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Bill Thayer

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Journals of the Late Brevet Major
Philip Norbourne Barbour

Captain in the 3rd Regiment, United States Infantry
and his wife
Martha Isabella Hopkins Barbour
Written During the War with Mexico — 1846
Edited with Foreword by
Rhoda van Bibber Tanner Doubleday

[image ALT: A painted portrait, in a naïve style, of a young man in a military uniform with epaulets. He has a gentle look and is probably in his early thirties; his face is oval and his wavy hair is already slightly receding, accentuating a high forehead. He is the 19c American army officer Philip N. Barbour, the author of the journal to which this webpage is an orientation.]

Major Philip Norbourne Barbour

Reproduced from Portrait now hanging in the State House at Frankfort, Kentucky.

The Book, the Authors, and the Editor

Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Philip Barbour was a young officer in the United States Army who, having served on the western frontier, in Louisiana, and in the Seminole Wars in Florida, was transferred in 1845 to Texas, soon to become the northern theater of the Mexican War, in which he would be killed. During his service there, he kept a detailed diary, which he meant in part as a way of sharing his experiences with his wife. His diary includes much first‑hand information on events on the Texas border, including full accounts of the twin battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma in which he participated. His last entry was September 20, 1846: the following day he died in the battle of Monterey.

His wife Martha was his first cousin; although they called Kentucky home they were born in a family of landed Virginians that included several military officers prominent in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. When war with Mexico came in 1846, Martha Barbour moved to Galveston, Texas to be as close as possible to her husband, and in fact in June he obtained a twenty days' leave which he spent with her there. Her diary as we have it here starts just after he leaves her to return to his unit: she would never see him again. It is, as might be expected, less technically interesting than his, recording as it does her tightly circumscribed daily life in Galveston; but she gives us a good picture of what she and other Army wives were going thru while their husbands were off at war: her diary will resonate with any of our own military families today living the same absences and struggles and fears.

Philip and Martha Barbour's diaries were published in this book in 1936 by her granddaughter Rhoda Doubleday (1894‑1986), to whom we may be grateful for preserving them for posterity. To what extent she may have edited them, she gives no indication: not even as to whether what she published was the entire diaries as she had them — whether for example there is more of Capt. Barbour's diary before her opening entry, March 28, 1846, or of Martha Barbour's diary before or after what she has given us. Indeed, our editor's interest lay mostly in the story and genealogy of her family, and there is much she does not tell us about the diaries. It must be assumed that the longhand manuscripts were in her possession, but she never says so (nor do I have any idea where the original manuscripts might be today); not a word about the appearance or condition of the originals, either, and no attempt at providing historical or biographical context, nor at identifying the dozens of people mentioned in the diaries, mostly military officers: in that respect her foreword is very disappointing.

I've done some of this footwork myself: graduates of the Military Academy are linked to their career biographical sketches in Cullum's Register, in the same style as similar links thruout my site — first among them, of course, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Philip Barbour himself. Others, mostly military officers not commissioned from West Point, I've footnoted as best I could. In the process, I found and corrected a number of errors which are clearly not due to the diarists but to Mrs. Doubleday's transcription: so what you read here is in effect a slightly improved edition of my own.

The prominence of these gold-colored links to Cullum's Register is an indication of just how notable were the contributions of West Point-trained officers to the Mexican War; as every Cadet as the Academy knows very early on, they formed the basis of what has come to be known as "Scott's Fixed Opinion" — an assessment by the head of the Army, Gen. Winfield Scott, who was not himself a West Pointer:

"I give it as my fixed opinion, that but for our graduated cadets, the war between the United States and Mexico might, and probably would have lasted some four or five years, with, in its first half, more defeats than victories falling to our share; whereas, in less than two campaigns, we conquered a great country and a peace, without the loss of a single battle or skirmish."

As for Mrs. Doubleday, though her talents did not run to serried scholar­ly editions of historical manuscripts, I was pleased to discover that she was a remarkable woman in her own right, as we can read from her tombstone (q.v.), where the inscription records her as "First Lieut. Medical Corps, 3rd French Army, Compiègne, France, 1917": not something most 23‑year‑old American women were doing at the time.

[decorative delimiter]

The work is inscribed:

To My Mother

Emma Bunch Tanner

The Mexican War Journal of Philip Barbour

March — The United States occupies the Texas border up to the Rio Grande; an already adversary Mexico takes exception to the occupation.


April — Mexico and the United States on a war footing along the border; on the 26th, the engagement that will result in full-blown war: 2000 Mexican troops cross the Rio Grande and attack a small U. S. Army unit.


May — War: the American victories of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, in which Capt. Barbour participates. Rumors of a quick peace.


June — Conditions along the border. (For most of the month, no entries: Capt. Barbour on leave in Galveston with his wife.)


July — Capt. Barbour serves as Judge Advocate in a court martial. At the end of the month, the Army steps into Camargo on the Mexican side of the border.


August — Rumors of peace; the American Army receives reinforcements.


September — The American Army marches a good distance into Mexico; Capt. Barbour prepares for the battle (of Monterey) in which he will lose his life.


The Journal of Martha Barbour









[decorative delimiter]

Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition transcribed here is the original — and to my knowledge only — edition, published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1936. It has risen into the public domain because the 1936 copyright was not renewed in either 1963 or 1964 in compliance with the law of that time: details here on the copyright law involved.

The actual exemplar I used, in the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library, is #362 of the autograph edition:

[image ALT: A printed text, reading 'Autograph Edition: This edition of the Journals of Major Philip Norbourne Barbour and his wife Martha Isabella Hopkins Barbour Edited with a foreword by Rhoda van Bibber Tanner Doubleday is printed on special deckle edge paper and is limited to 1000 signed and numbered copies of which this is No. ' — filled in, in handwriting, with the number 362, then signed 'Rhoda van Bibber Tanner Doubleday'.]


The book contains 4 sepia-toned photographs, which are listed in the book's Table of Illustrations, and which I have reproduced; and a purely decorative engraved vignette of a sword, not listed there: following that lead, I haven't included it.


Major Philip Norbourne Barbour

Reproduced from portrait now hanging in the State House at Frankfort, Kentucky.


Facing Page

Facsimile of Commission Issued to Philip Norbourne Barbour Signed by Andrew Jackson, President of the United States

In the possession of Rhoda van Bibber Tanner Doubleday.


Martha Isabella Hopkins Barbour

Reproduced from a daguerreotype in the possession of Rhoda van Bibber Tanner Doubleday.


Monument Erected by the State of Kentucky to the Memory of Philip Norbourne Barbour. State Cemetery, Frankfort, Kentucky


[Genealogical] Chart



As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I followed was well proofread, with very few typographical errors. I marked my corrections, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

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Site updated: 18 May 15