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"Mexican weapons, Mexican War?" Topic

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19th Century
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823 hits since 30 Jun 2018
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Garde de Paris30 Jun 2018 1:02 p.m. PST

I have in storage a wonderful magazine/book by Osprey about the Mexican/American War of 1846-48. It has been years since I have seen it, but it amazed me that:

1. There was one officer to 2 soldiers in the Mexican army.
2. The Mexicans over-loaded their muskets, and did NOT fire from the shoulder for fear of shoulder damage. They fired from the hip.
3. The Mexicans under-loaded their artillery, and shot often fell short of their targets.
4. The Americans had "flying Artillery" which I do not remember as being defined. We've seen horse artillery since the 1760's with Frederick and the Austrians.

Now I see on the internet that Mexican muskets were ancient Brown Bess (huh? Still carried by the British, right?) and their artillery was old and too heavy. They mention the Gribeauval system of Napoleon's day, which would hardly have been considered "too heavy."

1. Does anyone know what they used for muskets, pistols and artillery.
2. Did either side have revolvers, other than the Texas Rangers?
3. Did either side have percussion cap muskets and pistols?
4. Did either side yet use rifled muskets, percussion style?

Not my era, but might French
Napoleonic guns work for the Mexicans?


Frederick Supporting Member of TMP30 Jun 2018 2:39 p.m. PST

Good questions

1. The Mexican infantry were equipped with British made India pattern Brown Bess muskets; the extra loading was due to the poor quality of powder, which was locally made. Mexican riflemen used British Baker rifles. Mexican cavalry pistols were old British flintlocks. US infantry were equipped with the 1842 model musket – which was a percussion cap model. US riflemen used the 1841 "Windsor" rifle, also a percussion cap weapon. US dragoons carried single-shot muzzle-loading pistols.
2. The only people with revolvers as far as I know were the Texas Rangers plus officers in other units (who could buy their own weapons)
3. As noted, only the US had percussion cap weapons
4. I believe that both sides had riflemen, but only the US had percussion style rifles

I think that French Napleonic guns would be fine- it's your game!

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP30 Jun 2018 2:43 p.m. PST

IIRC, the American "flying artillery" had all of the gunners mounted a la horse artillery.

Re #4. One of the American regiments with percussion rifles was Jeff Davis' 1st Mississippi Regiment (the "Mississippi Rifles"), armed with the Mississippi rifle link . The regiment's lineage has been carried forward by the 155th Infantry Regiment, Mississippi National Guard.


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP30 Jun 2018 3:06 p.m. PST

It's been a while, but my recollection is that the Mississippi Rifles were the ONLY regiment in the US Army outfitted to good ACW standard. The Ordnance Bureau was protecting us from such things. But the percussion caps eliminated the usual 20% misfire rate of a flintlock.

Smoothbore artillery both sides, though US guns were probably lighter for their caliber.

Personally, I'd have thought the officers alone should have sunk the Mexican Army. No unit could survive that much leadership and supervision. I may be talking through my stripes, of course.

But I notice no one ever sings the other verse: the pre-Mexican War US regular army was tiny almost to non-existence, and dispersed in minuscule garrisons. Even battalion drill had been unusual. And except for gunners and generals, Buena Vista was fought by a US Army all of whom had been civilians the year before. US regulars were heavily immigrant and with a serious desertion problem. (See the San Patricios.) The Mexican regular army was larger, arguably more homogeneous, with more recent experience in large-scale warfare and more accustomed to maneuvering in large units.

Plenty of people expected the war to go the other way, and if it had, there would have been no shortage of explanations.

Garde de Paris30 Jun 2018 3:40 p.m. PST

This is all great information! I, too, am surprised how all the internet sites seem to suggest we had a bigger, better army, advanced weapons in every way.

I come from Pottsville, PA, where there was a Palo Alto road, named after the Mexican War. PA has a volunteer regiment in the war. It was with Scott on his way to Mexico City, but deployed mid-way to MC as line of communications troops. Not sure if that is suggesting that they were good or bad!


Major General Stanley30 Jun 2018 7:42 p.m. PST

The Castillo St Angelo at St Augustine has many artiilery tubes captured from the Mexicans and they are much older than you would think: ornate pieces dating back to the 18th century. apparently many of them were of Austrian origin.

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Jul 2018 10:21 a.m. PST

Gentlemen All,

FULL details of the Mexican Army may be found here: link

Also, the US Mounted Rifles, US Voltigeurs and Riflemen, and several US Volunteer Companies carried the Model 1841 Percussion Rifle. While not equipped with a bayonet, these weapons proved so generally effective, they insured the entire army would transition to rifles in the near future.

More data on the US Army of the Mexican-War may be viewed via this link


Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Jul 2018 10:32 a.m. PST

Oh, and can't help but reply that, in fact, the US Army may well have been the best trained and doctrinally up-to-date in the world.

References to the Army being dispersed in small garrisons and ill trained in maneuver was true for 1898, but not 1846.

The US Artillery was definitely "lighter" than the ancient Mexican pieces, but that was due to superior manufacture with only the finest materials. US Artillery doctrine was cutting edge and, gun-for-gun could likely have bested any then in the world. Smoothbores entirely, yet made and handled with such proficiency that at Palo Alto the greatest proponent of the new tactics, Major Samuel Ringgold, repeatedly "sniped" with his 6-pdr, taking out individual color bearers, musicians, and officers one at a time to terrific moral effect on his target units.

There is a shocking amount of misinformation about the US Army of this period, and the Mexican Army and War in general.


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Jul 2018 11:18 a.m. PST

Thank you, VAG. But am I wrong in remembering that scene in Grant's Memoirs where they assembled the battalion--an unprecedented event--and a field grade officer came out from his tent to drill them, and promptly died of age and exertion?

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Jul 2018 5:53 p.m. PST


I can't speak to that story by Grant--I'm simply unfamiliar with it. Is it possible he was speaking of a Militia or Volunteer unit?

In any event, I hardly think that story should be accepted as any characterization of the US Regular Army as a whole--especially when compared to its achievements in Mexico.

As a volunteer force, admittedly made up largely of men who could not "make it" in civilian society, it still had a strong sense of professionalism, even optimism that came from the top down. Not only was its commander, Winfield Scott, the most forward thinking soldier of his age, author of the most cutting-edge Drill Manual then extant, but the Officer Corps was made up of the first few graduating classes from West Point. No other country yet had a strictly professional school of war, whose students did not buy their commissions or appointments solely through political influence.

Promotion and command were based on merit, and the army heard the new ideas from its ranks. The Regiment of Mtd. Rifles was unique, but equaled in originality with the Regiment of Voltigeurs and Riflemen. Despite initial resistance, the entire army went over to percussion muskets, and other Regular (and many Volunteer) formations carried the Model 1841 Percussion Rifle. The success of this weapon made the transition to an all Rifle force inevitable. The most practical field uniform ever worn by the army was adopted, with practical and effective kit.

And how many still believe we went to war in the uniforms of 1812?

Maneuvers were held well above Battalion level--with artillery and Dragoon presence--and the Army could and did deploy quickly and efficiently in action. The Infantry saw in those maneuvers what the new artillery could do, and the support from those guns made them feel certain of success--perhaps half the key to victory in any action.

Indeed, once the Mexican Border had been settled, as well as that with Canada a few years afterward, the Regular Army was allowed to regress, and slavish imitation of the French elevated the works of Jomini--rather than our own experiences in Mexico--to the new standard. No more Congressional support for ever more modern Artillery was provided, and the Army had to go to France for its next new piece (the "Napoleon--a deadly weapon, but American gunsmiths were capable of the same, if not better). We even adopted the dreaded "Voltigeur's Cap"--or "Kepi" as it was incorrectly called--giving up much of what made the American Army… American.

The argument can even be made that the US Regular Army of 1846-48 was better suited for contemporary warfare than any other US Army until the Gulf War.

Again, the Mexican-American War is very little understood, certainly compared with our own Civil War, and even War of Independence. It's too bad, with such wonderful discoveries to be made by those who will read much more than one Osprey about it.


Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2018 3:07 p.m. PST

French army officers came from the military school of Saint Cyr since 1802 or from the ranks.
Not sure of the Prussians but there was this Cadet stuff…
Like USA were the only pro officer corps. Come on.

AICUSV03 Jul 2018 7:56 p.m. PST

GdP – Since we now have to call you "Tex", you've gotten interested in the Mexican War?

From what I understand the real secret weapon the US had was $$$$.

Father Grigori06 Jul 2018 6:12 p.m. PST

One point of technical interest is that the US dragoons were armed with the breech loading Hall carbine. The breech could be removed entirely, carried loaded, and used as a Derringer type pistol. Sam Chamberlain's memoirs include at least one story about this. In game terms it isn't much different for a large scale game, but if you're doing skirmish games, then it could be something to have fun with.

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