Merchant Marine in the Mexican-American War

The Mexican War was the first war in which the U.S. Army invaded an enemy's territory by sea, and thus required the use of a large number of oceangoing vessels. The American Merchant Marine provided chartered ships in order to defend Texas against Mexico.

The Quartermaster General reported that the lack of suitable harbors in Texas necessitated, "the debarkation of troops and heavy stores by the slow and precarious process of lightering, during what is, in the Gulf of Mexico, the dreaded hurricane season. . . . For the risks incident to the navigation of such a coast, for such purposes, and at such a season, the department had no alternative, but to submit to the exaction of indemnifying rates of compensation by the heavy transports chartered for the dangerous service." [In other words, the shipowners charged the government exorbitant prices!]

Vera Cruz landingThe landing of the American forces under General Winfield Scott at Vera Cruz, Mexico, on March 9, 1847, [shown at left] required the charter or purchase by the Quartermaster General of 54 steam vessels, 4 ships, 2 barks, 8 brigs, 34 schooners, and 201 other boats. In addition to these, the Army also chartered several hundred sail and steam vessels for moving troops and supplies to the Texas coast.

After the war, the Quartermaster General suggested that it would be a good idea for the Navy to operate all transports for the Army, confessing that during the war he himself was constantly "embarrassed by the want of that practical knowledge which nautical men only possess."

Nothing came of this suggestion at the time, although the Army continued to find it necessary to charter ships. In 1850, several steamers were used in the operations against the Seminole Indians in Florida. Until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the Army also used commercial water transportation to support the military establishments in California acquired after the Mexican War. The route via the Isthmus of Panama to California, rather than the longer one around Cape Horn, was preferred by the Army.


Source: Military Sea Transportation and Shipping Control, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navpers10829-A, Washington, DC 1954

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