On the Plains of Mexico

Charles Nourse's Mexican War letter

Charles Nourse’s Mexican War letter

Like his sister Sally, Charles E. Nourse (1826-1866) of Bardstown, Kentucky was an intelligent observer and capable correspondent.  In service with the 4th Kentucky Infantry during the Mexican War, Charles wrote home to his family of his experiences while on duty.  Three of his letters are now part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

“I am in the city of Vera Cruz and am very well,” Charles wrote his brother James in November 1847, but his landing at that Mexican port city had not been uneventful.  Asleep during the approach, he was awakened by a thunderstorm that kept his ship, and its seasick crew, tacking offshore for 3 days.  Afterward, he had a chance to explore the city, with its many tradesmen, war-damaged houses, and a few attractive “Senoretas.”  A month later, a long march took him through fascinating territory.  Of Perote Castle, the 16th-century Spanish-built fortress used by the Mexicans as a prison, he wrote that “a few bombs could kill every man in it and it is very unhealthy.”  While in the valley of Perote, Charles and his fellow soldiers heard gunfire in the distance and readied themselves for battle, only to learn that it had been an accidental discharge and that it had killed a young soldier from Louisville.  Finally, standing on a high point overlooking the valley of Mexico, Nourse found a 50-mile view that took in fertile fields, “six or seven cities with glittering spires & domes,” lakes, and snow-capped mountains.

With spring 1848, however, came the “sickly season,” when every day Nourse would hear the “solemn dead march” as its victims were taken to their final resting place.  Nevertheless, he assured his grandmother, he had emerged unscathed.  And besides, he reflected, “All have to die!  if a man be buried on the plains of Mexico without a stone to mark his place of rest or under a marble monument at home what is the difference when he is dead.”

Click here to access a finding aid for Charles Nourse’s letters.   For more collections on the Mexican War and other wars, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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