MoboReader> Literature > The War With Mexico, Volume I (of 2)


The War With Mexico, Volume I (of 2) By Justin H. Smith Characters: 51112

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

July, 1846-February, 1847

The operations described in the preceding chapters were all favorable to American arms, and they placed under our control a very large portion of the territory belonging to Mexico; but as they proceeded, it became evident that she had no thought of consenting to negotiate. Indeed Santa Anna's course and the utterances of the press were unflinchingly warlike; and our consul at Mexico wrote, "Nothing but some very severe blow will ever bring them to their senses." The policy and expectations of the American government were therefore palpably wrong. The programme of a short and a brisk war was a mistake and a failure. The nation found itself in a contest of unforeseen duration and extent.[4]

Heedless enthusiasm was consequently sobered, if not exactly chilled. By the end of September, 1846, Pakenham, the British minister at Washington, reported that a growing distaste for the war could be seen more clearly each day. Large expenses had to be faced, and heavy losses of men seemed inevitable. Many believed that neither troops nor money enough could be raised; many, besides deploring the loss of precious lives, complained that needed laborers had already been drawn away; and many others asked themselves whether the outlay would be really worth while. Taylor's famous letter to Gaines expressed the opinion that even complete success would be of no advantage; and his idea of simply fixing and holding a boundary north of which there would be enough territory to pay all fair claims for indemnity, and throwing upon Mexico the responsibility for offensive operations naturally appealed to not a few. Moreover, he argued, no other sort of a peace could be made, since the enemy had no government sufficiently stable to treat with. Calhoun took up eagerly the defensive idea. Buchanan favored it; and Polk himself, dreading to alarm the country by demanding great numbers of men and fearful that the credit of the nation would not bear the strain of active warfare, did the same.[4]

On the other hand such a plan was clearly unsuited to the enterprising temper of the American people, and precisely what the Mexicans, whose ancestors had fought the Moors of Spain for hundreds of years, desired. It reminded one of the menaces and forays that had been the policy of Mexico against the Texans. It would have been received by her as a cheering confession, on our part, of military impotence. Had it been adopted, her people would have found a chain of profitable markets established for them; and at any time she could have dashed either with regular or with irregular troops upon any part of our line, done what harm she could, and retired like a wave on the beach, to prepare fresh assaults in a perpetual series. Only one campaign of the sort now proposed was on record, said Cass-that of Sisyphus. Besides, every mile of the boundary would have required its guard; even at that a broad space along the frontier would have become practically uninhabitable; expenses approaching those of offensive operations would have mounted up; we could have laid no contributions upon the enemy; national honor would have been tarnished and national spirit exasperated by a succession of small defeats; and no progress whatever toward conquering a peace would have been made.[4]

Politically and commercially the unfavorable condition of things which the United States had been so anxious to end, would have become chronic. European nations would soon have gained a monopoly of trade and influence in Mexico; they would have protested against an endless blockade; and what further steps they would have taken in regard to a vexatious and apparently aimless contest it was easy to imagine. Furthermore, simply to seize and hold, with no legal title, provinces which Mexico had not been able to protect against the Indians would have seemed to place the United States in the class of mere pilferers. Honor-at least military honor-demanded that we should meet the enemy, whom we had challenged, at the centre of their pride and power. Finally, the weakness exhibited in "backing out" of a war with Mexico, begun without a question of triumph, would have excited ridicule abroad, and compromised our international position. Confronted with such objections to the defensive plan, Polk was "extremely distressed," said Pakenham. Evidently some decisive achievement was needed to save the administration, the party and the country; but he dared not face the cost nor incur the risk of a still more signal failure.[4]


There was, however, no lack of bolder ideas. Not only did every newspaper come forward with a "cut and dried" plan, as Marcy rather bitterly said, but the government itself knew what needed to be done. In fact mere animal instinct was enough to suggest that a blow should be struck at the enemy's heart, and as the project of maintaining a line of operations from the Rio Grande to the capital-more than 800 miles-was out of the question, the idea of attacking Mexico City by the way of Vera Cruz came forward early. On July 4, 1846, Benton formally suggested landing beyond the range of Ulúa, the island fortress which guarded that port, attacking the town in the rear, and after its fall advancing to the capital. Santa Anna advised through Mackenzie almost exactly that method of approach, adding that three or four thousand men could easily capture the port; and at nearly the same time a letter from Taylor, arguing that a lunge from the Rio Grande base would be unwise, reinforced this project;[1] but there was no certainty that an army could be placed in the rear of Vera Cruz, and a number of other difficulties had to be considered.[4]

In 1838 a French squadron had been unable in six hours to injure Ulúa seriously, though it had been permitted to choose its positions unmolested. Such an advantage could not be expected now, and besides, as Conner reported, the number of guns in the fortress had been increased fourfold. The parapet of the main work had an elevation of forty feet above the water; three 10-inch guns throwing shells were twenty feet higher, and there were outworks-connected with the principal fort only by drawbridges-commanded so thoroughly by the gun and musketry fire of the garrison that it would be fatal to enter them, reported the Commodore.[2] In short, said that prudent officer, Ulúa could certainly, if well garrisoned, resist successfully any naval force brought against it; while in the opinion of Pakenham, formerly the British minister to Mexico, a combined army and naval attack on Ulùa and Vera Cruz would be "a very hazardous undertaking," and, in consequence of "the deadly nature of that Climate to foreign constitutions, success would probably prove in the end as disastrous as failure." Moreover, Conner pointed out, Vera Cruz would be of value solely as a dép?t, and from that point of view he considered Tampico preferable. Consequently, although at the end of August Polk brought up the subject of attacking Mexico City by way of Vera Cruz, nothing was done about it save to ask the Commodore for additional information.[4]

Not long before October 10, however, it was ascertained beyond a doubt that Vera Cruz could be approached in the rear by a landing force, and beginning immediately Polk and his advisers, aided by Dimond, recently our consul at that city, and by other experts, labored on the question of future operations for nearly two weeks. The result was, first, a decision that since a farther advance in the north would be hazardous and would accomplish nothing towards bringing about peace, Monterey and its vicinity should be the limit of serious operations in that quarter. Such was the deliberate and unanimous conclusion of the President and his official family after long discussions. Instructions to General Taylor were then carefully drafted, studied, amended and agreed upon. To make sure that he should understand their significance, Major McLane, son of the minister to England and a graduate from West Point, was taken into the full confidence of the Executive regarding this matter, and was then despatched to Monterey with the letter of October 22, which, as well as the explanations of the envoy, Taylor interpreted, we have already learned, according to his own ideas. So much for the first point.[4]

The second was a decision to attack Vera Cruz. This did not mean, however, a decision to proceed against the capital. Though Scott argued, as Conner had, that gaining possession of the city and then reducing or starving out Ulúa would practically be sterile triumphs, unless the army should go farther, it was intended at this time to do no more in that quarter, and three or four thousand men were thought sufficient for the undertaking.[4]


November 7, however, Benton made an evening call at the White House, drew the President's attention to the unfavorable results of the Congressional elections, declared that a bold stroke must be delivered upon the Mexicans at once, and urged that after capturing Vera Cruz and Ulúa the army should execute "a rapid crushing movement" against the capital. Two days later he repeated the lesson, and on the tenth he amplified it. Polk began to realize now that while it might be dangerous to call for men and funds, it was even more dangerous not to do so.[4]

Benton kept on calling, and finally he submitted a written plan. Scott presented a memorial of the same tenor. Taylor wrote that in order to strike a decisive blow troops must land at Vera Cruz or near that point; and Conner reported that a descent could be made under cover of the fleet, batteries could be planted on sand-hills behind the city, and Ulúa, if not Vera Cruz also, could probably be reduced by starvation. As early as November 14 Polk decided to call out 6750 men-that is to say, nine volunteer regiments-for the duration of the war, and to capture Vera Cruz immediately.[3] Yet even this involved no determination to strike at the capital. Polk was distinctly in favor of so doing, should that course be necessary to obtain peace; but Buchanan strongly opposed it, insisting upon the cost of such an expedition, the chances of failure, and the danger that by leading to a national, racial and religious conflict it would militate against a settlement; Marcy had no faith in the project; others of the Cabinet agreed with him; and hence this question remained open, to be answered by circumstances.[4]

The next problem was the choice of a commander. In October Patterson, a good Democrat, had been selected; but it had been found that, as he was not a native American, he could not be developed into a Presidential candidate, that his experience had not been adequate, that his appointment would involve the retiring of both Taylor and Scott, and that, as Buchanan learned at this time from Slidell, he did not possess the confidence of the army. Butler, another Democrat, was Polk's next choice, but he clearly held no titles to the position.[9]

Taylor had to be considered then; but he was regarded by the Executive and his advisers as professionally unequal to the task and personally unfitted for it, and both of these opinions were fully warranted. While events had proved him a born leader of men and a splendid fighter, they had also demonstrated plainly his lack of generalship and executive efficiency. He distrusted, loathed and misconstrued the administration, failed to supply it with plans and information, endeavored to throw upon it the responsibility for mistakes of his own, lectured it harshly for misdeeds it had not committed, and frustrated the cardinal intent of its policy and orders by failing to press the campaign with all possible vigor during the summer and autumn.[5] "I have not the slightest respect," he wrote, for any member of the Cabinet except the secretary of the navy. "Evil men bear sway," was another of his remarks.[9]

Indeed, the General's natural kindliness and sober judgment seem to have become largely perverted by this time. He knew that for several months friends of his had been at work to gain for him the political place long occupied by Scott, and to use him as a battering ram against the party in power;[6] and it was easy to assume that he would be repaid in kind. Stories of intrigues and machinations, doubtless exaggerated in his mind through inexperience and remoteness from the scene, must have been a constant subject of thought, and he seems to have fallen gradually into an abnormal state of sensitiveness and suspicion.[9]

His private correspondence contained the harshest opinions regarding nearly all of the chief men thus far prominent in the war. Of Commodore Perry he entertained "a contemptable opinion." Shields, who was a good man and officer as men and officers went, he described as "without one particle of principle to restrain him, save the laws of his country and ready to minister body and soul to the vilest passions of a vile administration." Quitman, who deserved high respect, appeared to him unreliable, of mediocre ability and "afflicted with unbounded vanity." The quartermaster general, he said, was partially deranged. Of Scott he had written in August, "He means well on all occasions," but now he was able to view his superior officer as a military "humbug" and low politician, eager to advance himself and ruin others by the most nefarious arts; and he could no longer see, what the administration fully recognized, that it was essentially for its advantage to have the generals win victories. So far as the government was concerned, Taylor had some grounds for apprehension, perhaps. In all probability it entertained by this time unfriendly feelings toward him. The veteran F. P. Blair had warned Marcy distinctly that, as even the novice could see, a Democratic administration was waging war to make a Whig President, and under our system it was legitimate as well as natural to look for an avenue of escape. Scott, however, seems to have been his friend, privately exerting a strong influence in his favor on several occasions; and while the lawful rights of superior rank were made use of by the commander-in-chief, the same thing was done by Taylor himself with far less considerateness.[9]

Finally Taylor had a particular moral disability, for he did not believe in the Vera Cruz expedition actually contemplated. The season of yellow fever-in his opinion a worse enemy than 100,000 Mexican bayonets-was now too near, he wrote, and an army besieging that port would be swept away by the pestilence.[7] He lacked, therefore, some of the most necessary qualifications, and was not in a state of mind to work harmoniously and effectively with the administration, the commander-in-chief or his own principal subordinates in the exceedingly difficult and delicate situations which the proposed expedition was liable to create.[9]


Gaines being out of the question, there was but one man left, and he moreover, as an officer of experience and the head of the army, possessed exceptional claims to the appointment. Scott seems to have accepted his professional and political reverses of May very quietly, illustrating that fine aphorism of King Stanislaus, "A man greater than his misfortunes shows that he does not deserve them." Friends fell away rapidly, yet he kept up his courage. To one of them indeed he wrote, "Perhaps you might do well to imitate the example of that heathen who touched his hat to the fallen statue of Jupiter-saying, 'Who knows but he may be replaced upon his pedestal?'" and about the middle of September, having learned through several channels that his presence in Mexico had been desired by Taylor, to whom he generously referred as "that gallant and distinguished commander," he reminded the government that he was ready still to serve at the front.[8] This merely brought him another curt rebuff; but when the Vera Cruz expedition became a practical question he took part in the discussion without pique, and he suggested incidentally that he, as the highest officer in the service, was the proper individual to divide the troops between the two fields of activity, and to command personally in the more important one.[9]

Taylor having pronounced it Scott's duty after the battles of May to assume the leadership in the field, could not logically object now to his acting according to his rank; but, though time had vindicated Scott's military policy and he now was viewed-Marcy admitted-as politically harmless, Polk still deemed him scientific and visionary, and still resented his allusion to fire from the rear. Long discussions were held, but Marcy felt satisfied that Scott was the only fit commander in sight. By rather cunning management he brought Senator Benton to that opinion; others of the Cabinet reached the same conclusion; and finally the President admitted with "reluctance" that such was "the only alternative." Very likely, too, as many believed, Polk saw a chance to play one Whig leader against the other. Anyhow, after demanding "Scott's confidence," which-in view of the intention to grant his dearest wish-Scott easily gave, he appointed him on the eighteenth of November to command the expedition. An apparently heartfelt and complete reconciliation followed. Scott almost shed tears of emotion, recorded the President; and he received assurances in turn that his confidence would be reciprocated, and that bygones were to be considered bygones. A new David and a new Jonathan seemed to have discovered each other.[9]


Scott believed that Ulúa, if properly garrisoned, could not be taken with naval batteries, or even with naval batteries and an escalade, except at a disproportionate sacrifice of life, and a loss of time that might subject the troops to the yellow fever, quadruple the waste of men, and ruin the campaign. He therefore planned to make a landing near Vera Cruz, capture the town, reduce the fortress-unless, as appeared quite probable, it could soon be starved out-by naval operations and land attacks based upon the city, and then escape the pestilence by advancing promptly toward the capital. In his opinion the Mexicans were likely to have 20–30,000 troops on the ground, and therefore he thought 15,000 men desirable. Relying necessarily on the figures of the adjutant general, he reckoned (November 16) that 7000 regulars and 13,500 volunteers were, or soon would be, under Taylor's command, making with the new volunteers and recruits for the regular army over 27,000,[10] and he therefore proposed (November 21) to take about 5000 of these regulars, 6000 of the volunteers, and the first 4000 of the new regiments. But he deemed 10,000-to be increased later to double that number-an adequate minimum, and he felt willing, for the sake of gaining time, to launch the campaign with the first 8000 soldiers that could be set afloat off Brazos Island. Anticipating a stubborn resistance at the point of disembarkation, he desired to have 140 surf-boats in order to land 5000 men and eight guns at once, and he made ample requisitions for transports, ordnance and ordnance stores.[11] As for Taylor, the General proposed that he should retain forces enough to defend Monterey and his communications,[12] and stand for a time on the defensive.[16]

Scott of course desired official instructions of this tenor, and even drafted them, but Marcy only wrote as follows (November 23): You have been ordered by the President himself to go to Mexico, take command there, and set on foot a Gulf expedition, "if on arriving at the theatre of action you shall deem it to be practicable. It is not proposed to control your operations by definite and positive instructions, but you are left to prosecute them as your judgment, under a full view of all the circumstances, shall dictate. The work is before you, and the means provided, or to be provided, for accomplishing it, are committed to you, in the full confidence that you will use them to the best advantage. The objects which it is desirable to obtain have been indicated, and it is hoped that you will have the requisite force to accomplish them. Of this you must be the judge when the preparations are made, and the time for action has arrived."[16]

Marcy seldom laughed, but occasionally he shook like a bowlful of jelly, and as he signed this letter he must have shaken prodigiously. Assuming no responsibility, making no promises, the government simply unloaded the whole burden of the expedition upon Scott.[13] Should he succeed, a Democratic administration would reap a great profit; should he fail, a Whig general would have to bear a great reproach. In order to obtain the essential troops it would be necessary for him to incur the odium of taking many of them from Taylor, who in Polk's opinion was not willing to give them up; and thus not only would Taylor's rising star become clouded, but a bitter quarrel between these two Whig leaders and their friends would almost certainly be precipitated. Besides, Taylor might throw up his command in a fit of temper, and relegate himself to obscurity. No wonder the President felt remarkably in spirits just after this.[16]


Scott, however, was determined to forestall the danger of a quarrel. Immediately on suggesting to the government that as head of the army he was the proper individual to command the Vera Cruz expedition, he notified Taylor of this action, and only two days after receiving his appointment he drafted a letter informing that officer about the matter; but the President, regarding absolute secrecy as a prime requisite, would not permit him to mention it.[14] A few days later (November 25) he wrote from New York to this effect: I am going to Mexico and shall conduct operations in a new field; where that is to be I cannot safely state, but with the aid of advices received from Washington you can imagine; new forces have been called out, yet-as the season of yellow fever is at hand-I shall have to take most of your troops; your victories, however, have placed you on such an eminence that you can afford to act on the defensive for a time, and before spring I think you will be able to resume active operations; I desire to consult with you, and plan to be at Camargo for that purpose about the twenty-third of December.[15] The letter was confidential and cordial; and having now done what he could to conjure the tempest, as well as to prepare for his work, the General sailed from New York the last day of November. The voyage to New Orleans, hindered by the weather, took nearly three weeks. He made a brief and busy stay in that city, and two days after Christmas he reached Brazos Island.[16]

Certain steps tending to facilitate his enterprise had now been taken by General Taylor. December 10 the temporary Field Division organized at Camargo was broken up-the Georgia, Mississippi and First Tennessee regiments reporting to Quitman, and the Ohio and Kentucky regiments to Butler; the First Division (regulars) under Twiggs was reorganized;[17] on December 13 and 14, a day apart, this division and Quitman's brigade set out for Victoria, nearly 200 miles distant; and on the fifteenth Taylor himself, leaving Butler behind to command at Monterey, followed them.[23]

It was not pleasant marching, for a long drought had burned everything up, the sun blazed with intense heat, and the road, when not covered with small, sharp stones, was ankle-deep in light dust; but the inspiring Saddle Mountain seemed to keep company with the troops all day, Cerralvo Mountain hung like a dark shadow on the left, the cool blue line of the Sierra Madre extended on the right farther than the eye could see, and the town first reached-Cadereita, about twenty-five miles from Monterey-burying its white houses in orange groves, looking out over gardens, and looking down from a low bluff into the clear waters of the Topo Grande, was delightful. December 17 the infantry arrived at Montemorelos, a small town at the foot of the sierra, planted beside a swift, cool stream, full of trout, that watered a beautiful valley, and suggesting at a distance under the blue sky-wrote a surgeon-a pearl set in an azure stone. Here the command absorbed the Second Infantry and the Second Tennessee; and it now amounted to some 3500 men, of whom rather more than a third were regulars.[23]

But Santa Anna was not asleep. Learning of Taylor's proposed march and believing that Wool had left Parras for Chihuahua, he determined to advance about December 24, strike at Saltillo and Monterey in person with 9000 picked infantry, 4000 cavalry and twelve guns, despatch troops from Tula against the Americans at Victoria, and finally close in upon Taylor with his own forces; and a large part of these troops actually set out. Worth got wind of danger, however, on December 16; in accordance with instructions previously given he called for help;[18] and in the evening of the next day four grimy troopers burst upon Taylor at Montemorelos with the startling intelligence, that Santa Anna would attack Worth in three days. Ordering Quitman to proceed, Taylor therefore set out on December 18 with his regulars for Saltillo. Butler, calling a regiment from Camargo to Monterey, reached the front with his own forces on December 19, and Wool arrived there two days later. Santa Anna, discovering Wool's march by December 24, countermanded his orders; and Taylor, learn

ing on December 20 while between Monterey and Saltillo, of Wool's advance and the non-appearance of the Mexicans, and concluding there was no danger, turned back.[23]

On the twenty-third he again left Monterey, and the next day he received Scott's New York letter.[19] His presence with the forces was not at all requisite. No serious fight was in prospect, for Quitman had reported nothing of the sort. There was at least one topographical engineer in the command, who could make better notes of the country than he.[20] Probably his military engineers also, among whom figured Robert E. Lee, afterwards the famous Confederate leader, were there; and as for disposing of the troops, General Scott's letter gave him reason to believe, that a superior officer was now on the ground with new plans. His obvious duty was therefore to report at Camargo, the place mentioned by Scott, or at least await instructions at Monterey. But the stout old gentleman in the loose olive-brown frock-coat, wool socks and Mexican sombrero had a temper and several ideas of his own. Probably he did not wish to arrange matters amicably; and he kept straight on for ten days, plunging farther and farther toward the remotest portion of his field, inaccessible from any and every point where Scott might by any reasonable possibility chance to be. Indeed, Scott's letter was not answered for two days, and eight more passed before the answer, which stated that General Taylor was going to Victoria, reached Camargo.[23]


Beyond Montemorelos a great deal of the country was rough, and it was intersected with chilly streams, waist-deep, that cut like a knife as the hot soldiers plunged in; but an incessant variety of novel scenes kept up their spirits. Groves of ebony sheltered bears and wolves. Wild turkeys and wild hogs abounded; and almost every evening ten or twelve deer were brought in. Here flourished pecans, live-oaks and immense trees of lignum vit?; there an endless procession of ants wound along their smoothly worn trail; yonder towered a mountain of gleaming porphyry set off with dark green foliage, and at all times fleecy clouds could be seen drifting languidly across the slopes of the curiously wrought sierra. Finally the troops entered the rich valley of Linares. On the one hand lay wide cornfields or perhaps a thousand acres of sugarcane in a single, well-irrigated lot; on the other apple and peach orchards, orange and lemon groves with tempting gleams amidst their dark leaves, and half a mile or so of fig-trees. Then came the gardens and flat houses of the town itself, a dull place, with some smiling and some tearful eyes looking out from the grated windows.[23]

Then forward again marched the troops, passing out of the valley into wild country full of chaparral and mesquite, where sometimes wolves trotted along the road ahead of them like dogs. The need of water determined the length of the daily march; but usually there was enough of it, shaded sometimes by noble cypresses dripping with Spanish moss. Once a real norther set in, and the troops choked for twenty miles in a driving cloud of dust;[21] but through it they caught glimpses of a high cliff that looked like an immense pink and yellow dome, and another cheering bit of color now and then was Se?or Don So-and-so, the alcalde, dressed in white and a red sash, with silver coins all over his clothing, saddle and bridle. Usually the weather held fair, and a blanket supported by four stakes answered the purpose of a tent well enough.[23]

But the faces of the people grew dark occasionally, and once they muttered something like "Fandango poco tiempo," which signified, "You'll be fighting pretty soon." Then the soldiers cheered till they were hoarse. Fatigue and supper were forgotten. "Turn out, turn out!" was the cry. The column formed, and dashed down the hill at a double quick; but for enemy it found only the trim white cottage of a Frenchman, planted beside a rippling stream amid laden orange trees gilded by the setting sun. There had been rumors of Mexican cavalry ahead, but no cavalry could be seen;[22] and as for irregulars, both funds and arms were lacking, and the close wall of prickly pear five or ten feet high, which ran on each side of the road almost without a break for nearly two hundred miles, would have kept them off as it did the breeze. And so on January 4 Taylor and the regulars entered Victoria, a small, neat city at the foot of wooded mountains, which Quitman had occupied with some formality six days before. "Victoria is taken. It was a bloodless victory. But where is Victoria?" said the New York Herald.[23]


Indeed, Victoria was very much taken.[24] October 13, when ordering Taylor to cut short the armistice, Marcy notified Patterson of this order, and again directed him to occupy southern Tamaulipas as soon as he could-before December 6 if possible; but Patterson was not able to set out until General Taylor gave him definite instructions, on the twenty-eighth of November, to march with the two Illinois regiments and the regiment of Tennessee horse, about 1500 men, for Victoria. Further delays occurred because transportation was not promptly furnished him, and because vessels conveying supplies were lost; and although a detachment advanced some fifteen miles about the middle of December, the movement from the point then reached did not begin until one day before Christmas.[26]

General Patterson's March

The distance to be covered was nearly 210 miles,[25] and all found the march hard. The chief engineer said his task was "to make an impassable road practicable." Sometimes it seemed to contain every possible stone. Difficult streams had to be crossed, and once the only feasible method was to cut a straight ramp on each of the nearly vertical banks, which stood about one hundred feet high, and get the wagons down and up again with ropes-a prodigious task. The usual thorns were peculiarly troublesome, and some of the water contained salt. Sweat and dust almost hid the skin of men's faces at more than one time; and not only did soldiers drop far behind from exhaustion, but in some cases water could be given to the faint only by prying their jaws open. Once the drinking water was so muddy it could scarcely run, we are assured-to say nothing of an odor derived from dead horses. On the very first day the troops were ordered to march without breakfast, and they went hungry more than once afterwards, with cattle, hogs, and actual clouds of wild turkeys plainly in sight.[26]

Some of these facts appear to reflect upon the commanding officers, and other facts point the same way. Patterson had an impressive person, somewhat in the style of the English squire, it was thought, and certain very agreeable qualities of his Irish race, when he chose to display them; but although Polk felt disposed to make him generalissimo, he seems to have lacked a familiar acquaintance with his profession as well as experience in practising it. He also lacked initiative, and he lorded it over the troops, they felt, with all the severity of a satrap.[26]

Pillow, the second in command, had come to the war like many others for his personal advantage; and having been the President's partner in a law office, having contrived through cunning and secret management at the Baltimore convention in 1844 to secure Polk's nomination, and being now in confidential correspondence with the White House, he felt specially authorized to slake his intense ambition. On the score of ill-health Pillow had left his command at Monterey for a trip to the United States; but, finding in this expedition a chance of becoming prominent, he suddenly recovered. No one could fail to see his determination to be conspicuous, and it was not commended by all. "Ho for the embryo hero! Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" exclaimed Captain Caswell, a brilliant officer. Naturally Pillow felt inclined to look upon the soldiers as merely coal for his furnace, and they in turn generally detested him. In one stormy scene he called upon them to shoot him, if they dared, adding grandly, "I'm not afraid to die!" And after that, when angered by unnecessary harshness on his part, they obtained some comfort by growling to one another, "He's some!" "He isn't afraid to die"; but they remembered the scourge none the less, and when Taylor came over on a mule to visit their camp the very day he and they reached Victoria (January 4), looking as plain as they and perhaps no less dirty, the contrast between his democratic simplicity and the pomp and pomposity they had been contemplating made them burst forth-when they finally realized that his more impressive orderly was not the General-into an ecstasy of delight and admiration.[26]

While these marches were taking place, General Scott, leaving the coast on December 29, proceeded to Camargo in order to arrange matters amicably with Taylor, if he could; but on January 3, finding it would be impracticable to get into touch with that officer, he sent instructions to Butler, carefully explaining why they were given to him directly, to place at the mouth of the Rio Grande about 4000 regular infantry under Worth, 4000 volunteer infantry, 500 regular cavalry, the best 500 volunteer cavalry and two field batteries-deducting, however, from these numbers the troops then at Victoria, except an escort for Taylor, all those at Tampico except about 500 for a garrison, and one volunteer regiment at Matamoros. Scott added that he hoped eight new volunteer regiments would be at the Brazos by the end of January, and that three or four of these would remain in northern Mexico.[27]


At the same time he notified Taylor of this action, pointing out that his inaccessibility and the extreme pressure of time had rendered necessary the orders given to Butler. Taylor was instructed to concentrate in Tampico all the troops of Patterson, Quitman and Twiggs except an escort for himself and, if necessary, a garrison for Victoria, and return then to Monterey. Scott further explained that on account of the yellow fever he could not wait for the new volunteers, and stated plainly that, although he greatly wished the Vera Cruz expedition could be aided by a diversion in the north, Taylor would have to act "for a time" on a "strict defensive."[27]

These orders were the inevitable sequel of past occurrences. Taylor had suggested that it was advisable to transfer serious operations to the south, and that a large body of regulars would be needed for a campaign there; the government ordered the Vera Cruz expedition; Scott-not at all, however, because he so desired-was appointed to command it; he possessed full authority over all the troops in the field under one condition proposed by himself-that Taylor must be left sufficiently strong for defence-and, as Taylor admitted, this condition was met; Scott could only obtain an adequate army in season by taking a large part of it from the field; he endeavored to effect the necessary division in a kind and friendly manner, spending ten days in travel for that purpose, although extremely pressed for time; and, when Taylor went deliberately beyond reach, he simply made such use of his authority as duty required, taking for the offensive a relatively smaller army-in view of the prospect, recognized by Taylor himself, that Santa Anna would meet him at the beach-than he left with that officer for a strict defensive.[27]

Taylor, however, was furious. He alleged that Scott had "wormed himself" into the command by promising to kill Taylor off as a Presidential candidate. Of Scott's New York letter he said, "A more contemptible and insidious communication was never written." Although it was his own suggestion that volunteers were unfit for the mainstay of an expedition against Vera Cruz, and that regulars for it should be drawn from the northern army, he complained now that an underhand "intrigue" had stripped him of his regulars; and, not satisfied with describing himself as outraged and degraded "in the most discourteous manner that could be devised" by "Scott, Marcy and Co." for the purpose of accomplishing his ruin, he charged, though really not expecting an attack, that he was in danger of being "sacrificed" on the soil of Mexico. Policy concurred with fury; political strategy with personal resentment. The idea of brave Taylor, the People's Pride, thrown to the merciless Mexicans by partisan Polk and scheming Scott was one to fire the masses; and thus we see concocted a bit of electioneering melodrama that contributed powerfully, and perhaps decisively, to bring about one of the chief consequences of the Mexican war-the overthrow of the Democratic party and the accession of Taylor to the Presidential chair.[27]

Scott now returned to the Brazos, where he arrived on January 8, about a week before the date fixed by him for the assembling of his expedition off that point; and there he was forced to endure nearly six weeks of what he well termed "cruel uncertainties." To combine in haste the men and material for such an expedition; to do so when the necessary elements had to be drawn from distant and widely scattered points; to do it while the waterways, largely relied upon for transportation, were to a considerable extent frozen; and to do it without the telegraph and mainly without railroads-this was a most difficult and hazardous undertaking; and accidents, misunderstandings and errors of judgment were additional embarrassments.[30]


The prime need was troops; and Worth, acting with notable energy-even precipitation-placed the first of the regulars at the mouth of the Rio Grande about three weeks after Scott issued the orders to Butler. But here the second need, that of vessels, checked them. Scott's requisitions had been timely and ample; but there was an active commercial demand for ships, rates were high, and the government, anxious to economize, did not allow sufficiently for delays and other contingencies.[28] A considerable number of vessels were chartered at New Orleans, but a month of heavy rains, a scarcity of sailors, a demand for higher wages from those engaged, a week of fog, and a series of northers, which were usually only about four days apart, prevented the first of the vessels from arriving off Brazos Island before February 11, and the storms, frequently very sudden, as well as the loss of not a few of the indispensable lighters hampered operations there. "This terrible coast," wrote the General; and for days together ships would lie off shore, pitching "like mad" and fortunate if they did no worse, quite unable to communicate with the island. For a week and a half no mails arrived from New Orleans. As the Rio Grande water proved unsuitable for the troops, extra casks were ordered to be made and filled at New Orleans; and this consumed additional time.[30]

Minor affairs, too, created trouble for Scott, and one of these deserves to be mentioned. Care has been taken to bring out the quality of Colonel Harney, and it only remains to add that for some time his feelings toward Scott had been openly and unreasonably hostile. As he was among the men ordered by Butler to the mouth of the Rio Grande, he proceeded in that direction; but Scott, who knew of his excursion to the Rio Grande and preferred to have a more efficient and reliable man for his chief cavalry officer, and one more disposed to co?perate heartily with the commander-in-chief, directed him to place at the orders of Major Sumner the dragoons that had come down with him, and rejoin those of Taylor's army. Harney refused positively to do so. Upon this Worth laid a formal charge of disobedience against him, and a court martial of officers, chosen-as General Scott proposed-by Harney himself, sentenced him to be reprimanded in orders. Harney then wrote a submissive letter to Worth; and Scott, remitting the sentence of the court, gave him the position he coveted.[30]

This was magnanimous, and tended to promote good-will; but there is more to tell. On learning of Scott's order that Harney should return to Monterey Polk, though he insisted that his own subordinates in the army must be in cordial sympathy with him, became very angry that "a Democrat" and "one of General Jackson's personal friends" should "be sacrificed to propitiate the personal and political malice of General Scott," and insisted upon countermanding the order, thereby violating the confidence promised that general and disregarding the broad instructions issued to him by the war department.[29] However, the trouble with Harney was comparatively but a pin-prick. What racked the General was the conviction that Santa Anna must be gathering a great army to confront him at Vera Cruz; and on February 15, about half of the surf-boats and a small part of the ordnance and ordnance stores having been heard from, he sailed for Tampico, leaving Worth to complete the embarkation as rapidly as he could.[30]

While these events were taking place on the Rio Grande line, the troops under Taylor lay for ten days at Victoria, growing more and more languid under the hot sun; and the General realized that his coming to this remote place had embarrassed himself as well as Scott. Finally something had to be done, for provisions were becoming short, and on January 12 he ordered the regular infantry and Patterson's men to set out for Tampico, supposed to lie about 168 miles distant by the road.[31] On the night of the fourteenth, a duplicate of Scott's despatch of January 3-the original of which had been intercepted by the enemy-arrived, and then, selecting an escort for himself, Taylor directed Quitman's brigade to proceed in the same direction as Patterson's. The three bodies, which marched at intervals of twenty-four hours, beginning on that day, made an aggregate of 4733, of whom the rank and file numbered 1400 regulars and 3000 volunteers. The rule was to sound reveille at three o'clock and set out at dawn-the regiments of each column taking turns in leading it; and the engineer company, usually known as "the pick and shovel brigade," marched in advance of all to mend the road.[32]

There was need enough of its work. The meaning of "Tamaulipas" is high mountains; and while the blue of the Sierra Madre grew daily fainter, the principal range of the state rose constantly higher in front, until the summit was crossed, and the troops began to descend into the tropical region of the coast. Much of the route was boggy or rocky or steep; the drinking-water often came from stagnant pools; and for nearly three days the only chance to see human beings outside of one's own column was when, on surmounting a hilltop, the gleaming steel and white wagons of another brigade could be made out, one day's march away-perhaps only six or eight miles-on another eminence.[32]

But as the troops approached their destination they felt repaid for every hardship and effort. The road became deep sand, indeed, but near it spread a sunny and many-hued lake full of emerald islets, pirogues laden with odorous fruits, and myriads of noisy widgeon, teal and other water-fowl; while on the other hand the live-oak, the bay-tree, the rubber-tree, the banyan, the palm, the flag-leaved aloe, and many a nameless tree, bush and vine made a dense forest, illumined with brilliant orchids and more brilliant parrots and macaws, each of which seemed like a year of sunsets epitomized. A soft, salubrious breeze from the Gulf caressed their faces; and when, surmounting the last hill on the tenth day of their march, they saw the grand, leisurely Pánuco rolling luxuriously on through fields and forests, a wilderness of spars and masts filling the harbor of Tampico, and the American flag-dear emblem of country, home and kindred-waving proudly over white walls and green gardens, a tear of delight ran down many a tanned cheek.[32]


Stationed mostly at some distance above or below the town according to the usual policy of the American commanders, they now devoted themselves to drilling and counting the days. "Shall we ever see that big fandango in the halls of Montezuma?" they had been asking for some time, and to wait four weeks on the qui vive for Scott seemed very hard. February 19, however, he arrived in town looking very anxious, and, declining the superb horse made ready for him, walked unpretentiously to his lodgings. The impatience to be off was now intense, and the General did all in his power to gratify it; but he found himself in a hornet's nest. At this time he enjoyed no popularity among the officers, for he was personally known to very few. One or two attempts to check rather pushing young men had been resented; and now the suspicion that he would give regulars the post of honor at Vera Cruz threatened serious results. At a recent banquet the toast necessarily offered to the name of the commander-in-chief had been coldly received, and Worth had been ignored. Indeed, some of the leading volunteer officers were disposed to mutiny unless assured of "a place in the picture."[35]

Scott diplomatically declared there would be fighting enough for all, but as the tardiness of the transports threatened to delay a part of the troops, that assurance failed to give satisfaction; and apparently only the arrival of an unexpected steamer or two averted the danger of trouble. One officer, however-a trim, agile man with a handsome face, quick black eyes, a poorly educated but most ingenious mind, a ready tongue, and a conscience that gave him no trouble-was content.[33] For him Taylor's harsh rule had ended; and soon, making the most of his own crafty talents, the urgent recommendations of Polk and Scott's determination to keep faith with the President,[34] Pillow-for Pillow it was-established himself at headquarters on a basis of intimacy and importance.[35]

Tampico would have been a delightful resting-place for a while. The markets were full of good things; it possessed excellent cafés; and the troops coming from Monterey had brought along a theatrical company; but Scott tarried there only thirty hours. At New Orleans some information had been obtained with reference to the Lobos Islands, which lay fifty or sixty miles to the southeast of Tampico and seven or eight from the coast, offering a broad, safe anchorage; and Scott had written to Conner for additional facts. These proved to be favorable, and such of the new volunteers and freight vessels as could be reached in time had been ordered to go directly there, instead of sailing to the Brazos. Indeed these islands were fixed upon as the general rendezvous. Some of the troops had reached it, and word now came to Scott that an outbreak of smallpox had occurred among them.[37]

He set sail therefore on February 20, and making a swift voyage in the midst of a "screaming" norther, found at the rendezvous the First and the Second Pennsylvania, two thirds of the new Louisiana regiment, the "Palmettoes" of South Carolina, and parts of the New York and Mississippi regiments.[36] Twiggs followed him when the bar off Tampico was quiet enough to permit, and the other troops did the same as rapidly as they could. Patterson got away on the twenty-ninth, but even on the fourth of March Quitman and Shields were chafing beside the Pánuco, and the latter at least had no definite notion when they would be able to sail. "Days are months now," he exclaimed; but he and many others had still to wait. Worse yet, perhaps, not a few of those who got off were packed in small trading craft, picked up by good luck and unfit for the service; and the skeletons of ships rotting near the bar gave them ample cause for anxiety. Worth's troops meanwhile were embarking at the Brazos; but when he left that quarter on February 25, six companies of dragoons were still in want of transports.[37]

Taylor for his part, escorted by a squadron of dragoons under May, the Mississippi regiment and two field batteries, left Victoria on January 16 and reached Monterey in eight days. His first impulse on receiving Scott's orders had been to leave the country, but he concluded not to do so, and soon-apparently satisfied that he now had an issue on which to challenge both Polk and Scott[38]-he distinctly informed his friend, Senator Crittenden, that he was a candidate for the Presidency.[39]


He then shaped his plans accordingly. The government had notified him quite plainly that it wished him to hold no territory beyond the vicinity of Monterey, and Scott instructed him to concentrate there. What these men wished, he believed, was that he should be effaced or play a humble r?le, and he was determined not to accept their plan. He would be as prominent as he possibly could be. Though not able to fight the Mexicans, he would at least seem willing to do so, and throw upon Scott and Polk all the odium of his inactivity. Hence, instead of burying himself and his aspirations in Monterey, he advanced at the end of the month to Saltillo, and a few days later took post, with nearly all of the troops not required on the line of communication, still farther toward the enemy. The dictates of prudence recognized by himself, the advice and order of his commanding officer, and the wishes and instructions of the government were all disregarded. He showed himself, in fact, both unwise and insubordinate.[39]

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top