Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

In the Charge at Churubusco

Churubusco, into which the Mexicans from the south and from the west were pouring, bristled with defenses. They seemed to be mainly on the left or west of the road. First, there was the straggling village, half encircled by breastworks, with an immense stone church rising high above everything, and already spouting smoke from its cannon mounted upon the walls and the flat roof. There were corn-fields and fruit trees upon both sides of the road, and beyond the church there was a stone bridge carrying the road across what appeared to be a large canal, reaching from the lake on the east into the corn-fields and meadows of the west. It was at least a mile in length, piled with earth on either bank, like a dike, and absolutely filled with infantry and artillery, protected by the earthern parapets.

The end of the bridge in front of the earthworks, at the middle of the dike, had been built up into a regular stone fort, containing a battery under cover. While farther on, occupying the road after it had left the village and the bridge, there were thousands more infantry and lancers, swelled by the Santa Anna force.

The column had halted, the men ceased cheering, and General Worth and staff surveyed Churubusco through their glasses.

It was an anxious moment. The enemy certainly numbered twenty thousand, well stationed. The bridgehead and the dike had opened with cannon balls which came ricocheting down the road and splashed the mud and water of the cornfield& But the men paid little attention to them. Hooray! Here was General Pillow, at last, with the General Calwalader brigade of Voltigeurs and Eleventh and Fourteenth Infantry—toiling in from the west and uniting with the First Division on the road. He had arrived too late for San Antonio, but was in time for Churubusco.

The men were growing impatient. Within a few minutes the gunfire from Churubusco had risen deafening. The church was being attacked; it fairly vomited smoke and shot and shell; every inch of it seemed alive. The fields to the west of it were answering. Infantry in thin lines could be seen stealing forward; a battery was hammering hard.

"Twiggs! Old Davy's there, with Taylor's battery!"

How the men knew, nobody could tell; but know they did. The word passed that General Persifor Smith's First Artillery and Third Infantry were attacking the church. They appeared to be suffering, for they were within point-blank range of the roof-top and the cupola, and had no cover except the corn.

Another brigade—Colonel Riley's Second and Seventh Infantry—was hastening to the support of General Smith. The firing had spread to the north, as if an attack was being made all along the line of the road. The time was nearing noon but the smoke welled in such a cloud that it hid the sun. Amidst the terrific uproar of artillery and small-arms the orders of the First Division officers could scarcely be heard, here half a mile away from the battle.

"Column, attention! Forward—march!"

The cannon balls tore in more and more viciously. The musketry of the bridgehead also opened. Men were falling.

"Column, right half wheel—march!"

In column of companies they left the road and descended into the muddy cornfields again on the right. One company stayed upon the road. It was the gallant Sixth Infantry, advancing alone, moving very steadily, the men gripping their muskets at right shoulder shift. The bluff old Major Bonneville, that bald-headed veteran who, on leave of absence in 1832, had been a fur hunter across the Rocky Mountains, commanded the Sixth. He was a Frenchman, but had graduated from the Military Academy in 1813, so he was no new hand at the fighting game.

The Cadwalader Voltigeurs had been stationed in reserve. The two other regiments—the Eleventh and Fourteenth—had joined the Second Brigade. The. First Brigade, Colonel Garland leading a-horse, swung out wider to the right, and on through the corn, at the double, came the Second Brigade, to march between the First Brigade and the road.

Unless the Garland brigade hurried, the Clarke column would strike the bridgehead first, on the shorter inside track.

The Sixth Regiment was drawing the bridge-head fire. The companies were rushing forward, muskets at a ready, but they met such a storm of iron and lead that they crumpled, stopped, and firing furiously, took shelter along the sides of the road.

"On the first battalion, deploy column! Battalions, right face—quick—march!"

It was a wonder that the order, issuing from the red face of Adjutant Nichols, could be heard at all. The First Brigade extended to the right at a run, and front-faced on line of battle. Jerry and the field music of the Fourth were behind again; now the positions of the lieutenants was two paces in the rear of the rear rank of their companies. It chanced that Lieutenant Grant was directly before Jerry's place in the rank of drummers. Jerry kept an eye upon him.

These cornfields were cut by ditches of water as the others had been. The double line grew ragged as the men leaped the ditches. The bridgehead and the dike were firing—with patter and hiss the grape-shot and bullets ripped through the corn. The Mexican works were higher than the cornfield, so that the division's advance could be seen while the Mexicans themselves were concealed.

Oh, but it was frightful in that cornfield! "Center guide, men! Keep up with the colors. Center guide!" Lieutenant Grant and the other officers shouted constantly. The color guard of the regiment pressed stanchly, braced and holding the Stars and Stripes and the flag of the Fourth Infantry above the murderous hail. Men were falling fast; they plunged, or reeled and sank, some of them in the mud and some of them into the water. As quickly as gaps occurred in the front rank, men from the second rank sprang forward and filled the spaces. The corn bowed to the withering blast. Ahead, Mexicans were jumping up and dodging for cover after firing. The enemy's skirmishers were being dislodged from their holes.

What a noise! Thousands of guns, large and small, near and far, speaking at once! The whole American army, except a tiny reserve, was engaged with the whole Mexican army in the field. It was a fight to a finish of eight thousand against twenty thousand. Somewhere General Scott directed. It was safe to say that Old Fuss and Feathers knew just what was going to happen; his plans had been made; and although the First Division, with the help of General Cadwalader's two regiments, seemed to have been given the toughest job in the taking of the bridgehead and the opening of the road, Jerry for one had not the slightest doubt of the result. The Mexicans would be threshed, of course.

On surged the double line and on; bending and weaving and staggering, but ever on. The wounded and the dead were left. There was blood, and ghastly sights. A bullet sang so close over Jerry's head that he ducked. A shower of grape spattered all around him. Drum Major Brown was down—his leg had collapsed under him.

"Never mind me, boys."

Jerry heard a cry—"Help! For th' love o' Hiven, help, wan o' yez!"

He glanced behind. Corporal Finerty was bleeding and struggling, on hands and knees, in a ditch with the water almost over him. Jerry hustled back and dragged him out; then ran forward. It was no joke being a drummer boy in a battle, for a fellow could do little with a musician's short sword fit only for frying bacon.

"Double time, men I Hurrah!"

How they all panted, and what a sight they were, muddy and smeared with blood and sweat


"Huzzah! Give 'em Yankee Doodle, boys!"

The darkly scowling faces of the rows of Mexicans behind the dike breastworks could be seen. Their white teeth flashed from their lips parted in the swarthy countenances flattened against the gun-stocks. The musket muzzles belched smoke; so did the cannon of the bridgehead to the left. The soldiers in front of Jerry were aiming, firing, pausing to load—to tear their paper cartridges with their teeth, dump a little of the powder into the opened pan under the raised flint, pour the rest into the muzzle, ram the paper and the three buckshot and a ball home with the ramrod; aim, fire, and run again, loading.

The blue line was slowly moving in. The men worked like Trojans. Now the buttons of the rows of red-capped Mexicans were showing, so near were the trenches. Jerry stumbled along right behind Lieutenant Grant, who never ceased shouting, never ducked nor dodged, and somehow had not been hit yet.

The First Brigade advance had come to a stand-still, while the ranks fired more rapidly. The Mexicans were leaking away—wounded and staggering, or running scot free. A tremendous cheer arose above even the other tumult The Second Brigade was into the bridgehead! A torrent of blue blouses, firing and charging with the bayonet, the officers leading and waving, had crossed a wide ditch at its base on this side. The men were diving in through the battery embrasures or scaling the walls like cats. In they went—in by the road went the Sixth Infantry. The flags of the Eighth and Fifth disappeared over the top; soon the flag of the Sixth was dancing to meet them. Out boiled the Mexicans, artillery and infantry, and streamed in a tossing tide up the bridge and into the north, or else into the trenches on the west. The bridgehead had been taken by front and side.

"Now, men! On! Charge!"

"The bayonet; lads! The cowld steel!" shrieked old Sergeant Mulligan to Company B.

The drummers beat the charge; with a volley and a yell the Fourth Infantry and all the line ran for the dike. The Mexicans in it answered with one volley; out they bolted. Right through the canal, shoulder deep with mud and water, the men scrambled, and leaped over the other bank. The Mexican red-caps, throwing away muskets and knapsacks, were frantically crowding the built-up road where it crossed the lowlands beyond the bridge.

The bridgehead had been the key. The enemy's left was emptied; the trenches along the dike west of the road were still fighting, but Duncan's battery had come into action. It had been unable to advance through the cornfields; had continued by the road, under cover of a mass of abandoned wagons from San Antonio. It was firing from the road—never had guns been served faster. The four pieces made one continuous roar, cannonading the west trenches that reached all the way to the great stone church set in the midst of other field works.

The bridgehead's captured guns also were being turned. That was too hot for the Mexicans. Out they, too, boiled, fleeing madly through the fields to the rear.

Duncan's battery and a four-pounder in the bridgehead changed to the church and battered the walls. The Second Division, with Taylor's battery of the First Artillery, was still battering from the other side. A white flag fluttered in the smoke upon the church's flat roof. It vanished—it had been hauled down. Now the Second Division line sprang to its feet and charged. The church was surrounded by double walls—the blue figures mounted the first wall—the church cupola was crumbling under the solid shot—the church was about to be taken—co! The wall was cleared by the Mexican sharp-shooters upon the roof. Yes! The wall filled again, the men vaulted over and down and rushed for the second wall—the sharp-shooters were leaping from the cupola and off the roof—the Mexican cannon had been silenced—there were more white flags—"Cease firing!" pealed the artillery bugles, for the standard of the Third Infantry, blue and gold, had unfurled from.the balcony. In a moment the standard of the First Artillery was displayed beside it.

The First Division, jumbled all together, the men cheering and waving and even crying with joy, had paused to watch—had paused for orders, maybe, to assault the church itself. Jerry found himself grabbed by Hannibal—a grimy, excited Hannibal, wild with excitement, like the rest.

"We did, it, we did it! Hooray! And you and I aren't hurt."

"But we lost a lot of men," Jerry panted.

"Fall in! Fall in! Form companies. Beat the rally, drummers." Those were the orders. Hannibal scooted. General Worth was waiting no longer. There was heavy firing in the north, where Santa Anna was standing off the left of General Scott's line.

"Who's yonder?"

"Shields and his Mohawks, and the Pierce Brigade. They're hard pushed."

"Forward—double time—march!"

The Cadwalader men had joined again. They had entered the bridgehead closely behind the Second Brigade. In column of platoons all doubled up the road, which was strewn with bodies and plunder. The rout was on before and extended as far as eye might see; but a desperate battle was raging only a mile distant.

The column was in time; in fact, may not have been needed. The flight from the bridgehead and the church proved too much for the Santa Anna soldiers. General Pierce's Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Regulars, and General Shields' New Yorkers and South Carolinans, two thousand men, were having a give-and-take with General Santa Anna's reserve of four thousand infantry and three thousand lancers. But before the General Worth and General Pillow column arrived, the Mohawks were seen to charge—the Mexicans did not stand—their line wavered, the Pierce Regulars struck it on right and left—the center burst apart, all the line broke into fragments, fleeing for the road; and when the First Brigade, led by General Worth and Colonel Garland, panted in the Santa Anna troops had mingled with the vast throng of refugees from Churubusco. The Pierce Regulars and the Shields' Volunteers met the van of the First Division.

"On, men! To the city!"

No time was granted to the Mexicans to reform; their infantry, artillery and camp followers jammed the road and flowed out upon either side. Lancers protected the rear, and threatened the pursuit. Matters looked good. The First Division, both of General Pillow's Third Division brigades (General Cadwalader's and General Pierces), and the Shields Mohawks were united, a victorious little army, and cared nothing about the lancers; the road to the capital was open. Hooray!


"Column, halt!"

The drums beat, the bugles rang.

The column was two miles and a half from Churubusco, and only a mile and a half from the city gate. The Mexican rout had attempted no stand; the foremost of its dense mob were already jostling in. General Worth evidently was uncertain what to do—whether to follow right on or wait for orders. He and General Pillow and General Shields consulted together, sitting their horses. Huzzah! Huzzah for the dragoons! Here they came at a gallop, from behind, under Colonel Harney, and tore in to General Worth.

Colonel Harney checked them for a moment, and exchanged a word with the general. General Worth nodded. On spurred the little detachment—Captain Phil Kearny's company of the First, half a company of the Second and two companies of the Third. Captain Kearny led. Their pennons streamed, the riders leaned forward in the saddles, sabers were out and flashing.

Plain to view they struck the Mexican rear guard—dashed the lancers to one side and the other, wielding their sabers cut a lane clear to the city gate, and disappeared in the midst of a seething mass. Colonel Harney's orderly bugler pelted vainly after, blowing the recall. The Kearny detachment did not hear. The battery and the muskets of the city gate began to fire upon friend and foe alike. It looked as though the dragoons were entering the gate itself. No—back they galloped, Captain Kearny with his left arm dangling and bloody, two other officers wounded, and several troopers reeling in the saddle.

An aide from General Scott hastened in with dispatches. General Scott directed that the pursuit cease. The column was counter-marched a short distance and bivouacked. Dusk was descending from the mountains, announcing the end of a long, long day. Suddenly Jerry and everybody else felt exhausted. They had been upon their feet since before daylight; had been marching and fighting for sixteen hours, with not much to eat.

The first thought was "coffee." As soon as arms were stacked the First Division bustled to gather wood. Down the road other divisions were doing the same. The hospital men could be seen searching the field of battle, far and neat., for the wounded.