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




Chihuahua

Scenes at the Capital—Triumphal entry—The city and its buildings—Scouting through Mexico—Doniphan ordered to Monterey—Mustered out—Return to Missouri—The welcome of friends and countrymen.

Chihuahua was now virtually in possession of the invaders. Colonel Doniphan without delay pushed forward to complete the triumph of his great victory. A detachment of one hundred and fifty men, commanded by Captains Reid and Weightman with a section of artillery, was sent forward next day to take formal possession of the capital city of the province. They met no resistance.

The excitement in Chihuahua during the battle had been intense. The cannonading could be distinctly heard, and in the first lull of battle it was announced that the Mexicans were victorious. The American merchants in the city, who had been previously exposed to taunts and threats of every kind of violence, were now sought for by the excited rabble, who carried knives, stones, and staffs, with murderous intent upon their lives. Soon, however, the noise of the guns arose above the excitement in the streets, and fears of the result began to take possession of the inhabitants. Toward night the firing grew nearer, and their terror increased. Amid the darkness a courier rode frantically into the city. "Perdemos! Perdemos!" he cried—"We are lost, we are lost!"

He was soon followed by the governor, the generals and the fleeing soldiers, who pushed on to Parral and Durango in full retreat, leaving the frightened citizens to despair, in anticipation of the tortures which the "presumptuous invaders" would inflict upon them.

As the American cavalry, but a handful of men, rode triumphantly into the city, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Mitchell, they waited tremblingly their fate, but without an act of violence peaceable possession was taken. The Americans camped in the Alameda or park during the night.

Chihuahua when captured contained about twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Built in the times of the Spanish rule, and by capitalists who were attracted thither by the fabulous riches of the mines in the surrounding mountains, it had many splendid buildings of stone and marble. Its streets were neatly paved and curbed with white porphyry, and on the elegant promenade were seats carved from the same material, A marble fountain and stone octagonal basin were in the centre of the promenade. An aqueduct with tall white columns conducted water from the Chihuahua River to an eminence near the city, and thence to a reservoir in the centre of the town. It had a magnificent cathedral, built at a cost of a million dollars, from the tribute paid during thirty years by the mines of St. Eulalia, fifteen miles from the city. Its two steeples, rising one hundred feet above the azotea, are composed of columns finely carved, with statuary. The ruins of a still larger church were seen. They had long been used as a political prison. Within its square a monument of white hewn stone stood to the memory of Don Manuel Hidalgo, the illustrious patriot, who was here imprisoned three months and shot after his defeat at Guadalavara.

On the morning of the 2nd of March, Colonel Doniphan entered the city with fluttering banners and long trains of merchant wagons, and the captured spoils. On the 8th he sent a resident of the city to offer to Governor Trias conditions of peace, which were, however, refused. Ten days after this the news of the battle of Buena Vista was received in Chihuahua, and though reported as a Mexican victory, it was heartily celebrated by Colonel Doniphan as another triumph of American arms.

Seeking still to obey his instructions to report to General Wool, though the arduous task and abundant glory of the campaign in Chihuahua had fallen to himself instead of General Wool, Colonel Doniphan chose fourteen trusty men and at imminent peril sent them forward with dispatches through the country. They rode six hundred and twenty-five miles, at the rate of about fifty miles each night, not being able to travel by day. In twelve days they arrived at Saltillo, and delivered the dispatches to General Wool. After reading them, Wool exclaimed with hearty commendation, "Missouri has acquitted herself most gloriously. Colonel Doniphan has fought the most fortunate battle and gained the most brilliant victory during the war."

The party, increased to forty-two men, returned to Colonel Doniphan, arriving at Chihuahua about the 23rd of April. They bore orders from General Taylor to march his column forthwith from Chihuahua to Saltillo, and return to the United States by way of Matamoras and the Gulf. The news was received with acclamations of joy by the troops.

On the 25th of April the battalion of artillery began this long march homeward. They were followed three days after by the merchant and baggage trains and the remainder of the troops. As he was departing from the city, Colonel Doniphan delivered to the Mexican authorities, who had ruled the city before its capture, all the prisoners of war, and then evacuated Chihuahua, leaving no vestige of its occupation for fifty-nine days by a foreign invader.

The route of the southward march was by Bachimbo, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosalia at the junction of the Conchos and Florida rivers. Here they found strong but deserted fortifications surrounding the city. A reconnoitring party of one hundred cavalry were sent forward to Parras, five hundred miles distant, to obtain information of hostile forces awaiting their approach.

Their sufferings were not yet finished. They had a most enchanting march through the blooming valley of the Rio Florida, but when they reached the hacienda Dolores, seventy-five miles of travel through another desert awaited them. Amid the gloom of distant thunder storms sweeping over the mountains, in dense clouds of dust, without water and through the darkness of night, the march was continued till the soldiers sank down on the sandy plain, without supper or water, for two or three hours of sleep, amid the lizards and scorpions that everywhere abounded. As they resumed their way at daylight, their hardships are thus described by one of the number:

"The dust was absolutely intolerable. The soldiers could not march in lines. They were now already become thirsty, and it was yet forty miles to water. The dust filled their mouths, and nostrils, and eyes, and covered them completely. They were much distressed during the whole day. Many of them became faint and their tongues were swollen. The horses and often the refractory mules would fall in the sand, and neither the spur nor the point of the sabre was sufficient to stimulate them. After suffering every privation and distress by marching which men must necessarily experience in such a desert, they arrived at the springs of Santa Bernada at sunset. Here in groves of willows with abundant waters they rested."

On the 8th of May, at Cadenas, the troops received the joyful news of General Scott's victory at Cerro Gordo. They found at Parma, the citizens most kindly disposed by reason of the gallant services of the detachment sent in advance under Captain Reid, who had rescued from the Comanche Indians captives and spoils made by a recent raid upon Parras by these savages. The whole force arrived in a five days' march from Parma, at Encantada, near the battle-field of Buena Vista, and on the 22nd of May, passing under review of General Wool, the command received from him the highest praise in a complimentary order recounting their services at Brazito, the Sacramento, and in their arduous marches. At Walnut Springs they were again reviewed by General Taylor, from whom they received orders to return to Missouri and be mustered out of service.

The Mexican cannon captured at Sacramento were given to the troops as trophies to be conveyed to the State of Missouri and turned over to the governor, subject to the final disposition of the War Department. Leaving their sick at Monterey, sending forward their horses through Texas to Missouri, Colonel Doniphan, with seven hundred men, embarked on the 9th of June in the ship Great Republic, and arrived safely in New Orleans on the 15th.

In a service of twelve months, poorly clad and fed and mounted, they had traversed the plains of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico; climbed their towering mountain ranges; marched through five great deserts of Mexico, and fought several battles, which were among the most brilliant of the war.

As they passed up the Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Louis, these returning warriors, whose deeds had been heralded before them, received many expressions of sympathy and praise. Arrived at St. Louis, these rough, disheveled, threadbare men had such honor and welcome from assembled thousands as is seldom the good fortune of soldiers to meet. Amid the caresses of friends, public and private receptions, and the praises of their heroism and battles, such as Senator Thomas Benton and other Western orators could pour upon their heads, they at last returned to the quiet life of citizens of the Union, whose greatness and glory they had been permitted to increase by their own sacrifices and worthy deeds.