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
Abstract:
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: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

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

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

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).

Provenance:

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


Biography

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

    Subjects:
    • 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
     
    Slavery
     
    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.

    Bibliography

    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.