Meet Colonel McIntosh
One American officer made the bold proclamation that “a braver man than Colonel McIntosh never lived.” Few could argue with this assessment when evaluating the deeds of James Simmons McIntosh.
Born in Georgia in 1787, James Simmons McIntosh came from a long line of soldiers. His great-uncle, General Lachlan McIntosh, served with Washington at Valley Forge. His father, John McIntosh, was the American commander who taunted the British to “come and take it” when they demanded the surrender of Fort Morris in 1778. It was only appropriate that James enter the army when of age.
He received an appointment to the First United States Rifle Regiment as a lieutenant at the age of 25 in November 1812. Like his forefathers, he had a chance to fight the British, and fought at the Battle of Scajaquada Creek in August 1814. McIntosh received a serious wound and was left for dead on the field of battle. An American burial party discovered McIntosh still breathing and transferred him to New York to recover. The House of Representatives of Georgia later presented Lieutenant McIntosh with a dress sword for his “gallantry and intrepidity” in the war that he carried until his death.
Left for Dead: The Battle of Palo Alto
At the conclusion of the war, he opted to stay in the army for the next 30 years. McIntosh rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the Fifth United States Infantry Regiment by 1839. In October 1845, he reported to General Zachary Taylor in Corpus Christi, Texas, when war clouds loomed over Mexico. He played a leading part in Taylor’s operations when war broke out in 1846. On May 8, 1846, at the Battle of Palo Alto, his regiment held the extreme right of Taylor’s line and beat back a fierce Mexican lancer charge to save the army’s baggage train.
The Mexican army fell back to a strong defensive position situated at Resaca del la Palma after their defeat at Palo Alto. McIntosh and his regiment were ordered to conduct a frontal assault on the left of the entrenched Mexican line the next day by General Taylor. McIntosh rode forward as Mexican bullets cut through the air. He was one of the first Americans to set foot inside the Mexican position, but had to dismount due to the uneven terrain.
In the chaos of the assault, McIntosh was waylaid by six Mexican infantrymen before he could unholster his pistol. One of the six assailants bayoneted McIntosh’s arm, breaking the bone. As he fell to the ground, two other soldiers attempted to skewer him with their bayonets. McIntosh grabbed the barrel of one of the Mexican muskets with his bare hand and stopped the infantryman’s bayonet within inches from his face. While preoccupied with warding off this attack, the other Mexican infantryman drove his bayonet into McIntosh’s mouth, forcing his front teeth inward, and piercing the back of his neck.
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The Mexican infantrymen left the American colonel for dead. McIntosh found the strength to lift his mangled body from the ground and stagger in the direction of the American line. His shattered arm dangled at his side, and his face and neck were a bloody mess. Lieutenant James Duncan of the Second Artillery noticed McIntosh staggering across a small pool of water, and ordered his men to assist the colonel.
Duncan asked if he could do anything for McIntosh. The veteran colonel somehow managed to get off the words, “Yes! Give me some water, and show me to my regiment!”
He collapsed soon after and was transported back to Point Isabel, Texas, to recover. Most American newspapers reported he had died during the battle. In twelve months, the old Spartan recuperated from his ghastly wounds and headed back to join Winfield Scott’s army on its march against Mexico City. McIntosh again assumed command of his beloved Fifth United States Infantry Regiment. He distinguished himself in command of the regiment at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco.
A Final Stand: The Battle of El Molino del Rey
On the night of Sept. 7, 1847, General William Worth called together the senior officers of his command and broke the news to them that General Scott had ordered a forlorn assault on the strongly fortified Mexican position at El Molino del Rey. That night these officers, including McIntosh, poured over a battle map under candlelight in preparation. Most of those present would be dead before noon the next day.
At dawn on Sept. 8, 1847, three American columns of 3,447 men were arrayed shoulder to shoulder for the assault on El Molino del Rey. With his superior ill, McIntosh took command of the Second Brigade. He was ordered to concentrate his brigade’s assault on the center of the Mexican defenses anchored by the strongly fortified Casa Mata. In his usual manner, he made his way out in front of his men conspicuously mounted on his horse and carried the sword presented to him by the citizens of Georgia.
The Mexican defenders sat motionless until the McIntosh’s men advanced to within 100 yards of the Mexican position. The American infantrymen were nearly swept to pieces over the open ground. They pushed through the storm of bullets and made it to within 25 yards of the Mexican position.
McIntosh remained mounted through the hail of bullets to inspire his men to continue forward. A musket ball suddenly hit him in the thigh, causing him to crash to the ground. While lying wounded, another ball tore through his knee and painfully lodged into his groin. Lieutenant Ralph W. Kirkham of his staff ordered two American infantrymen to carry the wounded colonel to the rear. They grabbed McIntosh by his coat and began to drag him to the rear.
McIntosh refused to be dragged any further until he received word that a second American assault broke through the Mexican position. He kept probing those nearby, “Is that fort taken yet?” The Americans suffered 20 percent casualties that day, making it the bloodiest day of the U.S-Mexican War for the United States.
McIntosh lingered in a makeshift hospital for over a month. His most recent wounds healed well, and it appeared for a time that the resilient colonel would recover. His health took a turn for the worse when his old War of 1812 wound broke open and became infected. He died on Sept. 26, 1847, and was buried in a nearby Mexican cemetery.
Members of his native Georgia raised enough money to cover the expenses of bringing his remains back home for reburial. His sword and uniform, pierced by eight bullet holes, were placed upon his coffin during his funeral. He was reburied in the Colonial Park Cemetery on March 18, 1848, resting in immortality alongside those members of his family that fought so valiantly in the service of their county.