President Zachary Taylor's Final Words Before His Death

U.S. President Zachary Taylor had grappled with death frequently during his nearly 40 years in the army, but on a hot July evening in 1850, he lay in bed dying not from a British bullet wound, a Native American arrow, or a Mexican sword slash. Rather, what was quickly killing Taylor was microscopic and at the time incurable. Taylor's doctors believed the 65-year-old had contracted cholera morbus, a water-born bacterial disease that attacks the intestines causing nausea, cramping, diarrhea, and dehydration, according to History.

Taylor had attended a daylong July 4 celebration at the Washington Monument filled with speeches before taking a stroll along the Potomac River. He then headed back home to the White House and ate a copious amount of fruit, including cherries, along with iced milk and several glasses of water, according to the University of Virginia Miller Center and History. Taylor soon felt sick. He suffered for five days, writhing in pain in his bed at the White House, before finally dying. He was clearheaded enough at the end to give his family and friends who surrounded him a solemn and poignant farewell.

From War Hero to President 

Born near Gordonsville, Virginia, on November 24, 1784, Zachary Taylor grew up in Kentucky when it was considered the frontier of white American settlement, according to Britannica. Taylor followed in the footsteps of his father who had served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and joined the army in 1806 while in his early 20s, according to the Library of Congress.

Taylor began rising through the ranks and attained the rank of major general, but still managed to marry and father six children, per Britannica. He led troops in the War of 1812 against the British and fought in the Black Hawk War against a band of Sauk attempting to halt white settlement of their Illinois lands. He also led troops in the second Seminole War against the Seminole Indians in Florida, another instance where Native Americans tried to stop the white incursion of their territory, per Britannica. But it was the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) that helped propel Taylor to the presidency.

President Zachary Taylor's Time in Office Was Brief

By the end of the Mexican-American War, Zachary Taylor was being hailed as a national hero and was given the nickname "Old Rough and Ready," according to The White House. He ran in 1848 as a Whig and became the nation's 12th president. His time in office was relatively short. Just 16 months after taking his oath of office, Taylor lay in the White House dying, surrounded by his loved ones. He called his wife closer, told her not to cry and then said in a clear, calm voice: "I have always done my duty, I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me," per the University of Virginia Miller Center and The Evening Post. Millard Fillmore was sworn in as the 13th president the next day.

Some historians have since questioned whether it was actually cholera that killed Taylor. Other possible culprits include typhoid fever and food poisoning, per History. Another theory holds that the president may have been poisoned. The writer Clara Rising believed it was a possibility. Her research led to Taylor's body being exhumed in 1991 and while traces of arsenic were found in his remains, it wasn't enough to kill him, according to Mississippi Writers and Musicians.