Hidden Histories

A Forgotten American Hero: Capt. John B. Page

Tuesday, 8/10/10
***This article appeared in our free monthly HSP Newsletter, History HitsClick here to subscribe.***

Today the general public continues to be fascinated by the American Civil and Revolutionary Wars, while such conflicts as the War of 1812 or the Mexican-American War are in many cases ignored. But those less-known wars were significant in both national and international affairs. By the time the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed with Mexico on February 2, 1848, more than 100,000 Americans had served, resulting in some 1,500 battle casualties and almost 11,000 deaths from disease and exposure.

President Zachary Taylor

Military or political notables such as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Zachary Taylor, and many other famous officers obtained their first important "trial by fire" in the Mexican-American War.  Though many soldiers gained national notoriety at the time, others were completely ignored or largely forgotten by both historians and the general public. One such individual is Captain John B. Page.

Page was born in Maine in 1795 and became a lieutenant in the Federal Army in February of 1818. He was involved in implementing the "Indian Removal" policies of the government in the South, specifically with the Creek and Seminole peoples, for whose plight he expressed empathy in both word and deed. He was eventually transferred to the 4th Infantry, and on April 30, 1830, was raised to the rank of Captain.  Page later became involved in the Mexican-American War, serving under "Old Rough & Ready" General Zachary Taylor, head of the U.S. forces and later the 12th president of the United States.

Battle of Palo Alto
The first significant engagement between American and Mexican forces occurred a few miles north of what is now Brownsville, Texas, on May 8, 1846. Known as the Battle of Palo Alto, Capt. Page's 4th Infantry was supporting an artillery unit commanded by Major Samuel Ringgold, whose first wife, Maria, had been the daughter of Revolutionary War General  John Cadwalader of Philadelphia.

What is described in contemporary sources as a "perfect hurricane of grape and canister" soon fell among the forces of Page and Ringgold, resulting in the death of the latter. Page was not killed in battle, but it is reported that his face was injured, described as having "a cannonball tearing off the lower part...."  Ulysses S. Grant, who was also serving in the U.S. 4th Infantry during the battle, was an eyewitness to the events. Writing home to his wife Julia and to a John W. Lowe, on May 11 and June 26 respectively, he remarked how one 9-pound shot had taken a man's "head off," while another had "broke in the roof of" the mouth of Capt. Page as well as "nocked the under Jaw entirely away...The under jaw is gone to the wind pipe and the tongue hangs down upon the throat. He will never be able to speak or to eat."

Brigadier General Zachary Taylor, in his official report of the Battle of Palo Alto, mentioned on May 16, 1846, how Capt. Page had been "seriously wounded." The Philadelphia Public Ledger, on June 15, 1861, reprinted a soldier's narration of the scene, stating how a "six pound shot carried away the lower jaw of Capt. Page...The blood of poor Page was the first blood I saw; he was knocked down in the grass, and as he endeavored to raise himself, he presented such a ghastly spectacle that a sickly, fainting sensation came over me...."

The wound and fate of Capt. Page soon became one of national interest and concern. From May through July, newspapers throughout the country, including those in Philadelphia, reported about the health and potential recovery of Page. On June 13, 1846, the Philadelphia Sun ran the heading: "POOR CAPTAIN PAGE!!! Who has not shed the sympathetic tear over his deplorable condition! From one end of the land to the other, the wonder has been universal, that the unfortunate soldier could have lived for a day, with a large portion of his face carried away by a Mexican shot!!"

Newspapers reported about Capt. Page's grief-stricken wife as  well, and of her travails and travels from Baltimore to make it to the side of her wounded husband, which she eventually succeeded in doing. Though hope was continually expressed toward his survival, the inevitable occurred.  Niles Weekly Register for August 8, 1846, recorded how near Cairo, Illinois, on July 12, "Capt. Page breathed his last" on board the steamer Missouri, though a Dr. W. W. Mercer had been "unremitting in his attention" toward the soldier.  Page's remains were interred at the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis on July 13, 1846.

Capt. Page would not be completely forgotten.  Present-day Page County, Iowa, was named in his honor.

Copyright 2008 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved.

Comments

Hello, I'm the archivist for the Dayton Metro ...

Hello, I'm the archivist for the Dayton Metro Library in Dayton, Ohio, and we have the letter from U. S. Grant to John W. Lowe in our Lowe Collection. Glad you found it useful :)

Source Information

Hello,
I'm currently editing the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, and I need to identify Capt. Page. Can you tell me where you got your information on his birth year?

Thanks,

Louis

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