History of the War with Mexico - H. O. Ladd

Operations of the Army of the Centre

Bank of Buena Vista

Affairs in Mexico—Return of Santa Anna—Failure of the plan of the Army of the Centre—Dividing General Taylor's force—General Scott Commander-in-Chief—Position of the army—Agua Nueva—Withdrawal of the army to Buena Vista—The chosen battle-ground—Approach of the Mexican army—Disposition of Santa Anna's forces—Angostura—Washington's Birthday—Summons to surrender from Santa Anna—Refusal—Attack of the American left—Repulse—Address of Santa Anna to his troops.

There had been another change of administration in Mexico during the summer of 1847. The violent and oppressive government of Paredes had been overthrown, and a revolution in favor of Santa Anna and other political exiles led to the return of the former president from Cuba on the 16th of August. He landed at Vera Cruz by express permission of the United States Government, in the expectation that his influence would be favorable to negotiations for peace. He, however, made a triumphal entry into the City of Mexico on the 15th of September, and departing for San Luis de Potosi on the 8th of October, with great energy and success began to levy and equip a new army. He devoted much of his private fortune to this purpose.

Having notified General Taylor that he would entertain no propositions of peace, he was informed that the armistice was ended November 13th by orders from Washington. General Taylor still holding Monterey pushed forward his army to occupy Saltillo, the capital of the State of Coahuila, which commanded the mountain-pass to the vast table-land in the north of Mexico, and was also the centre of a fertile country. He also took possession of Monclova, Linares, Victoria, and Tampico.

The government at Washington was now planning to strike a decisive blow. General Taylor advised that an army of twenty-five thousand men, ten thousand of whom should be regulars, should be landed at Vera Cruz or Alvarado, which should be Made the base of operations against the capital of the distracted Republic.

The "Army of the Centre" now began its operations in Mexico. Its destination was the province and city of Chihuahua. During the month of August, 1847, the various regiments and detachments composed of volunteer troops from Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, and Texas, with an artillery company and battery and a company of dragoons of the regular army, rendezvoused at San Antonio de Bexar, where they went into a camp of instruction. On the 26th of September the advance of this army left San Antonio. The force amounted to two thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine men. Taking a route by Presidio they crossed the Rio Grande and proceeded as far as Santa Rosa. The impassable range of the Sierra Gorda prevented any farther approach to the city of Chihuahua. General Wool, in command of this army, therefore turned aside, and occupied Monclova, the ancient capital of Chihuahua, and reported to General Taylor at Monterey. He was directed to move forward to Parras, where he remained during the operations against the province and towns of Tamaulipas, among which was Victoria the capital, occupied January 4th, 1848.

While at Victoria, General Taylor on the 14th of January received despatches from General Winfield Scott, announcing his arrival in Mexico to take command of the expedition against the City of Mexico. As commander-in-chief, General Scott made a demand for the greater part of General Taylor's army, including nearly all the regular troops, the volunteer divisions of Generals Worth and Patterson, and the commands of Generals Quitman and Twiggs, which were already at Victoria. These were despatched at once. Worth's division marched from Saltillo to Carmago and Matamoras, and joined General Scott at the Brazos. The organization of the Army of the Centre was broken up, some of the troops going south to General Scott, but most of them were merged in the command left to General Taylor.

It was with great reluctance that General Taylor parted with his brave soldiers. Many of them had won with him brilliant victories, and shared great perils in the midst of the enemy's country. He issued the following order to his departing comrades:

"It is with deep sensibility that the commanding general finds himself separated from the troops he so long commanded. To those corps, regular and volunteer, who have shared with him the active services of the field, he feels the attachment due to such associations, while to those who are making their first campaign he must express his regret that he cannot participate with them in its eventful scenes.

"To all, both officers and men, he extends his heartfelt wishes for their continued success and happiness, confident that their achievements on another theatre will redound to the credit of their country and its arms."

General Taylor still held Saltillo, and advanced the main force to a plain called Agua Nueva, eighteen miles south, where he could command the road to San Luis de Potosi and several passes in the vicinity. On the 22nd of January, seventy of his cavalry were captured at the hacienda of Encarnacion, forty-eight miles from Saltillo, by the Mexican cavalry officer, General Miņon.

General Taylor joined General Wool at Agua Nueva on the 31st of January. Twenty days later, seeing unmistakable indications that General Santa Anna was intending to attack him with an overwhelming army of twenty thousand men, largely composed of cavalry and artillery, he fell back about twelve miles to Angostura, near the village of Buena Vista. The position was one of great natural advantages for defence, and had been previously selected by General Wool as the best location in all the country for a battle of few against a superior force.

The road from San Luis de Potosi here becomes a narrow defile, breaking through the mountain range separating the valley north of Saltillo from the more elevated valley of La Encantada. On the right was a plain cut up with impassable gullies. On the left of the road a series of arroyos and ridges ran back to a plateau at the base of the mountains, making the ground on each side almost impassable for artillery and cavalry.

Angostura was held by the Illinois First, under Colonel Hardin. General Wool's division encamped a mile and a half in the rear, and General Taylor with the batteries of Sherman and Bragg and the Mississippi Rifles under Colonel Davis went on to Saltillo to prepare it for the expected attack. Colonel Yell, of the Arkansas mounted volunteers, was left at Agua Nueva to superintend the removal of stores.

Santa Anna's fully equipped army of over twenty thousand men left Encarnacion at noon of the 21st of February. Toward evening, Colonel Yell's pickets, five miles south of Agua Nueva, were driven in. The trains were therefore hastened off toward Buena Vista, and the remaining stores and buildings burned. The Mexican army emerged from the gorge near Agua Nueva. The Americans, who had been warned of their approach by a deserter, had escaped a night attack and surprise. The Mexicans pushed on, after a short halt, in pursuit, and on the morning of the 22nd came within sight of the Americans. Deploying to the right and left, they filled the whole space from the road to the mountains with a splendid array of banners and armor glittering in the morning sun.

It was an auspicious day to cheer that little army of American soldiers, the 22nd of February. Early in the morning they had moved to their stations, with banners unfurled to the breeze, amid the strains of "Hail Columbia," which passed, with the words, "To the memory of Washington," from regiment to regiment. Many a heart was stirred to deepest fervor by the example of that purest and noblest of patriots.

The American infantry were most advantageously posted on ridges, extending from Angostura to mountains on the left. They also held the plateau, with reserves of cavalry and infantry on the ridges in the rear. General Taylor rode along the lines accompanied by General Wool, and cheered the troops to the unequal conflict with speeches that were enthusiastically received. During the forenoon a white flag was seen approaching from the enemy's lines. Its bearer brought this summons:

February 22, 1847.

You are surrounded by twenty thousand men, and cannot in any human probability avoid suffering a rout, and being cut to pieces with your troops; but as you deserve consideration and particular esteem, I wish to save you from a catastrophe, and for that purpose give you this notice, in order that you may surrender at discretion, under the assurance that you will be treated with the consideration belonging to the Mexican character, to which end you will be granted an hour's time to make up your mind, to commence from the moment when my flag of truce arrives in your camp.

With this view, I assure you of my particular consideration.


To GENERAL Z. TAYLOR, Commanding the forces of the United States

General Taylor's reply was very brief. With the usual formalities of address, it said: "I decline acceding to your request."

The Mexicans had two lines of infantry in front of the ridge occupied by the Americans. On their right and left were batteries of heavy guns, and a large howitzer near the road. Their cavalry were" in the rear of the two wings, and behind the centre were the headquarters of Santa Anna and his body-guard. A brigade still farther in the rear protected his trains.

The Mexicans brought on the battle by attempting to flank the American left, moving up the slope of the plateau, on the ridge which approached and finally formed the one held by Americans. This movement was met by a counter one on the Mexican left near La Angostura. A shell from the Mexican howitzer opened the fight, and General Ampudia's light infantry were soon hotly engaged with the American riflemen, whose firing was deliberate and who took shelter behind the crest of the ridge. The Mexican cannon were also directed at the Americans on the plateau, but a signal shell stopped the fighting of that day. Three hundred Mexicans had fallen under the deadly aim of the American riflemen, whose entire loss was only four wounded.

At sunset, General Taylor returned to Saltillo, strengthening its defences by increased troops and artillery. The Americans also threw up earthworks at Angostura. The two armies sank to rest in the gloom of night, as the sweet strains of martial bands floated down the hillsides from the Mexican lines. Occasional gusts of rain swept through the cold night air, so that the chilled and shivering soldiers on the mountains built fires of the stalks and dwarf trees which grew on their sterile slopes.

Ere the evening closed Santa Anna prepared his soldiers for the conflict on the morrow. He inflamed their patriotism and passions by recounting the wrongs that Mexico had suffered from the United States, and pictured to them their country desolated by the invader, who, for the sake of acquiring territory, set every principle of right at defiance. He promised that the blood of their countrymen should be avenged and their own sufferings compensated by victory on the morrow. The loud cries of the troops in response, "Viva Santa Anna!" "Viva la Republic!" "Libertad a Muerto!"  were distinctly heard in the American lines.