Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Thomas J. Barclay Journal, 1846-1848

Finding aid created by
Manuscripts Division Staff, 1983

Summary Information
Title: Thomas J. Barclay journal
Creator: Barclay, Thomas J., 1825-1881
Inclusive dates: 1846-1848
Extent: 70 pages
This journal transcript details Thomas J. Barclay's service in the Mexican American War.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated by John Barclay Jr., 1983. M-2091.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Alternate Format:

The Barclay journal has been published in: Peskin, Allan, ed. Volunteers: the Mexican War journal of Private Richard Coulter and Sergeant Thomas Barclay, Company E, Second Pennsylvania Infantry (Kent, Ohio, 1991).


The original of the Barclay journal is now lost. It appears likely that this typescript was prepared in the 1930s or 40s for Richard Coulter, Jr.

Preferred Citation:

Thomas J. Barclay Journal, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


In December, 1846, Thomas J. Barclay enlisted as a sergeant in the Westmoreland Guards, a militia company that was comprised of the sons of the local elite of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Barclay represented an elite among the elite of the Guards, which were commanded by one of his uncles, John W. Johnston. Having been born into a wealthy, politically active family, Barclay, at age twenty one, was already well on his way to a successful career as an attorney, having been admitted to the county bar at eighteen. Nevertheless, he was only too glad to avail himself of the opportunity of new experiences by fighting in the Mexican War, and he fit right into the regiment in which nearly all of the officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, were drawn from the legal profession.

The Guards mustered into the federal service as Company E of the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry in March, 1847, and began the journey down the Ohio and Mississippi to the embarkation point for Mexico, New Orleans. The regiment was immediately assigned to assist Winfield Scott's expedition on Vera Cruz, and from there, they entered into the series of campaigns designed to ensnare Mexico City. Following the battle of Cerro Gordo in April, they assisted in the occupation of Jalapa, and under Gideon J. Pillow, drove through Puebla in July, through the battles of Contreras and Churubusco in August, and finally arrived at the capital in September to force its capitulation. From that time until December, 1847, Barclay's regiment served as part of the occupation force.

Barclay was rewarded for his service in this campaign with a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant of the 11th U.S. Infantry on December 30, 1847. With the possible exception of the three months spent in occupation of the capital, his experience was uniformly hard, both in combat and camp. Between unpredictable citizens, unsanitary conditions, and unsavory characters, Barclay saw the worst of the army and of Mexico. In the winter of 1847-48, Barclay's regiment marched from Mexico City back to coast to prepare for demobilization. He resigned his commission in May, 1848, and returned to Pennsylvania, where he died in 1881.

Collection Scope and Content Note

Thomas Barclay's Mexican War journal covers the entire period of his service in the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry. This journal gives an intimate, common soldiers' view of the Mexican War, opinions of his superior officers, camp life, the Mexican citizenry (referred to as "greasers"), and the Mexican landscape.

The original manuscript of the journal has been lost, and it is known to exist only in the form of a typescript, prepared some time early in the twentieth century.

Subject Terms

    • Cathedrals--Mexico.
    • Catholic Church--Mexico.
    • Cerro Gordo, Battle of, 1847.
    • Chapultepec, Battle of, 1847.
    • Childs, Thomas (1796-1853)
    • Christmas.
    • Churubusco, Battle of, 1847.
    • Contreras, Battle of, 1847.
    • Geary, John White, 1819-1873.
    • Jalapa (Mexico)--Description.
    • Lobos Island.
    • Mexico City (Mexico)--Description.
    • Mexico City (Mexico)--History--American occupation, 1847-1848.
    • Mexico--Description and travel.
    • New Orleans (La.)--Description.
    • Perote (Mexico)
    • Pillow, Gideon Johnson, 1806-1878.
    • Puebla (Mexico)--Description.
    • Scott, Winfield, 1786-1866.
    • Temperance.
    • United States--History--War with Mexico, 1845-1848.
    • United States--History--War with Mexico, 1845-1848--Health aspects.
    • United States--History--War with Mexico, 1845-1848--Hospitals.
    • United States. Army--Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, 2nd (1846-1848)
    • Vera Cruz (Mexico)--Description.
    • Washington's Birthday.
    • Deserters, Military.
    • Camps (Military)--Mexico.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Thomas J. Barclay journal,  1846 December 30-1848 March 2 [series]
     1846 December
    Leaving Greensburg, Pa.
    Company election of officers
     1847 January
    Muster and medical inspection; election of field officers
    Trip down Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
    Amusements and life aboard boat
    Description of New Orleans
    Site of Battle of New Orleans
    New Orleans citizens' complaints against military personnel
     1847 February
    Travel in Gulf of Mexico; violent storm
    Description of ship's crew
    Anchor off Lobos Island; description of Island
    Washington's Birthday celebration on Island
     1847 March
    Setting sail for Vera Cruz; smallpox
    John White Geary (1819-73) first mentioned
    View of Vera Cruz; attack on city and occupation
    Camp set up on a plain outside city
     1847 April
    Description of Vera Cruz and its castle
    March with Winfield Scott (1796-1866) to Cerro Gordo
    Battle of Cerro Gordo
    March to Jalapa; description of city
    Camping without tents in the rain
    Military relations with civilians
     1847 May
    Catholic church in Mexico
    Sanitary conditions in camp
    Horrible hospital conditions
    Public whipping of soldiers convicted of robbery, superintended by Gen. Thomas Childs (1796-1853); reflections on what is a "just" punishment
    Gen. Childs' strictness
    Childs forces army to participate in a Roman Catholic rite
     1847 June
    Liquor-drinking vs. the Temperance pledge
    Leave Jalapa with  3000 men on March
    Description of Castle of Perote, now used as hospital
    Childs' proficiency in organizing March ; good description of Childs
     1847 July
    Muster under Lt. Col. Geary
    Foul food provisions
    Fourth of July reflections
    March continues through farmland, under command of Gen. Gideon Johnson Pillow (1806-1878)
    Arrival at and description of Puebla; grandeur of Cathedral
     1847 August
    Hopes for peace vanish; advance begins on Mexico City
    Battles of Contreras and Churubusco
    Apathy of Mexican prisoners
    Armistice of Tacubaya, immediately broken by civilians
     1847 September
    March towards Mexico City; Battle of Chapultepec
    Barclay's gladness at execution of 16 deserters
    Capture of Mexico City (excellent and exhaustive account) "The United States in the present war has shown a forbearance and chivalrous spirit highly honorable"
    Description of Mexico City and its grand Cathedral
    Catholicism but a veneer on pagan Mexicans
     1847 October
    Tobacco rations
    Camp life while in occupation of City: diversions, amusements
    National theater Circus and Museum
    "Pulque"--native juice extract used as beverage
     1847 November
    Election for Colonel: Geary wins in a vicious, underhanded campaign
    Public whipping of would-be murderer
    Mexican gypsies
    Spanish actress, Canete, gives a performance
     1847 December
    March to Tacuhuya; description of San Angel
    Liquor rations to officers only; bootlegging begins Christmas celebration
    Company E avoids receiving horrible new recruits
     1848 January-March
    Affairs of occupation are detailed
    Reflections on Battle of Churubusco, which was disastrous in U.S. loss of troops
    Preparations for leaving service
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Richard Coulter journal at the Clements Library is a transcript of another soldier's journal kept while with Company E, 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry in the Mexican American War.


    Coulter, Richard. "The Westmoreland Guards in the War with Mexico, 1846-1848" Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 24 (1941), 101-126, includes excerpts from the Richard Coulter and Thomas Barclay journals.