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.
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.
Cerro Gordo, Battle of, 1847.
Chapultepec, Battle of, 1847.
Childs, Thomas (1796-1853)
Churubusco, Battle of, 1847.
Contreras, Battle of, 1847.
Geary, John White, 1819-1873.
Mexico City (Mexico)--Description.
Mexico City (Mexico)--History--American occupation, 1847-1848.
Mexico--Description and travel.
New Orleans (La.)--Description.
Pillow, Gideon Johnson, 1806-1878.
Scott, Winfield, 1786-1866.
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.
Container / Location
Thomas J. Barclay journal, 1846 December 30-1848 March 2 [series]
Leaving Greensburg, Pa.
Company election of officers
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Camp life while in occupation of City: diversions, amusements
National theater Circus and Museum
"Pulque"--native juice extract used as beverage
Election for Colonel: Geary wins in a vicious, underhanded campaign
Public whipping of would-be murderer
Spanish actress, Canete, gives a performance
March to Tacuhuya; description of San Angel
Liquor rations to officers only; bootlegging begins Christmas celebration
Company E avoids receiving horrible new recruits
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
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.