A Unit of the Center for Appalachian Studies & Services at East Tennessee State University
In the early nineteenth century, the idea of “Manifest Destiny” – the desire of Americans to spread the country across the continent – was popular thoughout the United States. With Texas in flux after its 1836 revolution against Mexico, some U.S. politicians and citizens believed Texas should be annexed into the union. This sentiment was also shared by many Texans. In 1845, President James K. Polk approved the annexation.
Mexico, still hoping to take back Texas, was not happy.
In 1846, as tensions between the two countries grew, the United States issued a call for volunteers to build up the army. Luther R. Henley was one of the many Americans who joined the forces. In June 1846, he signed with the First Georgia Infantry in Columbus, Georgia. By July, the infantry was on its way to Mexico to fight in the Mexican-American War.
Henley’s duties as a soldier are recorded in letters he wrote home to his family in Jonesborough, Tennessee and are now part of the Elizabeth Jobe Henley Collection, 1803-1957. Here is Henley’s first letter to his family from Mexico (click to enlarge):
In October 1846, Henley, stationed in Mexico, reported that he was regaining his strength after his personal battle with the “chills.” This ailment also afflicted several of the other infantrymen. As such, Henley was with the last of his regiment to reach Monterrey, Mexico after the battle led by General Zachary Taylor on September 21, 1846 (Taylor later became the 12th president of the United States). However, his report of the battle provided the family with some Tennessee pride,
“The Tennesseans and Kentuckians dun[?] the best fiting that was done they was the firs that charge the walls. They los man of ther men by maiken the charge.”*
Struck by the cultural and geographic differences between his home and the town of Monterrey, Henley wrote of his amazement,
“This is one of the mouste splendid townes I have ever saw it is fortified until it looks onreasonable for it to be taken. The Buildings is all Rock and so is the fourtes. The Battle lasted four days and then the show was over. This is the best country of land that I have ever saw and water plenty but cole knigts and hot days it doante suit people that was raiseed in a cole climate. Tell the boys that they neade knot wante to come to Mexico for it doante suite Tennesseans.”*
Nevertheless, the beauty could not keep Henley from dreaming of home and he vowed,
“If I should bespairde buy the kinde hands of providence to get out of the U. States Sirvis I then will try to see the bankes of good old Chuckey River.”*
Henley’s last letter during the war was sent on March 30, 1847 with the expectations that he would return home within a couple of months. Although Henley was not part of any major battle (at least not one reported in his letters – however, a storm did blow his company traveling by boat off their path for 22 days), he still faced the longing for home and mourned the unexpected death of his father. At the time of his death on December 4, 1895, Henley was a farmer in Washington County, Tennessee.
*Spelling/grammar according to the original documents.