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

The Bombardment and Capture of Vera Cruz

Naval operations—Arrival and landing of troops—Intrenchments and batteries—Investment of Vera Cruz—Return of the enemy's fire—The progress of the bombardment—Remonstrances of foreigners—Request for armistice—Its refusal—Effects of the shot—Offer of surrender—Terms of capitulation—Amount of captures.

The navy of the United States during the operations of the war already described had been engaged in important but far less exciting and eventful services than the army. The fleet under command of Commodore Conner had blockaded all the eastern parts of Mexico, while Commodore Sloat had closed the ports on the Pacific, and taken possession of towns in Upper California. The ships of war on the eastern coast were now to share in the perils of the bombardment and capture of Vera Cruz.

General Scott arrived off Vera Cruz, with most of the forces assigned to this campaign, on the 9th of March, 1847. Twelve thousand troops, including the divisions of Generals Worth, Twiggs, Quitman, and Pillow, which had joined the expedition at the mouth of the Rio Grande, were on board the frigates and transports that dropped anchor at Sacrificios. This was a small island about one mile from the city, on which the Spanish invader Cortez landed in 1520 for the conquest of Mexico. Each ship and vessel had its appointed station. Sixty-five surf-boats, filled with nearly one hundred men, waited in line for the signal for landing. Then dashing forward simultaneously, with the strains of martial bands sweeping over the smooth waters of the bay, they neared the shore. As the boats touched the beach the foremost men leaped into the water and ran up the sandy shore in sight of the walls of Vera Cruz. In one hour General Worth's division, numbering four thousand five hundred men, were disembarked, and by the same precise arrangements of the commodore the whole army was landed in six hours without confusion or accident. The Mexicans offered no resistance except the harmless firing of round shot and shells from the distant guns of the fortress.

The City of Vera Cruz


The city of Vera Cruz contained a thousand houses and five thousand inhabitants. It had a population three times larger at the beginning of the century. Its houses were built of stone, two stories high, with flat roofs and parapets. It was situated on a dry plain, behind which rose low sand-hills much cut up with arroyos and ravines, and covered with clusters of thick chaparral. The city was entirely surrounded with a heavy stone wall, two miles in circumference. This was armed by nine bastions, mounting one hundred guns. As many more guns and mortars were in the city and defences outside of the wall. Within these walls were five thousand troops beside the citizens, who were well armed. On an island about one mile in front of the city was the famous stone castle of San Juan d'Ulloa, built by the Spaniards in A. D. 1582 at a cost of forty millions of dollars. This was protected by two hundred guns and a garrison of one thousand troops. The foundations of its walls were laid in the sea, and it had withstood the storms and waves of three centuries.

General Scott carefully marked out the line of investment of Vera Cruz. It extended from the edge of the bay on the north-west around the valleys and hills to the right. With the United States ships of war in the roadstead below and in the shallow harbor, the city and fortress were completely invested, and cut off from all communication, except with such ships of war in the bay as represented France, England, and Spain.

The line of investment was completed by the 12th of March. Each division and regiment was assigned its place. Their camps were hidden behind the hills, and the men occupying the trenches were so concealed that a distant view from the summit of the highest sand-hills gave few indications of the numbers of men investing the city.

On the morning of the loth of March heavy firing began from both the city and castle, which was maintained for several days without intermission. Consequently the besieging operations were carried on with many difficulties and dangers. The supplies and munitions and armaments for the camps and fortifications had to be transported in the night, and the moving of heavy ordnance among these sand-hills and arroyos was greatly impeded. The chaparral had to be cut down for roads and the monstrous mortars pulled up and over ridges, in the darkness. The landing of the guns and stores from the fleet was also much delayed by "northers," which blew for two or three days at a time, while on land the Mexicans engaged in several brisk skirmishes with the Americans in localities occupied by them outside of the city.

By the 22nd of March a heavy battery mounting seven ten-inch mortars was in position not farther than eight hundred yards from the city, though concealed from the enemy by the chaparral in front of it. Other preparations were so far completed on that day that the batteries could return the fire of the city and castle. General Worth held position on the right of the line facing the city, General Pillow held the centre in the rear, and General Twiggs the left, extending to the water's edge. The island of Sacrificios and the fleet below it were on the right of General Worth. General Scott now sent a summons to General Morales, the Governor and Commander-in-chief of the city of Vera Cruz, to surrender, announcing that the batteries were established for the speedy reduction of the city and that its investment by the American army and navy was complete. He offered to save its gallant defenders and its peaceful inhabitants, including women and children, from the inevitable horrors of a triumphant assault. He did not propose the surrender of the castle, not yet having armament sufficient to reduce it. General Morales returned a decided refusal to give up either the castle or city, and before the flag of truce had reached the American lines the cannon of the city fortifications were hurling defiance at the forces of the United States.

It was but a few minutes afterward that the heavy mortar battery, the guns above the trenches, and the light draft vessels of Commodore Perry's squadron that had come up near the city, were ploughing the air in every direction with fiery shells and shrieking missiles of destruction, that fell like an iron storm upon the devoted city. With terrific thunders the guns of city and castle returned the firing with a sweeping cloud of shot that would have annihilated the assailants had they not been covered by the intrenchments and sand-hills. From the 22nd to the 23rd the cannonading on both sides was incessant. A combatant thus describes the scenes of the first night and the next morning:

"Observe the bright flashes there as they for the instant light up the battlements of the castle, and render the heavy volumes of smoke above it luminous against the surrounding darkness. See the same from the vessels; one instant, by the light you perceive the whole outline of the vessel, her masts, and spars, and smoke, and then all is dark, but again illumined; above the whole, describing long arcs of circles high in the air, see the bomb-shells rising over and falling, shown in their courses by the fuses, which twinkle like bright red stars. Observe that flash; notice the shell thus rising; it takes its long sweep—it has fallen. How heavily must that iron mask of a hundred pounds have fallen from such a height as that. But look, the flash of the explosion brings out in view, for an instant, the domes and spires among which it descended. The report you cannot distinguish from the mingled roar of the whole. Several shells from both sides are in air at the same moment; and in their high sweeps they cross each other in their lines of light. After gazing at the scene you may turn from it; yet you will be drawn to look again. But the night wears away, and on the cold beach around you, the soldiers, spreading their blankets, and wrapping themselves in them, seek repose, careless of the morrow's fate.

"The cannonade and bombardment have kept up their continual thunder for the whole night, until about an hour since. The landing of shot, shells, powder, cannon, and stores has not ceased; fatigued men have been replaced by fresh ones, and all is yet going on. Another vessel has arrived, during the time, with thirteen additional mortars, and quantities of shells, which are landing. Now there is a quiet in the storm of war; the scene around is beautiful and grand. . . . The sun rises from his ocean bed, and his rays brighten up the magnificent stone buildings of the city and the imposing battlements of the castle; the Mexican flag, of green, red, and yellow, floats in the morning air from the lofty staffs above them; while from every mast in the crowded fleet the Stars and Stripes flow out in the light breeze. The signal flags are run up on the commodore's ship. These are responded to by the seven small vessels, which immediately move out and fall in a line opposite the castle, and about a mile from it. It is a dangerous position. There goes the smoke, the loud reports reverberate along the sand-hills in the still morning air. Their shells burst in and about the castle, but that seems to notice them not. But look, all along the battlements of the castle dart out sheets of flame and clouds of smoke; around the vessels the water is thrown high, in perpendicular columns of dashing spray; but the vessels are so small that, at the distance, they are hard to hit; amid the terrific hail of iron that is pouring upon them, they still keep up their fire. The batteries open on the land, and throw their shells into the city. The three mortars that went out last night are added to those in operation before. The peals of all are continual; the tenfold number of cannon along the city walls reply in their thunders; and in the immense volumes of smoke that rise from all, and hang over and among the domes, the destructive scene closes in.

During the 23rd, the firing on the American side slackened in the midst of a heavy storm. The next day a naval battery with very heavy guns was uncovered, having been erected and mounted behind a growth of chaparral, only seven hundred yards from the walls of the city. Two thousand men had labored for several nights on this battery undiscovered by the enemy, who were greatly astonished when in their sight a few daring volunteers felled the trees that concealed it. The guns of the city were all concentrated upon it in vain, and when it opened upon the city its effect was terrible, breaching the walls, dismounting guns, and silencing whole batteries of the Mexicans. The same evening the consuls of Great Britain, France, Spain, and Prussia within Vera Cruz sent a memorial to General Scott asking for a truce, in which to withdraw neutrals and Mexican women and children from their perilous situation. The request was refused, on the ground that till the 22nd the neutrals had been warned to leave the city under the protection of safeguards offered them by General Scott, and to seek safety in, the vessels of their own governments in the harbor; immunity had been also offered to the helpless women and children, but refused. Now, only with the proposal of surrender from General Morales could a truce be granted.

On the 25th five batteries on land were hurling a terrible fire upon the city, and yet the Mexicans maintained a spirited and brave defence. When their flag-staff was shot away their soldiers, regard less of shot and shell, leaped from the battlements to the ground to rescue their flag, and then climbed back, holding their colors aloft amid the cheers of their foes. But their beautiful city was crumbling to ruins, their walls and houses were falling from their foundations. Massive stones, and corpses of men, and carcasses of animals blocked the streets in confused heaps.

The stone roofs were insufficient protection from the ponderous shells which came crashing through them. In one place where a meeting of the citizens was being held a single shell had pierced the thick stone wall and exploded, in a single moment killing and wounding scores of persons. Whole families were thus destroyed and buried under the ruins of their shattered mansions. Frightened women and children praying at the altars of the churches had been mangled by the shells and balls piercing the roofs. The very sepulchres had been torn open by cannon-balls and their dead bodies exposed to view. The troops too were falling fast.

At last the citizens could no longer endure these incessant terrors of impending death, and all united in entreating General Morales to surrender.

A flag of truce was sent at last, asking of the Americans six hours to bury their dead. The request was granted and the firing ceased. On the 26th, new guns and mortars were in position, and General Scott was about to organize parties to carry the city by assault, when he received overtures of surrender from General Landero, acting in the place of General Morales. On the 27th the commissioners having arranged articles of capitulation, they were ratified by the commanders-in-chief on both sides. The garrison was by the terms of capitulation to be surrendered as prisoners of war, to lay down their arms, and then to be released on parole not to serve again in the war till exchanged. The Mexican officers were allowed their arms and private property and were paroled. All public property, including the forts and castle of San Juan d'Ulloa with their armaments, was surrendered to the United States, while absolute protection to the property and persons of the citizens, and their religious freedom, were guaranteed by the United States. On the 29th of March the ceremony of surrender was performed on a plain in the rear of the city. General Worth received the submission of the conquered army. The Mexican troops marched into the interior, having stacked their arms, colors, and equipments. At the same time the American forces entered the city, and General Scott sent from the palace of Vera Cruz to Washington the announcement, "The flag of the United States of America floats triumphantly over the walls of this city and the castle of San Juan d' Ulloa. "

There is a sad undertone in the shouts for such a victory and in the after scenes of sorrow and desolation which long abide in human hearts and homes. Monterey under the shadow of the mountains and Vera Cruz by the sea already bore pitiful witness to the ruthless ravages of war, while the fairest fields of Mexico were drenched with the best blood of her gallant sons.