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Zachary Taylor Zachary Taylor
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General Zachary Taylor

General Zachary Taylor was a native of Virginia but an adopted Kentuckian. Born in 1784, he had risen to some national prominence as an army officer in the War of 1812 and in campaigns against Seminole Indians in the 1830s. President James K. Polk ordered the 62-year-old brigadier general to lead a 3,500-man army into Texas to secure that newly annexed state, and as tensions between the United States and Mexico mounted, ordered him to establish a fortified base near the mouth of the Rio Grande River. Hostilities broke out in late April and early May, and Taylor drove Mexican forces from the region in a series of well-fought battles that earned him promotion to Major General. Taylor slowly pursued the defeated Mexican troops toward Monterrey, Mexico, and captured that important city in September 1846.

When Mexico refused American peace overtures, President Polk ordered Taylor to hold his position in northern Mexico while General Winfield Scott took most of Taylorís army and more than 10,000 reinforcements on a campaign to capture Mexico City by way of a landing at Vera Cruz. Taylor, left with an army of fewer than 5,000 mostly untried volunteers, faced a savage attack from Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and 20,000 regulars, militia, and conscripts at the cataclysmic Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847. The fight, although a narrow U.S. victory, brought Zachary Taylor to the forefront of the American imagination. This acclaim carried him to the White House in 1848. As president, Taylor faced a host of challenges regarding the expansion of slavery into the territory captured from Mexico.

After a life of rigorous service, Taylor died in office in 1850.