You may have done a double-take when you read the title of this blog post. After all, our 12th President died in 1850; that’s eleven years before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter. You may also think that I’m desperate for a subject for the letter Z in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. There is some truth in that; I guess the letter Z is last in our alphabet for a reason.
But, you’d be wrong on those assumptions. Zachary Taylor has a number of connections to the Civil War.
The Mexican War is where it all begins. It has been said that the military leaders of the Civil War “cut their teeth” in the Mexican War. The Mexican War gave them experiences and allowed them to put into practice what they had learned at West Point.
Taylor was a General in that war and lead many of the men who would be leaders in the Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis and George Meade were just three of men that served under Taylor. General Taylor never made any great show or parade, either of uniform or retinue. In dress he was possibly too plain, rarely wearing anything in the field to indicate his rank, or even that he was an officer; but he was known to every soldier in his army, and was respected by all,1 wrote Ulysses S. Grant. The irony of that statement is that it is a perfect description of Grant as the commanding General of the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War. Taylor also modeled tactics that Grant would employ in the Civil War.
Perhaps Taylor’s chief contribution to the Civil War was his son, Richard Taylor. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky and was a graduate of Yale University.2
At the outbreak of the Civil War Richard Taylor joined the Confederate Army and served as a brigade commander in the Virginia theater of war. He was a favorite of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, under whom he served. Later Taylor was sent west as an army commander in the Louisiana area. He thwarted the plans of Federal General Nathaniel Banks in the Red River campaign.
Taylor did not have any military experience until the Civil War broke out. However, most of Taylor’s contemporaries, subordinates, and superiors spoke many times of his military prowess as he proved himself capable both in the field and in departmental command.3
Taylor had the unwanted honor of surrendering the last major Confederate force east of the Mississippi on May 4, 1865.4
After the war he wrote Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (1879), considered by many to be a very accurate account of his experiences in the Civil War (it was not uncommon for memoirs to be embellished by veterans of the war to shed the best light on themselves—Taylor did not do so.)
There is another Zachary Taylor connection to the Civil War—future President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, married Sarah Knox Taylor in 1835. Sarah was the daughter of Zachary. Unfortunately the marriage was short lived as she died three months later.
For further reading on Zachary Taylor I recommend Zachary Taylor by John S. D. Eisenhower (yes, John was the brother of Dwight Eisenhower). It is a short biography and is part of the American Presidents series, published by Times Books. I recommend this series for those of you who want to read biographies of our Presidents but do not want to get to bogged down on details—these books are generally less than 200 pages.
Thank you to all those who have followed my musings in the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge. It has been a pleasure to write these posts and I hope, as I have, that you’ve learned something along the way.
1 Zachary Taylor, Wikipedia
2Henry Simmons, compiler, A Concise Encyclopedia of the Civil War, 187
3 Richard Taylor, Wikipedia