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William Joseph Hardee

October 12, 1815 - November 6, 1873

Topic- Thornton Affair, Siege and Occupation of Vera Cruz, Contreras and Churubusco A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexico War

William Joseph Hardee was born on October 12, 1815, in Camden County, Georgia, the son of John Hardee, a prominent state senator and slaveholder. Hardee was admitted to the Unites States Military Academy at West Point in 1834 and graduated twenty-sixth in a class of forty-five. A commissioned second lieutenant in the U. S. 2nd Dragoons, Hardee served in the Seminole War.

Later promoted to captain, Hardee joined General Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation in Texas in 1846. On April 25, 1846, while on a reconnaissance mission to detect Mexican forces suspected of crossing the Rio Grande, the 2nd dragoons under the command of Captain Seth B. Thornton were surrounded and attacked by Mexican cavalry, thirty miles from Matamoras. Captain Thornton’s horse was wounded and darted off, throwing Thornton into the chapparal and rendering him unconscious. Captain Hardee assumed command and attempted to fight his way through a marsh. A Mexican officer demanded Hardee’s surrender; Hardee agreed under the terms that he and his men would be treated as prisoners of war. The terms were accepted and Hardee and his men were taken to Matamoras.

Hardee, Thornton and the remainder of the dragoons were exchanged for Mexican prisoners captured at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma on May 11, 1846. A court of inquiry exonerated Hardee from any negligence in command and he rejoined his unit.

After the fall of Monterrey, Mexico in September 1846, Captain Hardee and the 2nd Dragoons were transferred to serve under General Winfield Scott for the siege of Vera Cruz, Mexico. The siege began on March 9, 1847 and lasted until the city capitulated on March 28, 1847. On March 25, Captain Hardee reinforced Colonel William Selby Harney in a skirmish at Medellin, Mexico, south of Vera Cruz and was brevetted Major for “gallant and meritorious” conduct.

On 18 August 1847 Hardee conducted a reconnaissance of the area surrounding Contreras, and two days later participated in the defeat of the Mexican army following the Battle of Churubusco, for which he was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel.

Following the U.S.-Mexico War, Hardee served in the 2nd Cavalry under Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston along the Texas frontier. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis appointed Hardee to be tactics instructor and commandant of cadets at West Point in 1856. While at the academy, Hardee wrote Rifle and Light Tactics, which would become the standard for both armies during the American Civil War. In early 1861, Hardee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and was subsequently appointed brigadier general by the Confederacy. In March 1862, Hardee joined the Army of the Mississippi, led by Hardee’s old commander, General Albert Johnston. Wounded at Shiloh on April 6 1862, Hardee was promoted to lieutenant general later that year. In September 1864 he assumed command of Confederate forces that attempted to block General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march through Georgia. Following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Hardee surrendered his forces at Archdale, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865.

Hardee managed the family’s two plantations in Demopolis, Alabama after the war, and then settled in Selma, Alabama, where he served as president of the Selma and Meridian Railroad. In 1868 he published his second work, The Irish in America. He died on November 6, 1873, and is buried in Selma, Alabama.


Brooks, Nathan Covington A Complete History of the Mexican War 1846-1848: Its Causes, Conduct, and Consequences The Rio Grande Press, Inc. 1849

Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs, Jr. General William J. Hardee: Old Reliable. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press: 1992.

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