ANALIZAN RESTOS DE SOLDADOS REPATRIADOS DE LA BATALLA DE MONTERREY DE 1846
Por :´Pablo Ramos
Cuando en el año 1996 surgen de Las entrañas de las calles de Monterrey vestigios arqueológicos de la olvidada Batalla de Monterrey de 1846, pocos en Monterrey conocian esta enigmatica batalla ocurrida en Monterrey hace 171 años, nuevamente al ampliar el Paseo Santa Lucia se recuperan mas vestigios en el año 2006,2008 y 2011, al principio en EU no se interesaron por estos restos hasta que fue cubierta por medios de prensa de EU, asi acuden en el año 2014 oficiales de EU quienes analizan los restos, llevandose muestras,y es en el año 2016 que finalmente se repatrian mas de 13 restos de soldados de EU,aunque ya se habian analizado por arqueólogos mexicanos y antropologos fisicos estaba pendiente el analisis de DNA por lo que se llevaron a EU para su estudio,ahora en Tennesee se estan estudiando, cabe mencionar que fue el interes de los historiadores mexicanos y arqueologos mexicanos quieines trataron desde el año 2006 de interesar a historiadores de EU interesandose el autor del libro A PERFECT GIBRALTAR THE BATTLE MONTERREY MEXICO 1846 Cristopher Dishman quien en el año 2007 acudio a Monterrey a estudiar esta olvidada Batalla publicandose un libro en octubre del 2010, es enel año 2011 quien otro estadounidense Jim Page de Tennesee quien trata de todos los medios de que se interesen politicos de EU,en Monterrey desde 1995, Ahmed Valtier, despues, Miguel Angel Gonzalez Quiroga, Cesar Morado, Jesus Avila, Leticia Martinez Cardenas, Raul Martinez Eduardo Cazares, Pablo Ramos ,Araceli Rivera, Juan Antonio Cerda,Bertha Villarreal,Pedro Cantu, buscan que se reconozca esta gesta heroica,este año 2017 en EU ya se estan obteniendo resultados.
Anyone who knows Tim Johnson knows he is passionate about history.
Particularly intrigued by the Mexican War, Johnson, professor of history at Lipscomb for more than 25 years, has devoted decades to researching and writing about the leaders, soldiers and battles of that war, which took place between 1846-1848.
This past fall, Johnson got to help write a new chapter in the annals of Mexican War history when a dozen sets of remains, some of which are believed to be the remains of Tennesseans who fought in the Mexican War’s Battle of Monterey, were returned to the United States. On Sept. 28, six years of work by Johnson, and numerous other locals, paid off when the remains were transferred to the Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, for further forensic study.
Since then, Johnson has continued to doggedly work to confirm if any of the skeletal remains belong to Tennessee volunteers and to complete a book on Tennessee’s role in the Mexican War.
Johnson was one of the small delegation invited to be part of a September “dignified transfer” ceremony to honor the fallen soldiers and transfer them to the Center for Mortuary Affairs, the U.S. Department of Defense’s largest joint-service mortuary facility located at the Dover AFB. The delegation from middle Tennessee also included Congresswoman Diane Black and several forensic anthropologists.
“It was a remarkable honor to be among the delegation of Tennesseans who welcomed these soldiers home after 170 years,” said Johnson, one of Lipscomb’s designated research professors who has penned three books on the Mexican War. “It was a great day and a great event. The remains were given full military honors, and the transfer ceremony was both solemn and meaningful. I was impressed that after 170 years these American servicemen were accorded the same kind of respect as someone who gave their life in military service today. The chaplain who prayed during the observance expressed the hope that the ceremony underway would honor those men who gave their lives at the Battle of Monterey.”
Now Johnson wants to help determine if any of these soldiers were from Tennessee and if so to find any of their ancestors who might still be in the state. He said there is a high likelihood that some of these remains are Tennesseans because of the large number who fought there and because of the location of the burial sites.
In 1846 the United States and Mexico went to war over a border dispute along the Rio Grande precipitated by the annexation of Texas. The federal government immediately called for volunteers from the states to augment the small U.S. Army.
“When the War Department requested 3,000 volunteers (the equivalent of three regiments) from Tennessee, nearly 30,000 Tennesseans turned out forcing state officials to resort to a lottery to determine who would be permitted to serve,” said Johnson. “This solidified Tennessee’s reputation as the Volunteer State, a nickname it had initially won during the War of 1812. Ultimately over the next two years, nearly 6,000 Tennesseans volunteered to fight in the Mexican War.”
One of the earliest battles in the war was fought at Monterey, Mexico, in September 1846. Johnson said some of the toughest fighting during the battle was for control of an old tannery that had been fortified by Mexican troops trying to hold off U.S. troops. Regular U.S. troops, together with volunteers from Tennessee and Mississippi, captured the tannery after a daring charge by the First Tennessee and First Mississippi Volunteer Regiments.
Twenty-seven Tennesseans were killed in the attack and another 75 were wounded according to Johnson’s research. The First Regiment Tennessee Volunteers, commanded by Col. William B. Campbell, became known as “The Bloody First.”
“About a half dozen of the Tennesseans were brought back to the state by their families for burial but the rest were buried near the battle site. And there they lay until a building project uncovered some of their remains in 2009. More have been found since,” said Johnson.
Coins and buttons that were discovered at the site quickly showed that the remains included Americans. The identities of the deceased soldiers are unknown, but historians believe that some of them could be Tennesseans. However, Johnson said that repatriation of the remains ran into numerous roadblocks over the years from both the Mexican and U.S. governments.
In 2010, Capt. Jim Page, the division historian for the 101st Airborne Div. at Fort Campbell, a U.S. Army installation at the Kentucky-Tennessee border named for The Bloody First’s commander Col. Campbell, began a crusade to bring the remains of the Tennesseans who were killed in the Battle of Monterey home. John O’Brien, director of the Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell, and Johnson soon joined the effort.
The discovery of the remains convinced Johnson, to begin work on a book on Tennessee’s role in the conflict. Along the way, Johnson contacted state representatives and members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation, as well as one of his former students who worked in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City in an effort to resolve the issue.
A few years later he learned that an anthropology professor at Middle Tennessee State University was also interested in the skeletal remains and wanted to bring them to Tennessee for forensic research.
With different groups involved in this repatriation project, Johnson thought that more progress might be made if they all joined forces. In 2015 he organized a meeting in Tennessee State Rep. Steve McDaniel’s office. The meeting included McDaniel; staff from the office of House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick; one historian and two anthropologists from MTSU; the director of the Fort Campbell history office; Fred Prouty of the Tennessee Wars Commission; and a representative from Governor Bill Haslam’s office.
“That meeting bore fruit,” Johnson recalled. “Soon thereafter Prouty’s office granted to the forensic lab $40,000 to do scientific research when and if the remains were returned.”
The remains have undergone a battery of procedures and tests at Dover with the ultimate goal of positively identifying them. Johnson and MTSU history professor Derek Frisby continued to work with the military over the last few months to track down descendants of those killed in the battle so that DNA analysis and comparisons can be made. At this stage DNA is the only way to establish the identity of these Mexican War soldiers, Johnson said.
After the story broke regarding the repatriated remains this past September, two Nashville area residents immediately came forward to say that they had ancestors who volunteered and then died in Mexico.
“They were interested to know if their ancestors were among the repatriated remains, and that research is ongoing,” said Johnson. “Ironically, both individuals have Lipscomb connections.”
Tim Northcutt, a Lipscomb Academy graduate and Hendersonville resident, had at least three ancestors who went to Mexico and one who died there, but Johnson was quickly able to determine that he was not one of the Monterey dead.
Jim Thomas, a 1950 Lipscomb graduate and retired minister in Chapel Hill, is the descendant of Joseph B. Burkitt who was one of the Tennessee soldiers killed and buried at Monterey. Johnson said it is possible that Joseph Burkitt’s remains are among those returned to Dover in September. Testing continues to try to determine a match. Another descendant from one of the Tennesseans buried at Monterey recently came forward and research on that family line is ongoing.
Today, Johnson is in the final stages of his work on a book manuscript inspired by the experience which is tentatively titled: For Duty and Honor: Tennessee’s Mexican War Experience. Johnson has committed to send the manuscript to the University of Tennessee Press when it is completed in 2017 for publication. He is currently working on the latter chapters and is also looking for old portraits, drawings and pictures that might be in private hands of Tennesseans whose ancestors fought in Mexico.
In the meantime, Johnson continues his hope that before he finishes the book, the lab work in Dover can confirm that at least one of the sets of remains belongs to a Tennessean and that he can help bring him home to the Volunteer State.
Dr. Derek Frisby will talk about his project to ultimately repatriate the remains of US Soldiers killed and buried in Monterrey, using genealogy and DNA analysis. Many of these soldiers were from Middle Tennessee.
Derek W. Frisby is a Faculty Coordinator in the Office of International Affairs and an Associate Professor in the Global Studies and Geography program at Middle Tennessee State University teaching Tennessee, US, and military history. He is Middle Tennessee native, MTSU alum, and US Marine Corps veteran whose research interests deal with military occupation and reconstruction strategies. Frisby received his doctoral degree from the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa and has authored numerous articles and essays dealing with Tennessee’s Civil War occupation and Reconstruction experiences. He is completing his first book dealing with southerners who remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War and their role in the region’s occupation and restoration.
The meeting is open to the public at no charge, and refreshments will be served.
While much of the work done by the
Tennessee Wars Commission (TWC) is
focused on the preservation and protection
of battlefield lands within the state of
Tennessee, we also strive to complete
our mission statement by funding other
types of projects which produce a deeper
public understanding of places of conflict
and the people who participated in them.
Nowhere is this more evident than in
the current project underway to identify
human remains found in the Mexican city
of Monterrey which may be the bodies of
members of the 1st Tennessee Volunteers
who were killed during the Battle of
Monterrey, September 21-24, 1846.
Through the use of forensic archaeology
combined with cutting-edge technological
analysis being conducted by a team from
the Armed Forces Medical Examiner
System at Dover Air Force Base, it may
be possible to determine the identities of
The Battle of Monterrey was a pivotal
engagement in the Mexican-American
War, a conflict which began in April of
1846 and which ultimately had its roots
in the United States’ desire for western
land acquisition. Hundreds of Tennesseans
volunteered for service during the war, with
the state fielding 5 regiments of volunteer
infantry and one ofmounted volunteers.
At Monterrey it was the 1st Tennessee
regiment, composed of 9 companies of
almost exclusively middle Tennesseans,
who were called into heavy service. In the
heaviest fighting of the battle’s first day the
1st was ordered to storm the town’s citadel
Review and Compliance Updates Tracking System
By David Calease
Tennessee Wars Commission DNA Project
By Tim Hyder
DNA, DNA Testing, continued from page 6
and took horrendous casualties of almost
one third dead or wounded. Roughly 30
Tennesseans were killed, with very few of
their bodies known to have been sent back
to the United States for burial. The final
resting place of the others was not noted in
any surviving documentation.
Therefore, when skeletal remains were
discovered by construction crews in
modern Monterrey in an area roughly
corresponding to the 1st Tennessee’s
advance it became important for both
Mexico and the United States to determine
who these remains belong to and whether
they could possibly be the final resting
place of Americans killed in battle. The
first clue was in the objects which were
found with the bones. A small number
of button fragments and other objects
conformed closer to American patterns
than those used in Mexico during the
middle of the 19th century. Second
were the bones themselves. At least one
skeleton showed signs of trauma typical
of contemporary warfare; in this case a
leg had been removed below the knee and
was completely missing from the skeleton,
possibly indicating a catastrophic removal
from being hit with a cannonball or more
likely the result of a battlefield amputation.
Finally, an isotopic analysis was run on a
small percentage of the remains. Carbondating
is a scientific tool for estimating
the ages of organic objects, in which the
amount of Carbon 14 is analyzed in a
sample and compared against the element’s
decay rate to find an approximate age.
The isotopic analysis performed on the
Monterrey remains shares a scientific basis
with carbon-dating, but instead of looking
to find the age of a sample, isotopic
analysis looks for the original location
of a sample. While Carbon-14 decays
incrementally over time, stable isotopes
like Strontium-87 or Oxygen-18 stay at the
level forever once they are absorbed by a
living thing. In humans these elements are
introduced into our bodies by the food that
we eat and the water that we drink. Each
water source and soil area in the world
has slight variations in these elements and
particularly pre-20th century when people
tended to eat and drink things that were
only produced locally. The ratios of these
isotopes in their bodies form a “fingerprint”
which is specific to a certain area of the
world. By testing the Monterrey samples
isotopic ratios and comparing them to
known reference samples from across the
United States it is hoped that they will be
similar to those of others from the middle
The skeletal remains are also undergoing
DNA processing and analysis at Dover
AFB. While television shows make this
process seem like a relatively easy one
involving cotton swabs and a computer, in
reality the process is much more complex
especially when the remains being tested
are potentially over 150 years old. The main
problem lies in the fact that after a century
and a half much of the testable DNA has
degraded so much to be unusable. Human
DNA is located in two different parts of
our cells: in the nucleus (nDNA) and in the
mitochondria (mDNA). Nuclear DNA is
the type that most people are familiar with;
it is the type most modern forensic work
relies upon and is also the type sequenced
by companies like Ancestry or National
Geographic when you send for a DNA
testing kit. This type contains a person’s
full genetic code. Unfortunately, as the
body decays this nDNA decays as well,
with skeletal remains containing little to
no nDNA that is useful as a diagnostic tool.
Mitochondrial DNA, on the other hand,
contains smaller amounts of genetic code
and is substantially more stable; it has
the potential to provide usable data even
after thousands of years. Therefore it is
mDNA which will be extracted from the
human remains found in Monterrey (either
from small amounts of bone or from the
pulp from inside of teeth) and analyzed
for genetic markers for comparison. The
final hurdle to this mDNA analysis is that
it is passed down only along through the
female line. Therefore intense genealogical
reviews of each Tennessean killed at
Monterrey has been an ongoing project
for MTSU’s Dr. Derek Frisby and Dr.
Tim Johnson from Lipscomb University.
Their goal is to trace each soldier’s female
relatives down to the modern day, request
a DNA sample from matching individuals,
and then use these modern mDNA profiles
as comparison references. A match would
give us a statistically definitive identity for
a particular set of remains and potentially
allow us to bring that soldier back to
be buried at an appropriate location in
Tennessee. The TWC is proud to support
this ongoing project and looks hopefully
forward to reporting positive news within
the next year.