Always capable of expressing his views clearly and forcibly on every subject of legislation, General Lane justly thought that too much of the time of all legislative bodies was consumed in idle and unprofitable debate. He accordingly did not obtrude his opinions on the body of which he was a member, on all occasions, whether suitable or unsuitable; but strove to discharge his legislative duties in a way which, if not quite so ostentatious, he well knew was far more creditable to himself and useful to his constituents.
An ardent supporter of the administration of General Jackson and Martin Van Buren as long as the latter followed "in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor," General Lane took an active part in the struggles between the Democratic and old Whig parties, and by his great weight of character and frequent and laborious canvassing, he infused a spirit like his own into the Democracy of his State.
In the spring of 1846 the war commenced between the United States and Mexico, and a call was made upon Indiana for volunteers. Among the first to respond to this call was Joseph Lane. Without waiting for a commission from the President, regardless of every consideration of self interest or self aggrandizement, looking only to the fact that his country required his services, he enlisted as a private in Captain Walker's company, Second Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. His fellow-soldiers, however, had no idea of permitting to remain in the ranks one whom nature had so obviously endowed with the qualities of a commander. He was accordingly, on the completion of the regiment, unanimously elected Colonel. Soon after, on the recommendation of the Indiana delegation in Congress, and without any solicitation on his part, President Polk sent him a commission of Brigadier-General.
The first service, if service it can be called, required of General Lane, after his arrival in Mexico was extremely irksome and disagreeable. Stationed by order of the commanding-general, with his brigade, in a swamp on the banks of the Rio Grande, he was compelled to remain inactive several months. Here, under the swelting heats of a tropical sun, his troops were decimated by the diseases peculiar to that pestilential climate. He, himself, was almost the only man belonging to the brigade who was not prostrated at some period during their long confinement on that fatal spot. At length the welcome order came to advance to Saltillo, of which place, on his arrival, he was appointed by General Butler civil and military Governor. Here, however, he was not long permitted to remain, being ordered, with his command, after the battle of Monterey, to join General Taylor.
On February 22 and 23, 1847, was fought the great battle of Buena Vista, which in nothing, save the number of the combatants, falls short of the most famous of modern times. The disposition of the American troops by the commanding-general was such that, during the engagement, the brigade of General Lane was in the hottest of the fight from the beginning to the end. The hostile operations of the opposing armies, resulting in the great battle of the 23d, commenced on the heights around Buena Vista on the 22d. On the afternoon of that day, the Mexican lines being sufficiently advanced, a shell thrown from a howitzer, by order of Santa Anna, was the signal for the attack. Immediately a heavy fire, in continued rolling volleys, was opened by the Mexican light troops under Ampudia, upon the American skirmishers on the opposite ridge of the mountain. The Americans replied with spirit, and the firing was kept up with much animation on both sides, but without any definite result, until darkness put an end to the combat, and both parties retired, to await a renewal of the strife on a more extended scale on the following day.
On the morning of the 23d the battle was renewed, and raged with the greatest fury throughout the day. The first movement of Santa Anna was to turn the left flank of the Americans. Four companies, under Major Gorman, were despatched by Gen. Lane to intercept this movement. Soon after, three companies of the Second Illinois, and three of Marshall's Kentucky regiments, were sent to Gorman's assistance. While these troops were engaged with the enemy on the brow of the mountain, a large body of Mexicans, six thousand strong, advanced to the plain, toward the position held by Gen. Lane. He immediately formed his little band, now reduced to 400 men, into line, to receive the onset of this immense force. Hardly was this movement completed when the Mexicans opened a tremendous fire from their entire line, which was returned by the Americans with promptness and good effect. "Nothing," says an eye-witness, "could exceed the imposing and fearful appearance of the torrent of assailants, which, at this moment, swept along toward the little band of Lane. The long lines of infantry delivered a continued and unbroken sheet of fire. But their opponents, though few in number, were
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