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The War With Mexico, Volume I (of 2) By Justin H. Smith Characters: 46106

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

THE LEADERS ADVANCE May-September, 1846

On taking possession of Matamoros Taylor pitched his tent in the shade of a small tree about half a mile from town, and there he remained. Dressed in attakapas pantaloons and a linen roundabout he sat enthroned on a box cushioned with an Arkansas blanket, and for dinner-table had a couple of rough blue chests. The slight pursuit of Arista and the search for concealed ordnance, arms and munitions did not require his personal attention. June 6 Lieutenant Colonel Wilson with his four companies of the First Infantry, Price's company of rangers and two of Bragg's guns under Lieutenant Thomas, the future "Rock of Chickamauga," marched for Reynosa, about sixty miles distant by the road, which had asked for the protection of American troops,[1] and on the fifteenth Captain McCulloch and his company were sent off on a scouting expedition; but the General had ample time for reflection, and his thoughts were not entirely agreeable.[2]

Despite newspaper glorification, the low opinion of his abilities that was entertained by the officers must have impinged somewhat upon his consciousness. Captain Larnard, in fact, believed that he not only realized his inadequacy, but longed to retire; and certainly Taylor's private letters exhibited the profoundest mental discomfort. Scott should come, he insisted over and over again; the campaign would be a failure, and the officer conducting it would be ruined. He distrusted the intentions of the administration, and he condemned its policy. As early as May 9 he feared too many volunteers-whom he disliked-were coming; by May 20 he knew what Gaines had done; and Scott's letter of May 18 informed him that about 20,000 such troops were "to march upon Mexico."[2]


Under this head all his fears were realized. First, three-months men (militia) sent for by himself in April, then six-months men called out by Gaines, and then twelve-months men raised under the war bill poured in. By June 3 his army had risen to nearly 8000. Three weeks later the First Tennessee Infantry-advance guard of the Congressional troops-appeared, and it found on the scene six regiments from Louisiana, one from St. Louis, one from Kentucky, seven companies from Alabama and twelve or fifteen from Texas. All of these had come in response to the calls of Taylor or Gaines; and some had been on the ground more than a month. In all about 8000 of these two classes arrived, and in accordance with Taylor's desire nearly all of them-except a very few, who agreed to serve twelve months-were sent home about the first of August.[3] Before they took their leave, at least 20,000 American soldiers were on the Rio Grande, besides an inevitable number of American civilians more or less directly connected with the army or not connected at all; and by far the greater part of their subsistence had to come, of course, from the United States.[4]

The men were stationed in a series of camps. The best of all these was probably at Point Isabel, where the dry, undulating ground and fresh breezes made for health and comfort. Fort Polk, as the station was now called, included about fifty acres. The shallowness of the harbor impaired the convenience of the Point somewhat, however; and the primary camp lay three or four miles away at the north end of Brazos Island, which consisted of low hills on the side toward the mainland, a swamp in the centre, a wreck-strewn beach on the outer side, and in general three blades of grass to fifty square feet of sand, as Lieutenant George B. McClellan wrote home. Here, too, the air was excellent; but the brackish water caused many complaints, and the sand blew into everything-hair, nose, eyes and food. Marching the entire length of the island the soldiers found themselves, at its southern end, about eighty yards from the mainland, waded across the bayou or strait known as Boca Chica, and after going about seven miles farther came to another camp and group of storehouses, ten miles or so from their point of departure, called Mouth of the Rio Grande, where the river steamers tied up or anchored.[5] Here, as at Camp Brazos, the ground was "working A live with magotes and land crabs," as a soldier put it; but the same breezes usually tempered the heat. Eight miles from the Gulf by land-twenty-five or thirty by water-one came to Burrita, a cluster of huts on a ridge close to the stream, and this high ground was made the site of a roomy camp. On the opposite side of the river and separated from it by a mile of swamp lay Camp Belknap, a spot fit only for the snakes, tarantulas, centipedes, fleas, scorpions and ants that infested it. Above this point lay several more camps,[6] and still others enveloped Matamoros.[7]

Except Belknap all of these places were fairly salubrious for men of reasonable prudence, and several of them distinctly healthful; yet considerable sickness prevailed. At Brazos Island a sort of dysentery made trouble, and by some the water of the Rio Grande itself was thought injurious. Until May 13 no funds available for tents had been within the reach of Quartermaster General Jesup; and after this difficulty was removed, feeling that he could not wait for duck, he used, common muslin, which let the rain through; and many of the troops, even regulars, had no protection against the weather except a screen of brush or a blanket thrown over a bush. Measles invaded the camps, and lying on the damp ground made the disease fatal in many instances. What was worse, the heedlessness and homesickness of the volunteers caused much sickness even at Point Isabel. The regulars, however, were comparatively healthy and contented.[7]

The heat, softened by constant breezes, was thought by many less oppressive than in Tennessee and Kentucky, though sometimes men fainted at the drills. Bathing proved a valuable resource; and on the seashore there were oysters, crabs and a large variety of beautiful fish to catch and eat. Stately processions of herons and scarlet-winged flamingos and the chatter of jackdaws and many other birds amused the soldiers; and some of those addicted to sport discussed the project of crossing the mosquitos with gamecocks, we are told. The roar of the sea and the mirages along the river, innumerable flowers, the solemn burros (donkeys) almost buried by their loads, the Mexicans vending eatables at exorbitant prices, the long lines of tents where such a luxury as tents existed, target shooting, and now and then the muffled drum helped occupy one's attention. On July 5 occurred a Sunday and a sermon-the last of the campaign. At sunset a tremulous orange haze in the west was due, followed by the twinkling lights of the camp, that were so agreeable to view from a distance, and then by the howling of wolves, the tenor chorus of the swamps, and the agonized baritone fugues of the donkeys. It was now time for singing, story-telling and, above all, gambling-perhaps Old Sledge on a blanket, perhaps Chuckle-luck, perhaps monte, perhaps faro; and now and then came a fandango (dance) on the hard ground with such American and Mexican women as there were. The camp life was "a rough furnace and a hot fire," wrote Sergeant Miller; but the novelty of it soon wore off, and the volunteers grew discontented.[7]


They had come for glory and a good time, and were having neither. They wanted to do something, and to do it at once or go home. One at least of them believed that assignment to garrison duty would have led to general desertion. Wherever they were, they panted to be somewhere else. Having come to gamble, with their lives for a stake, they clamored to have the game begin. If there was no enemy to fight, they were ready to fight friends; and in one of the many brawls and riots Colonel Baker was shot in the neck. Four or five months of training under expert officers and strict discipline were necessary to prepare regulars for the field;[8] and naturally these volunteers, almost wholly alien to the habits, feelings and efficiency of the real soldier, often felt at liberty to thwart and even defy their commander, and were unable to co?perate with him intelligently when really disposed to do so. In spite of positive orders they wasted ammunition recklessly, and Lieutenant Meade thought a day passed in his tent no less perilous than a stiff battle.[11]

The officers were very similar. One brigadier general came with a light buggy, in which he proposed to make the campaign. Another had enlisted as a private, and, not being deemed worthy to command the company, had been elected a lieutenant; but the executive fiat provided him with qualifications. "In the name of God," wrote a soldier to Senator Allen, don't let Hamer be a brigadier general; he is talented, but doesn't dare undertake to drill a squad; yet the commission was issued.[9] Pillow, another of the same rank, ambitious to figure but not acquainted with his proper work, did what was not proper. Some of the volunteer generals on horseback reminded Lieutenant Jamieson of the line,

"Woe to the mullein-stalk that came in our way."

Persons of a mature age, who had bulked large at home, would not stoop to plod through the rudiments of a new profession. Even good officers were in fear of the letters written by their men and the revenge that might be taken later, should real discipline be enforced; while those less conscientious threatened to resign if kept in the background, stood in the way of superiors belonging to the opposite political party, in order to prevent them from making a reputation, or even took part with the men in the hope of getting into Congress by and by.[11]

In short, the volunteers were all one costly mass of ignorance, confusion and insubordination, said Meade; while the regular officers felt discouraged, not merely by discovering that civilians were preferred to educated soldiers for high appointments, but by finding themselves in the shadow and even under the command of men who had been discharged from West Point for incapacity or from the army for gross misconduct.[10] At the height of this, General Taylor, who was disqualified by lack of experience and mental discipline for organizing an efficient staff, and therefore needed to use his own eyes and his own voice, held aloof. "I very seldom leave my tent," he wrote on July 25, adding helplessly, "How it will all end time alone must tell." Besides, every mail brought letters about the Presidency to distract his attention.[11]

Probably he saw he had blundered. On April 26 he knew that war had begun, and called upon Louisiana and Texas for soldiers with a view to the invasion of Mexico, which he must have believed, under the circumstances, that his government wished. By the rules of the service it was then his duty, as he well knew, to make requisitions for everything the campaign would require,[12] and a zealous commander, gathering-as Taylor had been instructed to do-all the information he could find regarding the local conditions, might reasonably have sent on to Washington with it an able officer to assist the department. With a scorn, however, for science and vision that should have delighted Polk, Taylor did neither; but, assuming that the Mexicans would not fight-if at all-north of the mountains beyond Monterey, he determined to advance with about 6000 men. Unfortunately he neglected to have his engineers inspect the three steamboats on which his plan depended, and these proved to be worm-eaten and practically useless.[13]


About the middle of June, boats for the Rio Grande began to be despatched from New Orleans, but-in addition to mishaps at the coast resulting from gales and the freaks of the shifting bars-a serious embarrassment soon occurred above. A direct advance against Monterey by land was deemed impracticable, because the route lacked water. Taylor had therefore planned to have his troops march to Camargo, the head of navigation toward that city, and send their supplies to that point by the river; but during the first eleven days of July rain fell heavily and flooded the country. The freshet, however, ensured a sufficient depth in the Rio Grande, and on July 6 the Seventh Infantry set out for Camargo. The distance, called about 120 miles by land, was more than twice as long by water; and the river wandered about so much that according to humorous natives a bird could never get across-always alighting on some projection of the bank from which it had risen. It proved a hard task for the light and feeble steamboats, with only green wood for the boilers, to stem the fierce current; the pilots were unacquainted with the difficulties of such navigation;[14] and in making one of the sharp turns a boat was frequently caught by the current, and swept downstream or against the bank-breaking the rudder perhaps.[16]

But in one way or another the steamers puffed ahead past great cornfields, and occasionally there was a small village, where the people stared in wonder at the strange craft, and the girls laughed and shouted to see the soldiers throw kisses to them. After some 200 miles of this came Reynosa on a high limestone point, dominated by a heavy, stunted church tower like an ancient castle; and, farther along, the mouth of the Alcantro was passed. The country became still better now, with fertile valleys running back to the tablelands; and not only corn but potatoes, wheat, beans, and cotton could be seen. Forty miles of such a landscape, and the steamboats entered the San Juan; and after struggling on for three or four more they stopped early on July 14 at Camargo, where Captain Miles, who commanded the regiment, sent at once for the alcalde, an official who acted as mayor, judge and pater familias in a Mexican town, and formally took possession. The rest of the regular infantry pursued the same route as fast as possible, and on July 30 most of the volunteers were ordered to do so.[16]

From Matamoros to Monterey

August 4 Taylor himself embarked, and the next day artillery and infantry began to advance by the southern shore of the river. The road was in places deep with mud or covered with water; thick chaparral cut off the friendly breeze; the intense heat felled many a soldier, and thirst tormented all who retained their senses; but after a time the plan of moving by night lessened the suffering, and at last the painful march was achieved. The cavalry and wagons also proceeded in due course to the general rendezvous;[15] and meanwhile Mier, a hill town only a short distance from the Rio Grande, was occupied without resistance on July 31.[16]


Camargo, a place of perhaps 5000 inhabitants, was said to be some 400 miles from the Gulf by water. It stood well up on the right bank of the river, here about one hundred yards in width; but the recent freshet, rising to an unprecedented height, had nearly destroyed it, replacing houses and gardens with about a foot of mud. This was dug away, and the banks were cleared of vegetation; "acres and acres" of tents rose; and by the end of August some 15,000 men were encamped along the San Juan for a distance of three miles or so up and down and several hundred yards back, while a quantity of stores that dumfounded the Mexicans and satisfied Taylor, was gradually piled up. Worth, who had returned to his brigade at the end of May, commanded the place and insisted on firm discipline. No American trader was tolerated; and all persons caught smuggling liquor into camp suffered "a punishment cruel to use on tender skins."[17]

This was well, but it did not redeem the situation. Natives regarded Camargo as the sickliest point in the region, and the freshets had made it worse. Every breath of air raised a stifling cloud of dust from the dried and pulverized mud. Barren hills of limestone cut off the breeze to a great extent and concentrated the fierce heat, frequently sending the mercury in "this hottest of all hot places," as a soldier called the town, to 112 degrees. Scorpions, tarantulas, mosquitos and centipedes abounded. There was a plague of small frogs. "Last night the ants tried to carry me off in my sleep," wrote a soldier. The only drinking water came from the San Juan, and it made trouble. The ignorance of the volunteers about caring for their health was fairly matched by that of their officers and medical men. Days of sweltering under a cruel sun, with nothing to do and apparently nothing to hope for, were followed by cool nights and heavy dews, the heart-rending groans of the sick, and the yelping of numberless prairie wolves. In almost all the volunteer regiments at least one third of the men were ill, wrote Meade, and in many of them, one half. The three volleys at the graves became well-nigh a continuous roll; and the "dead march" was played so often that, as an officer said, the very birds knew it. The First Tennessee, originally 1040 prime young fellows, was reduced by deaths and discharges to less than 500. "Oh, what a horror I have for Camargo," exclaimed one of the generals; "it is a Yawning Grave Yard"; a thousand soldiers torn and mangled on the battlefield would be nothing to its suffering and dying regiments.[17]

And all this appears to have been unnecessary. As we have seen, Taylor had no intention of using more than about 6000 men in the near future; and there were salubrious places not only near the Gulf but near Camargo. No local maladies prevailed in the Rio Grande valley, said Meade. "There are no causes for disease," wrote Captain Henry. The climate of that region, said an Illinois officer, equalled in salubrity the climate of "any Western state." Reynosa was described by the General Sedgwick of Civil War days as perfectly healthy. Mier, selected the following year, with a particular view to salubrity, as the site of a camp for instruction, lay near by on the road to Monterey; and Cerralvo, farther along on the same route, was a kind of Eden. The best comment on what the General did is what the General himself said. His first duty, he told Senator Crittenden, was to place the troops in a healthful situation.[17]


During all this while, Mexico, too, had been preparing for the war, and preparing characteristically. Paredes began with good intentions, a serious and fairly honorable Cabinet, and sound ideas of economy. Though he did not seem to be very strong either physically or intellectually, his many scars and the bull-like expression of his face inspired respect and caution. He lived quietly and honestly, and the correspondent of the London Times thought Mexico had a better prospect of being well governed than at any previous period since 1821. It was the dictator's hope that such a policy and a bold campaign against the Americans would rally the country to his banner.[20]

About April 1, as we already know, he gave orders to attack Taylor. In May he severed all consular relations with the United States.[18] June 6 the new Congress met; and Paredes, in opening the session, announced that the time had come to declare war, and summoned all Mexicans to the support of the country. Six days later he was elected President as a matter of course, and the action of the American government regarding war with Mexico was made known by the official Diario. On the sixteenth Tornel-the enemy of the United States and worse enemy of his own country, who had now wormed himself into the war department in place of Almonte-proposed to Congress a declaration of war; and on July 6 Paredes proclaimed, as Congress had voted five days before, that Mexico would repel the aggression and invasion of the Americans. It was further stated that besides completing the Permanent and Active corps, the government would create additional forces to serve during the war. A million dollars were supplied by the clergy to pay for a campaign. Paredes obtained permission to command the army in person, and his intention to do so was publicly announced.[20]

But as usual the war plans ended mostly in talk. Except at the far distant north, denunciation of the United States moderated somewhat, and even at Mexico bragging lost a part of its flavor;[19] yet, though really discouraged, people would, not recognize the war as anything very serious. After news of Arista's defeat arrived at the capital, the shiver of astonishment and disgust lasted for a time; but the glib fellows in the cafés were soon remarking, "Well, that's over; that won't happen again." Explanations abounded. After all, Arista was only making a reconnaissance in force, it was pointed out. "Such is the fortune of war; a defeat to-day and glory to-morrow," remarked one of the generals. The hour chosen by Providence to give the world a lesson by terribly punishing the aggressive Americans has not yet arrived, explained the governor of San Luis Potosí. Reverses have occurred, but they can easily be repaired and will be, the minister of war assured Congress airily; and moreover the enemy had suffered most severely, it was believed. Even the evacuation of Matamoros was eclipsed by domestic politics. The triangular difficulties between Scott, Gaines and the American government were cited as illustrating the state of discipline in our army. The wreck-strewn coast near the mouth of the Rio Grande and the billows laden with boxes and barrels afforded no little encouragement; and editorials from the London Times, proving in detail the hopelessness and risk of an American attack upon Mexico, were translated and printed by the official journal.[20]

So the nation took heart. Its case did not look desperate after all. Heroics appeared unnecessary. The military men have seized the country, thoughtful citizens reflected; let them defend it. The people did not fly to arms. The departments opened their strong boxes by only a chink or not at all. "A dreadful and cruel lethargy has buried the Republic," exclaimed El Indicador. How the Mexicans could be roused, nobody knew. To proclaim a levée en masse and place a weapon in every hand seemed politically dangerous. Paredes, observing that his plan to go north received the cordial endorsement of his enemies, and fully warned that his departure would be the signal for an uprising, dared not set out; and as for the idea of British aid, upon which great expectations had been erected, the minister of England gave lectures instead of promises.[20]


Indeed, Paredes found himself struggling, not merely to achieve, but even to survive. Knowing well that his political existence depended upon paying the army, he devoted all the revenues to it from the first, and made every exertion to solve the all-important problem of money. In March he tried to borrow heavily on the security of Church property, but failed. In May the payment of all treasury obligations was suspended, and a cut in pensions and salaries made; but the principal results were to anger multi

tudes already offended by his economies, destroy credit, paralyze business, and call forth an emphatic protest from the British legation. On the principle, perhaps, of setting a thief to catch a thief, the cynical Iturbe, one of the corrupt jobbers in government contracts, was appointed minister of the treasury; and extraordinary powers to raise funds were conferred upon the President by Congress. But this very law shielded private and Church property, and there was no help in laying taxes that could not be collected. Besides, the army was now but a fragile staff. The defeats of the north had smitten its confidence and prestige; being badly paid it was unreliable; and it really preferred Santa Anna, the natural chief of its unprincipled and rapacious officers.[22] Paredes counted upon the monarchical party. Beyond a doubt he aimed to place it in power.[21] Alamán, an avowed advocate of that policy, was not only his principal adviser but the chief editor of a monarchist newspaper, El Tiempo, set up at this time and protected by the government; and the convocatoria summoning the new Congress, prepared by Alamán, pointed in the same direction. But his party had no "substantial plan," as the British minister well said, and the idea commanded no popular support. To the army it meant a permanent throne in the place of a Presidential chair to which every successful general might aspire, and imported troops instead of Mexicans behind the foreign prince; while the departments, under the pretence that local interests were neglected but mainly to facilitate access to the public treasury, turned away from even the idea of a centralized republic toward a revival of Federalism. The convocatoria, which denied Congressional representation to six sevenths of the people, was generally and furiously denounced as an open rupture with the nation; and Archbishop Posada, the strongest support of the monarchists, fell sick and passed away. Paredes found it wise, therefore-in fact, unavoidable-to declare for the Republic. But his action seemed a confession of weakness, dishonesty and inconsistency; and this impression was deepened by a futile decree against the freedom of the press and a vain endeavor to gain the support of Pedraza, who led the conservative wing of the Federalists.[22]

Numerous other difficulties embarrassed the President. Like all the successful revolutionary leaders, he found it impossible to keep the promises he had made. It was complained that he did not protect northern Mexico against the Indians. His adjustment of the foreign debt raised a loud clamor. Many charged that his bringing the principal military forces to the capital had laid the frontier open to the Americans, and he was accused of using them still as his personal bodyguard. The Army of Reserve is too much reserved, cried the Monitor Republicano; and over and over again the opposition press demanded that he should take the field, which nobody believed he intended to do.[22]

By June the spirit of revolt, which had shown itself early in February, seemed formidable. Almonte, who had left the Cabinet ostensibly because opposed to monarchical designs, was believed to be at work for himself, and Santa Anna was known to be plotting. The President's ability fell conspicuously short of his needs, and he clouded with drink such talents as he possessed. His weak and vacillating course fortified every enemy, and estranged almost every sensible friend; and it came to be felt, even by those hostile to the monarchical idea, that a more energetic ruler must be found. In short, six months after taking the reins Paredes had no real strength whatever. The door stood actually ajar for a new revolution.[22]

Preparations for such a change had then been going on for a long while. In the London Times of February 10, 1846, its correspondent at Mexico had said that Santa Anna's coming into power again "would be regarded by all classes as the greatest affliction that could befall the nation," and other good observers entertained similar opinions. The Federalists in particular disliked him. But on February 20 a protest of his against monarchical schemes appeared in print at Mexico, and newspapers were soon advocating his return.[23] Farías, leader of the radical Federalists, was easily won over by a patriotic letter full of penitence and unselfish zeal, and with Rejón as intermediary an alliance of his faction and the Santannistas, based upon the idea of uniting army and people, was at length, with much difficulty, brought about. Almonte joined the combination; by the first of April it planned to "pronounce" at Vera Cruz; and although disagreement regarding the terms of the plan and a dispute whether Santa Anna or Almonte should be named the leader prevented this action, Juan Alvarez, who had been a turbulent partisan fighter in the Acapulco region ever since 1821, and was cognizant of this conspiracy, inaugurated a revolution, April 15, in favor of a provisional triumvirate: Santa Anna, Herrera and Rincón.[26]

Santa Anna insisted upon his own views, and Almonte, whom Paredes appointed minister to France in order to get rid of him and then obligingly detained at Havana by withholding funds for the journey, yielded. In May Paredes put Farías and fifteen other suspected men into prison, and this enabled them to plot at their leisure. On the twentieth of that month all the scheming came to a head at Guadalajara, where the people cried, "Viva la República! Death to the foreign prince!" The officers despatched against them proved unsuccessful.[24] The country was soon like a tossing sea; and insurrections, attempted or planned, showed themselves at various places.[26]


The government now proceeded to commit suicide. Paredes announced that he was going to make his long deferred campaign against the Americans. About 4000 troops marched for the north-really destined, it was believed, for Guadalajara-and near the end of July Vice President Bravo reluctantly accepted the reins of government. It was hoped to rally the conservatives to his support, and to that end he proclaimed on August 3 the revival of the constitution (Organic Bases) that had been in force during the Presidency of Herrera, while urgent appeals for union and harmony were put forth by the new ministers. It was hoped also to conclude the war. Paredes had wished to do this in May, and a member of the Cabinet had indirectly proposed to Consul Black that a minister should be sent by the United States; but the government finally concluded that the matter was "too delicate." The new Executive, however, had not committed himself in favor of war as the President had, and it was understood that his administration fully intended to end the conflict.[26]

Bravo's course alarmed the conspirators, for many of the Federalists, besides distrusting Santa Anna, believed the Organic Bases could be made over into a satisfactory constitution. Nobody felt sure, however, that such was the real intention of Paredes; the new Cabinet did not please the radicals; the revolution had gone so far it could not easily be stopped; and when word came on the third of August that the garrison of Vera Cruz had pronounced for Santa Anna, General Salas, the comandante general at Mexico, who was believed to be a firm supporter of the government, declared at the "citadel" the following night-with the concurrence of Farías-for Santa Anna and federation, citing particularly as excuses the monarchical designs of the administration and its failure to prosecute the war. Paredes, who had remained secretly in town, hastily set off now to bring back his troops; but the second in command of his escort betrayed him, and, overtaken by a cavalry regiment despatched by Salas, the man who had boasted that at any rate his fall would be no comedy, was brought back to town by the ear, so to speak, like a truant schoolboy.[26]

Bravo, having few men and no artillery, could not resist, and his retirement on the sixth of August left Salas in supreme de facto command,[25] pledged only to carry on the war against the United States and assemble Congress, but really destined, as his organ modestly assured an indifferent public, to open "a new epoch, an epoch of liberty, of movement and of life, an epoch of deeds and realities and not of fraudulent and vain promises." "Federation, Santa Anna and Texas," was his motto. An abundance of reassuring laws, and especially the annulment of all edicts repressing the liberty of the newspapers, a restoration of curtailed pensions and salaries, and the proclamation of a political amnesty relieved anxious minds; and the spring of patriotism was touched by summoning all Mexicans to unite against the invader. Salas, however, counted only as a herald; it was time for the hero to appear.[26]


Early in the forenoon on the sixteenth of August, a salvo of artillery from the fortress of Ulúa at Vera Cruz announced the advent of something unusual. At about nine o'clock a "crack" regiment, the Eleventh Infantry, marched down to the customhouse, and after manoeuvring for some hours was formed by dint of cuffing into two lines, which faced each other and extended to the "Palace"; and finally, at a quarter before one, a well-groomed and somewhat portly man in the full uniform of a Mexican major general came up from the wharf between the lines. He stood about five feet and ten inches in height, looked forty years old though really fifty-one, seemed capable of great endurance, and bore himself with an air of blended suavity and command. "The Flower of Mexico," a very young and very pretty little blonde, his wife, preceded him on the arm of an officer, and a retinue followed in his wake.[28]

The guns of Ulúa boomed again; such of the soldiers as chose, fired their muskets or saluted; but not a viva was heard. The young and pretty woman pouted at the cool reception. The glittering dark-gray eyes of her husband clouded; his dignified and courtly manner seemed a little disturbed; and his tawny face, whereon a studied graciousness and self-control could not hide from a close observer the marks of duplicity, treachery, avarice and sensuality, seemed to grow black. But he went on to the palace; and presently, as he sat there surrounded by officers in more or less brilliant uniforms, a tinman, speaking in the name of the people, lectured him roundly on his past misdeeds. Such was the home-coming of "The Illustrious General, Benemérito de la Patria, the Most Excellent Se?or, Don Antonio López de Santa Anna," "Champion of Independence, Hero of Tampico, Immortal Commander," as he was officially styled;[27] and such was "the most pronounced enthusiasm" with which, according to Almonte, the people received him.[28]

Santa Anna put forth at once an allocution to the troops, which exhibited in proper style the ecstatic joy that he experienced on finding himself among such devoted patriots; and a manifesto, composed by Rejón, laid his programme before the public. The latter address rambled somewhat, and even J. F. Ramírez said he could not gather its meaning; but it declared plainly against monarchy and ecclesiastical domination. "Habits of passive obedience no longer exist," the paper said; "and if there remains a sentiment of religion, time has undermined the power of the directors of consciences." Peace, democracy and "the concert of the army and the people" were said to be the General's political principles, and he declared himself "the slave of public opinion." As for the past, his mistakes as a ruler had been due to circumstances and errors of judgment; and in regard to the future, "Mexicans," he exclaimed, "there was a day, and my heart expands with the recollection, when, leading forward the popular masses and the army to demand the rights of the nation, I was hailed by you with the enviable title, Soldier of the People. Allow me again to take it, nevermore to be given up, and to devote myself, until death, to the defence of the liberty and independence of the republic." At the same time, as a pledge of sincerity, he advised restoring the federal constitution of 1824, and giving the new Congress full control over the executive.[28]

Having thus placed himself before the country, Santa Anna proceeded to his pretty house at Manga de Clavo, about sixteen miles from Vera Cruz, and thence to his more pretentious country-seat, El Encero, a little way below Jalapa. By this time-so it was reported to excuse the suspension of his journey and perhaps to remind the public of his part in the war with France-the stump of his leg had become painful; but in reality he paused to consider the situation. In that he did well. His position was extremely critical.[28]

Santa Anna did not merely enjoy an occasional game of chance; he was a gambler through and through. He did not merely stoop now and then to see two game birds prove their mettle; he was essentially a "sporting man." Not without reason did the London Atlas refer to him as "that very sorry hero but most determined cock-fighter." Possessing the strong, he possessed also the weak points of this type. He was not only uneducated, but incapable of study. He could improvise variations on a given theme with astonishing volubility, throwing back-wonderfully elaborated-an idea suggested to him; but he was not a thinker. He could shuffle and deal current political notions most shrewdly, but his only principle, either political or moral, was that having accidentally proclaimed the republic of Mexico, he owned it. He understood the shallow and selfish manoeuvres in the midst of which he lived, but had no deep insight, and found it much easier to do things than to perceive what needed to be done. His power to dupe others grew mainly, perhaps, from being a dupe himself. He was in statesmanship only by force of circumstances; and he always hated a business like that, for it perplexed and wearied his passionate, untrained character. In a critical Mexican situation his narrow but intense perspicacity, his unreflecting but unequalled quickness, his reckless but ingenious adaptation of means to ends, and his magnetic skill in "reaching" and combining men governed by self-interest gave him for the time being an immense advantage, and, when viewed under the dazzling arc lights of prestige and power, seemed truly brilliant; but his ability was essentially thin, short-sighted and weak. Indeed Consul Campbell, who saw him at Havana without his trappings, declared that in any American village of a thousand persons he would be thought intellectually feeble. Intellectually undeveloped he certainly was.[29]


In the present instance he had supposed in the Mexican style that a phrase was a philosophy, that a catchword was a magical formula, that an eloquent peroration would be as mighty after he had been found out as it had been before, that a profession of repentance would erase long years of deliberate bad conduct;[30] and from the hour of setting foot upon Mexican soil his mistake had been growing every hour more evident. Only the army felt confidence in him, and that not altogether, for he now called himself a Federalist, and the Federalists aimed to substitute for the army a citizen soldiery called the National Guard.[31] After the experience of many sad years, "people" and "army" could no more unite than oil and water. Owing to suspicions that resembled those of the army, the moderates also held aloof; and although the country in general, aware of his pre?minent energy and resourcefulness and reduced to the unhappy necessity of fighting fire with fire, consented to his resumption of power, it did not, even when somewhat reassured by his connection with Farías, trust him.[32] How can he speak truth who has no truth in his heart? men asked; and he himself could feel what the answer was.[41]

As to Farías and his party of extreme democrats, who were good enough in Santa Anna's opinion for servants but not for masters, they evidently intended to control him, which could not be tolerated long; and as to relations with the United States, the people seemed far more bent upon war than a mere gamester could have supposed. Moreover, to declare now for peace[33] looked very much like playing into the hands of ex-President Herrera, the champion and martyr of that cause, round whom an opposition party of citizens, military men and journalists was gathering at the capital; and to do this appeared even to endanger Santa Anna's personal safety, for as yet he was only a returning exile, expelled but yesterday from the country like a felon, and ordered never to come back. The civil authorities of the nation in general seemed to be unfriendly; and the second city, Puebla, which lay across his road to Mexico and had the power to wreck his cause, was found to be ill-disposed. Not only famous and rich, but hardened by extraordinary reverses-especially that of December, 1844-he was no longer the hopeful, daring adventurer. His wish now, as he told an American at this time, was to play a safe game. At Havana, so Campbell said, he had not fathomed the crisis, but he now realized that he was treading the crust of a volcano. His plans collapsed; and when the government,[34] which had become alarmed by accounts of his hesitation, deputed Baranda to act as his escort or custodian, he refused to move.[41]

He did, however, send Rejón and Almonte forward to help guide Salas, who did not relish the tutelage of Farías; and on August 22 with proper solemnities and a lavish ringing of bells the federal constitution of 1824 came forth from its tomb.[35] The people then felt a little more confidence in the future, though Santa Anna, if at all able to forecast that future, would probably have felt less. About a week later, at his instance, Rejón was appointed minister of foreign affairs, Almonte minister of war, Farías minister of the treasury, and Pacheco minister of justice;[36] and a broad scheme of war measures went into effect.[37] A levy of 30,000 troops was assigned to the states in quotas; Guardians of the Peace were decreed, so that all the regulars might be able to take the field; every Mexican between the ages of sixteen and fifty was ordered to be ready for service; and steps were taken to buy up the weapons belonging to citizens as well as promote the importation of arms. The apprehensions of the military class had recently been assuaged by declarations that the army stood in no danger of abolition; and they now tolerated not only an order to enroll National Guards, but an offer of pardon to all deserting from the regular corps within three months.[41]

While these events were taking place, the sort of ability that Santa Anna possessed and the sort of advice that he could obtain enabled him to decide firmly upon a policy for the immediate future. He knew that no way could be seen to meet the present embarrassments of the government; he knew that the hot-headed radicals, if given a chance, would soon discredit themselves; he knew that whoever should control the army would be safe and strong; and he knew that one victory over the Americans would make him omnipotent. He determined, therefore, to accept no public share in the government, pose as the single-minded patriot-soldier, and ask only the privilege of fighting at the head of the troops. At one time he refused even to enter the capital, but he was notified by the administration that such marked aloofness from the government would be regarded as an open breach.[41]

September 14, therefore, after several delays on his part, the bell of the cathedral and a salvo of artillery announced at half-past one that the professional saviour of Mexico, who never saved her, had entered the city. Everything possible was done by the authorities to give an appearance of concord and enthusiasm.[38] Watched as he knew he was by ostensible friends, Santa Anna played out his distasteful r?le, and so did the rest of the actors. Emblems abounded. Eloquence overflowed. The cathedral chanted Te deums. "Immense multitudes" (hardly perceived by ordinary observers) cheered incessantly-in the official journal. Not only public but private edifices were lavishly decorated-by order. A hired band perambulated the streets. The General listened patiently to a lecture from another man of the people, and replied with edifying humility; and he asked that a well-known statue of himself should be replaced with the national arms. But it was noticed that he and Farías, facing each other in the carriage of honor under a huge picture of the Constitution, looked more like victims than victors; and he would not be present at the grand banquet.[41]

Having complied with the ultimatum of the government, Santa Anna was now, September 17, appointed commander-in-chief of "The Liberating Army." "Every day that passes without fighting at the north is a century of disgrace for Mexico," he then exclaimed; and although he remained in Tacubaya, a suburb of the capital, and was said to be ill, he exerted himself to forward troops, hoping to concentrate 25,000 rapidly at San Luis Potosí. Tidings from the seat of war foreshadowed a battle at Monterey, and increased his anxiety. He exhorted the war department unsparingly.[41]

But the government was exceedingly poor. According to the Diario only 1839 pesos (dollars) lay in its treasury on September 6. Voluntary offerings for the war took mostly the form of eloquence.[39] The million raised by Paredes had nearly vanished in his preparations and the Citadel revolution. Pressure was applied to the clergy, and the Diario asked, Is it not worth while for the merchant to give 100,000 pesos in order to save 900,000? But both of these classes held back stubbornly, and managed the affair so as to escape. One brigade formed on three successive days to march, but had to wait for funds. At length, however, with extreme difficulty about 90,000 pesos were borrowed; and on September 28, after piously seeking the Divine Blessing at Guadalupe,[40] Santa Anna with some 2500 men set out. About 3000 were already on their way, and he expected to find a large force at San Luis Potosí.[41]

As he rolled along in his coach for about 380 miles, drawn by relays of fleet mules, the General probably congratulated himself upon his policy. He was on living terms with the radicals, had been accepted by the Church, had soothed the army, and through Pedraza-recently his enemy and still the enemy of Farías-had reached an understanding with the Moderados. Unquestionably he stood much better with the public than a month before; and he probably did not perceive that his recent course had ensured for himself and the nation a series of most unpalatable surprises.[41]

Through it all, however, the capital managed easily to be gay, and six "arrogant bulls" were artistically sacrificed in the Plaza de Toros on one of these anxious days.[42]

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