War and the Muses - Zachary Taylor and "The Old Brown Coat"
One of the most unique characters ever to hold high command in the U. S. Army, Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), was nicknamed “Old Rough and Ready” in the service because of his casual attitude toward dress. To put it bluntly, Taylor dressed like a slob, even when commanding an army in the field. At the Battle of Palo Alto (May 8, 1846) a soldier described his as wearing “a blue-checked gingham coast, blue trousers without and braid, a linen waistcoat and a broad-brimmed straw hat. Neither his horse nor his saddle had any ornament.”
On another occasion, a soldier reported seeing Taylor in “an old oil cloth cap, a dusty green coat, a frightful pair of trousers,” while another soldier recalled seeing him wearing “a loose, unbuttoned blue coat, a check shirt and black tie, broad brimmed planter’s black felt hat with a low crown, boots that slipped down about his calves, and trousers that were never quite stuffed in.”
At the Battle of Buena Vista (February 22-23, 1847), Taylor was sporting a disreputable brown swallow tail coat against the chill. During the fighting, the coat was reportedly pierced by a bit of Mexican grape-shot. Taylor, who was not injured, remained calm, which elicited favorable comment.
Soon afterwards, “a poetical genius of the highest order . . . apostrophized the
circumstance" in a short poem that saw some circulation in the press.
The Old Brown Coat.
Zachary Taylor was a brave old feller,
Brigadier-general, A, Number 1.
He fought twenty thousand Mexicanos;
In the thickest of the fight old Zachary appear-ed,
The shot flew about him as thick as any hail,
And the only injury he there received,
Was a compound fracture of his brown coat tail.
Taylor’s carelessness about appearances even extended to his "charger"; unlike most generals, who rode large, handsome steeds, Taylor often went into battle riding a mule, which was just as well, since he was a poor horseman, once being described as looking "like a toad" when on horseback.