Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

The Star-Spangled Banner

"The North Americans! They are getting ready to attack the city!"

"Who says so? Where are they?"

"At Point Anton Lizardo, only sixteen miles down the coast. A great fleet of ships has arrived there, from North America. The sails looked like a cloud coining over the ocean. The harbor is crowded with masts and flags. Yes, they are getting ready."

That was the word which spread through old Vera Cruz on the eastern coast of Mexico, at the close of the first week of March, 1847.

"Well, the castle will sink them all with cannon balls. It will be another victory. We shall see a fine sight, like on a fiesta (holiday). Viva!"

"Bien! Viva, viva!" Or: "Good! Hurrah, hurrah!"

There was excitement, but the news travelled much faster than the Americans, for they seemed to be still staying at desolate Anton Lizardo.

Now, March 9, up here at the city of Vera Cruz, was as fine a day as anybody might wish for. The sun had risen bright and clear above the Gulf of Mexico, and one could see land and ocean for miles and miles.

From the sand dunes along the beach about three miles southeast of Vera Cruz, where Jerry Cameron was helping old Mamlel and young Manuel cut brush for fagots, the view was pleasant indeed. To the northward, up the sandy coast, the fine city of Vera Cruz—the City of the True Cross—surrounded by its fortified wall two miles in length, fairly shone in the sunlight. Its white-plastered buildings and the gilded domes of its many churches were a-glitter. In the far distance, inland behind the city, the mountain ranges up-stood, more than ten thousand feet high, with Orizaba Peak glimmering snowy, and the square top of Perote Peak (one hundred miles west) deeply blue, in shape of a chest or strong-box. Outside the sea-wall in front of the city there was the sparkling bay, dotted with the sails of fishing boats, and broken by shoals.

Upon a rocky island about a third of a mile out from the city there loomed the darkly frowning Castle of San Juan de Ulloa—the fort which guarded the channel into the harbor. And almost directly opposite the place where Jerry worked as a wood-cutter there basked the island of Sacrificios or Sacrifices, about two miles out, with the flags of the foreign men-of-war anchored near it streaming in the breeze:. While farther out, beyond Sacrificios, appeared Green Island, where the ships of the United States had been cruising back and forth, blockading Vera Cruz itself.

The United States and Mexico were at war. They had been at war for wellnigh a year, but the fighting was being done in the north, where the Americans had tried to invade by crossing the Rio Grande River and had been thrashed. At least, those were the reports. General Antonio. Lopez de Santa Anna himself, Mexico's famous leader, had returned from exile in Cuba to command the army, He had been landed at Vera Cruz without the American objecting. The Americans had foolishly thought that he would advise peace—or else they were afraid to stop him. At any rate, he had gone on to Mexico City, had gathered an army, and not a week ago word had arrived that he had completely routed the army of the American general named Taylor, in the battle of Buena Vista, north Mexico!

It was said that the crack Eleventh Infantry of the Mexican regular army had alone defeated the North Americans. The Eleventh had marched to war last summer, carrying their coats and shirts and pantaloons slung on the ends of their muskets, because the weather was hot. The soldiers had not looked much like fighters, to Jerry; many of the muskets were without locks, and most of the soldiers were barefoot.

But the news of the great victory filled all Vera Cruz with rejoicing. The guns of the forts were fired, the church bells were rung, and the people cheered in the streets, and from the sea-wall shook their fists at the American fleet in the offing.

It had been unpleasant news to Jerry, he being an American boy whose father had died in Vera Cruz, from the yellow fever, and had left him alone. He hated to believe that Mexico actually was whipping the United States. But he and the few other Americans stranded here did not dare to say anything.

Now that the North Americans (as they were called) had been driven out, in the north, very likely they would try to invade Mexico at another point. Yes, no doubt they might be foolish enough to try Vera Cruz, hoping to march even to the City of Mexico from this direction! Of course, the notion was absurd, for the City of Mexico was two hundred and eighty miles by road, and on the other side of the mountains. So the Vera Cruzans laughed and bragged.

"No hay cuidado, no hay cuidado! Somos muy valientes. Es una ciudad siempre heroica, esta Vera Cruz de nosotros," they said. Or, in other words; "No fear, no fear! We are very brave. It is a city always heroic, this Vera Cruz of ours."

"That is right," had agreed old Manuel and young Manuel, with whom Jerry lived and worked. "If those North Americans wish to come, let them try. We have two hundred great gyms on the walls, and three hundred in the castle—some of them the largest in the world. Yes, and five thousand soldiers, and the brave General Morales to lead us."

"The Vera Cruz walls are ten feet thick, and those of the castle are fifteen feet thick," old Manuel added. "Cannon balls stick fast; that is all"

"The guns will kill at two miles," young Manuel added. "Never once have those North American ships dared to come within reach. The commander at the castle laughs. He says to the American commander: 'Bring on your fleet. You may fire all your shot at us and we will not take the trouble to reply. We only despise you."

"Asi es—that is so," grunted old Manual. "The castle has stood there for two hundred and fifty years. Please God, it will stand there two hundred and fifty more years, for all that those Yahnkee savages can do."

It was true that the American fighting ships had stayed far out from shore. They cruised back and forth, preventing supplies from being brought in. That was a blockade, but Vera Cruz did not care. It had plenty to eat. It went about its business: the fishing boats of the native Indians caught vast quantities of fish in the harbor, the ranches raised cattle and vegetables and fruits, and peons or laborers like the two Manuels cut fagots and carried loads of it on their burros into town, to sell as cooking fuel.

Thus it happened that Jerry, who worked hard with the two Manuels for his living, was out here amidst the sand hills, as usual, on this bright morning of March 9, 1847.

These sand hills fringed all the beach on both sides of the city, and extended inland half a mile. The winter gales or northers piled them up and moved them about. Some of them were thirty feet high—higher than the walls of the city. From their crests one could look right into Vera Cruz. They were grown between, and even to their tops, with dense brush or chaparral, of cactus and thorny shrubs, forming regular jungles; and there were many stagnant lagoons that bred mosquitoes and fevers.

From the city the National Road ran out, heading westward for the City of Mexico, those two hundred and eighty miles by horse and foot.

To-day, of all the flags flying off shore scarcely one was the American flag. The American warships had disappeared entirely, unless that sloop tacking back and forth several miles out might be American. At first it had been thought that the Yankees had growndisco by the news of the defeats of their armies on land, and now did not know what to do. The very sight of the grim castle of San Juan de Ulloa had made them sick at their stomachs, the Vera Cruzans declared. But the reports from Anton Lizardo had changed matters.

The morning passed quietly, *ith the flags of the city and castle—flags banded green, white and red and bearing an eagle on a cactus in the center—floating gaily, defying the unseen Americans. At noon the two Manuels and Jerry ate their small lunch, and drank water from a hole dug near a shallow lagoon. Then, about two o'clock, old Manuel, who had straightened up for a breath and to ease his back, uttered a loud cry.

"Mira! See! The Americans are coming again!"

He was gazing to the east, down the coast. Young Manuel and Jerry gazed, squinting through the chaparral. Out at sea, to the right of the little island Sacrificios, there had appeared against the blue sky a long column of ships, their sails shining whitely. They came rapidly on, bending to the gentle breeze, and swinging in directly for the island anchorage. Scrambling like a monkey, old Manuel hustled for a high, clear place and better view; young Manuel and Jerry followed.

The foremost were ships of war; they looked too trim and, large, and kept in too good order, for merchantmen, and they held their positions, in the lead and on the flanks, as if guarding. But what a tremendous fleet this was—sail after sail, until the ships, including several steamers, numbered close to one hundred! Soon the flags were plain: the red-and-white striped flags of the United States, streaming gallantly from the mast ends.

"The Americans!" young Manuel scoffed. "They want another beating? They think to frighten us Vera Cruzanos? Bah! We will show them. We are ready. See?"

That was so. How quickly things had happened! As if by a miracle the sea wall of Vera Cruz was alive with people clustered atop; yes, and people were gathering upon all the roofs, and even in the domes of the churches. From this distance they were ants. The news had spread very fast. The notes of the army bugles sounded faintly, rallying the gunners to the batteries.

Now out at the anchorage near Sacrificios the mastheads and the yards of the foreign men of war and the other vessels, from England, France, Spain, Prussia, Germany, Italy, were heavy with sailors clustered like bees, watching the approach of the American fleet.

Straight for Sacrificios the fleet sped, silent and beautiful, before a steady six-knot breeze which barely ruffled the gulf. A tall frigate (the American flagship Raritan) forged to the fore, and in its wake there glided a vessel squat and bulky, leaving a trail of black smoke.

"Un barco de vapor—a steamboat!"

"Yes, yes! But it has no paddles—it moves like a snake!"

"No matter," said old Manuel. "Everybody knows that the North Americans are in league with the Evil One. Only the Evil One could make a boat to move without paddles. But the saints will protect us."

"They are bringing soldiers!" young Manuel cried. "Look! The decks of the warships are crowded!"

The American warships all forged to the fore; in line behind the tall Raritan and the smoking new steamer (which was only a propeller) they filed past the foreign ships at the Sacrificios anchorage, and about a mile from the beach they cast anchor also. Now it might be seen that each ship had towed a line of rowboats, and that every deck was indeed crowded with soldiers, for muskets and bayonets flashed, uniforms glittered, bands played, and a clatter and hum drifted with the music to the shore.

The merchant ships stayed outside the anchorage, as if waiting. There seemed to be seventy-five or eighty of them; too many for the space inside.

The warships lost no time. Small launches instantly began to tow the rowboats to their gang-ways; soldiers began to descend—.

"what! They are going to land here, on our beach of Collado?" old Manuel gasped.

"No! Viva, viva!" young Manuel cheered. "Our brave soldiers are there, waiting! Viva, viva!"

"Now we shall see!" And old Manuel cheered, waving his ragged hat. "There will be a battle. Maybe we shall have to run."

From the brush and sand hills a troop of Mexican lancers, in bright uniforms of red caps and red jackets and yellow capes, had cantered down to the open beach, their pennons flapping, their lance tips gleaming. They rode and waved defiantly, daring the Americans to come ashore.

A row of little flags broke out from the mizzen mast of the Raritan. At once two gunboat steamers and five sloops of war left the squadron, they ploughed in, a puff of whitish smoke jetted from the bows of a gunboat, and as quick as a wink another puff burst close over the heads of the lancer troop. Boom-boom!

The gay lancers, bending low in their saddles, scudded like mad back into the sand hills and the brush, with another shell peppering their heels.

"Hurrah! Hurrah!" Jerry cheered, for it looked as though that beach was going to be kept clear.

He got such a box on the ear that it knocked him sprawling and set his head to ringing.

"You shut up!" old Manuel scolded. "You little American dog, you! Your Americans are cowards. They dare not land and fight. They think to stand off out at sea and fight. The miserable gringos from the north! That's the Mexican name for them: gringos. You understand?"

No, Jerry did not understand. "Gringo" was a new word—a contempt word recently invented by the Mexicans, when they spoke of the North Americans—his Americans. But he wasn't caring, now; he was wild with the box on the ear, and the sight of the United States soldiers. Boxes on the ear never had angered him so, before. It was pretty hard to be cuffed, here in front of the Flag; cuffed by the enemies of the Flag.

"That isn't so," he snarled hotly. "They aren't cowards. You'll see. They'll land where they please. And all your army and guns can't keep them off. Then they'll walk right over your walls."

"Shut up!" young Manuel bawled, and cuffed him on the other side of the head. "Of course they are cowards. They've been beaten many times by our brave men. Your General Taylor has been captured. He dressed like a woman and tried to hide. Now your gringos are so afraid that they think to land out of reach of our cannon. If they do land, what will they do? Nothing. The minute they come closer the guns of the castle will blow them to pieces."

"Yes; and soon the yellow fever will kill them. They will find themselves in a death-trap," old Manuel added. "Bah! Our brave General Morales may let them land. He sees how foolish they are. All he needs do is to wait. Where can they go? Nowhere! They will fight mosquitoes. That is it: they are come to fight the mosquitoes!"

Jerry saw that there was no use in arguing; not with two men whose hands were heavy, and who preferred to believe lies. They did not know American soldiers and sailors.



The cannon of the city and castle had not yet spoken, but the walls of San Juan de Ulloa, like those of Vera Cruz, a little nearer, were thronged with people, watching. And that was a busy scene, yonder toward Sacrificios. The two gunboats and the five sloops cruised lazily only eight hundred yards out from the beach, their guns trained upon it; the sailors stood prepared at the pieces, and spy-glasses, pointed at the beach, occasionally flashed with light. Well it was, thought Jerry, that he and the two Manuels were securely hidden. He did not wish an American shot coming his way. But there, beyond the seven patrol boats, the rowboats were being loaded at the gangways of the men-of-war; for the soldiers of his country evidently were determined to land.

Boat after boat, crammed to the gunwales with men, left the gangways, was pulled a short distance clear, and lay to.

"How many boats?" young Manuel uttered. "Many, many. It is wonderful."

"And a crazy idea," old Manuel insisted, "to land here where the ships cannot follow, right in sight of Vera Cruz. But the more the better; the yellow fever will have a feast, and so will the vultures."

The loading of the boats took two hours. The sun was almost set when the last one appeared to have been filled. No shot had been fired by the Mexican batteries. Suddenly a great cheer rang from the ships and the boats; yes, even from the English and French and Spanish ships. The boats had started; they were coming in at last, and a brave spectacle they made: a half-circle more than three-quarters of a mile front, dosing upon the beach, with oars flashing and bayonets gleaming and the trappings of the officers glinting, all in the crystal air of sunset, upon the smooth sea. The breeze had died down, as if it, too, were astonished; but above the boats a myriad seagulls swerved and screamed.

Five, ten, twenty, forty, sixty, sixty-seven! Sixty-seven surf-boats each holding seventy-five or one hundred soldiers! Sixty-seven surf-boats, and one man-of-war gig!

"Sainted Mary! Where did the Americans get them all?" old Manuel gasped.

Jerry thrilled with pride. Hurrah! He was an American boy, and those were American ships and American boats, manned by American soldiers and American sailors, under the American flag. He shivered a little with fear, also; for when the guns of the castle and the city began to throw their shells, what would happen to those blue-coated men, helpless upon the bare beach of Collado?

The music from the bands in the boats and upon the ships sounded plainly. The bands were playing "Yankee Doodle," "Hail, Columbia!" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." Even the dip of the oars from the sixty and more boats, pulled by sailors, sounded like a tune of defiance, as the blades rose and fell and the oar-shafts thumped in their sockets.

Splash, splash, chug, chug, all together in a measured chant; and still the guns of the city and castle were silent, biding their time.

Now it was a race between the boats, to see which should land its men first. The sailors were straining at the oars; the figures of the soldiers—their bristling muskets, their cross-belts and cartridge boxes, their haversacks—were clear; their officers might be picked out, and also the naval officers, one in the stern of each boat, urging the rowers. The gig beat. One hundred yards from the beach it grounded. It scarcely had stopped when a fine, tall officer leaped overboard into the water waist deep; with his sword drawn and waved and pointed he surged for the shore. He wore a uniform frock coat, with a double row of buttons down the front and with large gold epaulets on the shoulders. Upon his head was a cocked hat; and as he gained the shallows the gold braid of his trousers seams showed between boots and skirts. He was of high rank, then; perhaps a general—perhaps the general of the whole army! And his face had dark side-whiskers.

Close behind him there hurried a soldier with the flag. All the men, mainly officers, his staff, had leaped overboard; and from the other boats, fast and faster, the men were leaping, and surging in, and in, holding their muskets and cartridge boxes high, and cheering.

"Boom!" A cannon shot! Smoke floated from the bastion fort of Santiago, in the nearest corner of the city walls, three miles up the shore; but the ball must have fallen short.

"Boom!" A great gun in San Juan castle, three miles and a half, had tried. By the spurt of sand this ball also was short.

"We'd better get out of here," old Manuel rapped. "To the city! Quick! The Americans are surely landing. We don't want to have our ears cut off; and we don't want to be blown up, either. The guns are beginning; they are playing for the dance."

"Yes; and you come, too, you little gringo," young Manuel exclaimed, grabbing Jerry by the arm.

"We'll not have you running to those other gringos and telling them tales."

Away scuttled old Manuel and young Manuel, dragging Jerry and shoving him before them while they followed narrow trails amidst the dunes and the thick, thorny brush. Presently they all heard another hearty shout from a thousand and more throats; but it was not for them.

Pausing and looking back they saw the whole broad beach blue with the American uniforms; flags of blue and gold were fluttering—a detachment of the soldiers had marched to the very top of one high dune and had planted the Stars and Stripes. Already some of the boats were racing out to the ships, for more soldiers. The bands upon the shofe were playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" again.


"Shut up, gringito (little gringo)!"

"You will sing another tune if you don't take care There!" And Jerry received a third and fourth cuff. "Your soldiers are cowards. They land out of reach of the guns. And now maybe we have lost our burro."

"Why don't you go back for it, then?" Jerry demanded. "Why don't your own soldiers march out and stop the soldiers of my country?"

"Because we Mexicans are too wise. The Americans never can get near the city. Why should we waste any lives on them? Now you come along, gringito."

And Jerry had to go, wild with rage and hot with hopes.

The balls from the city and castle were falling so short; the patrol vessels and the soldiers and sailors paid no attention to them; but from all the ranches and fields and huts outside the city walls the people were hastening in, for protection. This was another sight: those men, women and children, carrying bundles, and driving laden donkeys, and chattering, threatening, bragging and laughing.

Hustling on, Jerry and the two Manuels joined with the rest, crossing the open strip a half a mile wide, bordering the walls, and pushing in through the gate on this side, named the Gate of Mexico and commanded by batteries.

Inside the city there were hubbub and excitement. The broad paved streets of the downtown among the two-story stone buildings were crowded as on a feast day. Bugles were pealing, drums were beating, soldiers in the bright blue and white of the infantry and the red and green of the artillery were marching hither thither, lancers in their red and yellow clattered through, while the roof-tops and the church belfries above swarmed with gazers.

Nobody showed much fear.

"Wait, until the cannon get the range."

"Or until the northers bury the gringos in the sand!"

"And then the vomito, the yellow fever! That is our best weapon."

"Indeed, yes. All we Vera Cruzanos need do is to wait."

The northers, as everybody should know, were the terrific winds that blew in the winter and early spring; they blew so fiercely, front the gulf and a clear sky, that anyone lying for a few moments in the sand would be covered up. Neither man nor beast could face a norther, there in the open where the sand drifted like snow.

And the vomito, or yellow fever! Ay de mi I That was worse. It came in the spring as soon as the northers ceased and stayed all summer. Some days and nights it appeared like a yellow mist, rising from the lagoons of the coast and spreading toward the city; men and women and children died by the hundreds, even in the city streets, so that the buzzards feasted on the bodies. The City of the Dead: this was the name for Vera Cruz during the vomito season. Everyone who was able fled to the higher country inland, and stayed there above the vomito fog.

Until ten o'clock this night the American boats landed the American soldiers; by token of the twinkling lights and the distant shouts the beach was occupied for a mile of length, and the bivouacs extended back into the dunes.