19th Century Battlefield Added To Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park

A ceremony was recently held at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park to officially add the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield to the park. Photo by Nathan Flores.

A landscape significant for its role during the Mexican-American war has been added to the National Park System at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park in Texas.

The Resaca de la Palma Battlefield became involved in the war on May 9, 1846. During the battle, the Mexican Army retreated to the thick brush surrounding a dry former river channel to escape the artillery faced the previous day on the prairie at Palo Alto, according to Park Service historians. There they awaited the U.S. forces. General Zachary Taylor’s army was able to overcome the Mexican defenses and flank their army, resulting in a Mexican retreat back across the Rio Grande.

While the 34 acres on which the battlefield lays were transferred to the Park Service from the Brownsville Community Foundation in early August, the site wasn't officially dedicated as part of the historical park -- the only unit of the National Park System that preserves battle sites from the war -- until November 19. Nearly 1,000 visitors joined the park's staff to participate in the memorial illumination ceremony held annually at the site.

Flanked by Mexican soldados and U.S. infantry, circa 1846, Brownsville Community Foundation Executive Director Pat Lavine, Intermountain Regional Deputy Regional Director Colin Campbell, and Palo Alto Battlefield Superintendent Mark Spier cut a ribbon to officially include the site as a unit of the park. Blustery winds delayed the lighting of the 8,000 luminaria until just after sundown but, with the help of hundreds of visitors, the candles honoring each of the U.S. and Mexican soldiers who fought in the opening battles of the war soon flickered across the field.

The event marked the culmination of an effort extending back over a decade to preserve the site of the second battle of the war between the two countries. The City of Brownsville and the Brownsville Community Foundation purchased the tract to save it from development as the city engulfed all but the last remaining 34 acres of the battlefield.

For the past decade, the foundation and the Park Service have maintained a very successful public-private partnership to preserve the site and develop basic visitor amenities and interpretive information there. Discussions between the park and the foundation concerning the transfer of the site to Park Service ownership began in 2010 and became a reality last August through funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Following the invasion of Mexico and the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico was forced to transfer about half its national territory – about a million square miles – to the United States, doubling it in size and changing these two nations forever.