Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober

The March upon the Capital

[A. D. 1847.] From a fleet of one hundred and sixty-three transports, on the 9th of March, General Scott landed his army of twelve thousand men, just below the historic city of Vera Cruz. On the 18th he summoned the city to surrender, having placed his batteries in position, and upon its refusal opened upon it a heavy cannonade from shore and from the ships in the harbor. For eight days the heroic defenders of Vera Cruz withstood the siege, but at last the terrific fire of shot and shell compelled them to capitulate. Scott and his army marched in and took possession, on the 26th of March. Six thousand shot and shell had been thrown into the devoted city, many buildings were destroyed, and one thousand lives were lost. The famous fortress of San Juan de Ulua, built on the island where the Spaniards first landed in 1517, fell with the city.

It is a pestilential spot, this city of Vera Cruz, where fevers rage and hurricanes blow fiercely half the year. The yellow fever, the dreaded vomito, carries off its thousand victims yearly. General Scott did not care to remain long in such a plague-stricken locality, and, owing to the completeness of his magnificent preparations, he was enabled soon to leave the coast and march towards the highlands. Three centuries and a quarter before, Hernando Cortez had commenced his march towards the Aztec capital, an invader, like these Americans, but bent upon murder and pillage, while these sought only justice and reparation for deep offences.

Mexican-American War


The Mexican nation made one more effort through her indomitable president for concerted action. Santa Anna frantically appealed to them to forget all domestic differences and unite against a common foe. "Though chance," he proclaimed, "may decree the fall of the capital of the Aztec empire under the power of the proud American host, yet the Nation  shall not perish!"

By the middle of April Scott had left behind him the hot and unhealthy lowlands—the tierra calientes—and was about entering the hills. It was where the table-lands abruptly end above the hot, low plains, where a river forces itself through deep chasms, where deep ravines and barrancas seam the mountains, and the road winds through a narrow defile hewn out of the mountain sides, that the American general found his path obstructed. The Mexicans had fortified the naturally strong position of Cerro Gordo. They had erected breastworks, fortified the ridges and hill-tops, and planted batteries. The position was considered impregnable—a deep rocky ravine protected one side, and on the other was the steep and inaccessible mountain. The top of Cerro Gordo bristled with cannon, which were trained so that they could sweep the road, for a mile of its length, with a fire before which no command could stand. General Scott soon saw that a direct approach would expose his army to a fatal cannonade, and so contrived to flank the battery, while demonstrations were made in front and on either side. The division of General Twiggs stormed and carried the centre of Cerro Gordo, while the brigades of Shields and Riley charged furiously upon the main fort and batteries, causing the Mexicans to fly in utter rout, and turned upon them the guns of their own fortifications.

Mexican-American War

The loss of the enemy was not less than a thousand, while ours was something over four hundred. Three thousand prisoners, including two hundred and eighty officers and five generals, fell into our hands, besides five thousand stand of arms and forty-three pieces of artillery. The whole American force amounted to eight thousand five hundred. General Santa Anna escaped with great difficulty, leaving his wooden leg on the field in the hurry and confusion of his departure.

Our forces immediately pushed on and occupied Jalapa and the Castle of Perote, where they captured a large amount of arms and artillery. Pursuing their march over the great plateau a portion of the army under General Worth captured, on the 22d of May, the large and important city of Puebla, a city containing, to=day, 70,000 inhabitants, and celebrated for the number of its churches, convents, and cotton mills.

Santa Anna, the irrepressible, again gathered a small army and opposed the march of Worth, but was obliged to retire with loss. The Congress and the politicians passed valuable time in squabbles amongst themselves, instead of rallying the people as a unit to repel the advancing enemy. But the courage of the nation was not broken, and, unfortunate as he had been, the people still looked to Santa Anna to yet lead them to victory. While they were passing their time in, dissensions, General Scott had gradually quartered all his forces in Puebla, whence he sent fruitless missions to negotiate for peace.

An army of twenty-five or thirty thousand Mexicans was soon gathered in the threatened capital. As soon as it was found that General Taylor would not advance farther southward, the army of General Valencia, which had opposed him, was withdrawn to Mexico, while from the south came General Alvarez with a large body of Pinto Indians. Both coasts were now in our possession, and merchandise passing in and out of the country as in times of peace, only a slight duty being retained by our commander for the maintenance of the war.

[A. D. 1847.] On the 7th of August General Scott left Puebla, and pushed on towards the city of Mexico with ten thousand enthusiastic soldiers. They surmounted the mountain barriers that hemmed the lovely valley in from the world outside, and finally looked upon the city they were soon to conquer. Three hundred and twenty-eight years before, also in the month of August, the army of Cortez had climbed those very hills, and had turned their gloating gaze upon the Aztec capital. On the 11th of August the troops were concentrated in the valley, near Ayotla and the ancient town of Chalco.

If you will examine the map you will not fail to observe what a commanding position the American general had taken. Four routes diverged from this point and led to the city. The most direct was that passing the southern border of Lake Tezcoco and entering the city at the gate of San Lazaro. To-day a railroad traverses that same great causeway, and runs past Chalco and Amecameca down into the western lowlands. Another road led by the way of Mexicalcingo, a portion being over the same great causeway down which Cortez and his intrepid soldiers marched so exultingly three centuries before. Both these roads were defended by strong fortifications, the first especially, which was commanded by the isolated hill, El Penon, bristling with cannon from base to summit, and swarming with soldiers. A more open, though longer route, lay around Lake Tezcoco to the northward, through the city of Nezahualcoyotl—Tezcoco. Here, in anticipation of a movement in this direction, Santa Anna had stationed Valencia with his troops from the north.

Gate of St. Antonio, Mexico.


The fourth and last approach was fully as circuitous, skirting the lakes of Chalco and Xochimilco and the bases of the southern and western hills. It was the most rugged and the least known to the American engineers, but was finally chosen by General Scott, who believed it to be, in the end, the most facile approach to the city.

Forts and fortified posts completely enclosed the beleaguered capital. Besides the impregnable position of El Penon  there were fortifications at and near Guadalupe on the north, while the different gates of the city were amply defended. The strongest positions, after El Penon, seem to have been the very ones that General Scott designed first to march against, and these were, at the hacienda of San Antonio, Churubusco, Chapultepec, and Molino del Rey. On the 15th of August the army was set in motion, in four divisions, commanded by Generals Worth, Pillow, Quitman, and Twiggs, in the order named, while General Scott took his position in the centre. The Mexican, Alvarez, attacked them with his Pinto Indians, but they were soon driven away, and on the 18th the entire army entered the town of San Augustin, or Tlalpam, at the base of the south-western hills.

Santa Anna, commanding in the centre of the circle, about the circumference of which General Scott was moving, was able to concentrate his troops at any given point with great facility. Even at this late day, it is with feelings of concern that one views the situation of the American army at this juncture. Surrounded on every side by almost impassable hills and sedgy lakes, far distant from, and with a desperate foe between it and its base of supplies, with an active enemy comprising thirty thousand fighting men to contend with, this little handful of ten thousand men was indeed in a most perilous position. The country was at last aroused and united in the common endeavor to drive the hated invaders from its soil. Every resource was now being drawn upon; church bells were cast into cannon, and the military and religious leaders were using every endeavor to excite their followers to fanatic zeal in behalf of their country and their religion.

Beyond the town of San Augustin was a dreary waste called the Pedregal, a rugged lava field, impassable except by a single mule path. Through this the army must march if it would avoid the fortified positions of San Antonio and Churubusco, where Santa Anna had concentrated troops sufficient to almost overwhelm the Americans by their masses. The first engagement in the valley took place here, at Contreras, on the r9th of August. General Valencia, had, contrary to the orders of Santa Anna, left his position at San Angel and Coyoacan, where he was within easy supporting distance of his commander-in-chief at San Antonio, and thrown up an intrenched camp. At three o'clock on the morning of the 20th the brigade commanded by General Persifer E. Smith advanced upon the enemy's camp. By a gallant and brilliant charge they stormed the intrenchments, and drove the enemy, panic-stricken, from the field. This was considered by General Scott one of the most brilliant feats of arms ever, at that time, recorded in the annals of war. The Mexican loss was seven hundred killed and eight hundred prisoners, besides field-pieces, guns, standards, and ammunition. General Valencia, who commanded this army of the north—considered the best in the field—fled a fugitive to the hills, hiding from the wrath of Santa Anna, who ordered him shot at sight.

There is little doubt that he contributed largely to the American success by his disobedience of the orders of the commander-in-chief, and that the gallant charge of Smith's brigade relieved the penned-up invading forces from a dreadful dilemma. San Antonio was soon taken, and then there only remained the convent at Churubusco. Uniting by different roads, the combined forces swept down upon the fated fortress. It was considered one of the strongest positions in the valley; the massive walls of an old convent being pierced with loop-holes for musketry, and mounted with heavy cannon. Within these walls were gathered the flower of the Mexican defenders, the national guard, besides a band of renegade Irishmen who had deserted from the American ranks, and now fought, with characteristic perfidy, against the soldiers of their adopted country. These miserable wretches formed a battalion called Saint Patrick's, and very summarily received their deserts after the convent was taken. The convent was taken finally after a most desperate fight, lasting nearly three hours, and after the outworks had been carried at the point of the bayonet, under a tremendous fire, a white flag appeared. Sixteen hundred prisoners were the result of this day's fighting, besides those taken at the Pedregal.

The Mexicans had battled nobly in defence of their capital, fighting individually with the fury of despair. But all had been in vain; the last defence between their city and the invading army had been destroyed, their stronghold lay open to direct assault. With shouts of triumph, the exulting Americans pursued the flying foe to the very gates of the city, a detachment of Harney's cavalry even clashing up to the inner walls.

While our army was yet flushed with victory, and eager to enter the undefended city, the prudent general in command ordered a recall. Night was coming on, and, even though the enemy were panic-stricken and demoralized, prudence showed that the hour had not arrived when this small band of eight thousand men should enter a stronghold containing two hundred thousand inhabitants. After the dead had been buried, the wounded cared for, and the spoils secured, the army bivouacked on the plains it had so bravely won. The 21St of August came, and General Scott prepared to take up positions whence he could use his battering-cannon with effect against the city walls. It was then that the enemy requested an armistice, which our commander-in-chief, from motives that must ever redound to his credit, finally granted. The different divisions were quartered in Tacubaya, San Angel, and Mixcoac, villages clustered about that historic city of Coyoacan, whence Cortez, in that memorable siege of Mexico of 1520, conducted operations against the Aztec defenders. Overtures of peace were made to the Mexicans, which, after they had gained by deliberation important time in which to recuperate and reorganize, were rejected. Considering the great disparity of forces,—that the Mexicans outnumbered the Americans ten to one,—it is not strange that the people of the threatened capital refused to treat for peace so long as defences yet remained. The only unaccountable thing is, that they did not have sufficient courage to unite and sweep them from the face of their country. But they did not, and they must forever bear the stigma of being conquered in their own chosen strongholds by a mere handful of soldiers.

Santa Anna improved every moment of rest that the armistice allowed him in strengthening his position, in raising troops, and in arming the mob of leperos  that infested the capital. Then he sent answer that the voice of his people was for war,—war to the knife!

The volcanoes, from Tacubaya.


Scott was prepared for this, and resolved upon instant action. Three important points of defence yet remained to guard the city; the strongly-fortified castle and hill of Chapultepec; the Molina del Rey, or King's Mill—a massive stone building filled with troops, and defended by heavy cannon; and the Casa Mata—another building of great strength filled with supplies of war. These points were promptly reconnoitered, and an aggressive movement made on the morning of the 8th. It was a glorious affair, that capture of Molina del Rey, and, though many a gallant soldier fell before the cannon of the foe, the massive structure was at length shattered, and the forces within it driven, flying like sheep, before the bayonets of the Americans. The Casa Mata was foolishly stormed, when it should have been battered to pieces by the artillery; and dreadful carnage was made amongst our troops as they advanced, time after time, to the assault. But this strong work was finally blown up and destroyed, the Molino demolished, and the foe flying, panic-stricken and demoralized, towards Chapultepec and the city. Eight hundred prisoners were ours, besides cannon, ammunition, and small arms in such quantities as to be superfluous. Again had the Americans gained a victory against superior numbers; for on this day, in this short fight,—which was over by nine o'clock in the morning,—they had whipped and driven in terror before them four times their number of Mexican soldiers. A little over three thousand had defeated twelve thousand in their own chosen places of defence! The American loss was one hundred and sixteen killed and six hundred and sixty-five wounded.

After rendering the spots so recently bristling with cannon unavailable by the enemy as places for defence, the Americans retired. Eager, and borne onward by the impulse of victory, there is little doubt that the invincible battalions could have then carried the castle and hill of Chapultepec, which now, of all the fortified posts in that portion of the valley, alone remained. Tut events justified General Scott in his order for a recall, and showed the subtle strategy by which he discomfited his wily adversary. The storming of Chapultepec was reserved for a purpose! The object in view was not to get into the city merely, but to enter it at its weakest point, and where there were fewest soldiers to defend the gates. Santa Anna, seeing the fall of Chapultepec, would naturally conclude that the attack would be made upon the western gates of the city,—which were nearest to Chapultepec, and reached by direct roads. This, in reality, was the plan of General Scott; but, in order to divert Santa Anna's attention from the real point of attack, it was necessary he should be made to think otherwise. So General Twiggs was ordered to maneuver with his troops in front of the garita, or gate, of San Antonio, up to which our cavalry had so gallantly charged at the storming of Churubusco. Large bodies of troops were sent in that direction by daylight, but recalled by night  to Tacubaya, where they were held in readiness for the final assault upon the real object of attack—Chapultepec. Heavy guns were placed as to command the castle and during the whole day of the 12th of September they rained shot and shell up on the devoted garrison. At about eight o'clock on the morning of the 13th the great guns suddenly ceased, and assaulting party dashed forward. Rapidly crossing interval between Molina del Rey  and the hill of Chapultepec, they placed their scaling-ladders against the walls, and poured over the fortifications like a resistless inundation. It was a heroic charge, for they had to clamber up the precipitous hill in the face of a galling fire, unsupported by artillery or friendly guns; and it was heroically resisted by the gallant old revolutionary general, Bravo, and his band of cadets from the military academy. A monument at the base of the steep cliffs of Chapultepec records their deeds and laments their early fall; while another, back of Molino del Rey, commemorates the bloody action there. Still desperately fighting, the routed garrison fled along the causeways of Belen and San Cosme, hotly pursued by the eager Americans.



The castle was ours. From its tower our flag soon floated, above our victorious general and over the defeated Bravo and a thousand prisoners. General Worth led his troops at once down the road of San Cosme, while Quitman charged upon the gate of Belen. Two great aqueducts diverge from Chapultepec, the one going direct to the gate of Belen, about two miles away; the other entering the city at San Cosme, by an indirect course, both bounding two sides of a triangle. Worth wisely halted at the gate of San Cosme, and, planting a mortar and cannon, held the position during the night until the morning of the 14th, when he marched into the city as far as the Alameda. Quitman penetrated the city walls under the very guns of the formidable citadel, and gained and held a position there all night. General Twiggs, at the southern gate, had performed his part with equal gallantry and forbearance, and had so diverted Santa Anna by his annoying fire and feints of assault that he had completely disconcerted that puzzled commander, and made it possible for Worth and Quitman to capture the western gates before the Mexicans could recover from their surprise and mass their troops to oppose them. The American triumph was now complete. The Mexican leaders, vanquished at every encounter, were now as completely demoralized as their army, and at midnight they retreated with their entire band of followers from the city. The next morning a brilliant cavalcade escorted the victorious commander-in-chief to the great central square, and the American flag was hoisted above the National Palace. Upon the same spot, in the same great plaza that once saw the entry of Cortez and his army, the Americans halted and consummated their triumph. The city had fallen, for the first time to an external foe since it was wrested from Aztec possession by Cortez and his band of Spaniards.

If permitted to indulge in comparisons, we should say that the Americans had accomplished a task of greater difficulty than the Spaniards. Instead of finding a people wholly unacquainted with the use of fire-arms, and even the sight of horses and ships, as did Cortez, they had encountered an active, intelligent foe, equally well equipped and versed in the science of war with themselves, and a country alive throughout its length and breadth with hatred of the invaders. There is no knowing what fate would have befallen our army had the country been united in its efforts under wise and patriotic leaders; but the same causes that contributed to the destruction of the Aztec empire weakened the strength of the Mexican nation,—hatred of the controlling power and universal distrust of its leaders. The fact remains, however, that the army of the United States did, in spite of every danger from forced marches in the rainy season,—the sickliest of the year,—in the face of a vengeful enemy swarming from every hill and valley, overcome patiently every obstacle, and finally plant its victorious banner upon the capitol of the nation, in the very heart of the excited country.

The visitor to Mexico to-day may see a reminder of this fact in the shape of a monument to our fallen heroes in the American cemetery.

Mexico City


Perhaps a harder task than the capture of the capital was the government of it, after the heads of power had fled and had let loose in their flight the desperate inmates of their prisons. A hideous monster lifted itself into view in a few days in the shape of a mob, which assaulted the victors from roof-tops and churches for the space of two days. This mob was composed mainly of the filthy leperos,—the vilest, most degraded wretches that ever infested any portion of the earth. From the earliest days of Mexico, these abandoned villains have existed there, and to-day even they prowl about the streets of the beautiful city.

Martial law was proclaimed, and the city, placed under the protection of American honor, was soon at peace, enjoying a security of life and property that it had never felt under its own chosen government. Santa Anna and his generals had fled to Guadalupe, and thence, reforming their army, marched upon the city of Puebla, and to the attack of the scattered garrisons guarding the American connections with the base of supplies at Vera Cruz.

The garrison at Puebla had been left in command of Colonel Childs, with but four hundred men on duty, and guarding eighteen hundred in the hospitals. For three weeks they were closely besieged by the rising of the masses, and by a force swelled to eight thousand troops on the arrival of Santa Anna. Their condition was most desperate until General Lane, fighting his way all the distance from Vera Cruz against fierce bands of guerillas, came to his assistance. Santa Anna, marching out to meet him, was defeated on the nth of October, and on the 13th the gallant garrison was relieved from danger by the pursuit and dispersion of the besiegers. Mexico was yet full of soldiers, which, if collected together, might have been made into a formidable army; but leaders and followers were demoralized, and no successful attempt was made. Bands of guerillas infested the country,—those daring and desperate horsemen who, acting individually or in small bodies, annoyed the army by suddenly swooping out of their places of concealment, murdering and plundering without mercy, and then escaping to their strongholds. These were now pursued relentlessly by the Americans, and their principal haunts broken up, though they for a long time proved a terrible scourge to the line of communication.

The most difficult matter now before the American commander was to conclude a permanent peace. A commissioner, Mr. Nicholas Trist, had been sent out by our government, with full powers to treat with the Mexicans for honorable peace. He had made overtures to them at different times, when they might have accepted them without a sacrifice of national honor; but these they rejected.

Now we were in a position to dictate such terms as we chose; but the difficulty was, to find a government  with which to treat. The country was ours by right of conquest; but the United States, as a great nation, fully alive to the demands of the enlightened age in which these events were transpiring, forbore from committing any act that would irritate a noble though conquered people. It had been the policy of the commander-in-chief to allow no act of aggression to be committed; personal property had been respected; even the supplies for the army purchased and paid for.

[A.D. 1848.] A government was finally discovered with which to treat; and on the 2nd of February, 1848, a treaty of peace was signed at the sacred town of Guadalupe, three miles from the capital, and on the 30th of May finally ratified. By this treaty the United States acquired the territory of Texas, New Mexico, and Upper California; the boundary lines between the two Republics were regulated and defined; and Mexico received, as indemnity, fifteen millions of dollars, besides which the United States assumed her indebtedness against American citizens, amounting to over three millions more.

The American armies were withdrawn during the summer, and the Mexicans left to the somewhat difficult task of governing themselves.

Santa Anna, who had played the most conspicuous part in the defence of his country, was again an exile, having been allowed to leave the coast in April, with all his treasure and domestic property, for Jamaica. For a while he remained under a cloud; but he soon emerged, and we shall meet him again in the councils of the nation. The American army had accomplished its mission,—it had compelled a haughty and stubborn foe to submit to the demands of reason. In its invasion of the country it had not stooped to plunder, nor had it left behind any record of barbarity. It had marched steadily forward, encountering disease and death unflinchingly, fighting bravely every battle imposed upon it; and from the beginning to the end every battle had been a victory!  We may well take a natural pride in this army of our fathers, especially as we compare it with the armies of other powers, and we may review with pleasure their moderation in those repeated and overwhelming successes.