Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

It was very important to get the army away from Vera Cruz as
soon as possible, in order to avoid the yellow fever, or vomito,
which usually visits that city early in the year, and is very
fatal to persons not acclimated; but transportation, which was
expected from the North, was arriving very slowly. It was
absolutely necessary to have enough to supply the army to
Jalapa, sixty-five miles in the interior and above the fevers of
the coast. At that point the country is fertile, and an army of
the size of General Scott’s could subsist there for an
indefinite period. Not counting the sick, the weak and the
garrisons for the captured city and fort, the moving column was
now less than ten thousand strong. This force was composed of
three divisions, under Generals Twiggs, Patterson, and Worth.
The importance of escaping the vomito was so great that as soon
as transportation enough could be got together to move a
division the advance was commenced. On the 8th of April,
Twiggs’s division started for Jalapa. He was followed very soon
by Patterson, with his division. General Worth was to bring up
the rear with his command as soon as transportation enough was
assembled to carry six days’ rations for his troops with the
necessary ammunition and camp and garrison equipage. It was the
13th of April before this division left Vera Cruz.

The leading division ran against the enemy at Cerro Gordo, some
fifty miles west, on the road to Jalapa, and went into camp at
Plan del Rio, about three miles from the fortifications. General
Patterson reached Plan del Rio with his division soon after
Twiggs arrived. The two were then secure against an attack from
Santa Anna, who commanded the Mexican forces. At all events they
confronted the enemy without reinforcements and without
molestation, until the 18th of April. General Scott had
remained at Vera Cruz to hasten preparations for the field; but
on the 12th, learning the situation at the front, he hastened on
to take personal supervision. He at once commenced his
preparations for the capture of the position held by Santa Anna
and of the troops holding it.

Cerro Gordo is one of the higher spurs of the mountains some
twelve to fifteen miles east of Jalapa, and Santa Anna had
selected this point as the easiest to defend against an invading
army. The road, said to have been built by Cortez, zigzags
around the mountain-side and was defended at every turn by
artillery. On either side were deep chasms or mountain walls. A
direct attack along the road was an impossibility. A flank
movement seemed equally impossible. After the arrival of the
commanding-general upon the scene, reconnoissances were sent out
to find, or to make, a road by which the rear of the enemy’s
works might be reached without a front attack. These
reconnoissances were made under the supervision of Captain
Robert E. Lee, assisted by Lieutenants P. G. T. Beauregard,
Isaac I. Stevens, Z. B. Tower, G. W. Smith, George B. McClellan,
and J. G. Foster, of the corps of engineers, all officers who
attained rank and fame, on one side or the other, in the great
conflict for the preservation of the unity of the nation. The
reconnoissance was completed, and the labor of cutting out and
making roads by the flank of the enemy was effected by the 17th
of the month. This was accomplished without the knowledge of
Santa Anna or his army, and over ground where he supposed it
impossible. On the same day General Scott issued his order for
the attack on the 18th.

The attack was made as ordered, and perhaps there was not a
battle of the Mexican war, or of any other, where orders issued
before an engagement were nearer being a correct report of what
afterwards took place. Under the supervision of the engineers,
roadways had been opened over chasms to the right where the
walls were so steep that men could barely climb them. Animals
could not. These had been opened under cover of night, without
attracting the notice of the enemy. The engineers, who had
directed the opening, led the way and the troops followed.
Artillery was let down the steep slopes by hand, the men engaged
attaching a strong rope to the rear axle and letting the guns
down, a piece at a time, while the men at the ropes kept their
ground on top, paying out gradually, while a few at the front
directed the course of the piece. In like manner the guns were
drawn by hand up the opposite slopes. In this way Scott’s
troops reached their assigned position in rear of most of the
intrenchments of the enemy, unobserved. The attack was made,
the Mexican reserves behind the works beat a hasty retreat, and
those occupying them surrendered. On the left General Pillow’s
command made a formidable demonstration, which doubtless held a
part of the enemy in his front and contributed to the victory. I
am not pretending to give full details of all the battles fought,
but of the portion that I saw. There were troops engaged on both
sides at other points in which both sustained losses; but the
battle was won as here narrated.

The surprise of the enemy was complete, the victory
overwhelming; some three thousand prisoners fell into Scott’s
hands, also a large amount of ordnance and ordnance stores. The
prisoners were paroled, the artillery parked and the small arms
and ammunition destroyed. The battle of Buena Vista was
probably very important to the success of General Scott at Cerro
Gordo and in his entire campaign from Vera Cruz to the great
plains reaching to the City of Mexico. The only army Santa Anna
had to protect his capital and the mountain passes west of Vera
Cruz, was the one he had with him confronting General Taylor. It
is not likely that he would have gone as far north as Monterey to
attack the United States troops when he knew his country was
threatened with invasion further south. When Taylor moved to
Saltillo and then advanced on to Buena Vista, Santa Anna crossed
the desert confronting the invading army, hoping no doubt to
crush it and get back in time to meet General Scott in the
mountain passes west of Vera Cruz. His attack on Taylor was
disastrous to the Mexican army, but, notwithstanding this, he
marched his army to Cerro Gordo, a distance not much short of
one thousand miles by the line he had to travel, in time to
intrench himself well before Scott got there. If he had been
successful at Buena Vista his troops would no doubt have made a
more stubborn resistance at Cerro Gordo. Had the battle of
Buena Vista not been fought Santa Anna would have had time to
move leisurely to meet the invader further south and with an
army not demoralized nor depleted by defeat.

After the battle the victorious army moved on to Jalapa, where
it was in a beautiful, productive and healthy country, far above
the fevers of the coast. Jalapa, however, is still in the
mountains, and between there and the great plain the whole line
of the road is easy of defence. It was important, therefore, to
get possession of the great highway between the sea-coast and the
capital up to the point where it leaves the mountains, before the
enemy could have time to re-organize and fortify in our front.
Worth’s division was selected to go forward to secure this
result. The division marched to Perote on the great plain, not
far from where the road debouches from the mountains. There is
a low, strong fort on the plain in front of the town, known as
the Castle of Perote. This, however, offered no resistance and
fell into our hands, with its armament.

General Scott having now only nine or ten thousand men west of
Vera Cruz, and the time of some four thousand of them being
about to expire, a long delay was the consequence. The troops
were in a healthy climate, and where they could subsist for an
indefinite period even if their line back to Vera Cruz should be
cut off. It being ascertained that the men whose time would
expire before the City of Mexico could possibly fall into the
hands of the American army, would not remain beyond the term for
which they had volunteered, the commanding-general determined to
discharge them at once, for a delay until the expiration of
their time would have compelled them to pass through Vera Cruz
during the season of the vomito. This reduced Scott’s force in
the field to about five thousand men.

Early in May, Worth, with his division, left Perote and marched
on to Puebla. The roads were wide and the country open except
through one pass in a spur of mountains coming up from the
south, through which the road runs. Notwithstanding this the
small column was divided into two bodies, moving a day apart.
Nothing occurred on the march of special note, except that while
lying at the town of Amozoque–an easy day’s march east of
Puebla–a body of the enemy’s cavalry, two or three thousand
strong, was seen to our right, not more than a mile away. A
battery or two, with two or three infantry regiments, was sent
against them and they soon disappeared. On the 15th of May we
entered the city of Puebla.

General Worth was in command at Puebla until the latter end of
May, when General Scott arrived. Here, as well as on the march
up, his restlessness, particularly under responsibilities,
showed itself. During his brief command he had the enemy
hovering around near the city, in vastly superior numbers to his
own. The brigade to which I was attached changed quarters three
different times in about a week, occupying at first quarters
near the plaza, in the heart of the city; then at the western
entrance; then at the extreme east. On one occasion General
Worth had the troops in line, under arms, all day, with three
days’ cooked rations in their haversacks. He galloped from one
command to another proclaiming the near proximity of Santa Anna
with an army vastly superior to his own. General Scott arrived
upon the scene the latter part of the month, and nothing more
was heard of Santa Anna and his myriads. There were, of course,
bodies of mounted Mexicans hovering around to watch our movements
and to pick up stragglers, or small bodies of troops, if they
ventured too far out. These always withdrew on the approach of
any considerable number of our soldiers. After the arrival of
General Scott I was sent, as quartermaster, with a large train
of wagons, back two days’ march at least, to procure forage. We
had less than a thousand men as escort, and never thought of
danger. We procured full loads for our entire train at two
plantations, which could easily have furnished as much more.

There had been great delay in obtaining the authority of
Congress for the raising of the troops asked for by the
administration. A bill was before the National Legislature from
early in the session of 1846-7, authorizing the creation of ten
additional regiments for the war to be attached to the regular
army, but it was the middle of February before it became a
law. Appointments of commissioned officers had then to be made;
men had to be enlisted, the regiments equipped and the whole
transported to Mexico. It was August before General Scott
received reinforcement sufficient to warrant an advance. His
moving column, not even now more than ten thousand strong, was
in four divisions, commanded by Generals Twiggs, Worth, Pillow
and Quitman. There was also a cavalry corps under General
Harney, composed of detachments of the 1st, 2d, and 3d
dragoons. The advance commenced on the 7th of August with
Twiggs’s division in front. The remaining three divisions
followed, with an interval of a day between. The marches were
short, to make concentration easier in case of attack.

I had now been in battle with the two leading commanders
conducting armies in a foreign land. The contrast between the
two was very marked. General Taylor never wore uniform, but
dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field
in which he was operating to see through his own eyes the
situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when
he was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in
which they followed. He was very much given to sit his horse
side-ways–with both feet on one side–particularly on the
battlefield. General Scott was the reverse in all these
particulars. He always wore all the uniform prescribed or
allowed by law when he inspected his lines; word would be sent
to all division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying
them of the hour when the commanding general might be
expected. This was done so that all the army might be under
arms to salute their chief as he passed. On these occasions he
wore his dress uniform, cocked hat, aiguillettes, sabre and
spurs. His staff proper, besides all officers constructively on
his staff–engineers, inspectors, quartermasters, etc., that
could be spared–followed, also in uniform and in prescribed
order. Orders were prepared with great care and evidently with
the view that they should be a history of what followed.

In their modes of expressing thought, these two generals
contrasted quite as strongly as in their other
characteristics. General Scott was precise in language,
cultivated a style peculiarly his own; was proud of his
rhetoric; not averse to speaking of himself, often in the third
person, and he could bestow praise upon the person he was
talking about without the least embarrassment. Taylor was not a
conversationalist, but on paper he could put his meaning so
plainly that there could be no mistaking it. He knew how to
express what he wanted to say in the fewest well-chosen words,
but would not sacrifice meaning to the construction of
high-sounding sentences. But with their opposite
characteristics both were great and successful soldiers; both
were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings. Both
were pleasant to serve under–Taylor was pleasant to serve
with. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers
than through his own. His plans were deliberately prepared, and
fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave
orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would
read in history.

CHAPTER XI.

ADVANCE ON THE CITY OF MEXICO–BATTLE OF CONTRERAS–ASSAULT AT
CHURUBUSCO–NEGOTIATIONS FOR PEACE–BATTLE OF MOLINO DEL
REY–STORMING OF CHAPULTEPEC–SAN COSME–EVACUATION OF THE
CITY–HALLS OF THE MONTEZUMAS.

The route followed by the army from Puebla to the City of Mexico
was over Rio Frio mountain, the road leading over which, at the
highest point, is about eleven thousand feet above tide water.
The pass through this mountain might have been easily defended,
but it was not; and the advanced division reached the summit in
three days after leaving Puebla. The City of Mexico lies west
of Rio Frio mountain, on a plain backed by another mountain six
miles farther west, with others still nearer on the north and
south. Between the western base of Rio Frio and the City of
Mexico there are three lakes, Chalco and Xochimilco on the left
and Texcoco on the right, extending to the east end of the City
of Mexico. Chalco and Texcoco are divided by a narrow strip of
land over which the direct road to the city runs. Xochimilco is
also to the left of the road, but at a considerable distance
south of it, and is connected with Lake Chalco by a narrow
channel. There is a high rocky mound, called El Penon, on the
right of the road, springing up from the low flat ground
dividing the lakes. This mound was strengthened by
intrenchments at its base and summit, and rendered a direct
attack impracticable.

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