Contents Introduction 7 Chronology 12 Background to war Different cultures collide 13 Warring sides Courage the only common trait 19 Outbreak Opening guns 26 The fighting War across the continent 34 Portrait of a soldier U.S. Grant: From the depths to the heights 64 The world around war Progress and stagnation 67 Portrait of a civi i,;r Mary Ann Maverick: A Texas pioneer 76 How the war ended The Halls of Montezuma 80 Conclusion and consequences A new Colossus is born 88 Further reading 93 Index 94
IntroductionThe war with Mexico was one of the most democratic republic for almost ten years. Thedecisive conflicts in American history. For Mexican government, however, repudiatedMexico, the war was its greatest disaster. It Santa Annas treaty and maintained thatwas a bitter, hard-fought conflict that raged Texas continued to be a province of Mexico.through the northern deserts of Mexico, the While campaigning for the Americanfever-ridden gulf cities, and the balmy presidency in 1844, James K. Polk vowed tohaciendas of California, reaching its climax at annex Texas and acquire California and allthe fabled Halls of Montezuma in Mexico City. the lands in between, and the MexicanAlthough the numbers of troops involved were government feared a confrontation withnot large by Napoleonic standards, the their expansionist neighbor. When Polk wasfighting was ferocious and deadly. elected, in March 1845, and Texas was To Mexicans, the immediate cause of the annexed in December of that year, Mexicowar was the Texas problem. Texas had been a threatened war.festering sore on the Mexican body politic It was not surprising then, that when Polkfor more than a decade. After Texas troops sent an emissary to Mexico City offering tosmashed the dictator Santa Annas army atSan Jacinto in March 1836, hoping to save Go west young men. Go west! rang out the cry, ashis own life, Santa Anna granted thousands began the trek toward the setting sun. They came by ship, by covered wagon, and some even crossedindependence to the rebellious province the continent on foot. When gold was discovered inwith the Treaty of Velasco. As a result, Texas California in 1848, the west was viewed as the newmaintained its status as an independent El Dorado. (The Church of Latter-day Saints Museum)
8 Essential Histories • The Mexican Warpurchase that countrys western lands, hewas ignored. The American president wasprepared to purchase Mexican territory, buthe was also prepared, if necessary, to take itby force. To add to the tension there was a disputeover the location of the southern boundaryof Texas. The Texans claimed it was theRio Grande River; the Mexicans said it wasthe Nueces River, in some places 140 milesfurther north. In the spring of 1846, Polk sent troops tothe area. An American army under GeneralZachary Taylor crossed the Nueces andheaded south to the Rio Grande. At the sametime a Mexican army crossed the Rio Grandeand headed north to the Nueces, In lateApril the armies clashed in the first battle ofthe war. An overconfident Mexican governmentdeclared war on the United States on 23 April1846, believing that their experiencedmilitary forces could crush the impudentAmericans and their minuscule regular army,lhis was to be a fatal mistake. On 13 May 1846, the Congress of theUnited States declared war on Mexico afteran address by President Polk in which hepronounced: American blood has been shedon American soil. The war was greetedenthusiastically in the southern and westernstates but was bitterly opposed by many ofthe eastern and New England states, whobelieved the spoils of a gigantic land grabwould result in an extension of slavery. During the campaigns in northernMexico, the American invaders foughtpitched battles in fortified cities and into Mexico, capturing Chihuahua City.mountain passes, bringing heavy casualties Continuing deeper into enemy territory, hefor both sides. occupied Torreon before turning east to link The western theater presented American up with Taylors troops in Monterey.troops with pitiless weather and semi-arid Another expedition, led by Brigadierexpanses of mountains and plains, where General Stephen Watts Kearny, conqueredwater was scant and raiding Indians the northern territories of Mexico and thenplentiful. Trekking west was a logistical marched to the Pacific shores to help seizenightmare until the troops reached the California. Meanwhile, American settlers infruitful land of California. northern California were rising against the Colonel Alexander Doniphan with his Mexican government and launched the BearMissouri Mounted Volunteers trekked Flag Rebellion, aided by explorer John C.south-west, captured Sante Fe, then drove Fremont. After fighting several skirmishes,
Introduction 9Kearnys and Fremonts forces were Texas Rangers and Mexican soldiers clashed duringcombined with an American naval squadron repeated incursions into the new Republics territoryto control all of California. during the 1840s. Mexico refused to recognize Texas independence. (Archives Division. Texas State Library) Often neglected in many accounts, theAmerican Navy played a key part in the war.American flotillas dominated the Caribbean, Mexico City, capture it and force a peace on athe Gulf of Mexico, and the west coast of reluctant Mexican government.Mexico and California. The Navy performed The first American amphibious invasionyeoman duty in blockading ports, transporting force rowed ashore south of Vera Cruz introops, and providing naval gunfire in support March 1847. Capturing the port after aof the army. The war, however, dragged on. massive bombardment by both land and sea,General Winfield Scott proposed a seaborne Scott moved inland. Fighting all the way, theinvasion of Mexico that would drive inland to Americans drove 200 miles over rugged
10 Essential Histories • The Mexican War Military operations 1846-1847The Mexican War was fought on a continental scale. Tampico. Scotts troops sailed 550 miles, from theKearnys march west from Ft. Leavenworth to San Diego logistical center of the war effort in New Orleans tostretched 2. 000 miles. Colonel Doniphans Missouri Matamoros. Reinforced there, Scott sailed anotherVolunteers headed west to Santa Fe, dipped south to 500 miles, landing at Vera Cruz.Then he fought hisEl Paso del Norte, and on to Monterey and Matamoros. way 250 miles south to Mexico City. To join the action,There they took a ship to New Orleans and then the United States Navy, based on the east coastmarched home to Missouri. In all, they covered sailed down the South American coastline, rounded5,500 miles. From Fort Brown, Zachary Taylors men Cape Horn, and climbed another 7,500 miles topenetrated 200 miles to Saltillo and 300 more to San Francisco.terrain to Mexico City. To protect Scotts Scott advanced on Mexico City. Thesupply line, Texas Rangers fought a brutal climatic battle of the war was fought atwar with Mexican guerrillas in which Chapultepec Castle, where the Americansprisoners were few and atrocities many. scaled the walls of the fortress and charged After winning battles before the Mexican into Mexico City. With the occupation ofcapital at Contreras and Churubusco, Scotts their capital and their armies smashed,army suffered heavy casualties at Molino Mexican resistance was broken and Mexicodel Rey before overcoming opposition. Then was forced into a draconian peace in
Introduction 11which they surrendered more than half their servitude, Southern paranoia increased.territory. Soon the Southern states would seek Much as the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 secession as their only alternative towas a prelude to the Second World War, the domination by the North. In the words ofAmerican war with Mexico became in many Winston Churchill, the American Civil Warrespects a precursor to the long and frightful was doomed to be the noblest and leastAmerican Civil War of 1861-65. avoidable of all the great mass conflicts. The victory over Mexico was clouded by If, at the end of the war with Mexico, thethe fact that the political and moral struggle Americans gained vast, near-emptybetween the American slave states and the territories, Mexicans were left with only aindustrializing North became greatly numbing grievance. Poor Mexico, theyintensified. As abolitionists preached their complained, so far from God and so closedoctrines to shake off the fetters of to the United States.
Chronology1836 21 April A Texan army defeats Santa 20-24 September General Taylor Anna at the battle of San Jacinto. Texas wins battle of Monterey. becomes an independent republic. 1847 10 January Commodore Stockton1845 29 December The United States occupies Los Angeles. annexes Texas. President Polk sends a 22-23 February General Taylor wins negotiator to Mexico City in an effort the battle of Buena Vista. to purchase Mexican western lands. 1 March Doniphan occupies Chihuahua City.1846 March General Zachary Taylor and an 29 March Vera Cruz surrenders to American army land in Corpus Christi. General Winfield Scott. 23 April Mexico declares war on the 18 April General Scott wins battle of United States. Cerro Gordo. 8-9 May General Taylor wins battles 19-20 August General Scott at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. wins battles at Contreras and 13 May The United States declares Churubusco. war on Mexico. 8 September General Scott wins 12 June Great Britain and the United battle of Molino del Rev. Slates reach a compromise on the 13 September General Scott wins the boundaries of the Oregon Territory, climactic battle of the war at thus averting a conflict. Chapultepec. 14 June Bear Flag Rebellion. 14 September General Scott enters California declares independence Mexico City in triumph. from Mexico. 18 August General Stephen Kearny 1848 25 March The Treaty of Guadalupe occupies Sante Fe. Hidalgo ends the war.
Background to warDifferent cultures collideThe struggle between the United States and to loot and kill. A parsimonious SpanishMexico exposed a massive economic, social, government offered little help against theseand political chasm between two diverse raiders, and the succeeding Mexicancultures separated by a common border. authorities offered even less. The Americans, 20 million strong, were a In the twilight of their rule, the Spanish,hard-driving, egalitarian, vigorous people. viewing the wreckage of their northernThey fervently believed the Manifest Destiny frontier, where the raiding nomads hadof the United States was ordained by God to virtually depopulated Mexican settlements asstretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Theirs far south as Chihuahua City, had what theywas a society based on a democracy founded believed to be a brilliant idea. They believedon British common law, the European the voracious, land-hungry Americans mightEnlightenment, and a secular government. be encouraged to settle in Texas. Crude but Pitted against this dynamic force was an tough, the Americans could create a bufferolder, more traditional, aristocratic society of state between the barbarous tribes and northseven million Mexicans racked by endemic Mexico. They would let the norteamericanosfactionalism and revolt. Mexico had a received fight the raiders, while south of the Rioreligion, structured castes and a Grande the Mexican states of Chihuahua,monarchical-styled political system that was Coahuila, and Tamaulipas would prosper.wont to pose as a democracy. It was a land In 1821, impresario Steven F. Austin wasdivided by race, caste, and a massive economic given a massive land grant to bring Americansgull between rich landowners, with their to settle. The Spaniards required only that thepalatial haciendas, and the mass of landless immigrants should accept the Catholic religionpeasants. There was a burgeoning nationalism and swear allegiance to Spain. Within a fewamong the elite and a spirit of machismo years, thousands of Americans had swarmedresistance to invaders among many of the into the new lands, and when Mexico gainedpeople, yet among the landless and the its independence in 1824, the new governmentindigenous Indians, who had little stake in the allowed this influx to continue.country, there was apathy and indifference. In 1830, a government survey determined American relations with Spain were often that in Texas the Anglos outnumbered theless than cordial and Mexicos successful Mexicans by four to one and the disparitybattle for independence had been welcomed was rapidly increasing. Fearing a loss ofby its neighbor to the north. After almost control, in April 1830, the Mexican300 years of putative rule, the Spanish frontier government ended immigration and placednorth of the Rio Grande was sparsely settled a heavy taxation on imports and exports inand economically unproductive. Catholic Texas. The near-bankrupt government inmissions in Texas had been abandoned and Mexico City also observed the growingthe few scattered towns were inhabited by the export trade in cotton, beef, and otherMestizos, the new blend of Spaniard and commodities, and saw in Texas a new sourceIndian who formed the largest race in Mexico. of revenue, so they sent soldiers and customs The curse of these Borderlands were the officials to the burgeoning Texas ports toroaming bands of Apaches, Comanches, collect taxes on all exports.Kiowas, Kickapoos, and other predatory tribes, Texan and American ship owners, whowho swooped down on Mexican settlements had created the trade but had no voice in
14 Essential Histories • The Mexican War Guerrillas armed with lances, escopetos. swords, and lassos fought ferociously in the many revolts that plagued Mexico. (Gerry Embleton) the government, quickly asserted their right to smuggle. Soon their schooners sailed past Mexican customhouses, sometimes exchanging gunfire, and the increasing friction led to hloody skirmishes between Texan militia and Mexican regulars. In an effort to redress grievances, Texas settlers called a convention and chose Stephen F. Austin to travel to Mexico City with proposals that they hoped would end the conflicts. After long wrangling with the Mexican government, Austin was imprisoned for treason. After two years in confinement he was released, on Christmas Day 1834, and returned to Texas. Santa Anna, now dictator of Mexico, abrogated the liberal Mexican constitution of 1824 and ordered that all Texans be disarmed. The Texans refused to give up their weapons and clashes again broke out between the Anglo settlers and the Mexican soldiers. In 1836, Santa Anna determined to establish control over the rebellious colony. At the head of an army he crossed the Rio Grande and invaded Texas. He overran the defenses of the old Alamo mission in San Antonio and slaughtered the few wounded survivors. On his orders a band of more than 300 rebels who had surrendered at the town of Goliad were summarily shot. On 2 March 1836, the Texans, having assembled in convention, issued a declaration of independence, severing their ties with Mexico and declaring themselves an independent republic. On 20 April 1836, a furious and shrieking Texan army destroyed Santa Annas forces at the battle of San Jacinto. When captured, in order to save his neck from a hangmans noose, Santa Anna signed the Treaty of Velasco, granting Texas independence. The Mexican government refused to recognize the treaty, however, drove Santa Anna into exile, and maintained that Texas was still a province of Mexico.
Background to war 15 In the decade that followed there were Spanish and later Mexican landowners received largeseveral ill-conceived Texan forays into grants of land from their governments, creating an aristocracy of a few. While the r/cos idled their time withMexican territory. Twice, in March and games on horseback, the majority of Mexicans wereSeptember 1842, Mexican troops responded poor, hardworking, landless peasants. (Daughters of theby invading Texas, raiding Gulf Coast towns, Republic of Texas Library)and capturing and looting San Antonio.There they arrested the citys leading gunners and engine mechanics were hiredcitizens, marched them into Mexico, and British Navy veterans. When the two forcesflung them into the dreaded Perote prison. collided, it marked the first battle between From 1836 until 1843, Mexican warships sail-driven and steam-driven warships.attempted to blockade Texas ports and Tactically the battles were indecisive,strangle the young republics commerce. Texas although the Texans had few casualties whileretaliated by commissioning privateers. Later, the Mexicans suffered many dead andthey created a regular navy which wrecked wounded. Like Jutland in 1916, albeit on aMexican seaborne trade, aided revolutionists much smaller scale, this encounter proved toin the Yucatan, and on occasion held Mexican be a massive strategic victory for Texas. TheGulf Coast ports for ransom. Mexican fleet never again attempted to In May 1843, the sail-driven Texan flotilla blockade the Texas coast or launch a seabornefought two sea battles against a steam-driven invasion from Matamoros or Vera Cruz.Mexican fleet off the port of Campeche in During this decade of intermittent fighting,the Yucatan. The main strength of the American public opinion sided with theirMexican fleet lay in two modern British-built former countrymen and exacerbated thesteamers manned by officers of the Royal increasing hostility between the twoNavy on long-term leave. Many of the countries. As tensions mounted, many
16 Essential Histories • The Mexican WarMexicans believed that the Americans were settling there illegally. In 1843, Santa Anna,looking for a pretext to declare war. They ordered all Americans to leave Californiacited as evidence a blundering American naval and Mexicos other western territories. Thisaction in October 1842. Commodore Thomas decree effectively throttled the lucrativeCatesby Jones was anchored off a Peruvian trade between Sante Fe and St. Louis,port when he received news that war had which further antagonized Americanbroken out between the United States and business interests.Mexico. Without waiting for confirmation, The growing pressure from Americanhe raised anchor and bent on all sail for expansionist politicians to annex Texas wasCalifornia. Arriving off the port of Monterey alarming Mexicans. Early in 1845, whenon 20 October, he decided on bold and swift outgoing President John Tyler signed a jointaction. He sailed his squadron into the bay, resolution by Congress to make Texas part ofanchored, and sent ashore an armed party of the American union, Mexico severedsailors and marines. diplomatic relations. A Mexican diplomatic Marching to the town square, Jones read a note warned Tyler that annexation of Texasproclamation announcing that he had would be equivalent to a declaration of warcaptured the city for the United States. He against the Mexican Republicordered his troops to occupy the public Great Britain and France, both interestedbuildings, had the Mexican flag hauled in gaining an economic foothold in thedown, and raised the Stars and Stripes to the Texas Republic, attempted to foil annexationtop of the squares flagpole. The Mexicans, with the American Union. The British chargemore confused than alarmed, offered no daffaires in Austin, Captain Charles Elliot,resistance. Jones, satisfied with his coup, was proposed a compromise to the twogratified to see Thomas O. Larkin, the antagonistic countries. He told the TexanAmerican consul at Monterey, approaching president, Anson Jones, that if he concludedwith a bewildered expression. After a brief a treaty with Mexico pledging that Texasexchange, expletives not recorded, Larkin would never annex itself to the Unitedinformed him that there was no war. The States, Britain and France would pressure theUnited States was at peace with Mexico. Mexican government to recognize Texas Blushing, Jones had the American flag independence. The Texan government,hauled down and ordered that the Mexican virtually bankrupt and tired of all theflag be raised once more. He commanded his hostilities, rejected the proposal and pursuedmen to fire a musket salute as the Mexican a policy seeking security in annexation.tricolor again fluttered in the breeze, then In February 1845, James K. Polk wasproffered a profound apology to an inaugurated as president. Physically frail butapoplectic Mexican governor who, to say the strong in purpose, Polk presided over aleast, was not amused. nation that was bursting at the seams. Then Jones formed up his invading force Immigrants were pouring into the countryand marched back to the wharf, where he from Europe, and Americans were streamingand his men were rowed back to their ships. west by the thousand, to lands claimedAn embarrassed American government either by the Mexicans or, in the case ofrelieved Jones of command and sent him on Oregon, by the British.a long voyage back to the United States. If Pressure from businessmen and landlesstensions had not been so high, the affair farmers demanded that the westernmight well have been laughed off. It was territories be either purchased or taken bynot. To many Mexicans the incident was an force. There were, however, obstacles. Russiaominous portent of things to come and they was probing the west coast of North Americawere to be proved correct. with the intention of expanding its Alaskan Meanwhile, American settlers had begun possessions, but the British posed the majorslipping into northern California and threat to American ambitions, with a dispute
Background to war 17over the boundaries of the Oregon Territorythat threatened conflict. In November 1845, Polk sent John M.Slidell to Mexico City with an offer to buy allMexican lands from the Texas border to thePacific Ocean. He offered $25,000,000. Aspart of the deal, the American governmentwould also pay to American citizens theclaims they held against Mexico. The Americans considered this offer tobe more than fair. After all, Texas hadmaintained its independence for a decadeand the other western lands were mostlyvacant except for scattered Indian tribes andAmerican squatters, furthermore, theAmericans claimed that these lands wereonly nominally held by Mexico, whosegovernment was unable to exercise anyauthority over them. Another cause of contention between thetwo countries were the claims Americans hadagainst the Mexican government. Theseinvolved incidents of arbitrary seizure ofAmerican ships in Mexican ports,confiscation of American goods by corrupt American envoy John Slidells attempts to purchasecustoms officials, unjust imprisonment of Mexican land were ignored by the government in Mexico City (Ann Ronan Picture Library)American citizens, and the murders of otherAmericans. A mediation of the claims hadbeen heard in a Prussian court in 1838, at Abolitionists in New England feared a vastwhich time the American claimants had conspiracy was under way by thebeen awarded millions of dollars. But Mexico Southerners to forever dominate thewas bankrupt, with an unstable government government.which within the first quarter century of The Mexicans, enraged at the annexationindependence had seen more than of Texas, threatened war. Many blamed the30 different political administrations. Not United States for their debacle in Texas. Onesurprisingly, after a few payments, Mexico prominent newspaper declared thedefaulted on the bulk of the claims. To Americans to be the true enemy of MexicoMexicans, their penury was a further and that they had secretly supported thehumiliation, and they allowed their pride to Texan revolution while hiding behind ancloud their judgment of potential American evil mask of hypocrisy.military strength. As war fever grew, some Mexicans The Mexican government therefore harbored illusions that in the event ofrefused to negotiate with Slidell and hostilities the American northern andofficially ignored his presence. They became eastern states would secede from the Unionhostile when, on 29 December 1845, Texas and would send arms and ammunition towas admitted as the 28th state in the support revolting Southern Negro slaves. TheAmerican union and became the 15th state resulting chaos would enable Mexico toto legalize slavery. handily defeat the American armies. The slave states now held a majority of The crisis over Oregon also gave Mexico avotes in the United States Senate. false sense of confidence: if war broke out,
18 Essential Histories • The Mexican WarGreat Britain, with its mighty fleet and more than 20,000 strong, was well enoughbattle-tested army, would be their ally. equipped and trained to easily defeat theUnknown to them, the British Foreign Office 7,000 American regulars who were scatteredhad agreed to negotiate the Oregon in small posts along the western frontier. This,boundary dispute with the Americans. To perhaps, was the most fateful illusion of all.Polks relief, the threat of a two-front war The issues between the two neighbors mightwith the British in the north and the have been solved peacefully if more reasonMexicans in the south had ended. and less passion had prevailed, but Mexican Some Mexicans, perhaps blinded by intransigence and American aggressivenessnational pride, felt confident that their army, combined to make war inevitable.
Warring sidesCourage the only common traitThe cultural differences between Americans Anna. President, dictator, and commander ofand Mexicans carried over into both their the Mexican armies, his reputation amongpolitical leaders and their armed forces. the Mexican people seesawed between great hero and great villain. Although devious and corrupt, on occasion he could rouse theThe leaders Mexicans to extreme bravery and endurance. General Pedro de Ampudia, one-timeJames Knox Polk, born on a farm in North commander of the Army of the North, had aCarolina in 1795, was sickly as a child and reputation based more on cruelty than onfrail as a man, but he had a tireless energy in military ability. Once, when revoltingpursuing his expansionist policies. He soldiers had surrendered to him with agraduated from the University of North promise of clemency, he had had them shot,Carolina at the top of his class, then studied then cut off their leaders head, boiled it inlaw in Tennessee. oil, and hung it on a pike in the main square Polk soon found a mentor in Andrew of San Juan Bautista.Jackson, and followed the Jackson General Mariano Arista was perhaps morephilosophy of championing the cause of the of a gentleman, and too much of acommon man, as opposed to the Virginiaaristocrats and the New England Brahmins. President James K. Polk was elected by vowing to acquireHe was elected to the Tennessee legislature the Oregon Territory, annex Texas, and purchaseand later became governor of Tennessee. In California. (Ann Ronan Picture Library)November 1844, Polk secured theDemocratic Party nomination for thepresidency and was elected on a platform ofwestward expansion. Major General Winfield Scott, 60 years oldin 1846, was the most experienced andcapable officer in the American army. At age28 he had been a brigadier general duringthe war of 1812. Although egotistical andpompous, he was an excellent tactician anda shrewd strategist with a gift for going forthe jugular. Zachary Taylor, 62 years old, was anexperienced frontier soldier. The opposite ofScott in dress and manners, he was loved byhis men for his lack of formality. Anindifferent tactician, his bold aggressivenessand determination were the keys to hisvictories. His military reputation later ledhim to the American presidency. The dominant leader of Mexico for morethan 20 years was Antonio Lopez de Santa
Warring sides 21politician, to be a successful leader in battle.Following early failures, he was relieved ofcommand. After the war, he becamepresident of Mexico for a short while. If American campaigns were won bygenerals, during the war with Mexico, battleswere won through the excellence of juniorofficers, and if there was one determinantfactor in American successes, it was the UnitedStates Military Academy at West Point, in NewYork State. The discipline and trainingdelivered there, particularly in engineering andin the use of light artillery, turned the tide ofmany of the fiercest battles of the war. Amongits graduates was Robert E. Lee, arguably themost gifted commander in all of Americaswars. It was his personal reconnaissance workthat made great contributions to Americanvictories at Buena Vista, Vera Cruz, and Scottssuccessful campaign on the road to MexicoCity. In later years, Lee led the armies of theConfederate States of America. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was the devious, Ulysses S. Grant, who became the sometime dictator, of Mexico. He gave away Texas after his defeat at San Jacinto but rallied the Mexican peoplecommander in chief of the Union armies against the American invasion. (AKG Berlin)during the American Civil War and later apresident of the United States, was asuccessful and innovative subaltern, often graduates from the Mexican militarycited for bravery. academy were knowledgeable professionals, Jefferson Davis, also a West Pointer, many other officers were political appointeesreturned to the army to lead the fabled whose resplendent uniforms belied their lack1st Mississippi Volunteer Regiment, which of military expertise.had a key role in turning the tide of battle at Trained in Spanish military tradition andBuena Vista. He later became president of tactics, the officer corps was, nevertheless,the Confederate States of America. cursed with competing political philosophies. Thomas Stonewall Jackson served as an They were royalists or rebels against Spain,artillery officer, one of those young West federalists who believed in the primacy ofPointers who employed the tactical mobility local self-government, and centralists whoand accurate gunnery that proved decisive wished for a strong, all-controllingon the battlefield. government in Mexico City. Some of them Mexican officers, on the other hand, had fought against each other during thethough always brave and often competent, many political upheavals and revolts thatwere mainly aristocrats who had little plagued Mexico. Indeed, these internal splitsrapport with common soldiers and were often disrupted what should have been aoften contemptuous of them. While common cause against an alien invader.General Winfield Scott was nicknamed Old Fuss andFeathers for his love of pomp and ceremony. He was a The soldierscompetent tactician and a shrewd strategist It wasScotts plan to launch a seaborne attack and then march The differences between the enlisted ranks ofon the Mexican capital. (Library of Congress) both armies were even greater. Some of the
22 Essential Histories • The Mexican WarAmerican enlisted men in the regular army major failing of the peacetime army was thejoined for adventure, but for most it was harsh discipline - the lash was noteconomic necessity. The $7.00 per month, unknown. A favorite punishment wasthree square meals a day, and warm clothes bucking and gagging, in which a miscreant,were an inducement to many immigrants hands and feet tied, had a stick pushedwho wanted to learn the language or under his knees and over his elbows, lockinginculcate themselves into American life. One his arms and legs together. Then a tent pegestimate puts more than two-thirds of the or stick was forced between his teeth andenlistees as foreign born. The majority were tied in place. Left for hours, he suffered pain,Irish, but there were also large contingents of thirst and humiliation. These severeGermans and British. punishments and the arrogance of some The regulars, though few in number, were officers were major causes for desertion,well drilled and were led by officers especially among the Irish.experienced in frontier fighting and trained The volunteers were different. When theto the exacting standards of West Point. A war broke out, young men by the tens of thousands, mostly from the southern and western states, swamped recruiting stations.In the American armies, the regulars were drilled like Many had to be turned away for lack ofEuropean troops. The volunteers were indifferent tomilitary etiquette but prided themselves as tough fighting uniforms and equipment, but what themen. (Library of Congress) volunteer regiments lacked in experience
Warring sides 23This jingoistic recrurting poster appealed to the American opposed to the war fearing that its spoils would extendchauvinistic spirit, but most of New England was bitterly slavery into the west (Library of Congress)
24 Essential Histories * The Mexican War selected by lot for a six-year tour of duty. Bachelors and married men without children from 18 to 40 years of age were required to serve. Middle-class men with piolitical connections could usually gain an exemption if they did not wish to be officers. Unlike the robust Americans, most of whom were farmers raised on a diet of fresh meat, wheat bread, and vegetables, the Mexican soldier was often less than five feet two inches tall and was poorly fed on a diet of Indian corn, rice, and beans. Compounding the confusion of inadequate training, most of the peasant soldiers were illiterate; many spoke and understood only the Indian dialects of their tribe. If the Americans could be combative over military discipline, the Mexican soldier simply deserted. A most unfunny joke in that army was the not always apocryphalAlthough the best scouts and antiguerrilla fighters in the story of the Mexican line officer writing to aarmy, the Texas Rangers were also wild, vengeful men. military depot: I am returning your shackles.But on occasion they could play as hand and as unruly as Please send me more volunteers.they fought (Archives Division.Texas State Library) If the men of these armies had anything in common, it was that officers and enlistedand training they made up for in enthusiasm men alike almost always showed uncommonand dedication. They elected their officers, courage under fire.and if military courtesy and expertise werelacking among them, leadership in battlewas not. Mostly young men in their late The naviesteens or early twenties, they learned quickly. An early disadvantage of the volunteer Throughout the war, the ships of the Unitedsystem was that they were obligated to serve States Navy controlled the Atlantic andonly 12 months. After many battle-hardened Pacific coastlines of Mexico. They blockadedregiments chose to return at the expiration Mexican ports, landed marines in support ofof their service, regulations were changed to army troops and irregulars on the Californiahold volunteers until the end of hostilities. coastline, transported Scotts army to Vera To the consternation of regular officers, Cruz, helped smash enemy defenses at thatthe volunteers considered themselves more port with naval gunfire, and suppliedas citizens than soldiers and regarded the weaponry, ammunition, rations, andstrict hierarchy of the regulars as demeaning reinforcements to the 10,000 Americanand silly. Volunteer officers learned to troops in Scotts expeditionary force.control their men with a loose rein. The nearest United States naval base was Some volunteer regiments had their fighting at Pensacola, Honda, 900 miles from Verarecord marred by lack of discipline, rowdy Cruz. The American blockading forcebehavior, looting, and, not uncommonly, suffered constantly from a lack of coal andcrimes against the Mexican civilian population. fresh food, from outbreaks of yellow fever,The Texans were the worst. inadequate coastal charts and violent storms The enlisted ranks of the Mexican army that struck suddenly during summer andwere mostly made up of peasant conscripts, winter months. However, with a mixture of
Warring sides 25sail and steam ships, the Navy, even under These Mexican dragoons were great horsemen andthese difficult circumstances, was a experienced fighters, having served through incessant rebellions.They and their officers were brave and bold,determining factor in the American victory. sometimes to the point of folly. (Library of Congress) The Mexican Navy was unable to protecttheir merchant fleet or break the Americanblockade and was plagued by lack of funds, of hostilities, they sold, scuttled, or burneda shortage of spare parts, and an indifferent most of their ships rather than fight a superiorgovernment. Worst of all, they lacked American force. Consequently, the Mexicancompetent officers and crews. At the outbreak Navy played no significant part in the war.
OutbreakOpening gunsFollowing his inauguration in March 1845, 1845 until March 1846, vainly attempting toPresident Polk took action to protect the open negotiations with the Mexicancountrys new southern border. He ordered government, gave up and returned to theGeneral Zachary Taylor, then commanding United States. President Polk complained totroops in Louisiana, to move his force to Congress that the Mexicans had refused toTexas and be prepared to march into the receive him or listen to his propositions.disputed area south of the Nueces River. Polk then sent instructions to Commander In July, Taylor and 3,500 men, almost John D. Sloats command in Pacific waters.half of the entire United States regular army, If war broke out, Sloat was to seize andwere encamped near the coastal town of occupy Californias principal ports.Corpus Christi. In February 1846, Taylor Commander David Connor, leading thereceived orders to proceed to Port Isabel, United States Navy Home Squadronnear the mouth of the Rio Grande River. operating in the Gulf of Mexico, wasEstablishing his supply base at Port Isabel, ordered to be prepared to blockade theTaylor then marched his men 30 miles eastern coast of Mexico, protect Americansouth-west to the north bank of the Rio commerce from privateers, and assist armyGrande. There his men constructed a operations. To patrol the hundreds of milesfortified position named Fort Texas, from of Mexican coast, Connor would have twowhich his artillery could command thetown of Matamoros on the opposite bank. The Americans now confronted a Mexicanforce of 6,000 men on the south bank. Thiswas the Army of the North, under thecommand of the notorious General Pedrode Ampudia. On 12 April, Ampudia sent a message toTaylor declaring that the Americans werecamped on Mexican territory. He demandedthey withdraw to the Nueces or arms andarms alone will decide this question.Taylor indignantly refused and botharmies prepared to fight. On 24 April, theexplosive Ampudia was replaced by GeneralMariano Arista. For a few days calmprevailed. In the meantime, John Slidell, who hadlingered in Mexico Gity from NovemberGeneral Mariano Arista wrote Taylor that the troopsunder his command will exhibit the feelings of humanityand generosity which are genial to them. They wereperhaps too genial, and after Arista lost the battles ofPalo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. he was relieved ofcommand. (Archives Division,Texas State library)
Outbreak 27 General Taylors northern campaign, March 1846-February 1847powerful steamers, Mississippi and Princeton, Winning battles at Palo Alto and Resaca de Palma in earlytwo big frigates, three sloops, five brigs, and May 1846,Taylor crossed the Rio Grande at the head of 6,000 men. Marching west, parallel with the nver he reacheda schooner. Mien then swung his army south-west onto the Monterey Santa Anna had regained the presidency Road. Slowed by logistical problems and the boiling heat ofin 1843. As with his previous the northern Mexico summer; he reached Monterey onadministrations, he led Mexico into 21 September After smashing the Mexican army andbankruptcy and revolt. In revulsion, his capturing the city, he arranged a truce. Then he took up defensive positions in the mountains south of Sattillo. Laterpolitical opponents seized power and Santa in the wan a detachment of Taylors troops occupiedAnna was captured and thrown into Perote Tampico. In February 1847, General Santa Anna, in powerprison until May 1845, when he was exiled once more, led an army north from San Luis Potosi hopingfor life and deported to Cuba. to crush the Americans and regain control of the north.
28 Essential Histories • The Mexican War On 14 April 1846, Arista informed Taylor On 30 April, the Mexican commanderthat hostilities had commenced. Shortly crossed the Rio Grande with 4,000 men,afterwards, a Mexican force clashed with a hoping to interpose his forces hetweentroop of dragoons north of the Rio Grande, Taylors army at Fort Texas and thekilling or wounding 16 Americans. American supply base at Fort Isabel. When Texan scouts reported the Mexican move, Old Rough and Ready Taylor left aThe Mexican government threatened war if the Unrted small force to hold Fort Texas and orderedStates annexed Texas. After annexation. President Polksent General Zachary Taylor and an army to Corpus the bulk of his men on a forced march toChristi with orders to march to the Rio Grande River, the Port Isabel. After 20 hours of slogging thenew boundary of the United States. (Library of Congress) 30 miles to the port, Taylor ordered his
Outbreak 29exhausted men to throw up a defensive line Arista took up a strong defensivearound the town. position across the road, along a ridge called The situation changed when Arista Palo Alto. He ordered Ampudia to abandonordered Ampudia to attack Fort Texas. After a the siege of Fort Texas and join hisTexas Ranger slipped through the Mexican command. Arista deployed 6,000 men in alines to report the siege of the American fort, mile-long frontage and awaited theTaylor decided to take the offensive. American attack. He placed part of hisAlthough outnumbered almost three to one, cavalry by a swamp to guard his left flankon 7 May, Taylors 2,200-man army marched and another detachment of mounted troopssouth on the Malamoros Road to relieve on a wooded hill protecting his right. HeFort Texas. spread his infantry, interspersed with artillery batteries, in the center, across the road. On the hot, muggy morning of 8 May, Taylors sweat-soaked men stomped along the sandy road until they came to a halt one mile from the enemy. Taylor, wearing his customary baggy blue jeans, a stained white duster, and a battered straw hat, looked more like a down-on-his-luck farmer than a commanding general. Sitting sidewise on his horse and occasionally spitting an amber stream of tobacco juice, Taylor calmly deployed his men. With the exception of the mounted Texas Rangers, they were all regulars. Taylors immediate concern was his supply train - 300 cumbersome wagons being hauled by a motley assortment of mules and oxen. To protect them from a lightning attack by Mexican cavalry, he reluctantly diverted a battery of artillery and a squadron of dragoons. Taylor placed his large 18-pounder guns in the center of the road and moved his troops to form a line of skirmishers. He placed the 8th Infantry Regiment on his far left flank, supported by Captain James Duncans light artillery battery. In the center, straddling the 18-pounders, he deployed the 3rd and 4lh Infantry Regiments. To their right he placed Major Samuel Ringgold and his battery, supporting the 5th Infantry Regiment on the extreme right flank. Ringgold, like many young West Point graduate artillerists, was eager to test his new Flying Artillery, lightweight, horse drawn-guns designed to be deployed and fired rapidly. He had been a pioneer in
30 Essentia! Histories • The Mexican Wartheir development from 1838 and had in that branch of the service. These lightdesigned the high-wheeled, light caisson batteries were the cream of the army,which enabled the bronze 6-pounder guns and Taylor had three of them, each withto be maneuvered across rugged terrain at four guns.great speed. He had also written the The 6-pounders weighed only 8801bs andmanual, Instruction for Field Artillery, had a range of 1,500 yards, which enabledHorse and Foot, which was used in the the artillery to remain out of the range ofrigorous training given to officers and men enemy musketry when necessary. The guns could fire solid shot, explosive shells, andOn 8 May 1846, the first major battle between the canister (a metal can filled with musket ballsMexican and American armies was fought on the coastal which when fired sprayed the balls, turningplain of Palo Alto. On the first day of battle, American the cannon into a kind of large shotgun).artillery beat off Mexican assaults.The following day, American tactical doctrine called for theAmerican infantrymen cracked the Mexico lines and sent Flying Artillery to be placed on the firingthem into retreat. President Polk told Congress:American blood has been shed on American soil and line at the point of the greatest danger.the war was on. (Painting by Carl Nebel, Archives At 2.00pm on 8 May, as the AmericansDivision, Texas State Library) formed into line, the Mexican artillery
Outbreak 31 bloody tangle of dying horses and men. Tragically, Major Ringgold was killed by one of the few accurate cannonballs fired by the Mexican gunners. Arista then ordered his remaining cavalry to flank the American left and destroy the American wagon park. They met with equally devastating artillery fire from Duncans battery and quickly withdrew to their lines. The constant firing set the prairie grass afire and soon oily black smoke enveloped the battlefield. Under this cover, Arista ordered a withdrawal. As the Mexicans retreated, they could hear the screams of their wounded, burning to death in the flaming grass. Resaca de la Palma After the smoke cleared and the casualties were counted, the American losses were half a dozen killed and 40 wounded. Mexican casualties were estimated at between 400 and 700. Arista moved his demoralized troops to a point above Matamoros, on the north bank of the Rio Grande, and deployed them along a sunken dried-up river bed called Resaca de la Palma. His position was further protected by thorn bushes, thick cactus, and swampy ground. lie placed his infantry in the stream bed, with his artillery behindbegan firing at extreme range. Without them; the cavalry was held in reserve inexplosive shells, they fired solid cannonballs the rear. Confident that this position couldwhich after a few hundred yards began not be taken, Arista retired to hisbouncing over the rough ground, losing headquarters tent far behind his lines tovelocity. write dispatches. The quick-firing American guns got off The following morning, 9 May, Tayloreight shots to the Mexicans one and Aristas ordered an advance. Seeking a doubleinfantry began to falter. The Mexican envelopment of the Mexican flanks, hegeneral countered by ordering his sent infantry through the rough countrymagnificently uniformed lancers to attack on both sides of the road. Fighting theirthe American right flank. With pennons way through the almost impassablefluttering from their lance heads and buglers thorns and brush, which ripped theirsounding the charge, they galloped into uniforms and tore at their flesh, they madedisaster. Ringgolds battery, each gun firing little progress. When finally they reachedone round a minute, blasted them with both sides of the ravine, they attackedexplosive shells and then decimated their with bayonets and clubbed their enemiesranks with canister. Soon the field was a with rifle butts.
32 Essential Histories • The Mexican WarMajor Samuel Ringgold was mortally wounded by a his bugler to blow recall and, turning about,Mexican cannonball while directing his artillery battery they galloped back to the American lines.during the first days fighting at Palo Alto. The projectile Taylor, exercising his fluent frontierdrove through his right thigh, passed through his horse, vocabulary, sent the 8th Infantry down theand ripped into his left leg. (Library of Congress) road to take and this time to keep the guns. The headlong charge of the 8th broke the When the attack on the Mexican left Mexican lines and they took possession ofwas repulsed by a Mexican battery firing from the battery. The American infantry had bythe roadway, Taylor ordered Major Charles then enveloped both flanks, and some unitsMays squadron of the 2nd Dragoons to charge had reached the Matamoros Road, cutting offdown the Matamoros Road and silence the the Mexican line of retreat. Demoralized,enemy guns. In a column of fours, sabers Aristas troops panicked. Some surrenderedflashing, the Americans charged at the gallop. while others scattered and ran for the river.They overran the guns but found themselves More than 300 drowned or were picked offsurrounded by enraged infantrymen slashing like grounded ducks by American infantry asat their mounts with bayonets. May ordered they tried to reach the south bank.
Outbreak 33 Estimates put Mexican losses at more on 17 May, the survivors of the Army of thethan 1,200 killed or wounded, 100 captured, North evacuated Matamoros and straggledand 2,000 deserted. For days the skies south. Taylors army crossed the river andwere filled with gorged vultures, while occupied the town. For a while northernhowling wolves roamed the battlefield Mexico would be quiet.feasting on the unburied dead. American When President Polk learned of the firstlosses were put at 34 killed and skirmish he sent a war message to Congress113 wounded. asking for 50,000 volunteers and ordered On 11 May, a truce was agreed upon and Mexican ports blockaded.
The fightingWar across the continentAs each side mobilized, the inevitable The two dragoon regiments were outfittedconfusion and shortages stalled major with shortened carbine versions of the infantryoffensives by both armies for months. While musket and usually used percussion caps, forpreparing for battle, the vast differences the charge, they wielded sabers and fired abetween the American and Mexican forces single-shot percussion cap pistol. The Texasbecame increasingly apparent. Rangers, arguably the most deadly mounted troops in the war, carried one and often two of the new Colt 5-shot repeating pistols.The Americans The regular army wore uniforms of blue wool, while the volunteers at first sported aThe declaration of war passed by the variety of colors and styles. As the warAmerican Congress approved the expenditure progressed, volunteers were provided withof 10 million dollars and authorized more regulation attire by army50,000 volunteers, to be raised by the states, quartermasters. As the armies marched deeperto carry the burden of the fighting. Within into Mexico, shoes, pants, and shirts becamedays, volunteers flocked to the recruiting difficult to replace and soon the columnsdepots. Most were spurred by patriotism and resembled bands of wandering hoboes.a lust for adventure, but generous land grants The provision of food was always afor veterans also helped recruiting. problem. Rations shipped from New Orleans The flintlock musket, weighing lOlbs and depots were often spoiled and uneatablefiring a .68 caliber lead ball, was standard when they arrived in camp. One soldier testequipment for the United States infantry. A few for meat was to throw it against a wall. If itunits, however, had rifles adapted for the new, stuck, it was best not to eat it.more efficient, percussion caps. Battle sights Regulations provided for ample amounts ofwere set for approximately 120 yards, but the meat, bread, vegetables, coffee, salt, and sugar,weapon could be effective up to 200 yards. but it was rare that such a variety was A cartridge known as buck and ball was available. Fortunately, Mexicans were happyalso issued. Consisting of one normal-sized to sell local foodstuffs to Americans inball and three smaller ones, it was lethal exchange for cash in the form of silver or goldwhen fired at close range. Troops were coins. Their food was better and cost less thanexpected to fire three aimed rounds per that offered by sutlers, who were damned forminute, and were drilled until the loading their high prices and poor merchandise. Theand firing sequences became a reflex action. Americans soon acquired a taste for Mexican Several units, including the Mounted dishes, and tamales, enchiladas, tacos, andRifles Regiment and the 1st Mississippi tortillas rated higher in soldiers tastes thanVolunteers, were armed with rifles that had did salt beef and stale bread.an effective range of more than 400 yards in While in camp, the men gathered aroundthe hands of a trained regular or a frontier mess fires to socialize, play interminable cardmarksman. Rifles were slow to reload because games, gripe about the food, and dreamthe ball had to be rammed down the barrel. about the women they had left behind. TheAt best, it took one full minute per shot. more educated held literary readings,Most of the shoulder weapons had produced comical plays, or held debates onattachments for bayonets. the issues of the day. Sing-alongs were
The fighting 35popular for all - Home Sweet Home and The only fired their weapons for the first timeGirl I Left Behind Me were favorites. Near when engaged in battle.towns, however, where hard liquor was Mexican-manufactured gunpowder wasavailable, merriment often degenerated inLo of poor quality, so extra gunpowder wasbrawls. In the city bordellos, gonorrhea and loaded into each cartridge. The added kicksyphilis were endemic. when a trigger was pulled made the shooter Like most 19th century wars, moTe men flinch, often sending his bullet high or widewere lost to disease than were killed in of its mark.battle. Spoiled food, contaminated water, Cavalry was the elite force in the Mexicanand unsanitary disposal of human and army and was better equipped and uniformedanimal wastes caused most of the problems. than the infantry. The favorite weaponA lack of tents resulted in soldiers sleeping for mounted troops was the lance, aon the ground in mud and water, exposed to 12-foot wooden shaft topped with an ironwind, rain, sandstorms, and cold. These spearhead. A red pennon attached at the endconditions often resulted in lethal cases of fluttered during a charge, designed to startlepneumonia. Long marches in the sometimes enemy horses. Cavalrymen were usuallyboiling Mexican sun were a not uncommon issued escopetas, a short-barreled flintlockkiller for men loaded with a 10-pound rifle, carbine, a single-shot flintlock pistol, a long40 rounds of ammunition, bayonet, blanket, straight-bladed saber, and often a lasso.water jug, rations, and cooking gear. The Mexican artillery was often old androads from St. Louis to California, Vera Cruz usually employed obsolescent tactics. Heavyto Mexico City, and the Rio Grande to Buena barrels and caissons made their guns,Vista all took their toll of American dead. ranging from 24-pounder siege guns to Unskilled doctors and nurses, poor 8-pounder field guns, hard to maneuver andfacilities and equipment, and the general slow to deploy. Again, a shortage ofignorance of the medical profession provided gunpowder allowed little training, and a lacklittle help to men stricken by exhaustion, of modern explosive shells made theirillness, or battle wounds, and the death toll artillery less effective.was extremely high. Elite units, usually cavalry, were often resplendent in brightly colored Napoleonic-era uniforms. Most of theThe Mexicans army, however, was poorly dressed, with bright-colored tailcoats and rough canvasMexico was handicapped by a lack of pants, white in summer and, if available,factories to produce arms and ammunition, blue in winter. The peasant infantry marchedand after the outbreak of the war, the in sandals or barefoot. There were shortagesAmerican blockade choked off European of tents, blankets, and overcoats.sources of weapons. The rank and file of the Mexican army was Mexican fusiliers and grenadiers were not only untrained, ill-clothed, and poorlyissued the British-made Brown Bess musket, a equipped, but was also usually underfed. Withsmooth-bore flintlock firing a .75 caliber lead an inefficient commissary, troops usually hadball. Riflemen were issued British-made Baker to live off the land. Around the campfiresflintlock rifles of .62 caliber, accurate up to there were cards, songs, and comradeship,200 yards. Both weapons were equipped for dances and an occasional cock fight. Amongbayonet use. the officers there were horse races and Mexican marksmanship was extremely interminable political discussions. Manypoor. Conscripts rarely underwent the peasant soldiers, drafted and marched farvigorous drilling needed for fast loading and from their native villages, suffered the sameaccurate shooting, and the shortage of longings and homesickness as their Americanammunition meant that some conscripts opponents. Poor clothing, lack of tents and
36 Essential Histories • The Mexican Warwarm clothes, and inadequate diets reduced revolution. During June 1846, the illegalmany sturdy peasant soldiers to invalids. With population of 1,000 Americans, who wereailing and embittered soldiers, the Mexican tough trappers, deserters from whaling fleets,army faced escalating desertion rates. and gold hunters, revolted against Mexico. The giant province of California was virtually uninhabited, with a totalCalifornia population of less than 10,000 of European ancestry. The settlers were centered aroundWhile northern Mexico was exploding in the ports of San Francisco, Monterey, Losbattle, California was boiling over with Angeles, and San Diego. Isolated from
The fighting 37Mexico City by virtually impassible deserts The Americans washed out filthy uniforms wheneverand thousands of miles, California was ripe time and clear water were available. But unsanitaryto be plucked by anyone with a few guns conditions and disease were responsible for 11,000 deaths among the troops. (Library of Congress)and much daring. The Americans had the guns and inCaptain John C. Fremont they found a declared he joined the Bear Flaggers and ledleader of reckless courage. Fremont, who had them into a series of victorious skirmishesled previous explorations into the west, was with Mexican forces. On 7 July 1846, heguided to Sutters Fort by famed scout Kit joined forces with the American naval flotillaCarson in December 1845. After war was and together, with little opposition, they
38 Essential Histories • The Mexican WarCommodore Robert F. Stockton commanded the Americanflotilla off the coast of California. He sent landing parties to seizeports from San Francisco to San Diego. (Corbis)
The fighting 39 The conquest of California, June 1846-January 1847In June 1846, hundreds of Americans who had settled command of the American Army of the Westillegally in California rose in revolt and declared and was ordered to capture Sante Fe, secureindependence. Aided by American John C. Fremont, the New Mexico-Arizona area, and thenillegally conducting a surveying expedition in the area,they seized San Francisco. The commander of a United march to California. The chief of staff of theStates naval squadron in the area assumed the war with American army, General Winfleld Scott,Mexico had started, and on 7 July, he sent landing parties awarded Kearny the title of Military Governorto seize ports along the northern coast. of New Mexico and California. Kearny thus By mid-August the Navy, led by Commander Robert had the honor of being the thirdF. Stockton, had. in cooperation with the irregular soldiersof the Bear Flag Republic, occupied Los Angeles and the simultaneous governor of the Pacific province,remaining Californian ports. vying with Fremont and Mexican Governor Meanwhile Brigadier General Stephen W. Kearny, Pio de Jesus Pico for control of California.guided by scout Kit Carson, left Santa Fe on Kearny had pacified New Mexico by late25 September and arrived in California in earlyDecember. After several skirmishes, the Mexican forces September. Soon afterwards he and a smallwere defeated and by the New Year the American flag force of 100 dragoons began the long dryflew uncontested over California. march across the desert to California. During the first week of December, after havingoccupied port cities from Los Angeles to San traveled 1,000 miles from Fort Leavenworth,Diego. The American naval commander, Kearny and his exhausted men staggeredCommodore Robert F. Stockton, appointed into California.Fremont as Governor of California, an act The brigadier soon learned that a force ofthat would lead to bitter rivalries. Mexican lancers under the command of In May 1846, a frontier soldier, Brigadier Andres Pico was planning to attack his tiredGeneral Stephen Watts Kearny, was given force. Picos men were camped near the
40 Essentia! Histories • The Mexican Warsmall village of San Pascual. Although he Doniphans marchknew he was outnumbered, Kearnydetermined to attack. At 2.00am on At the outbreak of the war, Alexander W.6 December 1846, he led a stumbling Doniphan, a six-foot-six, 240-poundadvance through a ravine. Missouri lawyer, helped raise 1,000 men to Kearnys column of dragoons, form the 1st Regiment of Missouri Mountedaccompanied by 35 sailors and marines of Volunteers. In mid-August 1846, theStocktons force who had joined him, and regiment marched from Port Leavenworth,two small howitzers, edged to the end of the Kansas, to join Kearny in Sante Fe. Whenravine and into the valley. At the first Kearny headed for California, Doniphanglimmerings of daylight, Kearny ordered the turned south and marched into legend.charge. Pico, however, had heard his In December, headed for the Rio Grandeapproach and ordered his men to mount and the city of El Paso del Norte, Doniphanstheir horses with lances at the ready. men traversed the desolate Jornada del As Kearnys worn-out horses and mules Miwrtu, the feared Journey of Death, a sandy,limped to the attack, the center of Picos line rocky wasteland, bereft of water or foliage,seemed to falter and the lancers wheeled with only dust storms and rattlesnakes toabout and ran from the Americans. Shouting break the barren monotony of the 250-mileHurrah, the American dragoons spurred trek. On Christmas Day his parched men andtheir mounts and emboldened by the horses stumbled to the welcome banks of theMexican retreat charged in a strung-out and Rio Grande River and gulped its muddystaggering line of pursuit. After retreating waters. Suddenly, a scout on a foaming, 100 yards, the fleeing Mexicans jerked to a lathered horse, galloped into camp shoutingstop, wheeled about, lowered their lances, that hundreds of Mexican mounted troopsand charged the straggling and surprised and infantry were moving rapidly towarddragoons. The 150 lancers hit the Americans their camp. Bugles blared, and the Americanslike a thunderbolt, killing 18 men almost ran for their weapons and formed a lineinstantly and wounding another 15, across the road to El Paso del Norte.including Kearny, who took a lance point in The Mexican commander ordered a haltthe groin. 500 yards from the American camp and a The Americans, with almost a third of Mexican dragoon officer, wearing a greentheir force dead or wounded, retreated to a jacket trimmed in scarlet, with brass-toppednearby rocky hill. One of the howitzers, helmet gleaming in the sun, approached. Hehauled by frightened mules, disappeared carried a black flag displaying two whiteover the horizon and into the desert in a skulls and crossed bones, and shouted:cloud of dust. Kearny was besieged for three Surrender or we will charge. Doniphan,days until a relief column of sailors and through his interpreter was said to havemarines arrived and Pico retreated. replied: Charge and be damned. By the end of December, Kearny had The Mexican wheeled his horse, shouted:joined forces with the naval contingents in We will give no quarter, and rode back to aSan Diego. They marched and sailed north, long line of deploying troops. Soon, with adefeating Mexican forces in battles at the blaring of bugles, more than 1,500 MexicanSan Gabriel River and La Mesa. By early cavalrymen and infantrymen rushed theJanuary, they controlled California. In the American line. The Mexicans paused atnew year the fighting also became political, 400 yards and fired three volleys whichwhen Kearny and Fremont each claimed roared over the heads of the crouchingdominance in California. Kearny won out, Missourians. Then they charged.receiving a promotion to major general; The Mexicans were 150 yards away whenFremont, charged with insubordination, the Volunteers rose up and poured volleyreturned to Washington, D.C. in disgrace. after volley into their ranks. More than
The fighting 41200 were killed or wounded before they As his artillery fire enfiladed the Mexicanturned and fled. Seven of Doniphans men line, Doniphan dismounted some of his menwere slightly wounded. Two days later, the and then charged the now disorganized foe.Missourians crossed the Rio Grande and took Gun butts smashed and Bowie knives slashedpossession of El Paso del Norte without a in close-quarter fighting until the Mexicansshot being fired. retreated in disorder. Doniphan reported that On 8 February, Doniphan and his small he had captured 10 guns and 10 wagons, killedarmy, reinforced by 100 men and an artillery 300, and wounded another 300. His losses werebattery, marched south toward Ciudad two killed and a few slightly wounded. One ofChihuahua. After crossing the arid country, the captured wagons was filled with lassos,always short of water, the Americans neared which the Mexican general had planned to usethe Rio Sacramento, some 15 miles from the to tie up his Missouri prisoners.city. There, in late February, stretched across The Volunteers marched into Chihuahuathe road leading to the capital of the state of on 1 March and Doniphan rested his menChihuahua, were 3,000 Mexican soldiers until late April; then he again marched south.with 10 artillery pieces. On the way, his men ambushed a band of Outnumbered three to one, Doniphan Lipan Indians who had ravished the womenshied away from a frontal attack. Fie skirted and murdered the men at a ranch near Parras.the road to the west, maneuvered his men, Freeing the women captives, the Missouriansguns, and wagons through a gulch, then continued their trek, swinging eastward todrove them up a steep cliff and onto a mesa, join Taylors army at Bucna Vista.outflanking the Mexican position. From there they hiked to Matamoros, boarded ship, and sailed to New Orleans. After landing there, they returned to Missouri and a heros welcome. Ragged but proud, they had covered more than 5,000 miles in their epic journey. After winning two battles at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, General Taylor was awaiting reinforcements and siege guns before advancing on Monterey. Through intermediaries, Santa Anna, now in exile in Cuba, convinced President Polk that if he were passed through the American blockade, he would enter Mexico, seize power, and then negotiate the purchase of western lands and sign a peace treaty. Polk agreed, and in August 1846, Santa Anna arrived in Mexico. True to his character, Santa Anna double-crossed Polk, denounced the Americans, seized power in Mexico City, and began raising new armies to drive the gringos out of Mexico. Alexander W. Doniphan was a Missouri lawyer when war broke out. With no military experience he raised 1,000 men for the I st Regiment of Missouri Mounted Volunteers. He led them on an epic march through northern Mexico. (Library of Congress)
42 Essential Histories • The Mexican War The epic march of the Missouri Volunteers, June 1846-June 1847After marching west from Ft Leavenworth to Bents The Battle of MontereyFort in Colorado, Colonel Alexander W. Doniphanturned south. After winning a skirmish at Canoncrto, heoccupied Santa Fe. Continuing south along the Rio Taylor, now heavily reinforced withGrande, he fought a sharp battle at Brazito, near the volunteer regiments, was stalled near thepresent-day city of El Paso, Texas.There he defeated a Rio Grande for lack of transport, and manyMexican force of 1,200 men. of his new recruits had fallen ill with fever From the Pass of the North, Doniphan probed and dysentery. Under constant pressure fromdeeper into Chihuahua and on 28 February 1847, hisMissounans defeated 3,000 Mexicans at Sacramento Polk to advance into Mexico, Taylor marchedand he occupied the state capital. Chihuahua City. on Monterey with 6,000 of the more healthyAfter another long, dusty march they linked up with regulars and volunteers, reaching theTaylors army at Monterey. From there it was on to outskirts of the city on 19 September. MoreMatamoros and a ship to New Orleans. Doniphans than 10,000 Mexican regulars under thecontemporaries liked to compare his march to that ofXenophon, the Greek who led 10,000 troops to safety command of General Ampudia had spenton a fighting 1,500-mile march through hostile Persian the intervening months fortifying theterritory around 400 BC. approaches to the city.
The fighting 43 Taylor split his forces, sending General the opening, and when the shell exploded,William Worths Division to attack the infantry would rush in through the gap tofortified heights from the west and the southwhile his remaining troops attacked from the On 19 September Taylors army arrived before Monterey.north-west. After fierce fighting and despite The following day, General Worths division movedheavy losses, the Americans hrokc through south-west and cut the Saltillo Road, preventing Mexicanthe defenses and the Mexicans retreated into reinforcements for General Ampudias garrison ofthe city. 10.000. Driving a Mexican force before him, on 21 September Worths men assaulted positions west of Some historians believe it was the Texans, the city and captured fortified hills to the south. Butlerswho had had experience fighting in adobe volunteers and Twiggs troops, attacking from theand rock houses in Mexican cities, who north-west, were first repulsed, but rallied and capturedtaught the regulars the tactics of urban Fort Teneria.fighting. They would smash through a house On 22 September, after Worths men had captured the heavily defended Bishops Palace, Ampudia retreatedwall with pickaxes, or blast holes through it into the city center There followed two days of viciouswith a 6-pounder cannonball. A timed house-to-house fighting until, on 24 September theexplosive shell would then be fired through Mexican commander asked for surrender terms. The battle of Monterey, 19-24 September 1846