Erastus Burton Strong (1823–1847)
Arkansas native Erastus Burton Strong was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point who served in the U.S. Army until his death at the Battle of Molino del Rey during the Mexican War.
Erastus Burton Strong was born on December 2, 1823, to William Strong and Mourning Cooper Strong, most likely in the part of Phillips County that would become St. Francis County four years later. His father was a prominent pioneer and politician in the area who helped build the Memphis to Little Rock Road and operated an inn and a ferry at the St. Francis River. William Strong was the first sheriff of St. Francis County, a delegate to the 1836 constitutional convention, and a member of the Arkansas General Assembly in 1840.
His father’s political connections may have led to Erastus Strong’s appointment to the United States Military Academy, where he was only the second cadet appointed from the state and the first native-born Arkansan to graduate. Strong attended the academy from July 1, 1839, to July 1, 1844, graduating fourteenth in a class of twenty-five.
Strong was assigned to the Seventh U.S. Infantry as a brevet second lieutenant, serving in garrison at Fort Pike, Louisiana, in 1844–1845. As war with Mexico loomed, he was part of the U.S. force that occupied Texas in 1845–1846. Strong was serving at Fort Texas on the Rio Grande when Mexican forces across the river at Matamoros began shelling it in May 1846, mortally wounding Major Jacob Brown of Arkansas, for whom the fort was renamed. He was promoted to second lieutenant and transferred to the Fifth Infantry on May 18, 1846, and may have been the only Arkansan to fight in the September 21–23, 1846, Battle of Monterey.
Strong was among the U.S. troops under General Winfield Scott who landed at Veracruz and participated in the March 9–29, 1847, siege and capture of the Mexican town as the army moved to take Mexico City. He participated in the capture of San Antonio and fought in the Battle of Churubusco on August 20, 1847, as General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s increasingly desperate army sought to protect its capital.
On the afternoon of September 7, 1847, Scott received a report that Mexican troops were stationed near Molino del Rey about a mile and a half from his headquarters and that cannon were being produced at a foundry there. He organized a force of 3,500 men to attack the site the next day. Santa Anna placed five infantry brigades with artillery at Molino del Rey, supported by 4,000 cavalrymen. While Scott had anticipated a minor action, the fighting became a grueling two-hour battle. It was reported that, during the combat, Lieutenant Strong, “while rallying his men to make another charge upon the enemy’s intrenchments[sic], which he had approached to within a few yards, was killed September 8, 1847; aged 24.” The Fifth Infantry lost thirty-eight percent of its effective strength in the fight, and its commander was killed. Total U.S. casualties were 116 killed and 671 wounded.
Strong was one of four known Arkansas casualties whose remains were disinterred and returned to the United States after the war (Archibald Yell was one of the others). Strong is buried next to his parents at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.
For additional information:
Bell, Kathleen, and Virginia Hicks. “The Tavern in the Hills.” Craighead County Historical Quarterly 3 (Winter 1964–1965): 11–15.
Cullum, George W. Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., from its Establishment in 1802 to 1890. 3rd ed., Vol. 3. Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1891.
Eisenhower, John S. D. So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846–1848. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.
Frazier, William A., and Mark K. Christ, eds. Ready, Booted, and Spurred: Arkansas in the U.S.-Mexican War. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2009.
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
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