December 14, 1801 - April 18, 1881
Joseph Lane was an Indiana politician and one of the six Brigadier Generals appointed directly from civilian life by President Polk at the start of the war with Mexico, fighting in both the northern campaign with Zachary Taylor and the southern campaign with Winfield Scott.
Lane was born in Henderson County, Kentucky, on December 14, 1801. Receiving a limited formal education, Lane left home for Indiana in 1815 where he worked for his uncle in a dry goods store in Darlington. First elected to the Indiana General Assembly in 1822, Lane declined to run for re-election but remained active in the Democratic Party. He was again elected to the Assembly in 1838 and to the state Senate in 1844.
When war with Mexico broke out in May 1846, the War Department asked Indiana to provide three volunteer regiments. Lane resigned his Senate seat and was elected Colonel of the 2nd Indiana regiment in June. Shortly thereafter, President Polk commissioned Lane a Brigadier General, placing him in command of the three Indiana regiments. The regiments arrived in Mexico in July and spent the next four months in camp near Matamoras training and battling disease. In December, the 2nd and 3rd regiments were ordered to Camargo and in January 1847 sent forward to Saltillo following rumors of Santa Anna’s advance from San Luis Potosí.
Lane fought at the battle of Buena Vista, February 22-23, 1847. On the second day, Lane’s troops held back an initial assault by 4,000 Mexican infantry and lancers. Miscommunication between Lane and a subordinate officer almost caused the collapse of Taylor’s left flank, causing Taylor to severely criticize the Indiana regiment in his report of the battle. Taylor singled out Lane for the fiasco, although two courts of inquiry would later clear him of any wrongdoing.
After the Indiana regiments were mustered out in July, Lane was ordered to central Mexico to reinforce General Scott. On September 19 1847, Lane and his 1,700-man brigade left Vera Cruz for the garrison at Puebla, which was then under siege, and reached Jalapa on September 30. Santa Anna pulled 4,000 men from the siege at Puebla when he learned of Lane’s approach, and moved them to Huamantla. Lane reached the town on October 9. Samuel Walker’s Texas cavalry, having been sent in advance of the main column, spotted more than 2,000 Mexican lancers, driving them from the town before Lane’s infantry arrived. The Mexicans counter-attacked, killing Walker before making their retreat. In retaliation for Walker’s death, Lane permitted his men to sack the town -- the only such action by a large body of U.S. troops in the war. The next day Lane’s column moved on and lifted the siege at Puebla. Lane was brevetted a Major General for his service at Huamantla.
Excelling in anti-guerrilla operations, Lane continued to engage Mexican insurgents in the final days of the war. He drove General Joaquin Rea from Atlisco, thirty miles southwest of Puebla, on October 19. Later that month he raided the guerrilla base in Tlaxcala, north of Puebla, and again in early November. At Izucar de Matamoros Lane liberated twenty-three American prisoners and seized two cannons. On February 17 Lane attacked guerrilla leader Padre Jarauta at Sequalteplán, northeast of Mexico City in what would prove to be the last significant clash in central Mexico.
In August 1848, President Polk appointed Lane the first territorial governor of Oregon. In 1851, Oregon elected Lane as a territorial delegate to Congress where he was an outspoken supporter of the southern faction of the Democratic Party. In 1859 he was elected senator from that state. Lane ran unsuccessfully as the vice presidential candidate for the pro-slavery wing of the Democratic Party with John C. Breckinridge in 1860. At the expiration of his Senate term in 1861, Lane retired to Roseburg, Oregon, where he died on April 18, 1881.
Bauer, Jack C. The Mexican War 1846-1848. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974
Brackett, Albert G. General Lane’s Brigade in Central Mexico. Cincinnati: H.W.Derby & Co.. 1854.
Kelly, Sister Margaret, “The Career of Joseph Lane, Frontier Politician.” PhD diss., Catholic Uiversity of America, 1942.