charles Augustus May (1818–1864) was an American officer of the United States Army who served in the Mexican War and other campaigns over a 25-year career. He is best known for successfully leading a cavalry charge against Mexican artillery at the Battle of Resaca de la Palma.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of Corpus Christi, Texas</span>

Corpus Christi is a coastal city in the South Texas region of the U.S. state of Texas. The county seat of Nueces County, it also extends into Aransas, Kleberg, and San Patricio counties. The population was 277,454 at the 2000 census; in 2006 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the city's population at 285,175, making it the eighth-largest city in the state. It is the principal city of the three-county Corpus Christi Metropolitan Statistical Area as well as the larger Corpus Christi-Kingsville Combined Statistical Area. The translation from Latin of the city's name is Body of Christ, given to the settlement by the Spanish, in honor of the Blessed Sacrament (Eucharist). The city has been nicknamed The Sparkling City by the Sea, or "Corpitos" particularly in literature promoting tourism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sarah A. Bowman</span> American innkeeper, restaurateur, and madam (1813–1866)

Sarah A. Bowman, also known as Sarah Borginnis or Sarah Bourdette, was an Irish American innkeeper, restaurateur, and madam. Nicknamed "The Great Western", she gained fame, and the title "Heroine of Fort Brown", as a camp follower of Zachary Taylor's army during the Mexican–American War. Following the war she operated an inn in Franklin, Texas before settling near Arizona City. Over the course of her life she was married multiple times, often without legal record or the blessing of a priest, and was known at various times by the names Boginnis, Bourdette, Bourget, Bourjette, Borginnis, Davis, Bowman, and possibly Foyle. Following her death she was breveted an honorary colonel and buried with military honors in the Fort Yuma cemetery. Her story became part of American popular culture.

In 1845, the Republic of Texas was annexed to the United States of America, becoming the 28th U.S. state. Border disputes between the new state and Mexico, which had never recognized Texas independence and still considered the area a renegade Mexican state, led to the Mexican–American War (1846–1848). When the war concluded, Mexico relinquished its claim on Texas, as well as other regions in what is now the southwestern United States. Texas' annexation as a state that tolerated slavery had caused tension in the United States among slave states and those that did not allow slavery. The tension was partially defused with the Compromise of 1850, in which Texas ceded some of its territory to the federal government to become non-slave-owning areas but gained El Paso.

The Nueces Strip or Wild Horse Desert is the area of South Texas between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande.

Anastasio Torrejón was a Mexican Army officer who commanded troops during the Mexican–American War.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Bauer, K.J., 1974, The Mexican War, 1846–1848, New York: Macmillan, ISBN   0803261071
  2. "Rancho de Carricitos - Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)". Archived from the original on December 24, 2018. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  3. Tucker, Spencer (2013). The Encyclopedia of the Mexican-American War: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. ISBN   9781851098538. Archived from the original on March 17, 2022. Retrieved December 25, 2021.
  4. Beschloss, Michael (2018). Presidents of War. Broadway Books. ISBN   9780307409614. Archived from the original on July 2, 2020. Retrieved June 30, 2020.[ page needed ]
  5. "A Controversial War". Digital History. Archived from the original on May 7, 2008. Retrieved August 10, 2008.
  6. "Abraham Lincoln Protests the Mexican War". Digital History. Archived from the original on September 9, 2017. Retrieved November 11, 2017.