Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Death of Henry Clay, Jr. in Mexico

Although his father, Henry Clay - the Great Compromiser - vehemently opposed the United States' military action with Mexico, Henry Clay Junior proudly enlisted and served as Lieutenant Colonel in the 2nd Kentucky Infantry.

Junior, the most promising of Clay's sons to attempt to follow in the patriarch's huge shoes, graduated second in his West Point class in the early 1830s.  After his education he practiced law and served a term in the Kentucky House of Representatives. Surely, the thought of gaining some glory and notoriety in the war must have enter the mind of Clay the younger who had once written in his diary: "How difficult it is for a young tree to grow in the shade of an aged oak."

Junior's Mexican War experience got off to fits and starts. He lost much of his early war fever when he was injured after a fall from his horse. Clay was also disillusioned with his overbearing superiors. But then in what was arguably one of the most important battles of the war, Buena Vista, on February 23, 1847, Junior was wounded in the left thigh (pictured above). He requested that his men leave him and fall back to regroup. As the wounded Clay watched his men leave he was pierced multiple times by the feared Mexican lancers. Before sending his men away, Clay entrusted to a subordinate officer a set of pistols that his father had provided him and requested they be brought back to his father in Kentucky.  

Interestingly, Clay's body was retrieved by two Kentucky slaves that worked as manservants for the 2nd Kentucky. As historian Amy Greenberg relates in her recently published A Wicked War, "Joel, an enslaved body servant and son of a prominent Lexington barber well known to the Clay family, was himself injured in the process."

Not only did the pistols come back to Kentucky, the body of Henry Clay Jr., too, was returned to his native state and was eventually placed in the Frankfort Cemetery.

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