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

The Storming of Monterey (Conclude)

Worth's operations—Taking Fort Federation—Capture of Fort Independence—The Bishop's Palace stormed—Fighting in the city—Reaching the Plaza—Ampudia surrenders—Evacuation of the city—Incidents of the battle-field.

After the reconnaissance made toward the city on the 21st by a part of General Worth's command, he had determined to prepare for a vigorous attack of the Bishop's Palace and Fort Independence on the spur of Mount Mitria, at whose base he had repulsed the Mexican lancers. The fort was on the summit of the ridge seven or eight hundred feet above the river. The Bishop's Palace was situated a few hundred yards below the ridge at the head of the slope to the city.

General Worth decided first to take the two fortifications on Federation Hill across the river, which greatly harassed his position. He ordered Captain Smith of the artillery battalion with four companies to move directly across the stream about noon of the 21st and carry the height. He was supported by Captain Miles with the United States infantry, who, taking a shorter route, reached the base of the mountain before him. The enemy deployed along the slopes of the mountain, and the action began with skirmishers who were thrown forward in detachments from the American lines. Then the troops, as if it were a holiday climb, began to clamber and leap from rock to rock up the mountain-side, swinging themselves forward by the shrubs and bushes and winding the hill with circlets of flame and smoke, as for half an hour they were driving the enemy up to their fortifications. The Mexicans were reinforced by five hundred troops, and General Worth in like manner strengthened his own lines considerably. But this bold fighting up the mountain-side had filled the Mexicans with fear of the struggle when it should take place on even ground. The summit was at last reached by the American troops, and they rushed furiously on the fort, but saw the enemy flying headlong down the other side of the ridge. In a few moments the Stars and Stripes were flying in the breeze above the fort in place of the Mexican tricolor. The nine-pounder guns captured in Fort Federation were now run down the slope and turned upon the other fort, Soldardo, six hundred yards distant, toward which the troops sent as reinforcements were hastening. Captain Smith and his command, eager for more honors, joined in the impetuous charge, and reached the second fort at the same time with the supporting force under Colonel Hays. The enemy, in a complete rout, were dashing down the hill into the city. Another gun was captured here. Only fifteen Americans were killed in this brilliant assault. The victors threw themselves upon the ground to sleep as well as they could in the dark, stormy night which quickly closed upon them.

General Worth had planned to take Fort Independence under cover of the night, and had organized an attacking force of four companies of regulars with two hundred Texans under Hays and Walker. Lieutenant-Colonel Childs had command of this party, which was to follow up the advantages already gained during the afternoon. At three o'clock in the morning of the 22nd, in a wild storm of rain and wind, they toiled up the ascent to within one hundred yards of the summit. Just at daybreak they were perceived by the Mexican pickets, who discharged their muskets at the forms dimly seen in the mist, and hurried back to the shelter of the fort. But they were followed by a volley from their assailants, who with the Texans in front charged immediately upon the fortification, cleared it of its defenders, and sent a triumphant shout to their comrades below.

A twelve-pounder gun was now dispatched from the camp and hoisted up the ascent to be mounted and used in the attack upon the Bishop's Palace. Troops also arrived from Federation Hill opposite and were drawn up for the assault. Taking advantage of a sally of the Mexicans from the palace, these troops rushed down the slope like an overwhelming wave and carried the works in a few minutes. Lieutenant Ayers was the first to mount the walls and unfurl the banner of the Union over the palace, to the dismay of those in the city below. The guns of the palace were now quickly turned upon its garrison fleeing down the hill into the city.

These rapid and successful captures of the enemy's strong positions had prepared the way for the assault of the city from the west. General Worth had received no orders or communications from General Taylor since the 19th. On the morning of the 23rd the sounds of battle in the eastern part of the city were again heard, and General Worth ordered his troops to the attack. They advanced by the two main streets into the city. Duncan's and McCall's batteries followed in the rear of the infantry. As they advanced reserves were posted at the head of every cross street to avoid flank movements by the Mexican cavalry.

The Americans were all that day pushing on from street to street beyond the cemetery, behind the walls of which the Mexicans made a vigorous stand, and forcing their way through the walls of houses or from roof to roof, as were their comrades on the eastern side. They reached a street toward evening within a square of the plaza. Darkness at length gathered over the terrible scenes of slaughter and the ruin of dwellings before the eyes of their owners, who had valiantly resisted the foe that was laying waste their beautiful city and slaying its inhabitants. There was a partial cessation of firing during the night. A mortar was, however, posted in the cemetery, and its shells fell all night upon the enemy's troops massed in the plaza to the number of eight thousand. Two twelve-pounder howitzers and one six-pounder gun were pushed through the streets and raised upon the flat roof of a house within point-blank range of the plaza, which was prepared to make terrible havoc of the Mexicans at daybreak.

General Ampudia now saw that the city was lost, and that a few hours only would accomplish the destruction of his whole force. On the night of the 23rd he sent General Moreno to ask of General Worth terms of surrender. At dawn he proceeded to General Taylor's, and after much difficulty a commission of officers from both armies agreed upon terms of capitulation so favorable to the Mexicans that they were ever afterward a cause of indignation and animadversion against the American officers of the commission, one of whom was Colonel Jefferson Davis, so famous in the subsequent history of the United States as the first and only President of the Southern Confederacy in the great rebellion. General Worth and General Henderson of the Texan volunteers were the other two American commissioners. Those representing the Mexican army were Generals Requena and Ortego and Senor Llano, Governor of Nuevo Leon. The motives which prevailed with the American commissioners were as follows: The citadel was still in the possession of the Mexicans and a way of escape for the Mexican troops, should they finally be overcome at the plaza. There had been already great loss of life among the Americans. Humanity demanded the sparing of lives on both sides instead of increased slaughter in the prolonged conflicts of a siege, while the moral effect of a surrender would be greater than would be the retreat of the Mexican army.

By the terms of the convention the citadel was evacuated, and also the city within seven days. The Mexican forces retained the most of their arms except the larger part of the artillery; the public property was turned over to the Americans, and a cessation of hostilities between the two armies for six weeks was agreed upon. The Mexican troops retired to the city of Saltillo and thence to San Luis Potosi, three hundred miles distant from Monterey, where the headquarters of the Northern army of Mexico were established. Shortly after General Ampudia was made a prisoner in the Castle of Perote by the order of Santa Anna, who returned from exile and took command of the army; but many of the troops who had been allowed to withdraw from Monterey with their arms soon fought General Taylor again in the bloody battle of Buena Vista, at great risk to his little army. The American loss was five hundred in killed and wounded, being nearly one tenth of all the troops engaged. The Mexicans suffered a loss of over one thousand.

After the imposing ceremony of the surrender had been performed, and the Stars and Stripes had taken the places of the Mexican tricolor on every fortification and above the citadel itself, General Worth entered upon his duties as military governor of Monterey.

Among the tragedies of the terrible scenes at Monterey, which combined all the horrors of a battle, a siege, and an assault, the following incident was related by one engaged in the conflict:

"While I was stationed with our left wing in one of the forts, on the evening of the 21st, I saw a Mexican woman busily engaged in carrying bread and water to the wounded men of both armies. I saw the ministering angel raise the head of a wounded man, give him water and food, and then bind up his ghastly wound with a handkerchief she took from her own head. After having exhausted her supplies she went back to her house to get more bread and water for others. As she was returning on her mission of mercy to comfort other wounded persons, I heard the report of a gun, and saw the innocent creature fall dead! I think it was an accidental shot that struck her—I would not be willing to believe otherwise. It made me sick at heart, and turning from the scene, I involuntarily raised my eyes toward heaven, and thought, 'Great God! is this war!'  Passing the spot the next day, I saw her body still lying there, with the bread by her side, and the broken gourd, with a few drops of water still in it—emblems of her errand. We buried her, and while we were digging her grave cannon-balls flew around us like hail."