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

Incidents of the War

Mcculloch's Raids

The Texas Rangers—The first scout to Linares—The surprise of a fandango party—Raid to Carrisito—Fight with Mexican cavalry—Gallantry at Monterey—The storming of Federation Hill—Engagement at Encarnacion—The scouting party and adventures—Peril and escape from Santa Anna's troops—Return to Agua Nueva.

Captain Benjamin McCulloch commanded a noted company of Texas Rangers, who performed in battle and in scouting service many daring and brilliant deeds. They were rough soldiers and a terror to the Mexicans. Without tents, camp equipage, or cooking utensils, but possessing excellent horses, they arrived at Matamoras, after the battle of Resaca de la Palma, and became a most useful and trustworthy attachment of General Taylor's little army. One of the company, Lieutenant Samuel C. Reid, wrote an interesting narrative of their various raids and skirmishes, a few of which will be briefly sketched in this chapter.

On the 12th of June, 1846, the Rangers were sent on a scout in the direction of Linares to discover a suitable route for a large force to Monterey. They took the direction of General Arista's army in their flight from Matamoras. Guided by an excellent map discovered in Arista's captured military chest, they found it an excellent picture of the face of the country between the Rio Grande and the Sierra del Madre. Ranches and villages, roads, mountain-paths, and insignificant streamlets, were all truthfully represented. Often under the vertical sun-rays, without a cloud in the sky or a breath of air, and without water for themselves or their beasts, they pursued their way. At midnight they were aroused by heavy tropical showers, drenching their blankets and clothes and adding every discomfort possible to shelterless troops.

One night a soldier waked his companion, beside whom he had been sleeping, with the announcement that they were half covered with water, and would soon be washed away if they did not seek some drier place.

"Bless me!" said the major, showing his head from under cover of his blanket. "Why, it is raining. The ground is getting damp. But lie down, Jim, and go to sleep. Don't you see that we have got this puddle of water warm now by the heat of our bodies, and if we move we shall only get into another and take cold. So lie down, Jim, and go to sleep; it's nothing when you get used to it."

The soldier thus addressed, however, preferred to take his wet blanket and sit down at the foot of a tree than to sleep on in a warm puddle.

The Rangers were in search of the Mexican robber Canales, who with a band of three or four hundred had made depredations upon the country in the vicinity of Reynosa. They were stationed at this place for several weeks during the rainy season, comfortably quartered in a gin shed, which the demands of the Rangers for some kind of shelter became too violent for the commanding officer of the Americans to deny. While at Reynosa they took justice in their own hands and killed some of the Mexican villains who had participated in one of the Texan border massacres, and whom they found living here in peace and security. Their bodies were found shot or hung in the chaparral.

One evening about sundown, an order came for twenty men to saddle their horses. Riding in silence out of Reynosa they were informed that Canales was reported to be at a fandango on a neighboring ranch, which they were to surround. Guided by a Mexican boy, they hastened in single file to the place of merry-making. The Mexican fandango was a novel sight to these scouts, one of whom thus described it: "The dance was held in the open air; and the bright fires kindled at different points, the candles and torches moving to and fro, the animated groups of revellers clustered on every side, the white robes of the girls prettily contrasting in the firelight with the dusky apparel of their partners, while gay forms replete, with life and motion bounded in the lovely dance or floated in the graceful waltz in sweet accord with the spirit-stirring strains of music which the night breeze wafted to our ears—all made a scene that was, at the distance we reviewed it, beautiful indeed."

The men were commanded to halt, dismount, and creep up cautiously and surround the house, ready to come up quickly at the charge.

The lieutenant in command as he gave this order walked leisurely into the midst of the surprised and affrighted dancers. A ring of Texan rifles encircled them, and the women rushed shrieking back and forth, trying in vain to escape. They quieted down, however, and the house was carefully searched, but the wily Canales was missing. Then half the soldiers, laying aside their guns, joined in the dance with the utmost hilarity, astonishing and delighting the women with the negro dances of the South, in which their grotesque figures and movements excited the applause of the whole company.

Thus till midnight they turned their expected bloody encounter into a delightful revel, and having taken a parting glass of brandy, they returned to camp.

The American soldiers when encamped in towns or in the country often participated in the most friendly manner in these national dances of the Mexicans.

While Captain McCulloch's company were at Seralvo, in August, 1846, they were ordered to make another raid toward Carrisito and ascertain the position of the enemy. Two companies of Rangers made the force which was to penetrate far into the Mexican country. Eighty well-mounted men, with provisions for two days in their knapsacks, left camp at about four o'clock in the afternoon. From a Mexican whom they captured that evening, they ascertained that Canales with five hundred rancheros, and Colonel Carison with between two and three hundred regular cavalry, were at Papagayo, about thirty-five miles distant.

Sending back word to General Worth of the situation and force of the enemy, they took supper at Carrisito, and rode all night through the mountains. Crossing ridge after ridge, the mountains loomed up in the darkness on every side, with a grandeur which was heightened by the increasing peril of the expedition. They approached the ranch Papagayo within two miles of the Mexican encampment. The people in the ranch were routed up from their sleep. The information obtained with great difficulty from these people satisfied them that a fight was at hand. Two Mexican couriers, riding at full speed, had carried the report of the American advance to their countrymen.

In about an hour the American advance-guard drove in the Mexican pickets nearly to their own camp. The force was well posted, and it was determined to fall back for three miles to a naturally strong position and await the expected attack at daybreak. The men lay down, ready at a moment's warning, their horses saddled. They were awakened by a summons to begin a return march, in which they fell in with a large detachment of three hundred men under Colonel Childs, dispatched by General Worth for their relief.

On the 14th of September, scouting was ordered toward Ramos. Forty men were detailed for this purpose, fifteen of whom rode in advance with McCulloch, now promoted. They proceeded about four miles and found themselves within long rifle-shot of a body of Mexican troops, and firing began on both sides. Soon McCulloch, waving his sword as if followed by a large force, galloped toward the enemy and drove him from his position to another hill. The main body of the Americans was now deployed around a hill to the right, keeping out of sight in the chaparral. The enemy's scouts were driven back to their main force by McCulloch. While on a high hill he discovered twenty, or more of the Mexican troops lying in an ambuscade in the ravine below. Rushing into this ambush in the pursuit of a Mexican officer was a gallant young soldier, Lieutenant Thomas. Colonel McCulloch saw that in a few moments more he would be slain, and waving his sword again, as if followed by a large troop, he dashed down the hill frightening the Mexicans, who fled before Thomas reached them.

A courier was then dispatched to bring up the Rangers, who, having deployed around the hill, came forward with a loud shout and pursued the Mexicans to within a quarter of a mile of Ramos. Here they made a stand and opened fire with their carbines, but were soon thrown into confusion by the impetuous advance and firing of the Rangers. They fled through the town, driven in hot haste by the Americans, nor did they stop till they reached a high hill beyond the town. Then McCulloch, fearing to be cut off by the Mexicans, returned slowly through Ramos, having with forty men driven before him over two hundred of Torrejon's cavalry commanded by Colonel Carisco.

No troops did more soldier-like and heroic deeds than McCulloch's Texas Rangers at Monterey and Buena Vista. At Monterey they displayed signal bravery. It was about noon, when General Worth rode up to those gallant troops, three hundred in number, one half of whom were Rangers, and pointing to Federation Hill, said: "Men, you are to take that hill, and I know you will do it." It was a rugged height of three hundred and eighty feet, whose sides were covered with thorny chaparral. Mexicans swarmed above and its cannon looked defiantly down on the men. With death almost certain before them they answered their general: "We will." Marching at double-quick and in single file through fields of corn and sugar-cane, which concealed their movements, they reached the river-bank, and a Mexican battery opened a fierce, plunging fire upon them, enveloping the hill in flame and smoke. With a storm of shot and grape falling upon them, they dashed into the sweeping current waist-deep, while the water boiled with the iron hail hurled upon them. But, strangely, they reached the opposite bank without the loss of a man. Halting now in the thicket, secure from the artillery fire, they took breath and drained the water from their shoes and clothes. Reinforced by masses of sharpshooters, the Mexicans came down to take positions on the slope of the hill. The musketry roar increased, and the men were ordered forward. The hillside was reached, and the Texans began to clamber its face, driving the Mexicans back toward the crest by the dreaded fire of their rifles. They were now pushing up in line with the Seventh Regular Infantry, and vieing with them in gaining the top, their cheers and shouts rang along the hill-side with the murderous volleys of their rifles, carrying terror to the foe above. The rifle flashes, deadly balls, and terrific yells were too much for the Mexicans; they broke their lines and fled over the crest, and the Texan cheers announced their victory to their comrades below.

On the 15th of February, 1847, McCulloch with twenty-seven men reported to General Taylor for additional service of six months. He was ordered to make a scout toward Encarnacion to obtain information of Santa Anna's movements. He had with him sixteen of his picked men and three officers of the Kentucky infantry. At eleven o'clock P.M. on a very dark night, they came upon the Mexican picket, who fled after firing a gun. Proceeding cautiously in the darkness, their progress was impeded by what was apparently a brush fence. Approaching within thirty paces, they discovered it to consist of twenty Mexican cavalry, who, challenging them, at the same time fired a whole volley at the Texans. In a moment came an order from McCulloch to charge. The Mexicans wheeled to the right and left and retreated with all baste, closely pursued by the Texans, till the strength of the enemy at Encarnacion could be estimated at fifteen hundred cavalry. Possessed of this important information, he turned back at once toward Agua Nueva. His bold charge had delivered from great peril.

On the 18th of February, McCulloch was ordered again to proceed to Santa Anna's camp for information. He took only five men and two officers. They left camp about four o'clock in the afternoon. Having gone about six miles, they met with a Mexican deserter, who reported Santa Anna's arrival at Encarnacion with twenty thousand men. Placing little confidence in this statement, the deserter was sent under guard to General Taylor, and the squad of seven men went on their way, concealing themselves by day in the woods and avoiding the main road.

At midnight they discovered the Mexicans encamped in force at Encarnacion. The moon had set, and they passed within the enemy's picket-line as far as the Mexican camp guard, and having made a careful reconnaissance, they retired half a mile to feed their horses. Major McCulloch now concluded to send back all the party but one man, William Phillips, to make a full report to General Taylor of the probable strength of the enemy, while he remained with this single companion until day-light for further information. Approaching the camp by another fork of the road, these fearless scouts came suddenly upon the enemy's pickets, who gave them chase. To escape, they boldly galloped down toward the Mexican camp, and the pickets thus deceived took them for their own men trying to pass out of their lines. McCulloch and his companion, after this narrow escape, retired to a hill, where they concealed themselves till daylight. But the drums and trumpets of the Mexican army sounding the reveille, frightened their horses, and they narrowly escaped capture and the death of spies.

As the Mexican camp-fires of green wood threw out a heavy smoke which concealed the troops from view, McCulloch and the Ranger started to return. Before riding a hundred yards they discovered two picket guards of twenty men each in front of them. The American scouts were between the two roads and would have to pass the picket guards on each side of them. Their only hope was to escape by leisurely riding by. So holding their guns close to their horses, and thus concealing them, they rode slowly along, and were again mistaken by the Mexicans, who were warming themselves by their fires, for some of their own cavalrymen.

Ascending a high hill, McCulloch had a fine view of the Mexican army with his glass, but was again near a picket, who after long waiting did not move from his station. Avoiding him by keeping close to the foot of the mountain, they escaped at last through a pass, and again free from danger they galloped with light hearts toward the camp at Agua Nueva. The army was on its march from that point, having been moved in consequence of the information brought the previous night by the rest of McCulloch's party.

General Taylor was anxiously awaiting Major McCulloch. Having received from him particulars as to the Mexican army and Santa Anna's forward movements, the general quietly replied:

"Very well, major, that's all I wanted to know. I am glad they did not catch you," and he set out at once with his staff toward Buena Vista.