Thursday, 05 October 2023 12:50

Four Fallen Sons – The Ballston Spa Mexican Monument

By Dave Waite | Sponsored by The Saratoga County History Roundtable | History
War with Mexico Monument – Ballston Spa Village Cemetery. Photo provided by The Saratoga County History Roundtable. War with Mexico Monument – Ballston Spa Village Cemetery. Photo provided by The Saratoga County History Roundtable.

When the call went out for volunteers in the winter of 1846 to fight in the Mexican War one of the first from Ballston Spa to respond was 20-year-old Ransom Pettit. Enlisting in Colonel Burnett’s 1st Regiment of New York Volunteers, and was sent to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, NY to begin their military service. Early in 1847, the regiment boarded ships in New York Harbor and on Feb. 1 dropped anchor off Tampico on the eastern coast of Mexico. By the Spring of 1847, another two dozen men from Ballston Spa had volunteered and followed Pettit to fight in this war against Mexico.

The Ballston Journal of April 27, 1847, reported the departure of these young men with these words of praise: We can say with truth that a braver set of young men are not to be found, and should they be called to meet the foe there will be no flinching on their part, but all will give a good account of themselves. In such hands, we are perfectly willing to trust the reputation of Old Saratoga for bravery and prowess in arms. 

The Mexican-American War, often called the Mexican War in our country, broke out in 1846 after the United States formally annexed Texas. When President Polk called for volunteers to aid in the fight, New York State responded by sending two regiments. Lasting less than two years, the war increased the size of the United States by adding one-half million square miles of territory including the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, and large parts of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. In terms of lives lost, of the 100,000 American servicemen who participated in the war, over 12,000 lost their lives. With diseases such as yellow fever and malaria plaguing the troops all through the war, only one death in eight was caused by enemy action. 

When these battle-proven soldiers came back home 16-months later, four of their comrades were missing from their ranks. As we will learn, the brave souls who gave their lives for their country would soon be memorialized by the citizens of Ballston Spa. For those who returned, the community came together and held a supper in their honor. This acknowledgment of their service, held at Ballston Spa’s Village Hotel in Aug. of 1848, was attended by 130 guests. 

As the four young men who had fallen during the conflict were not brought home for burial, plans were already underway to remember their sacrifice with a monument. It was never revealed whose idea it was to establish a memorial for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, it is likely that the returning veterans were at the forefront. A subscription-based fundraiser was started, and the community responded with enthusiasm. 

For the design and cutting of the memorial, the community turned to Ballston Spa stone and marble craftsman Orville D. Vaughn. The monument was a white marble obelisk inscribed with “Erected by the citizens of Ballston Spa and vicinity Oct. 19, 1848,” as well as the individual commemoration of the fallen soldiers on each of its four sides.

On the side facing east is an inscription for Sargent James Schermerhorn of Co. F, 9th Regiment United States Infantry. James was born in Ballston Spa on July 1, 1827, the son of Cornelius & Hannah Schermerhorn. James was the son of a war veteran, Cornelius who had served in the War of 1812 as a private in the New York Militia’s Saratoga Battalion. During the Mexican War, James took part in battles in Contreras, Churubusco, San Antonio, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec, as well as the capture of Mexico City. He died at Pachucha, Mexico on March 9, 1848, one month after the signing of The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which officially ended the war. 

Facing West is the memorial to Ransom B. Pettit, of Company H, 2nd Regiment New York Volunteers. Ransom, born in Ballston Spa on June 25, 1827, was only 19 when he enlisted in Dec. of 1846. Under the command of Colonel Ward Burnett, the 2nd Regiment landed at Vera Cruz in March 1847 where they took part in the siege of that city. They then moved westward, fighting in the Battle of Cerro Gordo, where they were in the vanguard in pursuing and capturing Mexican General Santa Anna. Private Ransom Pettit died during what was known as the action of Atlixco on Oct. 19, 1847.

The North side of the monument commemorated 38-year-old Private Alvin Luther. He was the son of Gideon & Mary Luther. His father Gideon was a Revolutionary War veteran who had served as a private with the Rhode Island Militia Regiment. Alvin had enlisted on May 24, 1847, in Whitehall and was assigned to Company A 1st Regiment US Army. During the war, he served as part of the garrison that occupied the city of Vera Cruz. They were next stationed along the Rio Grande where Alvin died on April 4, 1848, probably of yellow fever, malaria, or one of the numerous other diseases that were constantly plaguing the army during those years. 

On the South side is Private Hiram Smith, who had served in Company E of the 3rd Regiment United States Dragoons. Hiram was born in Ballston Spa on Aug. 8, 1830, and having enlisted on April 21, 1847, at the age of 16, was likely the youngest volunteer from the village. So far, no records have been located to indicate which Smith family from Ballston Spa Hiram was related to. The 3rd Regiment had been raised for one year of service in the Mexican-American War just two months before Hiram enlisted. Dragoons were a class of mounted infantry, who used horses for mobility but dismounted to fight on foot. Private Hiram Smith was likely involved in the Battle of Molino del Rey in September of that year and gave his life in service of his country at Perote, Mexico on Oct. 23, 1847. 

The monument to these four young men who gave their lives for their country still stands in the Ballston Spa Village Cemetery. 

This year, 2023, marks 175 years since the dedication of this monument.  A rededication event will be held with a parade and ceremony at the Cemetery on Sunday, Oct. 22. 

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