Zachary Taylor, of course, was one of the top commanding generals of the Mexican War, along with Winfield Scott. Although Scott outranked him, Taylor’s victories in the Battle of Buena Vista and Battle of Monterrey, in particular, made him the biggest hero of the war to the American people.
Franklin Pierce also served in the Mexican War. When he first enlisted, Pierce was a private in a company of volunteers from New Hampshire. President Polk quickly promoted him to colonel and then brigadier general. Pierce’s knee was badly injured at the Battle of Contreras and he passed out from severe pain. Later, his political opponents accused him of being a coward who fainted due to fear during battle. Everyone who served with Pierce defended him against those charges throughout his life and noted that he refused to be moved from the battlefield to a safer location because he wanted to stay with the men he commanded. Besides the terrible pain, the fainting spell may have been caused by the Mexican heat and because he was also suffering from dysentery.
(Before I get to Jefferson Davis, let me just preemptively answer those people who will say, “Jefferson Davis wasn’t a President of the United States!”: I know. I always include Davis when I’m writing about American Presidents because, while he wasn’t the U.S. President, he was an American President during his time as President of the Confederacy. For those still curious about why I include him, I’ve answered the question numerous times, so search for it and you’ll see where I’m coming from.)
Jefferson Davis resigned from Congress to fight in the war with a militia company from Mississippi. Davis was probably closer and far more involved in intense combat than Grant, Taylor, or Pierce. He fought courageously at the Battle of Buena Vista under General Taylor, and was wounded in battle. Davis was briefly married to Taylor’s daughter in 1835 — despite the fact that Taylor was opposed to the marriage — but widowed just a few weeks after the wedding. After seeing Davis in action in Mexico, Taylor gained a great deal of respect for him, and they became very close until Taylor died as President.
Interestingly, a clear hint about Jefferson Davis’s devotion to states’ rights is evident in the Mexican War. Davis had joined a militia group in Mississippi to fight in the war. After rave reviews about his performance in Mexico, President Polk offered to appoint Davis as brigadier general, but Davis refused and remained a colonel. Davis’s refusal was due to his belief that President Polk could only appoint officers of the regular army and that the power to appoint state militia leaders belonged to the states, not the federal government.