The Palmetto Regiment of Volunteers from South Carolina suffered heavy losses in the Mexican-American War but was the first regiment to lift its colors over Mexico City in 1847. When it formed in 1846, Pierce Mason Butler was elected Colonel of the regiment. Butler was Governor of the state from 1836 to 1838. The regiment trained at the South Carolina Military Academy (now the Citadel) and left for Mobile, Alabama in December 1846. More training followed in the Canary Islands and the men landed near Vera Cruz in early March 1847. The regiment served throughout the Mexican War, fighting in Vera Cruz, Contreras, Churubusco, Chapultepec, and the Garita de Belen. Colonel Butler and Lieutenant Colonel James Polk Dickinson were mortally wounded at Churubusco on August 20, 1847.
The Palmetto Regiment was the first to enter the Garita de Belen, which was a main entrance into Mexico City. On September 13, 1847, the regiment’s flag was the first of the American Colors to be raised over Mexico City. The flag was made of blue silk with the South Carolina Coat of Arms on one side and the United States Arms and a Palmetto Tree on the reverse. It bore the motto “Not for ourselves we conquer, but our country.” After several months of garrison duty, the Palmetto Regiment returned to Mobile in June of 1848. Of the 1,048 men who enlisted with the regiment, 441 did not return home.
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The Mexican-American War was the first armed conflict that the U.S. fought on foreign soil. President James K. Polk had widespread support in the southern United States as he voiced his belief in the country’s “manifest destiny” to expand across the continent. When the war was over, Mexico lost approximately a third of its territory, which included present-day Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and California. Despite its military advantage, the U.S. suffered a higher rate of mortality during the war in Mexico than it did during either World War I or World War II. The majority of American deaths were caused by diseases such as malaria, smallpox, yellow fever, and dysentery. Of the 79,000 Americans who served in the war, over 13,000 died. Mexico also suffered heavy casualties, losing over 25,000 troops and civilians.
The state of South Carolina took action to recognize members of the Palmetto Regiment. In addition to the celebration in July upon their return, the legislature presented medals to the men who served with the regiment. In 1853, the Palmetto Regiment Monument was installed on the grounds of the South Carolina State House. It commemorates the regiment’s battles and was the first monument erected on the grounds of the state Capitol.