Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Richard Coulter Journal, 1847-1848

Finding aid created by
Manuscripts Division Staff

Summary Information
Title: Richard Coulter journal
Creator: Coulter, Richard, 1827-1908
Inclusive dates: 1847-1848
Extent: 100 pages
The Richard Coulter journal is a lengthy, detailed account of the experiences of a private soldier participating in the American invasion of Mexico, 1846-1848.
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.


No copyright restrictions.

Alternate Format:

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

Preferred Citation:

Richard Coulter Journal, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


At the age of nineteen, Richard Coulter enlisted in the Westmoreland Guards in his hometown of Greensburg, Pa. The ranks of the Guards were filled with the sons of the elite families of Westmoreland County, and Coulter was certainly among the elite. His uncle, for instance, had a long record in public service, including stints as mayor of Greensburg, representative in both the state and national congresses, and appointment as Justice of the state Supreme Court. Though his father had died when Richard was barely three, through family connections, he was able to study law at Washington and Jefferson College, and earned entry to the bar when only nineteen. Not long after, the Guards were mustered into the federal service as Company E , 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, and sent south to fight in the Mexican War.

Coulter's regiment was involved in several key engagements, including Winfield Scott's capture of Vera Cruz, the battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, and Chapultepec, and the capture and occupation of Mexico City. An outgoing man, voluble and educated, Coulter took a dim view of what he saw as immorality and corruption in the army, disapproving of the unscrupulous vanity of John White Geary, and feeling disappointment or disgust at the drunkenness, disorder, and lack of discipline in the ranks.

In June, 1848, the regiment left the capital and were mustered out of the service at Greensburg one month later. Though he left the army, the army never seems to have left Coulter. During the 1850s, he was active in militia units, and when the Civil War broke out, he raised the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry, serving as its colonel for the duration of the war. Know as "Fighting Dick" Coulter was wounded in action three times, rose to Brigadier General, and was brevetted to Major General before returning home. A successful coal mine developer and banker, he died in Greensburg in 1908.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Richard Coulter journal is a lengthy, detailed account of the experiences of a private soldier participating in the American invasion of Mexico, 1846-1848. Educated, observant and possessing a biting wit, Coulter has left an unusually insightful document, which he attempted to make as comprehensive as possible. He took great pains to describe all aspects of a soldier's life during the war, from mustering in to life in the camps, interactions with Mexican civilians, descriptions of the cities and countryside, the battles and their aftermath, strategy, morale, and attitudes. His particular disdain for Generals John W. Geary and Thomas Childs reaches a level of vitriol seldom seen, and often borders on the comic.

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

Subject Terms

    • Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848--Death & burial.
    • Bullfights--Mexico.
    • Catholic Church--Mexico
    • Cerro Gordo, Battle of, 1847.
    • Chapultepec, Battle of, Mexico City, Mexico, 1847.
    • Childs, Thomas, 1796-1853.
    • Churubusco, Battle of, Churubusco, Distrito Federal, Mexico, 1847.
    • Courts-martial and courts of inquiry.
    • Dead.
    • Deserters, Military.
    • Earthquakes--Mexico.
    • Geary, John White, 1819-1873.
    • Jalapa Enríquez (Mexico)--Description and travel.
    • Lobos Island, Gulf of Mexico.
    • Mexican War, 1846-1848.
    • Mexico City (Mexico)--Description and travel.
    • Mexico City (Mexico)--History--American occupation, 1847-1848.
    • Mexico--Description and travel.
    • Military discipline.
    • Murder--Mexico.
    • Puebla (Mexico)--Description and travel.
    • Scott, Winfield, 1786-1866.
    • Soldiers--Alcohol use.
    • Twiggs, David Emanuel, 1790-1862.
    • United States. Army--Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, 2nd (1846-1848)
    • Veracruz-Llave (Mexico : State)--Description and travel.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1, Mexican War Collection  
    Richard Coulter journal,  1847 January 1-1848 July 14. [series] (100pp.)
     1847 January.
    Organization of the 2nd Pennsylvania; River journey to New Orleans; Army celebration--with food stolen from civilians; Tale of a drunken soldier
     1847 February.
    Rough crossing of Gulf of Mexico--seasickness; Poor quality of food rations; Lobos Island; Washington's Birthday celebration; Assignment to Vera Cruz expedition
     1847 March.
    Journey to Vera Cruz; landing at Sacrificios Island; Siege of Vera Cruz and capture; Introduction to tortillas; Laundry
     1847 April.
    Description of Vera Cruz; March to Jalapa; Battle of Cerro Gordo; Aftermath: immediate putrefaction of dead bodies of soldiers and horses
     1847 May.
    Attendance at a bullfight; Gen. Thomas Childs (1796-1853) forces disgusted soldiers to kneel to passing Roman Catholic procession
     1847 June.
    Soldiers paid; description of how they spend their money; March through Mexican countryside; Castle of Perote
     1847 July.
    Muster and inspection by Lt. Col. John White Geary (1819-73), who makes a "considerable fool of himself"; A cowardly soldier; Description of Puebla and its Cathedral; Mexican hocus-pocus doctor saves soldier's life; New ideas of organizing messes; Contempt for regimental officers; General Childs an insufferable "sulky school boy"; Sightseeing trip to Cholula
     1847 August.
    Guard duty at city prison, Puebla; March from Puebla; battles of Contreras and Churubusco
     1847 September.
    Execution of 16 deserters near San Angel; Battle of Chapultepec; ; Description of statue of Charles IV of Spain
     1847 October.
    Tobacco distributed to troops; Earthquake; bullfights; Dead soldiers embalmed and sent to Pennsylvania; Reflections on battle of Molino del Rey and condemnation of Gen. Winfield Scott's (1786-1866) handling of the matter; Halloween
     1847 November.
    All Saints' Day celebration; Elections to fill vacancies in regiment: "rascality" of Geary in gaining sway; celebrations of the victorious; Gen. David Emanuel Twiggs (1790-1862) oversees a public whipping (he enjoys it) and causes a civil disturbance
     1847 December.
    Fate of a drunken soldier; Theater; Incompetence of a Dutch officer; Description of San Angel; Distrust of raw recruits; All liquor in San Angel locked up by military order; Christmas Eve and Day
     1848 January.
    New Year's Day celebration; Mexican civilians attack soldiers of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment; army returns favor with a general killing; Discontent at not being discharged; Staging of a phony duel; Gen. Geary's gambling habits; Winfield Scott has his eye on the Presidency; Death and funeral of Daniel Webster's son; Putting out a fire
     1848 February.
    Snide song (8 verses) about Geary; Increased instances of soldiers' dissatisfaction and violence; Geary reads nasty passage about self when helping himself to a private soldier's journal
     1848 March.
    Skirmishes and casualties; Feast of Camoral; Notice of Ash Wednesday (a new thing to Coulter); Death of John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) reported; ceremonies on that behalf; Stingy soldier's greed with food; Description of a battle ground
     1848 April.
    Treaty ratified by U.S. Senate; Attempt at robbery of a Mexico City bank by U.S. soldiers; Maundy Thursday/Good Friday/Saturday (but no mention of Easter Sunday); Escape of a South Carolina soldier being held for murder
     1848 May.
    Searching for soldiers' graves in order to disinter (and send to Pennsylvania?); Massachusetts soldier murders his wife; Geary's schemes for promotion; Treaty ratified by Mexican Senate
     1848 June.
    March to coast; Mexican countryside scenes; Boat journey to New Orleans
     1848 July.
    Transcript of a court martial; Muster out of service, Pennsylvania
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Thomas J. Barclay 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.