Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

Hurrah for the Red, White and Blue!

"A truce! A truce' They've surrendered!"

It was afternoon again. All this morning the cannon of both sides had been hammering away; but the new army battery, Number 4, of four twentyfour-pounders and two sixty-eight-pounder shell guns or Paixhans, had joined with the naval battery. The fire seemed to be battering the walls to pieces. The men from the trenches, and the officers who watched through their spy-glasses, declared that the shells and solid shot were dismounting the Mexican guns and tumbling the caseznates and parapets upon the heads of the gunners. The mortars were still blowing up the buildings and the streets. The Mexican fire was growing weaker.

Lieutenant Grant had come back just after reveille, from all-night work in the quartermaster department, overseeing the landing of stuff on the beach from the transports in the offing. He had gone to bed and had slept until noon.

"Do you think we'll charge on Vera Cruz to-day?" Jerry asked at his first opportunity; for Pompey had been prophesying, and the waiting infantry appeared to be a little nervous, and the old sergeants would say neither yes nor no.

"That's not for me to answer," Lieutenant Grant replied. "We'll obey orders."

"Vera Cruz has got to surrender, though, hasn't it? And if Old Fuss and Feathers says to charge, we'll charge."

"Look here," the lieutenant rapped, severely. "Don't let me catch you using that nickname again. You're speaking disrespectfully of the commanding officer. He's Major-General Scott. Remember that: Major-General Winfield Scott, chief of the United States army, and commanding this Army of Invasion. Where did you get that name?"

"The men call him that; even the drummer boys do," Jerry apologized. "So I thought I might."

"Well, the men don't do it out of disrespect. They know him. All the old soldiers are proud to serve under General Scott. The drummer boys are young rascals, without respect for anybody. So don't pattern on them."

"Is General Scott as good a general as Old Zach—General Taylor, I mean?"

"I'm not supposed to express an opinion. A second lieutenant has no opinions to express about his superior officers. I served under General Taylor in Texas and northeastern Mexico. General Taylor won all his battles; that's the test of a general. He's an old hand at fighting. So is General Scott. They were appointed to the army at the same time, i8o8. As far as I may judge, their methods are different but equally effective. General Taylor I was privileged to see in action. He is experienced in emergency fighting, learned from his campaigns against the Indians in the War of I8'2 and in the Florida War. He apparently does not plan far ahead, but meets the emergencies as they come up, on the field, and handles his forces in person. General Scott, who attained high reputation for bravery and skill against British regular troops in the War of 1812 and is a hard student of war—in fact, has compiled the system of tactics in use by the United States army—relies more, I understand, upon having his orders carried out as issued in advance and covering the whole field. He is regarded as a master of tactics, which, you know, means the moving of troops upon the field, in the presence of the enemy. Strategy is the science of moving troops to advantage before contact with the enemy; the getting ready to fight. Tactics may be learned in books, but strategy is largely a gift. General Taylor is named by the soldiers who admire him 'Old Rough and Ready,' and that well describes him. He is a straightforward fighter, and opposed to all display; he places dependence upon the natural courage of his men, rather than upon drill. His tactics are successful. The tactics of General Scott have brought the army to a fine state of discipline. The American regular army is the best in the world, and the Volunteers will soon be not far behind. As I have not served long under General Scott, of course I cannot say much about his strategy when in command of a large body of troops. One thing is sure: he has the ablest engineers yet produced, to help him carry out his plans, and a splendidly trained army, both officers and rank and file, to perform his plans; and officers and men are confident that his plans will be thoroughly sound."

With this military lecture, Lieutenant Grant strode away.

Pompey chuckled.

"Hi yi! Nebber did hear Lieutenant Grant talk so much at once. Didn't say nuffin' much, neither."

At noon the fire from the city had ceased There were rumors that the Mexican general wished to surrender. About two o'clock the American batteries ceased, also. Cheers spread from the advance trenches back to the camps. A white flag had been borne from the city to General Scott's headquarters.

"A truce! A truce! They've surrendered!"

Out on the front the soldiers could be seen scrambling from the trenches and cheering; and the officers of the batteries stood upon the sandbags to examine the walls at leisure with their glasses.

The truce, however, did not last long. The Mexican flag went back. The general officers, who had been called into council with General Scott, returned to their divisions; and one of them—a burly short-necked, red-faced, lion-looking man who was General David Twiggs of the Second Division of Regulars, said, in plain hearing as he rode:

"Humph! My boys will have to take that place with the bayonet yet."

The mortar batteries opened again. It was reported that General Scott and Commodore Perry (Commodore Conner had gone home) of the navy had agreed upon an assault of the city to-morrow, March 26, by soldiers and sailors both.

The mortars fired all night, in slow fashion, as if for reminder. The city forts and the castle answered scarcely at all. Evidently the time for the assault was ripe. About midnight another norther came; the worst norther to date. In the morning half the tents were flat, everything and everybody were covered with sand, and the trenches and the city could not be seen through the sand cloud.

"We gwine to attack, jest the same," Pompey proclaimed. "We cain't see the enemy; enemy can't see us. Fust t'ing dey know, dar we'll be. Wind cain't stop bagonets. No, suh! Dof i Don't believe I laike dis country, nohow. If Gin'ral Scott don't take us away, I'se gwine back to Virginny. Yaller feber's done arriv. Dey's got it yonduh in Very Cruz, already. Mebbe we don't want dat Very Cruz. I ain't pinin' to stay 'round hyar. Nigger don't stand no show 'gin yaller feber. Dey say dar's a big passel ob Mexican sojers collectin' in back country to capture us when yaller feber an' dese no'thers gets done with us. So if Gin'ral Scott don't quit foolin' an' mahch away, I'se gwine by myself."

Soon after breakfast, or about eight o'clock, the firing stopped once more; another white flag had been taken in to General Scott. This time it proved to be in earnest, for the batteries did not reopen during the day, nor during the night.

The surrender was set for the morning of the twenty-ninth, at ten o'clock sharp.

Jerry looked up Hannibal, and learned more news from him than he could get by listening to Lieutenant Grant and Lieutenant Smith talk, or to Pompey chatter.

"We bagged 'em both," Hannibal asserted. "City and castle, too. General Scott didn't start in to say anything about the castle. All he wanted was the city, and then the castle would have to surrender or starve. But the Mexican general offered the two, and so of course we took 'em. General Worth, of our division, and Pillow, of the Tennessee Volunteers in the Third Division, and Colonel Totten, chief of engineers, did the talking. The surrender's to be made at ten o'clock in the morning, day after to-morrow Who did you say the Mexican general was?"

"General Morales."

"Well, he isn't. He escaped and left another general, Landero, to foot the bill. But you'll see a great sight 'when all those Mexicans march out and pile up their guns. We took that city easy, too. Had only two officers and nine men killed in the army and one officer and four men killed in the navy, and less than sixty wounded. That's pretty good for twenty days' skirmishing and investing."

"The Mexicans have lost a thousand, I guess," proffered Jerry.

"They ought to have surrendered sooner. The longer they held out the worse they got it. We were going to storm the walls this very day. The navy was to carry the water front and the army the sides; and there'd have been bullets and shells and solid shot and bayonet work, all mixed."

The morning for the surrender dawned clear and calm. The orders had called for every officer and man to clean up and wear his best uniform. So there were preparations as if for parade.

"Sech a polishin' an' scourin' an' slickenin' I nebber did see," Pompey complained, as he and Jerry worked on the belts and swords and uniforms of their lieutenants. Through all the regiment and division the soldiers were scouring their muskets and polishing their buttons and whitening their cross-belts and shining their tall leather dress-hats.

The drums beat the assembly, which was the signal for the companies to fall in. The troops, under the stars and stripes and their regimental colors, were marched to a green meadow south of the city walls. The sailors had come ashore. They wore their white flapping trousers, and short blue jackets, and white flannel shirts with broad blue collars, having a star in the corners. They, and the Regulars, were spick and span, because they had been trained to take care of themselves and their things. The Volunteers were not so neat, but that was the fault of their officers.

The sailors and the Regulars were drawn up in one long line, extending nearly a mile; the Volunteers were drawn up in another long line, facing them. The dragoons were at the head of the double line, and so were two mounted companies of Riflemen, and the Tennessee Horse. By this time a great stream of Mexican men and women and children and loaded burros were filing out of the city gate, taking their goods with them. General Scott had promised not to interfere with the citizens, but nevertheless the people were afraid.

Jerry himself, hastening with Pompey and a throng of the camp followers, had his first chance to see the whole army.

The generals all were here, with their staffs: General Scott, of course, the most imposing of any, by reason of his great size and his full uniform; the swarthy, flashing-eyed General Worth, very handsome on a prancing horse—he had been appointed to receive the surrender, which was an honor to the First Division; the white-haired, lion-like General Twiggs (Old Davy), of the Second Division of Res—his whiskers on his cheeks were growing again, which, with his short neck and stout shoulders, made him look more like a lion than ever; General Robert Patterson of the Volunteer Third Division—an old soldier of Pennsylvania, who had a rugged face and high forehead and was known as a fighting Irishman; and Colonel William S. Harney of the Dragoons—another giant of a man, almost as large as General Scott, with, sunburned face and blue eyes, and a quick, bluff manner, which just fitted a bold dragoon.

Then there were the brigade commanders: Colonel John Garland and Colonel Newman S. Clarke of the First Division; Colonel Bennet Riley (who had risen from the ranks) and General Persifor Smith (the colonel of the Mounted Rifles), of the Second Division; General Gideon Pillow the Tennessean (a slightly built man and the youngest of all the brigadiers), General John A. Quitman the Mississippian (a slender man with elegant side-whiskers), and General James Shields from Illinois (a black-moustached Irishman), of the Volunteers.

But the Regular cavalry took the eye: The one company of the First Dragoons, under young Captain Phil Kearny, the six companies of the Second Dragoons, and the nine companies of the Riflemen under Major Edwin V. Sumner of the Second Dragoons, while their own colonel, Persifor Smith, was serving as brigadier. Only two companies of the Riflemen were really Mounted Riflemen; the regiment had lost most of its horses in a storm on the way, and not all the dragoons were mounted, either, for the same reason.

The uniform of the dragoons was short dark-blue jackets piped with yellow, and light blue trousers with yellow stripes down the seams, and buff saddle reinforcements on the inside legs; cavalry boots, and dress helmets floating a white horsehair plume. The Riflemen (who carried rifles instead of muskatoons) had green trimmings. It was said to be a dashing tegiment, equal to the dragoons.

Suddenly, at ten o'clock precisely, in the city and at the castle of San Ulloa, down fluttered the Mexican red, white and green tricolor flags, while the Mexican cannon fired a salute to them; the red, white and blue rose in their place, and the salute by the army and navy guns was almost drowned by the great cheer from Jerry and all the rest of the non-combatants. The two ranks of soldiers and sailors did not dare to cheer without orders, but they swelled with pride.

And here came the Mexican army, in a long column, out of the southern gate, with a lot more women and children (the soldiers' families) trudging beside, carrying bundles.

There were five thousand—infantry, artillery and cavalry—led by their bands. Their uniforms were dazzling: green and red, light blue and white, blue and red, whitish and red, red and yellow—many combinations, the officers being fairly covered with gilt and bright braid.

"Shuah, dey's most all gin'rals an' drum-majors," Pompey exclaimed, admiring.

In comparison, the United States uniforms of plain navy blue and sky blue, with a little white and a little red and alittle yellow and green, looked very business like—even the gold epaulets of the officers' dress coats.

General Worth and General Landero severely saluted one another. General Landero drew aside with his staff. The whole Mexican army marched down between the two lines, and out beyond the end they were shown where to stack their muskets and deposit their belts and other equipment and the flags. A regiment of lancers, in green, with tall red caps and yellow cloaks, brought up the rear, on foot, to pile their lances.

Some of the Mexican soldiers looked sad; some looked rather glad to have the matter ended. They all were pledged by their officers not to take part in the war again, unless exchanged for American prisoners. Meanwhile they were permitted to go home.

"Reckon dey mought as well plow deir cohn," Pompey chuckled. "'Case why? 'Case dar won't be anybody to exchange 'em fo'."