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

Capture of the Outworks of Mexico

The armistice—Negotiations for peace—Molino del Rey—Casa de Mata

The city of Mexico was within the grasp of the American army, who had most valiantly won it. The Mexican troops were demoralized by their signal defeats. They could not justly claim a single victory in all the war. The citizens in the capital were filled with consternation as they saw the victorious enemy riding up to their very gates. The next morning they should have entered the streets and completed the capture of the city. That would indeed have conquered a peace. But the triumphant march of the heroic little army was checked at the moment when it should have been grandly finished. Diplomacy and dissimulation gained another advantage. General Scott had won the highest praise for fearless, prompt, and skilful leadership in this brilliant campaign. He suddenly became magnanimous, over-prudent, and humane in dealing with a wily foe, whose spirit was not broken, when he should have pushed him hard till he yielded the peace for which the war had been fought. Thus he would have saved many precious and honored lives.

On the morning of the 21st of August commissioners were sent from the city asking for a truce, which was refused. General Scott, being admonished by friends of peace and neutral residents not to drive the Mexican Government to a spirit of desperation, sent a proposal of an armistice to Santa Anna for the purpose of arranging and signing a treaty of peace. That negotiations to that effect would be very acceptable had already been intimated by the commissioners seeking a truce.

By the armistice agreed upon, on the 23rd day of August hostilities were to cease within thirty leagues of the capital; no reinforcements should be allowed to either army, nor intrenchments made, nor either army moved; nor the administration of justice or commerce among the Mexicans interfered with, pending the negotiations for peace.

Every argument for the cessation of hostilities at this opportune time to strike a last and decisive blow was refuted by subsequent events. It was impolitic; it endangered the American army; it made the last act of war more difficult and bloody. All the negotiations between Mr. Trist and the Mexican commissioners failed. The Mexican Government was not yet humbled enough to accept the terms of the treaty which the United States demanded. These terms are of little consequence, therefore, to this history of events. The cession of New Mexico was the point in discussion upon which the negotiations finally fell through. On the 7th of September the armistice was ended. On the 10th and 13th of September, fifty American deserters captured in the battle of Churubusco fighting against their countrymen, having been previously tried by court-martial, were publicly hung for the crime to which they had been tempted by the Mexican generals.

During the armistice the American troops had been quartered at Tacubaya, General Scott's head-quarters, and in the surrounding villages. The city of Mexico could be entered by eight causeways raised about six feet above the surrounding marshes, and terminating the five main roads leading to the capital. General Scott chose to approach the city by the causeways of Belen and San Cosine, which were defended by the formidable works of Molino del Rey, Casa de Mata, and the castle of Chapultepec.

Chapultepec is an isolated rocky hill, surmounted by a stone building of imposing size. It was originally the bishop's palace, but converted into a strong fortress, heavily armed and garrisoned, it was now the most difficult defence to overcome in all the fortifications of the capital. Its western side, though the most accessible, showed a steep, rocky, and broken face above a grove of cypress rising from the base.

Casa de Mata was a citadel a quarter of a mile west of Chapultepec. It was circled with intrenchments and with deep, wide ditches, so that its garrison, who were among the choicest troops in the Mexican service, occupied two lines of defence. The Americans could have no just estimate of its well-concealed strength till they attempted its capture. It was used as a magazine. El Molino del Rey was situated at the foot of a slope adjoining the grove already mentioned. It contained a number of stone buildings, some of which were used as a foundry. It guarded the only approach to Chapultepec, and had been made as strong as possible to protect that fortress.

Generals Scott and Worth together made an inspection of these works, and General Worth was directed to capture them, destroy the cannon, machinery, and powder supposed to be there, and then withdraw to Tacubaya for future operations on Chapultepec. Worth's division, reinforced by Cadwalader's brigade, three companies of dragoons under Major Sumner, and a battery and siege guns under Captains Huger and Drum, numbered three thousand one hundred men. General Leon commanded the left wing of the Mexican forces at Molino del Rey, General Perez the right wing at Casa de Mata, Santa Anna the centre, which was occupied by ten thousand infantry and a field battery. The Mexican forces exceeded fourteen thousand men.

On the afternoon of the 7th of September it was discovered by a reconnaissance that the enemy was most weak in the centre of his line. The American troops at three o'clock the next morning took their appointed stations along a ridge sloping from Tacubaya, opposite the enemy's line, a brigade and part of *a battery having been sent forward to the enemy's left to isolate Chapultepec from Molino del Rey.

A storming party under Major Wright was posted so as to carry the centre of the Mexican line. The batteries were supported by brigades of infantry, Huger's being opposite El Molino, and Duncan's facing Casa de Mata. The cavalry were on the extreme left of the American line.

The engagement opened at dawn by a severe cannonading of Molino del Rey by Huger's twenty-four pounders. Seizing a favorable moment when the effect of this firing was visible, the storming party of five hundred men dashed forward to their task, unterrified by the withering fire poured upon them by artillery and infantry in their front. They captured the battery in a bayonet charge, and turned the guns upon those who had just been defending them. It required but a few moments to reveal the strength of the assaulting party, and the Mexicans returned. From every direction, from the walls and tops of houses, and from the columns in the field, and behind intrenchments, their greatly superior numbers hurled a shower of balls upon the Americans. Eleven out of fourteen commissioned officers in the band were struck down. The men staggered under this fire. Supports were quickly sent to them, and joining anew in the terrible onset upon the rallying foe, they drove them in a final rout from their guns, which mowed them down in their retreat.

Garland's brigade, with part of Duncan's battery, which had been sent forward toward Chapultepec, had also, after stubborn fighting and an assault, driven the Mexicans from their position under the guns of Chapultepec, thus forcing their left. It remained for Colonel McIntosh, with his brigade and the remainder of Duncan's battery, to complete this victory by driving the Mexicans from their still stronger position at Casa de Mata on their extreme right. Fifteen hundred men held these works, beside the reinforcements which were being rapidly sent to them. The veteran brigade marched steadily upon the fortification. A sheet of flame and deadly musketry balls greeted them at short range. Another volley, and another, under which these fearless troops melted away with terrible rapidity. Still they pressed on to the very slope of the parapet of the battery around the citadel, and attempted to cross the ditch; but nearly every officer had fallen, and the men fell back in confusion, only to rally again on the left of Duncan's guns. Sumner's dragoons now attempted to gain a better position, and passing within pistol range of Casa Mata, lost a great many men and officers, but were enabled to render most important service a few moments afterward, for the enemy's cavalry were now moving rapidly to reinforce their right. Duncan's battery dashed forward to hold them in check, and poured such a hail of canister-shot upon them as to throw them in a few moments into confusion and retreat. Then turning back upon the works of Casa Mata, these guns having unobstructed range, began such precise and rapid discharges upon the fortification that its defenders could not endure the deadly storm, and in a short time abandoned it, fleeing toward Chapultepec. The terrible duty of that day was done, but the sharp conflict of that morning in two hours had wrought a fearful carnage among those veteran troops. Seven hundred and twenty-nine men and fifty-eight officers were killed and wounded. The enemy's total loss in killed and wounded and prisoners was three thousand. Two of their officers, Generals Valdarez and Leon, next in command to Santa Anna, were killed. There were no adequate results for such a loss or such a victory. The foundry at Molino del. Rey was dismantled, Casa de Mata was blown up, and both positions evacuated by the 'peremptory orders of General Scott, who would allow no assault upon Chapultepec, which could now, with the aid of reinforcements, have been easily taken from the broken and dispirited enemy.