"Genl Corse loved Alexandria almost to fanaticism."
Montgomery Dent Corse was born in Alexandria in 1816; he would serve in both the Mexican and Civil Wars and go to California as a gold prospector before returning to Alexandria permanently. In 1846, Corse organized the company that eventually became the 1st Virginia Volunteers to aid in the Mexican War. The group first went to Washington, D.C. but did not receive a service assignment since the quota was already filled. However, after Alexandria was retroceded to Virginia in 1847 the re-formed “Company B” was mustered into service in Richmond. Many other companies had difficulty getting uniforms, but the Alexandria City Council had provided for Corse's men. Company B served under General Taylor on the Rio Grande in northern Mexico and did not see any major action, although they did some difficult marching and were stationed for a time at Buena Vista. They were mustered out in August 1848 at Fort Monroe and returned to Alexandria by steamer ship.
This muster roll is one of four found within the Montgomery Dent Corse Papers at the Alexandria Library. Corse’s duties as captain of the company included keeping this regular paperwork showing the details of where the company and all its members were. On the front side (“recto”), the roll shows who was present and who was absent; it gives reasons for absences and also details which soldiers were sick, arrested, or confined. Any changes in status such as discharges, furloughs, deaths, or desertions are also noted. On the rear side (“verso”), the commissioned officers and their status are listed, as is information about any recruits. This roll shows that in June 1847, the company was stationed near Buena Vista, and that Corporal Moore died at the hospital in China, Mexico on May 31.
The Mexican War had an extremely high rate of deaths: 110 deaths per 1,000 participants (as compared to 65 per 1,000 in the Civil War). Many of the deaths occurred from disease rather than battle. Company B, 1st Virginia Volunteers lost seven of its 88 members to death and eight to desertion; thirteen were discharged. Of the deserters, six were gone within a month after their enlistment and never saw the war. After enlisting in December, four young men from ages 19 to 29 deserted in January in Richmond and three more in January at Fort Monroe, the embarkation point for Mexico. 26-year-old Benjamin Waters stayed, but ultimately died in the hospital in China; at the request of his father, Captain Corse sent home the soldier's sword.
In his youth, the future General Corse attended both Major Lowe’s school at Colross and Benjamin Hallowell’s on Washington Street. After the Mexican War, his days as a California gold prospector, and service in the Civil War, he returned to Alexandria permanently and went into business with his brother and Edward Snowden. As an older man, Corse was known for his daily walks about town accompanied by Uncle Charles, who Corse’s son described as “An old time darkie who did general work in the neighborhood ... a gentleman by nature and every instinct.” The walking route began at Corse’s home, 416 N. Washington Street, and proceeded via King Street to the market and Burke & Herbert’s bank; frequently there were stops along the way back at friends’ homes as well. Although the walks did not pass by the Confederate statue at the intersection of Washington and Prince Streets, Corse was known to be entertained by the fact that his Mexican War pension of $8 per month had been contributed to the construction of the monument.