Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

Outguessing General Santa Anna

In the morning the clouds had vanished. The day was as warm as midsummer; in the east and southeast the great peaks of Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl stood out white and sharp and clear; large Lake Chalco shimmered in lanes of water through reeds and floating meadows; across it, and farther in the northwest, the City of Mexico appeared plainly, its towers and high roofs glistening in the sun.

Everything looked peaceful After the camp had performed its fatigue duties, the men were set at work cleaning their equipment. Jerry finished early and was free to wander.

By all talk throughout the regiment the situation was serious. The City of Mexico was in sight, but it was surrounded by lakes and bogs, and batteries of heavy guns, and fortifications manned by thirty thousand or more Mexican soldiers.

After a while he espied an officer seated by himself, apart, upon a pile of old clay bricks and studying a map. It was Lieutenant Grant, busy figuring the problem. Jerry went to him and saluted.

"Well, my lad?" the lieutenant invited.

"Beg yout pardon, sir, but I was wondering what we're going to do," Jerry ventured.

Lieutenant Grant smiled.

"So are the rest of us. It's a very pretty puzzle. But General Scott will solve it, for here we are."

"Oh, we'll take the city, of course, sir," Jerry agreed. "I don't know how, though."

"N-no," the lieutenant mused, eying his map. Then he eyed Jerry. He was worn and thin, like the soldiers generally. "You're a bright boy. Maybe if you look at this map you will understand things better. But this is all confidential, you must remember. The man in the ranks is supposed to wait and obey orders; the field officers say what they are. And as I'm only a second lieutenant I have little to do with the planning of operations."

"I'll remember, sir," Jerry promised.

"All right. Sit down. Here's a sketch map that I've borrowed from the engineers. It covers this section. There's the road from Puebla, over which we advanced. There's the Fourth Division camp, at Buena Vista, which we passed before turning off; and there's the Second Division camp at Ayotla, three miles along toward the city. Here we are at Chalco, a short distance south of the Puebla road and the two other camps, and there in the northwest is the City of Mexico. You'll see how we are blocked off from going over the Puebla or National road, by the fortress of El Peron. There's El Pefion, thirteen miles west of Getteral Twiggs' camp, on the main highway."

"Yes, sir. I see it. Can't we take it like we took Cerro Gordo?"

"General Scott, I have been informed, would rather not try. El Pefion is stronger than Cerro Gordo was. You can see it from here. It consists of one steep hill; mounts fifty-one guns by batteries placed in terraces, and is surrounded by a ditch of water twenty-four feet wide and ten feet deep. The guns enfilade, or rake the length of the road for a long distance, and we cannot avoid them by leaving the road on account of marshes, on either hand. To force El Person would cost three thousand men, and we would still be upon a narrow road, seven miles from the city, and unable to manoeuvre. But southwest of El Pefion, and nearer the city, on a branch road or cut-off from the main road, you see another fortress called Mexicalcingo."

"Yes, sir."

"Mexicalcingo is a fortified town, commanding the passage of a bridge through the marsh at the head of Lake Xochimilco, which is the lake extending into the northwest from Lake Chalco. Mexicalcingo is scarcely five miles from the City of Mexico, but otherwise it gives much the same problem as El Pefion. We might carry the batteries and the bridge, and then we'd still be on a narrow road, flanked by marshes for four miles, before we struck another main road to the city. General Scott is having both fortifications reconnoitred, I believe, but his spies have already posted him."

"Then what can we do, sir?" Jerry asked.

"I'm not saying, although I am at liberty to have my own ideas. Anybody is permitted to think, but it's against regulations to think aloud sometimes. I'm telling you thesd things as man to man. When you grow up you may be an officer yourself, with maps at your disposal. Well, if we can't get at the capital from the east, there ought to be other ways. Napoleon laid down as a maxim of war: 'Never do what the enemy expects you to do.' Santa Anna expects General Scott to advance upon the city by the eastern approaches, and I understand that he has concentrated his batteries and men so as to defend these approaches. Now you'll see by the map that beyond Mexicalcingo the cut-off road joins a main road from the south, named the Acapulco road. And that farther west there is still another main road from the south."

"Yes, sir," mused Jerry, pouring over the map and following the lieutenant's finger.

"There is a way to strike the Acapulco road, or the other road, without reducing Mexicalcingo. An army might—I do not say it could—but an army of brave men might march around south of Lake Chalco, here, and away south of Mexicalcingo, over a very rough country, and reach the Acapulco road at the town of San Augustine, about thirty miles from where we now are. Thus we should avoid El Pefon and Mexicalcingo, and approach the city from an unexpected quarter, either the south or the west."

"Maybe General Scott has thought of that, sir."

Lieutenant Grant smiled again.

"No doubt he has. I rather surmise that he thought of it at Puebla. I know he was busy gathering information. But by all reports from our spies and from the natives the route around south of Lake Chalco is very bad, with lava rocks and sharp ridges and bogs. It is so bad that the Mexicans themselves rarely use it, and General Santa Anna has paid little attention to it."

"The same way he didn't pay much attention to that first hill at Cerro Gordo," said Jerry.

"Cerro Gordo ought to have taught him, but apparently it didn't. He's fairly good at tactics and poor at strategy. General Scott shines in both. I have an idea," continued the lieutenant; and he suddenly asked: "Can you keep a secret, boy?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very well. Do so. I am telling you a secret—or what may be a secret. It is quite likely that the march upon the City of Mexico will be made by the south. Captain Lee, of the engineers, has reconnoitred the trail around the lake to San Augustine and thinks it passable."

"And we won't have to fight, sir?"

"Oh, we'll have fighting enough and to spare. There are defenses over on the Acapulco road, and Santa Anna will find out what we're up to. It's simply a question whether he'll dare move his forces in time and leave the eastern approaches weakened. You see Tlalpam, or San Augustine? North on the road to the city there is the town of San Antonio, which probably has strong batteries; and then Churubusco, four miles from the city. After these are taken, we should have to fight a way through the interior line of defenses connected with the city walls. But at San Augustine we shall be within nine miles of the city and have the choice of several roads. Yes," smiled the lieutenant, folding the map, "we shall be kept busy, officers, men and boys."

Campaign in the Valley of Mexico.


The Third Division, under General Pillow, bringing the new infantry regiments and the Voltiguers, arrived this afternoon. They all passed on through Chalco and encamped two miles south at Chimalpa. Now if the attacks were to be made from the east, then the Second Division and the Quitman Volunteers and Marines would get in first, because they already were on the main road. This put the First and Third Divisions in the rear again, which was not pleasing to them. But Jerry, hearing the talk, smiled to himself, for he thought that he and Lieutenant Grant knew different.

And thus it came about; for—

"Hooray, boys! The march is reversed. The old First is to lead the way wance more."

That was the word from Corporal Finerty, at noon mess the next day in the village of Chalco, on the eastern shore of Lake Chalco.

"An',where do we go?"

"Sure, I ain't been told yet, but you can figger for yourselves. It won't be by the main road, that's certain, where the Twiggs lads are ahead of us."

The news set everybody on edge. The men only waited for orders. In about two hours they came from Brigade Adjutant Nichols, speaking for Colonel Garland.

"Beat the assembly, drum major."

At the initial taps the Fourth Regiment slung haversacks and knapsacks and grasped muskets. The other regiments were as alert. Drum Major Brown signaled, and his drummers sounded To the Color.

There was brief inspection. Ranks were closed, platoons formed, the First Division moved out into the south instead of into the north. That was just as Lieutenant Grant had predicted.

The Pillow division was under arms, two miles on, but had not yet formed for a march. The First trudged blithely by with good-natured jokes, and left it.

When bivouac was made this evening in a corn-field eight miles from Chalco the division was in fine spirits. Old Fuss and Feathers and General Worth were up to something, nobody knew exactly what; but all, including Santa Anna, would soon find out.

The next day's march rounded the lake and turned into the west among olive groves. Emerging from these the leading ranks broke into a cheer. In the north, far beyond the lake, there might be seen El Pefion hill, a dark, bulky mass, with the Mexican Sag still flying defiantly from its top. Across the head of another lake, in the northwest, Mexicalcingo village was just visible with the Mexican flags marking its batteries also. The division was side-stepping these forts out of range.

"Faith, they don't see us at all, at all. They're settin' over their traps, an' presently we'll be lookin' at their backs!"

The road was getting had. It wound along the base of a bare mountain range that extended ridges right into the new lake, Xochimilco. The horses of Duncan's battery had to be helped by hand; the baggage train in the rear struggled with the steep ravines cut into the sharp rock between ridges.

At ten o'clock in the morning another village, San Gregorio, was reached. Here an aide came up with dispatches for General Worth; the word spread that an attack had been made upon one of the columns behind. The division was to wait for instructions. Then, at evening, all Colonel Harney's cavalry brigade, eight hundred dragoons, trotted in. They said that a force of Mexican infantry and lancers had tried to cut off the Second Division, back at Buena Vista on the way from Ayotla to march around the lakes; but that Taylor's battery of the First Artillery had sent the red caps flying.

The Second Division and the Fourth Division were following the Third and the First. The whole army was on the move, flanking El Person and Mexicalcingo, aiming to strike the Acapulco road into Mexico City from the south.

The road to San Augustine grew worse. In places there was scarcely space for the column to pass between Lake Xochimilco and the mountain slopes. The pioneers toiled. The Mexicans had hastened to cut ditches and roll down logs; but the artillery and the wagons were hauled through and over.

Captain Mason of the engineers rode ahead, out of sight, to reconnoitre. When he returned it was reported that he had entered San Augustine itself, and had found no soldiers.

"Column, attention! Close order—forward—march!"

With cavalry, infantry, four pieces of artillery and seventy-five wagons the First Division marched into San Antonio on the afternoon of August 17.

In camp this night many of the men thought that now the way was open to the city. Remembering the map and his talk with Lieutenant Grant, Jerry feared different. So did others.

"Not yet, not yet, my lads," said Sergeant Mulligan. "We'll have our fights. You can rist sure that Santy Annie knows afore this what we're about. Ain't the country full o' spies for him? 'Tis a long nine miles to thim Halls o' Montezumy, an' plenty o' room for batteries accost the way. If I don't miss my guiss there'll be troops an' guns a_huriyin' already, 'round by the city an' down to head us off. I hear tell that not two mile north is the first o' the trouble—a place called San Antonio, bristlin' wid guns; an' Cherrybusco beyant, lookin' the same. An' bogs, an' outworks, an' the city walls beyant that."

"Weel," quoth Private MacPheel, "may the bullets be distributed same as the pay, an' moray a brave fallow win through."