In the Feb. 19 edition of this newspaper, I wrote about Stephen White whose parents settled at a place known as New Boston or “White Town” in Northern Bond County in about 1816.
Stephen was born there in 1818 and lived to be 103 years old. A few years before his death in 1921 he shared some of his experiences as a soldier during the Mexican War with a reporter from the Greenville newspaper.
War was declared against the Republic of Mexico by the United States on May 11, 1846. Illinois was called upon to supply volunteers to fill three regiments of infantry or riflemen. The men would receive $15.50 per month for their service.
Illinois’ governor, Thomas Ford, issued a call for 30 full companies of volunteers of a maximum of eighty men to serve for 12 months, with the privilege of electing their own company and regimental officers. Within 10 days, 35 full companies had organized and reported for duty. In fact, so many men volunteered that a good number were turned away because the quota had been met.
While Stephen White volunteered at Greenville, here in Fayette County, a full quota was met comprising Company A, 3rd Illinois Regiment. The officers were: Col. Ferris Forman, First Lt. James T.B. Stapp, Second Lt. James W. Boothe, Second Lt. Phillip Stout, Second Lt. Richard Hawkins, Second Lt. Cyrus Hall, Second Lt. Charles Everett Jr., and Sergeants William Terry, Raford B. Reeves, James W. Welch, Lansing B. Mezner and John McVicker.
The 3rd Illinois was attached to the Army of Invasion of General Winfield Scott and fought under Gen. James Shields at the battle of Cerro Gordo.
A letter, written by Second Lt. Phillip Stout and dated April 27, 1847, was published in the Dec. 28, 1916, issue of The Vandalia Union in which he recounted some of the adventures of the Fayette County men.
Stout wrote, “We have had a serious engagement with the enemy which commenced on the 17th and ended on the 18th. We have had an opportunity to try ourselves as soldiers and I am happy to be able to say the brave boys from old Fayette have distinguished themselves, indeed.
“The number killed and wounded on our side is 425 while the enemy’s loss from their own report was 1,800 killed and wounded. Andrew Browning and G.W. Haley were the only two who had skin broken.
“Company A, that is our company, was on the right of the enemy and when ordered to charge was the first men on the road among the enemy. The moment we commenced the charge the enemy commenced retiring which they did in great haste. Some of our company got a man while others never so much as got a shot.
“We got old Santa Anna’s leg and the money, mules, wagons with six cannons and various other things was captured. Our gaining this point caused the enemy behind the tower of Cerro Gordo to surrender.”
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had paid $1,300 for that cork and wooden leg, which was crafted by Charles Bartlett a cabinetmaker from New York. Notorious for his assault on the Alamo in 1836, the following year, his ankle was shattered by a cannon ball and his leg was amputated.
The attack of the Illinois Infantry was a surprise to “Old Santa Ann,” who was stationed a distance away from the battle, reportedly eating a roast chicken dinner. The men who captured the leg were also rewarded with the chicken dinner that, in his haste to escape, the general had left behind.
The leg was brought back to Illinois and the names of the two soldiers who captured it – John N. Gill and Samuel Rhodes –were inscribed on it. Both men enlisted in Co. C of the 4th Illinois at Springfield.
The Illinois National Guard is the successor to the Illinois Militia, and in 1922, the leg was donated to the Illinois National Guard Museum in Springfield.
In the past, the government of Mexico has made requests for the return of the leg to Mexico. They have also offered an exchange – the leg for the flag that flew over the Alamo in 1836.
Illinois’ position is that the leg is considered “spoils of war” and it isn’t going anywhere.