The Primate Diaries

Saint Patrick’s Battalion

David Rovics sings his song remembering the hundreds of Irish recruits in the US invasion of Mexico in 1846 that turned on their commanders and fought on the side of Mexico. While this event is little known in American history, what is even less known is that some of the soldiers in John O’Reilly’s battalion were former slaves who escaped from their owners in the US army to fight alongside the Irish and Mexican San Patricios.

As James Callaghan wrote in American Heritage magazine:

Mexican sources state that O’Reilly quickly recruited forty Irishmen and four esclavos negros–slaves brought along with Taylor’s army as grooms and valets to Southern-born officers. In Georgia or Alabama freedom was a long and treacherous run northward; in Texas it was a river away, and these blacks were free men and soldados de Mexico now.

Of the twenty-nine members of Saint Patrick’s Battalion that survived, most were hung as traitors. The images accompanying David Rovics’ song are from the film One Man’s Hero.


  1. #1 steve
    November 23, 2009

    If you get the chance, check out Black 47’s, or better yet, Christy Moore’s songs about San Patricio Brigade. Good stuff, and yes, few here in the states ever hear about it. Thanks again for a great posting.

  2. #2 MikeN
    November 26, 2009

    Seems like the punishment administered to John O’Reilly should have been equally applicable to other traitors such as Robert E. Lee et al.

  3. #3 jakc
    December 1, 2009

    Actually O’Reilly wasn’t hung, only branded. The SP’s were generally Irish catholics (a couple of germans) who deserted to fight with the Mexicans (the treatment from American Protestant officers being none too good). However, desertion was only a capital offense during time of war, so O’Reilly and a few others could not be hung.
    As for slaves, one of the big issues in the Texas war is that Mexico had banned slavery, and the southerners/Texans wanted slavery

    The San Patricios are still heroes in Mexico and Ireland!

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