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   Chapter 12 MONTEREY

The War With Mexico, Volume I (of 2) By Justin H. Smith Characters: 49708

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

September, 1846


At once American reconnoitring parties accompanied by engineers hurried out (September 19), and both ends of the city were examined. Despite the fire of the citadel, particular attention was paid to the western fortifications, for the idea of turning them had already presented itself. By ten o'clock that night Brevet Major Mansfield, the chief engineer, returned to camp with five prisoners to be questioned and with satisfactory evidence that the Saltillo road could be gained in spite of the forts; and then a council decided to make the attempt.[1]


Evidently, however, this meant a severe struggle. Going three quarters of a mile west from the main plaza of Monterey by the Saltillo route, passing a cemetery, and keeping on about a mile and a quarter farther, one found on a low eminence at the right a dilapidated but massive stone building known as the Bishop's Palace, close below which stood now a half-moon battery facing and commanding the town. Beyond this redoubt, called La Libertad, the eminence became an ascending ridge, and some three hundred yards from the Palace the ridge ended sharply as the summit of an extremely steep height known by the Americans as Independence Hill (Loma de Independencia), where a small sand-bag redoubt had been constructed. Immediately west of this hill, what was known as the Topo road left the Saltillo highway and struck off toward one's right, and near the farther edge of this road a spur of the mountain began to ascend. On the other side of the highway flowed the Santa Catarina, passing by the city and joining the San Juan some distance below. Farther to the left and parallel to the river rose a high, bristling hill named Federation Ridge. At the western end-the summit-of this ridge, which extended some distance beyond La Libertad, stood a redoubt occupied by some eighty men; and about six hundred yards to the east, in a depression of the ridge, was a substantial masonry fort called El Soldado, armed with two 9-pounders, which were dragged, before the fighting began, to the redoubt on the summit.[2]

Meantime the Mexicans also were observing. It was generally believed that Taylor had thirty guns, which meant a hard fight; but the soldiers were excited and ready for battle. "The enthusiasm is great, the determination greater, the desire to sacrifice ourselves for the sacred rights of the nation unbounded," wrote the comandante general of Nuevo León. But Ampudia-"the Culinary Knight," as Worth called him, who had fried Sentmanat's head-already trembled. We have food for barely twenty days, he reported to the government; the troops at San Luis Potosí are few in number and little inclined to advance; through spies the enemy are aware of these facts; they will gain the pass between here and Saltillo, and from that position "it will be almost impossible to dislodge them."[3]

Sunday morning all was bustle in the American camp, and at length, a little before two o'clock, Hays and about 400 mounted Texans rode away. A long sky-blue line of infantry followed them, and then another line of men in dark-blue jackets and trousers with a red stripe down the leg-Lieutenant Colonel Childs's Artillery Battalion. Blanchard's Company of Louisiana volunteers, dressed in every sort of clothes and carrying every sort of weapon, and Duncan's and Mackall's batteries with their gleaming pieces and clattering caissons completed the detachment, which included some 2000 men, all told. The rest of the army watched their departure with keen interest, for their design looked well-nigh desperate, and yet the fate of the campaign was believed to depend upon it.[4]

Especially they watched the commander. In the usual undress uniform but on a splendid horse, which he managed with consummate address, rode Worth. He was a man of average height but noticeably strong, with a trim figure and a strikingly martial air. Conversing easily with his staff he seemed the elegant gentleman; but his face was stern, and his restless dark eyes flashed. In war he found his element; and at present behind his natural ardor burned a new flame. His withdrawing from the army in April had injured both his prestige and his relative position, and his motto now was, "A grade or a grave." His orders were to turn Independence Hill, occupy the Saltillo highway, and so far as practicable carry the works in that quarter; and no doubt he intended to do more rather than less.[4]

Soon taking leave of the road, this command plunged into cornfields and chaparral. Progress was difficult and slow. For the benefit of the artillery, ditches had to be bridged or filled and brush fences opened. The enemy promptly observed and understood the movement, and a body of cavalry embarrassed it somewhat. Once they nearly surrounded the General and his staff, who were some distance in advance; but after a time, fearing his artillery, they withdrew to the citadel. Ampudia himself rode to Independence Hill, watched the blue line a while, ordered one hundred infantry to the summit, and had a 12-pounder and a howitzer planted there.[5]

By six o'clock Worth made nearly or quite seven miles. He was now on the Topo road; and, halting just beyond the range of the battery on Independence Hill, he pushed a reconnoitring party toward the Saltillo highway. Infantry and cavalry had now been posted, however, in that vicinity. The party was fired upon; and, owing to this, to nightfall and to the torrents of rain, its purpose was not accomplished until the lateness of the hour prevented further operations. With great difficulty the Americans were placed in a fairly defensible position; and without fires, food, blankets or shelter, they lived through the stormy night as best they could. By this time the rest of the Mexican cavalry had been withdrawn from its position between the Bishop's Palace and the citadel, and a part of it retired into the town.[6]


Monday, a day of fate, broke heavy, dark and ominous. Dense clouds covered the sky, and for a time a thick mist cut off the outlook. By about six o'clock Worth moved, however, and, saluted occasionally with harmless grape from Independence Hill, advanced by the Topo road. Anticipating trouble, he arranged the column so as to be ready for prompt action. The Texans led; Captain C. F. Smith and the light companies of the Artillery Battalion, deployed as skirmishers, came next; Lieutenant Colonel Duncan's battery was third; and the rest of the command followed. Two or three hundred yards or so from the Saltillo highway, at a turn round the mountain, some two hundred lancers could be seen approaching. It was a gallant sight. The horses, though small, showed plenty of spirit; many of the saddles were silver-mounted; the cavaliers wore brilliant uniforms, and green and red pennons fluttered gayly from their poised lances. At the head of the advance rode Lieutenant Colonel Nájera, a tall, fine-looking trooper with a fierce black mustache. Smith's corps and a part of the Texas riflemen were thrown behind a strong fence; Duncan halted and unlimbered; and then, like a whirlwind, Nájera struck McCulloch.[7]

The shock was terrible; and like a lion and a tiger grappling the two bodies writhed and fought. The weight of the American horses proved a great advantage, but numbers were on the other side. Nájera, after running a Texan through with his lance, fell; but a gallant successor took his place, and the soldiers proved worthy of him. Many lances were shivered, and others, useless at close quarters, were dropped; but sword and escopeta served instead. On our part Smith's infantry fired well, and the Mexicans could not break through the fence.[7]

After recoiling a little they formed to charge again. Other troops of Worth's came up, took post beside the road, and began work. A minute or two more and Duncan, on higher ground, was firing over the Americans. By this time Nájera's squadron was nearly accounted for; but behind it were the rest of Romero's cavalry brigade and a party of infantry. However, Mackall's battery was now co?perating with Duncan's and both did splendidly. The Mexican foot withdrew instead of advancing. A part of the cavalry soon retreated toward Saltillo and a part into the town; and the brief but important struggle ended. Probably more than one hundred Mexicans had been killed or wounded, while our own casualties appear to have numbered about a dozen, and the way to the Saltillo highway lay open. By a quarter past eight Worth's command was on this road; and he reflected with exultation that the Mexican line of communication, supply, reinforcement and retreat had been cut. Nor was that all or even the best of it, he believed. "The town is ours," he scrawled in pencil to the commander-in-chief. The battery on Independence Hill now became active, however; and as Federation redoubt, of which the Americans had not heard, began to drop round shot among our troops, they had to be withdrawn about half a mile in the direction of Saltillo.[7]

Worth's courage and spirit were inflexible, but he was a little wanting in steadiness. His impetuous, restless mind would leap to a decision without fully grasping all the facts, and then it was necessary to reconsider and re-decide. In the face of the present unexpected situation he changed his plan several times, and fatigued the troops perhaps with some unnecessary movements; but by noon he concluded to storm Federation Ridge first, and Captain C. F. Smith was assigned to this task with four Artillery and five dismounted Texan companies-about three hundred or three hundred and fifty effectives. Riding up to the command Worth exclaimed in his bold, magnetic way, which went straight to the soldier's heart, "Men, you are to take that hill-and I know you will do it." "We will," they answered, and the detachment, followed by the most anxious hopes of all the other corps, moved off. It seemed like charging the clouds, but it had to be done.[8]

The intention was to gain the rear of the fort, and hence a circuitous route leading to the southern flank of the ridge was chosen. After hurrying through cornfields and sugarcane to the river and then upstream a considerable distance to find a crossing place, the men slid down the rough bank of the Santa Catarina, and plunged in. The swift stream, waist-deep, was hard to resist, especially as one could not help slipping on the loose round stones, and the water hissed and boiled with grape and bullets; but by good luck no casualty occurred, and the men clambered up the opposite bank. Pushing on then, after pausing for breath under the cover of thickets, they came at length to a low eminence, and concealed themselves behind a hedge while the captain reconnoitred. The main hill, which appeared to be nearly four hundred feet high, was rough, steep and covered with chaparral. The garrison seemed to be strong and resolute. The two guns made heavy odds. For quite a while Smith studied the hard problem, doubting whether it was practicable to assault the position, but finally he ordered the men forward; and soon lines of dark blue Mexican skirmishers, descending from the redoubt, stationed themselves at favorable points to meet him.[8]


Meanwhile, noting this delay and certain preparations of the enemy, Worth despatched the Seventh Infantry under Captain Miles to support Smith; and then, worried at the sight of reinforcements on their way to the redoubt, he sent the Fifth Infantry (Major Scott) and Blanchard's Company in the same direction, with General Smith to take charge of all these forces. Miles had not only the voice of a trumpet but the eyes of a hawk, and striking at once upon a direct line of march, he promptly reached the main ridge; and soon General Smith found him supporting the wary but steady charge already launched. Discovering now El Soldado and believing he would not be needed at the redoubt, General Smith moved to his right along the southern side of the ridge with all the troops except Captain Smith's. Like a fiery serpent, these now forced their way up in a winding but ever advancing line. The hill blazed and smoked. The sharp crack of the rifles punctuated the duller reports of the muskets. Soon the Mexican skirmishers were driven back; the 9-pounders could not be depressed enough to be effective; the Texans and "red-legged infantry" conquered the slope; and finally, struggling breathlessly to the redoubt, they found the garrison already in flight, carrying off one of their guns.[8]

Some of the victors then joined the rest of General Smith's command, which could be seen winding through a gorge toward the other fort. Those who did not, quickly remounted the second piece, which the Mexicans had upset in trying to drag it away, and at the first shot, luckily knocking the El Soldado gun out of position, sent the garrison flying. At the double-quick the attacking column reached that position an instant later, and brave Captain Gillespie, followed by other brave men, despising the grape from Independence Hill that shrieked above their heads, clambered over the parapet. The Mexican piece, quickly righted, saluted the fugitives and then offered its compliments to the Palace works. The other captured piece was then brought down to El Soldado; and Miles's command, moving still farther east along the ridge with one of the guns, took a third fortification; and thus by about the middle of the afternoon, at a trifling cost, we had three forts, intended to protect the rear and flank of Monterey, fighting for us.[8]

But a still harder task now confronted the Americans. Shortly before nightfall three companies of the Artillery Battalion, three of the Eighth Infantry and some two hundred Texas riflemen-in all about five hundred-accompanied by Captain Sanders, Lieutenant Meade and a Mexican guide and commanded by Childs, were sent forward to the skirt of Independence Hill. The peak before them was almost or quite as high as the summit of Federation Ridge; and in addition to the redoubt, guns and garrison on the top, a stronger position, more guns and a larger force were just below at the Palace. The Mexican generals regarded the point as unassailable.[9]

The night was tempestuous. The men were tired out. Few had eaten for thirty-six hours-none since breakfast. The rain fell in torrents, and they had not even blankets. Small rivers flowed down the slope. Sometimes heavy stones, loosened by the water, rolled upon them. The darkness was absolute. Most of them sat up, holding their firearms, covering the locks, and dozing when they could. At three o'clock the sleepers were roughly shaken, and a hoarse whisper, "Fall in," passed along. The storm was still raging. There was a chill in the wet air. Muscles were stiff. Teeth actually rattled. Strict orders to make no noise under any circumstances were circulated. Then came another whisper, "Forward!" and in two columns-one under Childs and the other under Captain Vinton-the almost vertical climb began.[9]

Feet were placed cautiously but firmly. Despite the thorns, bushes had to be seized for support. Sometimes the men crawled. Above all, the gun-locks were to be kept dry. Now and then a stone, pried out by the rain, would go clattering down; and with beating hearts, expecting to be challenged, the men would pause. If discovered, they could have been annihilated with rocks. But the storm drowned all the noise except its own, and kept the Mexicans under cover. Slowly but steadily the ragged line mounted. The night began to look grayish. The outline of the summit could be made out.[9]

Suddenly burst forth a blaze and a roar. It came from a picket-guard about a hundred yards down, that had been sheltering themselves among some rocks. The hasty fire was ineffective, except that some of the Americans were burned. Not a musket answered it-only a yell and a rush. Finally, sixty feet or so from the top it was time to fire, and the musket and rifle spoke. Real fighting began now, give and take; and the Mexicans had the advantage of position. But there were only about fifty or sixty of them. The line closed in. There was a fierce grapple; the Mexicans broke, and as the rising sun glimmered faintly through the clouds, the Stars and Stripes were unfurled. Then the victors cheered and cheered. Cheers came up from their comrades in the valley. Taylor's men, who had watched the double line of fire and smoke go higher and higher till it crowned the top and ceased, cheered and threw their caps into the air; and the echoing mountain seemed to cheer back.[9]

But the work was not yet done. Indeed the Americans only had the bull by the horns. Too exhausted to pursue effectively at once, they had to let the Mexicans escape. Seeing how the fight would end, some of the garrison had removed the guns of the redoubt-accidentally throwing one of them down the hill; but the saved piece and two 6-pounders now opened fire on our men, and a counter-attack from the Palace garrison was to be expected. That garrison probably numbered two hundred and fifty and perhaps more. Some fifty dismounted dragoons reinforced it now; and probably not less than two hundred and fifty horse occupied the slope below.[9]

But Worth had no intention of losing his prize. Three companies of the Seventh Infantry were already moving down Federation Ridge, and they took post near enough the Palace to menace any troops going from that point against the summit, cheering loudly to attract attention. The Fifth and Blanchard's Company reinforced Childs; and about noon "with infinite difficulty," as Worth said, a 12-pound howitzer, taken apart, was dragged up with straps. As the Palace had no roof and the windows were poorly barricaded, the interior could be searched with shrapnel. The Mexicans reciprocated, and desultory fighting continued all the morning. In the afternoon Mexican reinforcements were seen in the distance, and a prompt, decisive stroke appeared to be necessary. One body of Americans therefore went about halfway to the Palace, and concealed themselves among some rocks and bushes in a small ravine, while another were placed out of sight on the slope. Then the howitzer opened, and a force of skirmishers advanced in full view.[9]

Ampudia's policy was a strict defensive, and Lieutenant Colonel Berra, who commanded at this position, had been forbidden to take the aggressive. But the howitzer had made itself extremely disagreeable; his artillery had become disabled; his only chance lay in charging; and this appeared to be the time. Foot and horse, the Mexicans therefore sallied out, and gallantly they moved up the ridge, closing their ranks when the howitzer opened them. Then the signal was given, and the men in ambush, springing up like a flight of blackbirds, fired. The enemy broke and ran; many of them did not stop till they reached the city; and the massive gate of the Palace was closed. The howitzer soon broke the gate, however, and the Americans poured in. For a time the struggle was fierce yet indecisive; but suddenly the cry was heard, "Throw yourselves flat!" and instantly over the prostrate Americans the howitzer belched a double charge of canister. This was enough; and soon the Mexicans, harassed with grape by Duncan and Mackall, who arrived now at a gallop, by the fire of a piece captured at La Libertad and by that of El Soldado, were fleeing into the city, spreading consternation on every hand. It was now about four o'clock.[9]


Leaving Worth and his gallant men thus in full possession of the western gate of Monterey, we will now trace Taylor's operations at the opposite end of the town. Sunday afternoon, observing the Mexican reinforcements hastening to the summit of Independence Hill and fearing Worth might be overpowered, he displayed most of his troops before the city until dark as a menace. During the night his 10-inch mortar and two 24-pound howitzers were planted about seven eighths of a mile from the citadel, near the forward edge of a depression which screened them from the enemy, and at seven o'clock the next morning these pieces fired for twenty minutes, doubtless encouraging rather than alarming the enemy by their ineffective work.[10]

At the same time, to divert attention from Worth, as a note from that officer had suggested, all the available infantry were drawn out before the citadel as if to assault it. The First Division (regulars) stood at the left of this line; Quitman's brigade-the Tennesseeans under Campbell and the Mississippi riflemen under Davis-came next it, and Hamer with the Ohio regiment occupied the extreme right. Meanwhile the work of reconnoitring continued. Believing that he would meet with no serious resistance at Monterey, Taylor had apparently felt little or no anxiety to ascertain how the town had been fortified; but now he may have realized that such information was desirable.[10]

In a general sense we are already aware what defences had been prepared in this quarter-particularly the barricaded streets and the stone houses turned into forts; but the situation must now be investigated more closely. West of the grand plaza and toward the northern edge of the city there was a large spring. The outlet of this flowed toward the east, widened into a pond, then contracted into a stream, passed under Purísima bridge-a heavy structure of stone by which the Marín road entered the city proper-veered a little toward the right, and finally left the town at its northeastern corner. On the inner side of this watercourse below Purísima bridge there were two simple redans capable of holding fifty or seventy men each; and some distance farther down, on the top of a rather steep slope, stood a strong earthwork named El Rincón del Diablo (The Devil's Corner), commonly known by the Americans as El Diablo, which had two or three guns, and could accommodate a garrison of one hundred and fifty or two hundred.[10]

On the outer side of the watercourse an irregular but strong fortification (tête de pont), armed with a 12-pounder, defended Purísima bridge. East and northeast of this lay a confused suburban district occupied in part with streets, lanes, houses and huts, and in part with orchards, gardens and yards enclosed with high stone walls. Near the edge of it all, some four hundred yards in front of El Diablo, was the most advanced Mexican position. This, occupied by about two hundred men, consisted of a stone tannery building, often spoken of by the Americans as a distillery, the flat roof of which, protected with sand-bags in addition to the parapet, was held by a competent garrison, and of an earthwork in front of it called the Tenería (Tannery) redoubt, which, after having been erected and demolished, was rebuilt with desperate exertions during Sunday night.[10]

This fortification consisted of two short parallel sides prolonged and drawn together in front so as to meet at a sharp angle; and the north side was similarly prolonged and drawn in toward the rear so as to protect partially the opening or throat. The approaches were not cleared; the ditch was neither sufficiently deep nor sufficiently wide; steps used in the process of construction made it easy to scale the face (scarp); the parapet was completed with sand-bags made with ordinary cotton cloth; and the guns, mounted in barbette without platforms, were hard to manage on fresh dirt soaked with rain; but the redoubt, armed with a 4-pounder and an 8-pounder-its northern side protected by the guns of the citadel, its southern face by the tannery building, and its throat by El Diablo-was a serious obstacle for infantry.[10]

Why Taylor did not plant his mortar in front of it Sunday night-for it was plainly visible and there was a transverse ridge within short grape-shot range-drive the garrison out with half a dozen well-aimed bombshells Monday morning, and repeat the operation the following night and morning with El Diablo, is rather hard to understand. But it must be remembered that he had probably never seen, and had certainly never attacked, a scientific earthwork; these "mud-forts," as the soldiers termed them, did not look impressive; and his plan to capture Monterey "pretty much with the bayonet" had been determined upon. He was nothing if not stubborn; and he doubtless believed that his officers and men, given a chance at the Mexicans, would certainly whip them somehow.[10]

Accordingly, as Twiggs, commander of the First Division, was too ill for battle, Taylor gave Lieutenant Colonel Garland this verbal order, written down by one of Garland's aides: "Colonel lead the head of your column off to the left, keeping well out of

reach of the enemy's Shot, and if you think (or you find) you can take any of them little Forts down there with the bay'net you better do it-but consult with Major Mansfield, you'll find him down there." Garland then advanced with the First and Third regiments and the Washington-Baltimore Battalion, about 800 men, and made his way forward a considerable distance over broken and obstructed ground. He soon came in sight of Mansfield, and before long that officer galloped back to meet him. Garland no doubt communicated Taylor's orders at this time; and Mansfield, supported by some skirmishers, then went forward again.[10]

The responsibility now resting upon the engineer was extremely heavy. A map prepared by Meade from data brought by a spy probably showed the Mexican works fairly well, but of course did not fully reveal the intricacies of the situation. Taylor had seen this map, and must have known everything thus far discovered by the reconnoitring officers, and he evidently saw nothing to forbid an infantry attack. Under the fire of the citadel and other fortifications, a close and detailed examination of the ground, screened not only by the maze already alluded to but by hedges, bush fences, trees and cornfields lying just outside the suburb, was impossible; and to send the troops back without an overwhelming reason in the face of the two armies, and look "Old Rough and Ready" in the eye, was unthinkable. Taylor's order was therefore to all intents and purposes an order, not merely for a demonstration, but for an assault.[10]


So Garland, after marching for some time over and through all manner of obstructions, as Mansfield directed, kept on for a considerable distance under the fire of the citadel and redoubts, and at length saw that officer running ahead on foot at the northeastern angle of the town, and waving the troops on with his spy-glass. To obey this order involved turning to the right and then to the left-movements that disconcerted and scattered the raw Washington-Baltimore corps-and finally charging at a venture into the maze already described, but it was done; the Mexicans reinforcing the redoubt meanwhile with 150 men and an 8-pounder. Owing to the trend of the streets the Americans, now greatly reduced in numbers, took a course that led them to the right instead of the left, and failed to discover the throat of the redoubt, Mansfield's objective. Caught in the maze and falling rapidly under an artillery and musketry fire that seemed to come from everywhere, they found themselves totally helpless. Bragg's battery was thrown in, but it could accomplish nothing; and on Mansfield's recommendation Garland fell back.[10]

Shortly before this, judging from the heavy fire that a serious engagement was on, Taylor had ordered Butler to advance with his Field Division. By a sad blunder three companies of the Fourth Infantry, which had been covering the mortar and howitzers, were sent ahead of this corps against the redoubt, and "almost in a moment"-as the official report admitted-a third of the men fell. The rest, including Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, then retired; and Quitman's brigade, which now formed the left of the line, was ordered to support the regulars-in other words, renew the attack.[10]

With ample courage and enthusiasm the men advanced nearly a mile under the fire of the citadel-which, as Taylor privately admitted, "done considerable execution"-and before long under the worse fire of the redoubt in front; but they staggered in the smashing blast of lead and iron, their formation became very irregular, and after a time, though not within effective musket or rifle range, they began to fire at will. Colonel Davis, then some distance in advance on his iron-gray, Pompey, grew impatient at the waste of time, ammunition and life, and as the redoubt stopped firing just then, he cried, "Now is the time. Great God, if I had fifty men with knives I could take that fort." Then he waved his sword, and called on his men to charge. Colonel Campbell, equally ignoring his brigade commander, did the same; and both regiments hurried on as groups and individuals, each man trying to outstrip the rest.[10]

Fortunately the time was ripe. Worn down by several hours of excitement and exertion-for noonday was now approaching-the Mexicans felt a reaction. The stubborn perseverance of the Americans daunted them. Captain Backus and about 100 men of the First Infantry, not receiving the order to withdraw, had climbed to the parapeted roof of a building about 130 yards from the redoubt and now persistently annoyed them. They looked for the reserves; but perhaps Garland's operations prevented sending them, and certainly none came. Ammunition began to fail. The muskets were hot and foul. The cloth of the sand-bags took fire, and made the parapet extremely uncomfortable. Carrasco, the commander, who had run away at the Resaca, now openly took flight again; and a part of the garrison, formed to charge upon the Americans, were seen, or at least were supposed, to be retreating. A panic seized the troops, and almost in an instant the guns were abandoned and the redoubt stood nearly empty. A few minutes more, and tall, powerful McClung of the Mississippi Rifles leaped upon the parapet and waved his sword. By the same way or bursting through the sallyport, equally brave men of both regiments came close after him. Thirty or thirty-five prisoners were seized. An American flag went up; and after a brief conflict the tannery also-practically abandoned by the enemy-was taken.[10]

During Quitman's advance the First Ohio approached the city farther to the right. It was well officered, for besides its colonel, Brigadier General Hamer, the Hooker of Chancellorsville, the Johnston of Shiloh, Major General Butler and Major General Taylor accompanied it; but it failed to accomplish anything. A second attempt was equally unfortunate, but when Taylor-evidently despairing of success-had ordered it out of town, word came of Quitman's achievement. The regiment was then sent into the fight again. Garland's remnant, still in the outskirts of the city, came up; Quitman's troops were ordered to co?perate; and a determined effort was made to gain the rear of El Diablo. Both grand and pitiful that effort was. As an exhibition of pluck it could hardly have been surpassed. Taylor, fighting on foot, matched Richard Coeur de Lion storming Front de Boeuf's castle; and his intrepidity was so flawless and unforced that courage appeared to all round him the easy and only way. To die under such a leader seemed the acme of living. It was not war, but it was grand fighting.[10]

"We were not many, we who stood

Before the iron sleet that day;

Yet many a gallant spirit would

Give half his years if but he could

Have been with us at Monterey.

And on, still on our column kept

Through walls of flame its withering way;

Where fell the dead, the living stept,

Still charging on the guns which swept

The slippery streets of Monterey."

But the enemy, seldom visible, appeared to be everywhere. A large part of the groping Americans got in front of Purísima bridge, and went down fast under a rain of bullets from the tête de pont, while Captain Gutiérrez, who had now masked his gun on the opposite bank, poured grape and canister upon them at short range. Ridgely came up and fired several times at the bridgehead, but without effect. Among our troops, as one of the surgeons wrote, "All was confusion." Smoke hid the outlook; and the Mexican shots, breaking the limestone, mortar and adobe, raised a blinding dust. The assailants did not know where to turn or what to do. Taylor, Butler, Hamer, Quitman and other officers shouted orders that few could hear amidst the uproar, and perhaps fewer could reconcile. It was proposed to cut through from house to house, but the necessary implements had not been brought. Ridgely's and Bragg's batteries and the captured Mexican guns fired on El Diablo, and finally the 24-pound howitzers were brought in; but nothing could be accomplished in that way. Many of the best and the bravest fell; and eventually, at about five o'clock, the Americans retreated from all of Monterey except the Tenería redoubt and a few adjacent buildings.[10]


So the fight ended. It had been one long scene of gallantry, confusion, mistakes and waste. Lieutenant D. H. Hill, afterwards General Hill of the Confederate army, wrote in his journal on learning the details: "It seems that every sort of folly was committed." To pitch handfuls of infantry into an unknown maze of obstacles, fortifications and cannon as if they had been fighting Indians in a Florida swamp, and to send field batteries into narrow streets-in the suburb crooked, too-against heavy stone works and roofs filled with protected marksmen was extraordinary. And, it was credibly reported, Taylor did more. He ordered Ridgely out into the open to try conclusions with El Diablo. Ridgely was absolutely fearless. To satisfy the General he went out himself and reconnoitred, but he would not lead his battery to destruction. The Tennessee regiment was needlessly taken back and forth six times within range of the citadel.[10]

Now-to get shelter, food, ammunition-the troops had to march separately or in groups all the way to camp, exposed for a long distance not only to the citadel guns but also to the lancers, who nearly caused a disaster and might have done so, had all, instead of but a part of them, obeyed the order to charge. A howitzer, aided by the captured guns, still exchanged compliments now and then with El Diablo, but the battle of the day was over. A redoubt had been won, and Worth's operations against the Federation Ridge redoubts had been assisted; but these advantages might have been gained far more cheaply.[10]

The Tenería position was garrisoned for the night by Garland's exhausted command, the Kentucky regiment (Louisville Legion), which had been on guard at the mortar, and Ridgely's battery. This was not an agreeable task. The rain fell in torrents, and the interior of the fort was so thoroughly searched by the guns of El Diablo, that a part of the men had to lie on their backs in the mud. Some defences were thrown up, however; Tuesday morning Quitman's brigade relieved the garrison; and Taylor's men, cheered now by the sight of their comrades taking Independence Hill, were given a necessary rest. Both sides used their artillery to some extent, and in spite of the Mexican fire our position was further strengthened; but on this day nothing was done at the eastern end to assist Worth.[10]

During Tuesday night the enemy seemed to be in motion. They should have made an attack; and the Americans-without blankets, overcoats or food, soaked with rain, and chilled by a north wind-passed the hours reconnoitring or standing in water behind their breastwork. Far, however, from Ampudia's mind was the thought of a vigorous offensive. Dismayed by the cutting of his communications and by the stubborn valor of the Americans, and weakened by the cowardice of certain officers, he ordered all the outworks abandoned, and concentrated his forces in and near the grand plaza. Such a change could not be made at night without much confusion. Many of the troops, too, were indignant; some refused to leave their posts; all felt disheartened, and a few broke out in riotous disorder. The work of fortifying the inner line went on, but the loss of morale far more than offset this advantage.[10]

At daybreak Wednesday, suspecting that the Mexicans had left or were leaving El Diablo, Quitman advanced, and found that both men and guns had been withdrawn; but other works not far distant were still held too strongly to be captured. Attempts were made to gain ground in various directions; and finally, an hour or two before noon, with assistance from the Second Texas regiment, dismounted, and the Third and the Fourth Infantry, extensive and well-supported operations began to be undertaken. In particular, a systematic plan of breaking through the continuous line of houses and firing from the roofs was adopted. At each cross-street vigorous fighting had to be done, for the Mexicans, though inferior as marksmen, resisted obstinately at every favorable point; and the musketry and artillery behind their barricades swept the approaches fiercely. Five out of the twelve commissioned officers of the Third Infantry were killed, says General Grant. Two sections of field artillery came up, but the gunners were shot down rapidly in spite of all precautions; and at length, finding the pieces too light for effective service, Taylor ordered them to retire. A gun at the Tenería redoubt was tried, but after a time the advance of the Americans made it dangerous to fire toward the plaza.[10]

The infantry pushed on, however, and by three o'clock were only one square from the grand plaza. Here ammunition began to fail, and Lieutenant Grant, hanging over the side of his horse by an arm and a foot, dashed across the streets too swiftly to be fired at, and went in search of it. With a view to preparing for a general assault, however, or for some other reason Taylor ordered the troops, now working safely inside the houses, to withdraw-under fire, of course. Reluctantly, though many of them had not eaten for thirty-six hours, they marched back to the redoubts and thence after dark to Walnut Grove; and the Ohio and Kentucky regiments went on duty at the captured redoubts.[10]

Strangely enough, Taylor seems to have made no effort, after the storming of the Bishop's Palace, to arrange with General Worth for concerted action or to give him fresh orders, although he could easily have done so, and knew that all the work assigned to that division had been completed. Wednesday morning, therefore, after the long, deep slumber of exhaustion, Worth's men found themselves mostly in idleness, and a large part of them, concentrated near the Palace, gazed upon the city at their leisure as the dissolving mists revealed it. Not far away in the suburb were General Arista's gardens, full of orange, lemon, pomegranate and fig trees, bananas, grapes and flowers, watered by canals that sparkled in the sun. Once in a while a blue-frocked monk, girded with a white cord and tassel, could be seen; and flashes from the streams that ran through almost every street were caught here and there. Beyond lay the white or lightly tinted houses with leafy squares here and there, dominated by the cathedral spires. At due intervals the clock bell peacefully tolled the hour or the quarter. On the left the dark citadel belched occasionally a cloud of white smoke. On the right the Santa Catarina hurried along between the city and the picturesque villas on its opposite bank. Farther away, but still near, the twisted strata and the vast, splintered buttresses, battlements and pinnacles of the Sierra Madre, thinly draped with soft clouds, towered aloft; and overhead great birds that seemed to be eagles travelled like dark planets round their orbits in the blue.[10]

But though they gazed with deep interest, these haggard fellows with bloodshot eyes were not in a mood to enjoy the scene. No orders came from Taylor. Hardly a shot had been heard this morning from the lower town. Mexicans boasted of gaining a victory on that side, and "Your turn will come next," our men were told. Heavy reinforcements from Saltillo, it was rumored, would soon arrive by the pass. Worth, nervous and anxious, climbed to the Palace tower with his glass, and searched every quarter for news. Meantime the cannon were planted at more commanding points. A howitzer opened on the town. Preparations to make an assault were continued; and, as Mexicans from the south were now said to be approaching, a detachment went about three miles up the Saltillo highway to a strong position. An hour or two before noon, however, the roar of battle began to come from the lower town; and Worth, judging that it meant a serious attack, ordered a column forward by each of the two main streets.[10]


With a cheer that sounded like a roar the troops hurried down the slope, and burst into the suburb. For some time the work was easy, for in fear of the Libertad guns all the western section had been evacuated; and raising a fierce cry that afterwards came to be known as the "rebel yell," which began with a growl and rose to a falsetto scream, the Americans dashed on at a run. Beyond the cemetery, however, Mexican troops opened fire, and until some of Duncan's and Mackall's guns came up, fought like demons. Barricaded streets and garrisoned roofs were next encountered, and again the Americans dived into the houses. Making a small hole in the wall that divided two dwellings they would drop through it a six-inch shell with a three-seconds fuse lighted, and throw themselves flat. Results followed promptly. The aperture was then enlarged; and crawling through, they repeated the operation, while the best marksmen fought from the roof.[10]

Taylor's withdrawal from the city, however, supplied the Mexicans with reinforcements. The enemy fairly seemed to swarm, and their courage seemed to rise. "Cannons and small arms flashed, crashed and roared like one mighty storm of wind, rain, hail, thunder and lightning," wrote a soldier; while the thud of planks against heavy doors and the blows of pickaxes on walls of stone swelled the uproar. Once the advance was halted. But Colonel Hays, a shy man with a broad forehead, a Roman nose, brilliant, restless hazel eyes, and the courage of twenty lions packed in his delicate frame, had been a prisoner in the Monterey post-office once, and had sworn a great oath to sleep this night in the post-office or in hell, and nothing could stop him. By dark the Americans were only a square from the market-place, and the Colonel had the postal accommodations at his command.[10]

Ampudia's case was by no means desperate even now. His losses had been small-twenty-nine officers and 338 men killed and wounded, according to his report. There were provisions, ammunition and artillery enough; the strong buildings round the plaza and market-place, defended with resolution by a large garrison, could not easily have been taken; and the division of the Americans into widely separated commands invited a sortie.[10]

The situation was, however, by no means agreeable. After nightfall the Americans planted two howitzers and a 6-pounder on the top of a high building close to the western side of the plaza. Taylor's mortar had been carried to Worth during the day, and after sunset it began to fire now and then on the cathedral, where tons of gunpowder were stored. The citadel undertook to reply, but the mortar, planted behind the stone wall of the cemetery, was not likely to be struck, and a single one of its bombs might conceivably have blown the Mexican army to pieces. In fact so might a shot from Taylor's 24-pound howitzers, which delivered two shells effectively after dark. On the southern side of the river, opposite the town, the Fifth Infantry had planted one of the El Soldado guns at the third work on Federation ridge, where it could at least have proved annoying. The horses of the cavalry were in the way. The garrison of the citadel could not promptly co?perate with the troops in town, for it had sealed up the exit. Ampudia's defensive policy discouraged the soldiers, for even though some of them flanked the retiring Americans on Wednesday afternoon, they were not permitted to reoccupy the houses abandoned by Taylor, and still less to attack the redoubts. Despondency was general; some of the leading officers urged surrender; and Ampudia, it was reported, keeping the choicest corps near his person, shut himself up in the cathedral until a shell dropped near it, and then fled to a private house.[10]


Naturally, then, early on Thursday morning one of his aides carried to the American general a proposition to give up the city, and retire with the troops and military material. Taylor replied with a demand for unconditional surrender, and insisted upon having an answer by noon. Instead of complying Ampudia sent a request for a personal interview. The result was a joint commission. Vexatious negotiations followed. The tedious and wily methods of Mexican diplomacy were thoroughly tried; but at length an ultimatum from Taylor's representatives ended the affair, and the terms of capitulation were signed. These provided that the citadel should be given up immediately, that within a week the Mexican troops with their arms, accoutrements and six field pieces should retire-without giving their parole not to fight again-beyond the line of Rinconada Pass, Linares and San Fernando de Presas, that before this evacuation of Monterey the town should be occupied by the Americans for hospital and storage purposes only, and that for eight weeks-"or until the orders or instructions of the respective governments can be received"-the Americans would not cross the specified line.[11]

As Polk asserted and the General himself admitted, Taylor violated his orders in granting such terms, and his excuses for doing so were signally unconvincing, while some of them involved perhaps the virtual assumption on his part of a political authority superior to the President's. But substantial reasons for the terms did exist. "Considering our situation," explained the General privately, they were not over-liberal; and that was true. Being very short of ammunition and provisions, he could only negotiate, assault or retreat. According to his spokesmen in the Senate, his effectives numbered only some 5000 and probably they did not reach those figures. About one third of them had no bayonets. The First Division of regulars had been crippled; the Second was tired out; and the volunteers had been so far demoralized, that in Meade's opinion they could no longer be depended upon. Worth, chief American representative on the joint commission, had not "the slightest confidence" left in Taylor's leadership, and wrote privately that "many others" shared his opinion, while a still greater number felt doubtful.[12]

With such troops, feeble artillery and scant ammunition, to attack an enemy of proved fighting quality, now at bay in stone houses, fully supplied with guns and munitions, and comparatively fresh, was not an inviting proposition. In short, as Crittenden and Clayton stated in defence of Taylor on the floor of the Senate, it was not feasible to storm the city; and to retreat with sick and wounded over such a route, pursued by mobile infantry and sleepless mounted men, and harried by an exultant population, would have meant ruin. It was a wise course to escape from this dilemma as he did, and the truth could not be told.[12]


September 25 the citadel was evacuated, and the next day with drums beating and banners flying the first brigade of Mexicans left the city-all noting with curious interest the difference between their trim uniforms and freshly pipe-clayed belts and the unkempt appearance of the victors, who, as an American said, were as dirty as they could be without becoming real estate. The second brigade followed on the next day, and the rest of the troops on the twenty-eighth. Monterey, with a quantity of indifferent gunpowder and a number of cannon, many of them bad, was ours, and soon the people of the United States, whom a costly but valorous battle impressed far more than orderly, scientific operations could have done, were again acclaiming Taylor. By distance, by his courage, by his picturesque individuality, and by his very position as commander of the one American army fighting the Mexicans, he was idealized. His excellent reports-the work of Bliss-confirmed every favorable impression; and the writers of the day, fully aware that he was already a popular hero and anxious to suit the prevailing taste, colored the facts until these could hardly be recognized. Men on the ground, in contact with the crude realities, felt otherwise. Taylor's want of prevision and of generalship was in fact bitterly censured there. Worth "is the high comb cock of the army," wrote one officer. He has won all the laurels, though Taylor will have the glory at home, remarked a surgeon.[13]

As for the conduct of the troops in general, however, there could be only one opinion. "Three glorious days," was General Scott's description of the struggle. War is-war. Dreadful things were done, splendid men were cut down. Yet if there be glory in fidelity and courage, in meeting extraordinary hardships, and in triumphing over extraordinary difficulties, then Scott's description was correct.[13]

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