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   Chapter 15 CHIHUAHUA

The War With Mexico, Volume I (of 2) By Justin H. Smith Characters: 35800

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

December, 1846-May, 1847

Foreseeing that more troops would go to Santa Fe than New Mexico would require, Kearny had written to General Wool on August 22 that he would have the surplus join that officer at Chihuahua,[1] and shortly before marching for the coast he gave orders that Price with his command, Clark's artillery, a part of the Laclede Rangers and the two companies of infantry should hold Santa Fe, and that Doniphan's men should execute this plan; but on October 6 an order was received from him that Doniphan should first ensure the security of the people by settling matters with the Eutaw and Navajo Indians. September 28 Price arrived, and by the twentieth of October, 1220 new Missouri volunteers and 500 Mormons were on the scene. The Eutaws had now been reduced, it was believed, to a peaceable frame of mind; and while the warlike and superior Navajos proved a harder problem, a remarkable seven-weeks campaign amid snow and mountains, which ended with a treaty, seemed to ensure their good behavior. The caravans bound for Chihuahua, becoming alarmed, had now stopped at Valverde, a point not far south of the wretched settlement named Socorro, and begged for protection. Without losing time, therefore, Doniphan concentrated his force at Valverde by December 12, and with 856 effectives, all mounted and armed with rifles, prepared to set out on a long, adventurous march into an unknown and hostile country.[6]


No less extraordinary than such an undertaking were the commander and the men who undertook it. Doniphan was a frontier lawyer, entirely unacquainted with military science, but a born leader. When in Washington during the civil war he stood back to back with Abraham Lincoln, it is said, and overtopped that son of Anak by half an inch. The only distinguished man he had ever met that "came up to the advertisement," was the President's comment. High cheek bones, a prominent chin, thinnish and tightly closed lips, a mop of carroty hair parted well down on the left, a beard of the same hue under his chin, small, deep-set eyes, a strongly built nose, spare cheeks and a ruddy complexion told of enterprise, daring, endurance, wary judgment and kind, sincere impulses. In council he was shrewd and in danger fearless, with always a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his lips, and a cheering, well-timed pleasantry on his tongue.[6]

His men, recruited from the rural districts, had felt they were scorned a little by the St. Louis contingent, and had vowed to show them what "country boys" were made of; but they proposed to do it in their own way. While the city men had uniforms and military discipline, the riflemen neither had nor wanted such embarrassments. As every officer was a man of their own choice, they felt at liberty to choose also how far to respect and obey him. Doniphan, who loved his "boys" like a father, was loved in return, and they were ready to do anything for him; but a minor authority who meddled with their reserved rights, whatever these might happen to be, was likely to hear some vigorous cursing. Any form of manly dissipation was to their taste, as a rule; and they despised all carefulness, all order, all restraint. Yet they were "good fellows" at heart, and as full of fight as gamecocks; and now-on half rations, no salt and no pay[2]-they felt ready for whatever Mexico could offer.[6]

At Valverde Doniphan heard that forces were coming from Chihuahua to defend El Paso, some two hundred miles from Socorro, and sent an order to Santa Fe that Major Clark with six guns and one hundred men should march as soon as possible to his assistance; but without waiting for him the command advanced in three sections on the fourteenth, sixteenth and eighteenth of December. Below Valverde the Rio Grande makes a great bend towards the west, and runs through a wild, mountainous region; and hence travellers bound for the south left it on the right. Adopting this course, the Americans now marched for ninety or ninety-five miles through the dreaded Jornada del Muerto (Dead Man's Journey), where they found no settlements except some prairie-dog towns, little vegetation except sage brush, and no water at all. At the coldest season of the year, when sentries at Santa Fe were having their feet frozen, to make such a march at an elevation of more than a mile and a quarter without fuel or tents[3] was clearly a good beginning. At Dona Ana, the only settlement between El Paso-sixty or sixty-five miles farther on-and Valverde, the straggling command was supposed to concentrate; but the concentration seemed rather nominal. Dirty, unshaven and ragged, the troops marched almost as they pleased. They were determined to survive, go ahead and fight, but little else appeared to them requisite. It was now reported that seven hundred soldiers and six guns were awaiting them at El Paso; but on December 23 the command moved on.[6]

The likelihood of invasion from the north had long been foreseen by the authorities of Chihuahua, and the expediency of making a stand at the threshold was obvious. But the citizens of El Paso, the border town, who were practical, industrious and thrifty people, had been greatly influenced, like those of New Mexico, by interest in the caravan business, contact with American traders and wagoners, and acquaintance with the ideas and methods of the United States. Almost openly, men said the town would thrive more under American rule, argued that it was the intention of the government at Mexico to sacrifice the people for the aggrandizement of its partisans and the privileged classes, pointed out that no substantial forces had come north, and asserted that what soldiers had arrived were under orders to withdraw without fighting, and leave the citizens to be punished for their loyalty.[6]

Public spirit fell to a low ebb, and there it remained. No one thought it endangered health to shout "Viva México!" But it was believed by many that in a community so honeycombed with treason, active, determined efforts in her cause would be liable to bring on an attack of cold steel or lead in some dorsal area; and when the governor of Chihuahua sent the prefect instructions on September 19 to retire, on the approach of the enemy, with all the armed forces, cattle and provisions, collect the resources of the district, and fight stubbornly on the guerilla system, no intention of obeying this order could be observed. October 12 an expedition designed to forestall invasion set out for the north; but at Dona Ana some of the troops-covertly stimulated by officers-became insubordinate; the commander understood public sentiment well enough to take their side; the whole body returned at full speed to El Paso; and the prefect dared not, or did not wish, to discipline anybody.[6]

There were now on the scene and in arms about four hundred and fifty troops and apparently about seven hundred National Guards with four guns.[4] In general two accepted schools of thought divided the soldiery. Some were for not fighting hard, and some-including most of the Presidials and National Guards-for not fighting at all; while the few and unpopular zealots felt paralyzed by a want of confidence. Colonel Cuylti, the commander, belonged to the second school of thought; and on the evening before he was to move against Doniphan, whose march had been reported about a week before, he fell sick with a subjective disability officially diagnosed as brain fever, and set out for Chihuahua with his accommodating surgeon. Lieutenant Colonel Vidal succeeded to the command and also, it would seem, to the disability, for after proclaiming martial law and pitching his camp some three miles from El Paso, he concluded to halt. The American van, described as consisting of about three hundred straggling countrymen in tatters without artillery, could be surrounded and lanced like so many rabbits, he said; but he was not personally in the mood for sport, and hence conceded this pleasure to the second in command, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Ponce de León, assigning to him at least five hundred men[5] and a 2-pound howitzer.[6]


At about three o'clock on Christmas afternoon Doniphan, with less than five hundred of his careless, confident volunteers, reached a level spot on the eastern bank of the Rio Grande named Temascalitos, though often called El Brazito, approximately thirty miles from El Paso. Pickets and sentries-but not supper-being superfluous, the men scattered in search of water, fuel and other conveniences. Mexican scouts were observing their operations; but, strong in conscious rectitude, the Missourians neither knew nor cared what the enemy were about. Suddenly armed men could be seen in fine order on a hill about half a mile distant. The rally was sounded. The volunteers rushed for their arms, and with all speed they were loosely formed as a line of infantry, bent back at the extremities toward the river, and resting at the left on the wagons of the caravan.[6]

With graceful consideration Ponce gave them time by sending a lieutenant with a black flag to demand that Doniphan should present himself. Otherwise, added the messenger, we shall charge and take him, neither giving nor asking quarter. "Charge and be damned!" was of course the reply; and the Mexicans then advanced, opening fire at about four hundred yards from our line. Several volleys were delivered while the Americans, either lying down or standing firmly with cocked rifles, withheld their fire. But the powder of the Mexicans was mostly bad, they shot high, and their little gun was mismanaged.[6]

By this time they had come within easy range. At command the American volunteers now fired with great effect, and a flanking movement against the wagons was received with equal spirit by the traders and their men. Evidently there was a mistake. These fellows were not rabbits; and the Presidials and El Paso militia, candidly recognizing Vidal's blunder, retired in disorder, compelling the rest of the body to do the same. Speed now compensated for any possible want of courage; and a party of fifteen or twenty mounted Americans, who pursued the enemy for miles, could not bring any of them to a stand. Doniphan's loss amounted to seven men slightly wounded; that of the Mexicans to a howitzer captured and perhaps a hundred men killed or wounded; and this farcical brush, lasting thirty or forty minutes in all, has figured in American annals as the "battle" of Brazito.[6]


The Mexican troops now evacuated the district; the National Guards disbanded; and presently a humble deputation from El Paso was explaining to Doniphan that arms had been taken up by the citizens under compulsion. Two days after the skirmish, therefore, amid a general appearance of satisfaction, he and his rough troopers concluded they had reached paradise. Along the Rio Grande, mostly on the southern side, ten or twelve thousand people occupied settlements extending downstream for many miles. Above, there was a dam; and artificial streams from that point not only irrigated the rich fields and vineyards, but watered the orchards, in which many of the houses were buried, and freshened the long and regular streets, which not only were shaded by lines of trees full of lively and tuneful birds, but were kept neat by daily sweeping. To drill, practice twice a day at the targets, and feast on the abundant fruits in such a place was a most agreeable change from the Jornada del Muerto.[11]

El Paso did not prove, however, to be exactly a paradise. Unlimited self-indulgence led to considerable sickness, and several men died. It led also to disorders and to outrages on the people, and before long two lieutenants, both intoxicated, fought with dirks. Moreover it was now learned that Wool had not gone to Chihuahua,[7] that great preparations for resistance were making there, and that a serious insurrection-purposely exaggerated by the Mexican reports-had occurred in the rear.[8] The boldest appeared therefore to be the wisest course-to push forward, and conquer or die.[9] But without cannon only the second alternative was possible, and the artillery did not arrive. Price was in fact extremely unwilling to part with it, and owing to this and other difficulties Clark was unable to set out for El Paso until January 10. Then his men encountered even more painful hardships than Doniphan's had undergone, for they had to struggle with snow-to say nothing of almost perishing with hunger, and being nearly buried in a sandstorm; and it was not until February 5 that men, guns and wagons joined the impatient command.[11]

Three days afterwards the belated expedition set out on its march for Chihuahua-nearly three hundred miles distant-with 924 effective soldiers, besides about three hundred traders and teamsters, who were sworn into the service by Doniphan and elected a merchant named Owens as their major. About seven hundred of the troops belonged to the First Missouri regiment, about one hundred to Clark's artillery, and about one hundred to a body named the Chihuahua Rangers, made up at Santa Fe.[10] There were four 6-pounders, two 12-pound howitzers, and about 315 goods-wagons besides the wagons belonging to the companies and the commissary department, each with its quota of attendants; and as the column, with every banner unfurled, wound into the distance as far as the eye could see, it made a gallant and picturesque sight. It was exposed to a rear attack from Sonora; but that state, while alive to the opportunity, had not the means to take advantage of it.[11]

Troubles enough presented themselves, however. The country was bare and monotonous, producing little except the crooked mezquite and an occasional willow. A desert sixty-five miles wide and another nearly as large had to be crossed. Heat alternated with cold, and one day it was necessary to kindle fires repeatedly to warm benumbed limbs. Tents were blown down by storms. More than once no fuel and no water could be had for days. Antelopes and hares could frequently be seen; but the tarantulas, rattlesnakes and copperheads were far more numerous, and far more willing to be intimate. One day, when the army was in camp at a lake, the grass took fire, and in an instant a small flame went scudding off, burning a narrow trail. Soon this was driven by a whirlwind up the mountain side, spreading into a vast blaze; and then, gathering force, it rolled back upon the camp like a tidal wave. By arts known to the plainsman almost everything was saved; but with a fearful roaring and crackling a surge of fire swept over the encampment, proving how great the danger had been.[11]

The state of things in the country farther south could not easily be ascertained, for the authorities at Chihuahua had cut off all communication with the north; but there were hostile spies, and some of them, taken prisoners, had to give instead of obtaining information. About seven hundred Mexican cavalry-said to be twice as many-were discovered in front looking for a favorable opening, which they did not find. At length, crossing a handsome plain on February 27, the expedition came at nightfall to the hacienda of El Sauz, and learned that strong fortifications had been erected at the Sacramento River, fifteen miles farther on. That was the next watering-place, and evidently it would have to be fought for; so a halt was made and a plan devised. "Cheer up, boys," said Doniphan with a twinkle; "To-morrow evening I intend to have supper with the Mexicans on the banks of a beautiful spring."[11]


As early as August, 1846, Chihuahua had expected this visit; and the governor, saying that Kearny's army had occupied New Mexico "as easily as it would have pitched its tents in the desert," seemed ready to let the operation be repeated in his own state. Perhaps he was merely weak, but the same pro-American influences of a commercial nature that we have observed at El Paso and Santa Fe were rife about him, and there was also much sentiment in favor of establishing the northern provinces as an independent republic under the protection of the United States. Over against these ideas, however, and possibly because of them, existed a peculiarly intense hatred of us, exasperated now by the loss of New Mexico and the fear of American outrages.[13]


Near the end of August the governor was forced out, and Angel Trias, an active, ambitious man, rich, and most unfriendly to the Americans, took his place; and the great body of the citizens, either anxious to defend themselves against invasion or dreading to be thought disloyal, rallied about him. The central government became interested, ordered several northern states to aid Chihuahua, and instructed Reyes, comandante general of Zacatecas, to assume the defence of New Mexico, Chihuahua and Durango. But embarrassments then arose; delays ensued; and Santa Anna, according to his policy of concentrating the military strength of the country under his own command and disregarding non-essential territory, frowned upon all national efforts to defend the northern frontier. It was now November; and the government, appointing the unpopular Heredia comandante general at Chihuahua, yielded to Santa Anna's views.[13]

Trias, however, did not abandon hope. The resources of the state were scanty indeed. The effective colonial method of protecting the border had long since been given up, and Indian raids, beginning about 1831, had fast impoverished the haciendas. During the past year, perhaps because the savages believed the Mexican troops would be required for the war, these incursions had been worse than ever before. A single party of Comanches had numbered more than eight hundred. It was indispensable, therefore, to employ some o

f the military forces in the protection of the settlements; but more than 10,000 men were enrolled in the National Guard, and Trias felt sure that Chihuahua state was inherently strong enough to defeat Doniphan, whose approach was duly reported.[13]

The chief needs were money and armament. Artillery had been practically unknown in that region, but it was found possible to cast and mount a number of pieces, and infantry soldiers learned to use them. Arms were gathered and repaired; ammunition and clothing were manufactured; and by dint of local borrowing the expenses were met. Santa Anna finally had 255 men sent from Durango; and in the end nearly 1200 mounted troops (many of them Presidials), some 1500 infantry including about seventy regulars of the Seventh Regiment, 119 artillery, probably more than 1000 rancheros armed with long knives (machetes) and rude lances, ten brass cannon ranging from 4-pounders to 9-pounders, and nine musketoons on carriages appear to have been assembled.[12] The men were enthusiastic and eagerly obedient, and the leaders-Heredia for chief and Trias as second in command-felt proud of their army. As for the Brazito affair, which had caused much discouragement, it seemed now like a bad dream.[13]



Feb. 28, 1847

February 10 a portly, handsome officer arrived at Chihuahua. This was General García Conde, and the next day he and the other chiefs, after reconnoitring the pass at the Sacramento River, fifteen or eighteen miles to the north, decided to make a stand at that point. It was a wise decision. The stream, running here toward the east, was crossed at a ford by the route from El Paso, which had a north and south direction. Rather more than two miles north of the river and approximately parallel with it, there was a broad watercourse, now dry and sandy, known as the Arroyo Seco, which after crossing the El Paso highway continued in its easterly course about a mile and a half, turned then toward the south, and joined the river about a mile and a half below the ford. Along the northern bank of the Arroyo lay a road, which extended on the eastern side of the highway to the junction of this watercourse with the Sacramento, while on the western side, bending toward the south, it crossed that river three miles or so above the ford, passed the hacienda of El Torreón, penetrated a defile in the steep and rocky foothills thrust out here by the western cordillera, and rejoined the highway about six miles farther on toward Chihuahua. A triangular block of rugged hills lay thus between this road, the highway and the river, the northeastern corner of which (called Sacramento Hill) almost reached the solid adobe buildings of Sacramento hacienda near the ford.[13]

Between the river and the Arroyo lay elevated ground cut straight across by the highway. The portion west of the highway was a fairly smooth plateau ascending very gently toward the western cordillera, but the other part rose immediately east of the highway about fifty feet, and formed-roughly speaking-a square one and a half miles on a side, with a broad, smooth hollow in the middle that debouched at the southeastern corner toward the Sacramento, and a dominating hill called the Cerro Frijoles at the northeastern corner, toward which the square sloped up. On the north and west edges of the square the Mexicans constructed a series of well-planned and well-executed redoubts alternating with breastworks-which extended from Cerro Frijoles at the northeast to what we may call Fort N at the southwest-supplemented near the ford with fortifications on both banks of the river, and finally with a redoubt halfway up Sacramento Hill; and these works commanded perfectly the highway, the Arroyo road and the valley of the river. The Torreón route seemed impracticable for the American wagons, but even here fortifications were erected; and still others guarded the Arroyo near its junction with the Sacramento. The principal camp lay in the hollow of the square, which not only protected the troops but concealed both their numbers and their movements.[13]

In a word, the position consisted essentially of a tongue of land crossed near its elevated tip by the El Paso highway, with the Sacramento River and the Arroyo Seco on its edges, a series of fortifications round its tip, and an answering fortification beyond the river on a hill. It seemed to bar the way of the Americans completely. The Mexicans felt sure that it did so, and on the evening of February 27, jubilant and boastful, they even talked of recovering New Mexico. Anyhow these presumptuous and contemptible Yankees were to be cut up, and the booty would include a caravan worth a million. Yet influential Chihuahuans had a financial interest in that caravan,[13] and one may be sure they were not asleep.[14]


Next morning the Americans awoke early. Already the horses had been carefully inured to explosions of powder. Now swords were filed, rifles loaded afresh, straps tested, and even the linch-pins of the wagons inspected; and by daybreak the command set out. To make it compact, ready for attack from any quarter and perplexing to hostile observers, the wagons were formed in four well-separated columns of about one hundred each; the artillery and most of the troops marched between these columns, and the companies of Reid, Parsons and Hudson-regarded as proper cavalry and not simply mounted men-rode in front as advance guard and screen; and in this formation, with banners and guidons flaunting to impress the enemy, it rolled forward through a valley about four miles wide, bounded on each hand by a massive, barren cordillera,[15] until at about half-past one the troops, coming in sight of the Mexican works, noticed a quick, sharp flash there: the Mexican cavalry drawing their sabres.[17]

Doniphan and his principal officers now galloped ahead, and at a distance of two or three miles reconnoitred most carefully with glasses the Mexican position. It looked impregnable; and when the command was about a mile and a half distant from it, the Colonel-first ordering his cavalry screen to keep on advancing-turned the main body sharply to the right, intending to cross the Arroyo Seco higher up, and gain the plateau there. It was a brilliant scheme but perilous. Good troops, not encumbered with artillery or baggage, might undertake such a manoeuvre even in the face of the enemy, but with four hundred wagons, most of them extremely heavy, it seemed impossible for untrained volunteers to cross the Arroyo, and mount the high bank of the plateau; yet not only was it a chief part of the soldiers' business to protect the wagons, but it looked as if the wagons might soon be needed to protect the soldiers. Hence this desperate attempt had to be made. Heredia observed it immediately; and, concluding that the Americans were aiming, as a last hope, to avoid his works and follow the Torreón route, he instructed García Conde, the chief cavalry officer, to hold them in check until the artillery and infantry could arrive and finish them.[17]

But these Americans were no ordinary men; and while they had little fear of death, it was their belief that defeat would mean dungeons and torture. After marching for some distance with all possible speed up the Arroyo road, they stopped at the point selected. Instantly shovels, pickaxes, crowbars and ropes were out of the supply wagon, and for a few moments the sand flew as if electrified. Then the drivers yelled like Apaches; the mules were stimulated by every art known to drivers; and the swaying wagons headed for the ravine. At the brink many of the frightened animals, twisting their necks back till they almost broke, stopped short; but the men pushed them along, and down they all plunged, floundering, biting and kicking. Across the deep, sandy bottom they were driven or dragged amid shouts, curses and "hell let loose," as a soldier put it; and then came the real struggle-the opposite ascent, forty or fifty feet high. Wild with excitement, pain and fright, the animals exerted every nerve, scrambling, jumping, rearing and panting; the teamsters yelled and flogged; and the soldiers tugged and lifted at the wheels, or pulled with hundreds of ropes. In a few minutes, as it seemed, the incredible was done, and the command, forming on the plateau as before, advanced. Already the Mexican horse were dashing on, brandishing their lances in the sun, fluttering their bright pennons, and waving a black flag decorated with a skull and crossbones; but, as Doniphan did not appear to be making for El Torréon, they concluded to halt, and let the infantry and artillery overtake them.[17]

It was now a little before three o'clock, and when enough ground had been gained so that the traders and teamsters could make the caravan into a fort, Major Clark's trumpeter sounded "Trot!" and Battery A emerged from the masking wagons. "Form battery, action front, load and fire at will!" rang out Weightman's clear voice; and at a range of about half a mile solid shot, chain-shot and shells, perfectly aimed, saluted the lancers, who had never listened to such music before. Three rounds, and they broke. With great efforts they were rallied, but the fourth round sent them flying to the camp; and Ponce de Léon, the hero of El Brazito, who had led the advance, also led the flight. The infantry, now exposed to the American fire, caught the panic, and at the sound of the cannon-balls men crouched or lay down.[17]

An artillery duel followed. Most of the Mexican projectiles, falling short and bounding once or twice, lost enough velocity to become visible, and the Americans-laughing till the tears furrowed their dusty cheeks-quickly became expert in dodging them. After a time, however, the Mexicans discontinued their fire; and Doniphan, as the last of the wagons had come up, did the same, wishing to form again and advance. Heredia now reoccupied his works; but the original defensive attitude could but very imperfectly be resumed, and the former confidence was gone. The whole plan of the battle had been blown to pieces, it was seen. The splendid fortifications now meant very little; the boasted cavalry were demoralized; the prospect of plundering the wagons had vanished, and the Brazito rout became a fact once more. Heredia ordered two guns to occupy the fort on Sacramento Hill, and rake the Americans from that elevated point; and several other pieces went there without orders, abandoning the redoubts. A great portion of the infantry leaked away, and soon Heredia did the same.[17]

The Americans felt correspondingly elated; and, obliquing toward the right in order to avoid the principal mass of the works and approach the ford, they moved on toward Forts N and O, into which Trias, observing their approach, now threw the best of his troops-the regular infantry and a part of the Second Durango squadron. "Storm the fort, storm the fort!" shouted the Americans; and at the proper distance Weightman and the howitzer section were ordered to charge the work at N, supported by the companies of Reid, Parsons and Hudson.[16] This order failed to reach Parsons and Hudson, but Reid and others advanced all the same. Unfortunately a deep gully was soon encountered in front of the fort, and the assailants found themselves at a loss. With a few backers Major Owens, who seems to have desired to die, rushed across, emptied his pistols into the midst of the enemy, and fell. Still others dismounted and skirmished. The howitzers, galloping to the left, succeeded in turning the gully, and unlimbered within fifty yards of the enemy, while a part of Reid's troopers, now supported by Hudson's, did the same, and then charged at O. Entrance to the fort was gained.[17]

But the enemy there and in the adjacent breastworks, proved too strong, and the Americans, veering again to the left, passed along the front of the fortifications, drawing their fire and shooting with some effect, but discovering no place for a serious blow. The fall of Owens, who was supposed by the Mexicans to be our leader, and the failure of the attack upon the fort encouraged the enemy. Trias and García Conde managed to rally some lancers for a charge, and artillerymen with two guns prepared to follow them. Before such odds a few of our howitzer force gave way.[17]

The rest did not. A round of canister scattered the lancers, and then a large body of Americans, rushing in at a gallop, threw themselves from their horses. Parsons' and Hudson's men joined them, and all pressed up the slope of O together, firing at will. The Mexicans learned quickly not to show their heads. Raising their muskets above the parapets at arm's length and blazing away without effect, they soon used up their ammunition. By this time the Americans, bravely aided by the howitzers, were near their goal. Rifles were dropped. A rush was made. "With a whoop and a yell and a plunge," wrote a soldier, "we were over into their fort, man to man, grappling in a merciless fray, neither giving nor receiving quarter." Six-shooters, knives and even stones were made to serve, and in a moment the fort was taken.[17]

Meantime Clark's guns had repulsed a body of cavalry that were making for the wagons, and then, in co?peration with Parsons and the force of dismounted troopers, he silenced and captured the works north of Fort O, while other troops took N, went down into the valley, and occupied the fortifications near the river. It was now five o'clock, and the battle had been gained. Yet not quite. The guns on Sacramento Hill, where many of the Mexican infantry and cavalry had taken refuge, were annoying, even though aimed so high as to do no actual harm; and Clark turned some pieces in that direction. The range was 1225 yards; but the first shot dismounted a cannon, and, as a soldier remarked, every shell knew its place. Soon Weightman took the howitzers across the river. A part of the Americans flanked the redoubt on one side by scaling the mountain, and then a wild gallop up the road on the other side to its rear ended the fighting. Pursuit followed, but under the first beams of the moon Doniphan's command re-assembled on the field of victory. Not a man had lost his life except Owens, and only five had been wounded. Of the Mexicans three hundred had been killed, it was thought, and an equal number wounded. Forty at least were captured, and also great numbers of horses, mules, sheep and cattle, and quantities of provisions and ammunition.[17]


Further resistance was out of the question, for the Mexican army scattered, and the Presidials and National Guards fled to their homes;[18] and the next day Chihuahua, a city of about 14,000 inhabitants, was peaceably occupied. Obviously, however, this triumph did not end the difficulties of the Americans. To remain in the enemy's country with no prospect of reinforcement was perilous, yet the traders and their merchandise could not be left without protection, and the Mexicans were said to be in great force near Saltillo. Doniphan therefore undertook to make an arrangement with the state and city authorities that would free him from responsibility. But the negotiations failed, for while the officials did not refuse protection, they would not promise to remain neutral during the war, as Doniphan insisted; and Heredia proved no less obstinate.[19]

Doniphan then determined to retaliate and also appeal to their fears by marching for Durango, and by capturing on his way the town of El Parral, where Heredia and the state government had taken refuge. April 5, leaving about three hundred men to protect the merchants, he set out with the rest of his command, and in three days made fifty miles. Then he received notice that large Mexican forces were approaching, and at once retraced his steps. Concluding soon, however, that Doniphan had been hoaxed and no Mexicans were coming, the men grew impatient. Their term of service was to end on May 31; and as they had been poorly fed nearly all of the time, and for nine months had received no money from the government, they naturally felt dissatisfied.[19]

Doniphan seems to have renewed his negotiations, therefore, with the state authorities; but as large quantities of the merchandise had already been sold regularly or smuggled into circulation under the cover of night, he doubtless cared less about the matter than before. A Missouri trader named John Collins, who had undertaken with a party of thirteen fearless men to reach Wool and obtain instructions, returned on April 23 from his daring journey of more than a thousand miles, and in two sections the command set out for Saltillo a few days later. May 21, after a series of hardships and perils, a certain amount of lawlessness, and a little fighting with the Indians, they arrived near that point.[20] The next day Wool reviewed them. In honor of the occasion they tried to improve their appearance, but it still suggested a classic line, "The beggars have come to town." Some were dressed like the Mexicans and some like the Comanches, and all were described by their commander as "ragged."[21]

A few days later they were greeted by Taylor at Monterey; and finally, after passing down the Rio Grande and sailing to New Orleans, they regained Missouri, where they had for rewards a speech of congratulations from Senator Benton, the unstinted admiration of their fellow-citizens, a series of banquets and barbecues, and the consciousness of having aided certain American, Mexican and European traders to dispose of their wares. They had, however, done more than promote commerce. They had built a large stone into the edifice of American prestige in Mexico, and had gained for themselves a notable place in military history.[21]

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