The tune, “March to Battle” is from The
Chieftains’ 2010 album, San Patricio. It’s one
of the tunes we will be performing with The Chieftains
in Lincoln. The Saint Patrick's Battalion (Spanish:
formed and led by John Riley, was a unit of 175 to
several hundred immigrants (accounts vary) and
expatriates of European descent who fought as part of
the Mexican Army against the United States in the
Mexican–American War of 1846-8. Most of the battalion's
members had deserted or defected from the United States
John Patrick Riley (Irish:
also known as John Patrick O'Riley, (c. 1817 – August
1850), was born in Clifden, County Galway, Ireland.
Riley served with the British Army before immigrating to
Canada. Connemara and other rural regions suffered
greatly during the Great Famine, and millions of people
emigrated by ship from Ireland to Canada and the United
States to survive.
after his arrival in the United States in Michigan,
Riley enlisted in the US Army. Many immigrants were
recruited in the 1840s; some served just to earn some
money, as they had usually fled famine and severe
poverty in their home countries.
his desertion, Riley served in Company K of the 5th US
Infantry Regiment. Riley and Patrick Dalton formed the
Batallón de San Patricio, or the Saint Patrick's
Battalion. Composed primarily of Catholic Irish and
German immigrants, the battalion also included
Canadians, English, French, Italians, Poles, Scots,
Spaniards, Swiss, and Mexican people, most of whom were
members of the Catholic Church. Disenfranchised
Americans were in the ranks, including escaped slaves
from the Southern United States. The Mexican government
offered incentives to foreigners who would enlist in its
army: granting them citizenship, paying higher wages
than the U.S. Army and the offer of generous land
grants. Only a few members of the Saint Patrick's
Battalion were actual U.S. citizens.
of the Battalion are known to have deserted from U.S.
Army regiments including: the 1st Artillery, the 2nd
Artillery, the 3rd Artillery, the 4th Artillery, the 2nd
Dragoons, the 2nd Infantry, the 3rd Infantry, the 4th
Infantry, the 5th Infantry, the 6th Infantry, the 7th
Infantry and the 8th Infantry. The Battalion served as
an artillery unit for much of the war. Despite later
being formally designated as infantry, it still retained
artillery pieces throughout the conflict. In many ways,
the battalion acted as the sole Mexican counter-balance
to U.S. horse artillery.
fought at several battles and finally at the Battle of
Churubusco, on the outskirts of Mexico City, where more
than 70 were captured by US forces and the rest
disbanded. Men of the disbanded battalion went on to
fight at the Battle for Mexico City.
Americans of the generation that fought the
Mexican-American War, the San Patricios were
considered traitors. For Mexicans of that generation,
and generations to come, the San Patricios were
heroes who came to the aid of fellow Catholics in need.
Riley had deserted before the US declared war against
Mexico, he was not sentenced to execution following his
conviction at the court martial held in Mexico
City in 1847. He testified to deserting because of
discrimination against and mistreatment of Irish
Catholics in the US Army, and anti-Catholicism which he
had encountered in the United States. While escaping the
mass hanging of about 50 other captured members of the
Saint Patrick's Battalion, Riley was branded on his
cheek with the letter "D" for deserter.
Following his conviction and branding,
Riley was released and eventually rejoined the Mexican
forces. Reportedly he grew his hair to conceal the scars
on his face. He continued to serve with the regular
Mexican Army after the end of the war, being confirmed
in the rank of "Permanent Major". Stationed in Veracruz,
he was retired on August 14 1850 on medical grounds
after suffering from yellow fever.
who survived the war generally disappeared from history.
A handful are on record as having made use of the land
claims promised them by the Mexican government.