William J. Worth

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William Jenkins Worth
William J Worth.jpg
General Worth by Mathew Brady
Born (1794-03-01)March 1, 1794
Died May 7, 1849(1849-05-07) (aged 55)
Place of birth Hudson, New York
Place of death San Antonio, Texas
Allegiance US flag 15 stars.svg  United States of America
Service/branch U.S. Army
Years of service 1813–1849
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major General
Unit 8th U.S. Infantry
23rd U.S. Infantry

War of 1812

Second Seminole War
Mexican-American War

William Jenkins Worth (March 1, 1794 – May 7, 1849) was a United States general during the Mexican-American War, War of 1812, and Second Seminole War.

Early life

Worth was born in 1794 in Hudson, New York, to Thomas Worth and Abigail Jenkins. Both of his parents were Quakers, but he rejected the pacifism of their faith. He received common schooling as a child and moved to Albany where he was working as a merchant when the War of 1812 began.

Early military career

General William J. Worth.jpg
Worth at the Battle of Monterrey, 1846
Monument on Worth Square

During the war he served as an aide to (then brigadier general) Winfield Scott, and developed a friendship with him. Worth later named his son Winfield Scott Worth. He distinguished himself at the battles of Chippewa and Lundy's Lane during the Niagara campaign. In the latter battle, he was seriously wounded by grapeshot in the thigh. He was not expected to survive, but after a year's confinement he emerged with the breveted rank of Major—though he would remain lame for the rest of his life. Also as a brevet Major Worth uttered his most famous words that now inscribed in West Point's "Bugle Notes", a book of knowledge all cadets must know by heart. They are as follows:

But an officer on duty knows no one -- to be partial is to dishonor both himself and the object of his ill-advised favor. What will be thought of him who exacts of his friends that which disgraces him? Look at him who winks at and overlooks offences in one, which he causes to be punished in another, and contrast him with the inflexible soldier who does his duty faithfully, notwithstanding it occasionally wars with his private feelings. The conduct of one will be venerated and emulated, the other detested as a satire upon soldiership and honor.


After the war he was Commandant of Cadets at West Point and would rise to the rank of Colonel in 1838 when he was put in command of the newly created Eighth Infantry Regiment. Using his own tactics he successfully prosecuted the Second Seminole War in Florida and was made a brevet brigadier general in 1842. Eventually, he convinced Secretary of War John C. Spencer to allow the remaining Indians in the territory to confine themselves to the region south of Peace Creek, and declared an official end to the war in August of that year.

Mexican-American War

When the Mexican-American War began Worth was serving under Zachary Taylor in Texas and negotiated the surrender of the Mexican city of Matamoros. He next commanded the 2nd Regular Division, Army of Occupation at the Battle of Monterrey. In 1847, Worth was transferred to his old friend Winfield Scott's army and placed in command of the 1st Division. During the amphibious landings at Veracruz he jumped from the boat he was in into shoulder deep water and waded ashore to become the first American to make an amphibious landing.

Monument on Worth Square in Manhattan
Worth Square

He took part in the siege of Veracruz and engaged in the following battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras and Churubusco. In Mexico City Scott ordered Worth to seize the Mexican works at the Molino del Rey. Worth and Scott's friendship came to a head when Scott refused to allow Worth to modify the attack and the battle caused the 1st Division severe casualties, much to Worth's dismay. Worth later renamed his son Winfield Scott to William. He next led his division against the San Cosme Gate at Mexico City. When U.S. forces entered Mexico City, Worth personally climbed to the roof of the National Palace and took down the Mexican flag replacing it with the Stars and Stripes.

For his service at the Battle of Chapultepec, the United States Congress awarded him with a sword of honor.

In 1847 he was admitted as an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati.

Postwar service

In 1848, Worth was approached by a group of Cuban Freemasons known as the Havana Club, composed of sugar plantation owners and aristocrats, who advocated the overthrow of the Spanish colonial government in Cuba. The Havana Club sent college professor Ambrosio José Gonzales to entreat Worth to lead an invasion of Cuba. Knowing Worth was also a Freemason, Gonzales greeted the war hero with the Masonic secret handshake, and subsequently offered him three million dollars to lead an invasion force of five thousand American veterans of the Mexican-American War against the Spanish in Cuba. Worth accepted the offer, but before the plot could be concluded, he was transferred by the War Department to Texas.[1]

He was in command of the Department of Texas when he died of cholera in 1849 in San Antonio. His remains were reinterred in a monument on Worth Square on a traffic island between Fifth Avenue and Broadway at 25th Street in New York City's borough of Manhattan. The monument was designed and built by James G. Batterson in 1857. Each spike of the cast-iron fence surrounding the memorial is topped with a plumed helmet, reflective of the plumed helmet Worth is shown wearing in the memorial. Worth Street (Manhattan) at the southern end of Little Italy was named in his honor.

The cities of Fort Worth, Texas and Lake Worth, Texas, the village of Worth, Illinois, Worth County, Georgia and the Lake Worth Lagoon in Florida, and consequently, the city of Lake Worth, Florida on its shores, are named in his honor. Worth was married to a woman named Margaret Stafford.

See also


  1. The Freemasons in America by H. Paul Jeffers, ISBN 978-0-8065-2836-6


Military offices
Preceded by
John R. Bell
Commandants of Cadets of the United States Military Academy
Succeeded by
Ethan A. Hitchcock

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