How Much Do You Know About the Mexican-American War?


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot, Carl Nebel

About This Quiz

“I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico. I thought so at the time, when I was a youngster, only I had not moral courage enough to resign.” Those were the words of none other than Ulysses S. Grant, a true American hero who gained fame in the Civil War and then became president. In our violent quiz, do you know anything about the conflicted conflict called the Mexican-American War?

In the 1840s, America was a bustling place, a new nation still growing into the territories acquired during the gargantuan Louisiana Purchase. But leaders and settlers alike were drawn to the areas of the West, for both economic and political reasons. Do you know which issues became focal points during the months and years before the war?

Mexico had gained its independence from Spain just two decades earlier. As a result, it was turbulent and divided place, where clear leadership was lacking. It was a perfect opportunity for another nation, led by the minds of Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, to step into place and assert its dominion over Mexican lands. Do you know how citizens on both sides of the border responded to the saber rattling from American and Mexican governments?

When hostilities commenced, thousands of soldiers took to the battlefields of the southwest, with huge ramifications on the line. Load your muskets and fire away at our Mexican-American War quiz now!

Who was U.S. president during the Mexican-American War?

James Polk was Commander-in-Chief during the Mexican-American War. The conflict is a primary aspect of the man’s legacy.


In what decade did the Mexican-American War take place?

The Mexican-American War lasted from 1846-48, a generation before America’s Civil War. This war had a major impact on the U.S.’s territorial holdings.


True or false, was the Mexican-America War the first war that American mostly fought on foreign lands?

It’s true. After conflicts like the American Revolution and the War of 1812, fought primarily on U.S. territory, the Mexican-American War saw U.S. troops fight outside their homelands.


How did "manifest destiny" play into the causes of the war?

In the 1840s, the lands of West were still very wild and untamed. Americans believed that they had a manifest destiny to settle and populate the territories between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.


What issue sparked the war?

Mexico and American were squabbling over lands of the Southwest, particularly in the areas around Texas. Hostilities escalated time and again, until eventually bloodshed became inevitable.


Why did Mexico sever diplomatic relations with America in early 1845?

In March 1845, Mexico shut down diplomatic relations with America, all because the U.S. annexed the area of Texas. It was yet another step toward violence.


When the war started, how many Mexican citizens lived north of the Rio Grande River?

When the war started, Mexico’s physical grasp on the contested land were weak — fewer than 80,000 of its citizens lived north of the Rio Grande. That gave America’s generals a head start on securing the area.


How did the American public view the war?

At home, the war was a source of major controversy. Anti-slavery groups were apalled at the idea of the South finding more lands with which to expand the practice of human bondage, and many leaders decried the war’s financial costs and bloodshed.


What was northern Mexico like at the time of the war?

Northern Mexico was very violent and scary, thanks to major conflict with the Apache Indians, who killed thousands of civilians. The Mexican government did very little to calm the situation, a fact that gave American troops leverage as they advanced.


True or false, did Texas become a U.S. state before the war began?

Although the process was fraught with controversy, Texas became the 28th U.S. state on December 29, 1845. But as it turned out, the transition would not be an entirely peaceful one.


In 1845, President Polk made an offer to the Mexican government for the disputed lands. What did he offer?

President Polk secretly offered the Mexicans $25 million for the contested lands in the region. But the Mexican government showed zero interest in the money.


What was the Mexican government like at the start of the war?

The Mexican government was in terrible turmoil, with constant turnover even at the highest levels. In short, weaknesses at the top made the country very vulnerable.


Who was Zachary Taylor?

In early 1846, President Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to occupy disputed areas between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers. Taylor became a central figure of the war’s hostilities. And later, he became president.


How did the war’s violence begin?

On April 25, 1846, a group of Mexican cavalrymen attacked General Taylor’s troops in a contested area between the Nueces and Rio Grand Rivers. The war was on.


Just before full-scale violence broke out, which American political figure wrote the "Spot Resolutions," calling on President Polk to prove that Mexicans truly did attack U.S. troops on American soil?

Abraham Lincoln called out Polk in his eight "Spot Resolutions." In short, prove that American troops were attacked on U.S. soil ... or just admit that you’re using a so-called Mexican attack to justify a land grab in the Southwest.


True or false, did the United States ever formally declare war on Mexico?

Following Mexico’s aggression, President Polk was up in arms in front of Congress, which issued a formal declaration of war. Mexico, on the other hand, never declared war on the U.S.


Antonio López de Santa Anna was a central figure of the war. Where was he when the war began?

Antonio López de Santa Anna was exiled to Cuba in the years before the war started. He was the Mexican general who had slaughtered everyone at the Alamo just a few years earlier.


True or false, was the Battle of the Alamo part of the Mexican-American War?

False. The famous last stand at the Alamo took place in 1836, when Texians were fighting for independence from Mexico. But figures from this epic battle did play a role in the war.


When the war started, Antonio López de Santa Anna was in exile. President Polk allowed Santa Anna to leave exile in Cuba for what reason?

Polk let Santa Anna leave exile on the condition that the Mexican leader would help end the war. But Santa Anna broke his word ... once he reached Mexico, he took the helm in fighting the U.S.


General Taylor won major battles early the war but then did what?

Taylor won important early battles. But he clearly wanted no part of a full-scale invasion of Mexico, failing to pursue his adversaries in an aggressive manner, a fact that angered President Polk.


What were Mexico’s weapons like during this war?

Mexico’s weapons were very old, with antiquated muskets making up much of its arsenal. This turned out to be a major problem for the Mexicans during the war.


How many American troops died in combat during the war?

Compared to some of America’s other wars, this one was fairly minor. About 1,700 troops died in combat.


On May 8, 1846, troops from both sides clashed during which battle?

On May 8, a Mexican force of about 3,700 men clashed with 2,300 American troops at the Battle of Palo Alto. It was the first real battle of the war.


Which weapon was a deciding factor in the Battle of Palo Alto?

The U.S. expertly deployed its artillery at the Battle of Palo Alto, particularly its horse-drawn light artillery. Americans won the battle in spite of being outnumbered.


U.S. General Stephen Kearny was ordered to take the area of New Mexico. How did that go?

Kearny’s orders were to secure the area of New Mexico. He arrived and took Santa Fe without so much as firing a shot.


What was the Battle of Monterrey like?

In September 1846, General Taylor’s men invaded Monterrey, and urban combat resulted. Nearly 500 American troops were killed, in part because many had no clue how to fight in a crowded city.


At the end of the war, General Winfield laid siege to Chapultepec Castle, which was located where?

In the fall of 1847, Gen. Scott besieged Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City. There, some school-age cadets supposedly committed suicide rather than surrender, adding to Mexico’s legacy of bravery during the war.


Which country won the Mexican-American War?

After about a year of fighting, Mexico gave up the war. And America’s territorial expansion continued unabated.


How did the war’s outcome affect the hotly debated issue of slavery?

WIth America’s victory, the lands of the South expanded westward, giving more power to pro-slavery leaders. Just a few years later, that issue would be a major contributing factor in the agonizing Civil War.


How much of its land did Mexico lose during the war?

Mexico’s disorganized response to the fighting cost it dearly. The country lost nearly one-third of its territory to America.


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