Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

Before the Bristling City

Before supper was finished the clouds had gathered; darkness set in early, with every prospect of rain again; the men were still too excited to lie down—they collected in groups around the campfires and talked things over.

Jerry simply had to find Hannibal and compare notes. On his way to the Second Brigade he met him coming on. They returned together to the camp-fire line of the Fourth Regiment and squatted there.

The Fourth Regiment would never be the same again. Just how many it had lost in killed and wounded was not yet known, but in Jerry's own little mess Corporal Finerty was greatly missed. He and Drum Major Brown had been put in hospital back at Churubusco, it was said, and were due to recover.

All agreed that of the Regulars the First Division had suffered the most severely. In the Second Division, which attacked the church from the open, the First Artillery had lost five officers; the Second Infantry had lost four; reports from the Third and Seventh Infantry were not in.

There was much praise for the new Third Regular Division, and the Mohawks, of the Fourth Division., In the Cadwalader brigade of the Third, which supported the First Division against the bridgehead, Lieutenant J. F. Irons, aide-de-camp to General Cadwalader, had been killed. General Franklin Pierce, leading the other brigade in the march to oust Santa Anna, had fainted from pain. That fall from his horse at Contreras had proved to be very serious. The Shields Mohawks and the Pierce Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Regulars had outbattled Santa Anna's seven thousand. The South Carolina Palmettos had formed center of line. Their colonel, Colonel P. M. Butler, had been wounded, had refused to leave, and then had been killed; their Lieutenant-Colonel Dickinson had been mortally wounded next, and Major Gladden had commanded. Colonel Burnett, of the New Yorkers, had been carried from the field. So had Colonel Morgan, of the Fifteenth Infantry. Of the two hundred and seventy-two Palmettos in the final charge one hundred and thirty-seven had fallen. But General Shields had taken three hundred and eighty prisoners.

Out of the seven cavalry officers who charged with the one hundred dragoons to the city gates, three had been badly wounded (Captain Kearny's arm had been amputated at the hospital), and Lieutenant Ewell had had two horses shot under him. Major Mills, of the Fifteenth Infantry, who had joined as a volunteer, had been killed.

The whole army had been in action, except the Second Pennsylvania and the Marines, who had been kept at San Augustine with General Quitman to guard the supplies; and the Fourth Artillery, who had been ordered to stay at Contreras.

"'Twas this way," old Sergeant Mulligan explained to the listening group at the campfire: "In wan day we've done what no mortal army ever did afore. We've fought foive distinct battles, by daytachments, so to speak—eight thousand of us divided up to lick thirty thousand Mexicans. An' lick 'em we did, ivery time, in spite o' their breastworks an' forts an' their chosin' their own positions. We give 'em the field, an' then we tuk it. First there was Contreras: thirty-five hundred Americans ag'in seven thousand active enemy wid twelve thousand standin' ready to pitch in. Second, there was San Antonio, where twenty-six hundred of us saw mainly the backs o' thray thousand. Third, the bridgehead an' thim entrenchments, where we were outnumbered not more 'n two to wan; an' fourth, the church, wid the Second Division stormin', say thray or four to wan; an' fifth, the Gin'ral Shields foive rigiments of belike two thousand breakin' the hearts o' Gin'ral Santy Annie's seven thousand. Now I'd like to hear whut Old Fuss an' Feathers has to say."

"You'll hear him," asserted a man from a searching detail, who had come up from the rear. "At Cherrybusco he is, still; proud as a king, the tears of him choking his voice. He's thanking every division in turn; he'll not forget 'the First that opened the way."

"And where was he during the fracas?"

"In the rear of Twiggs, directing the fight and sending in the regiments. So fast he sent 'em forward after Contreras that b' gorry he found himself left all alone, and had to get some dragoons for an escort."

"An' whut does he say about the desarters, I'm wonderin'?"

"Desarters?" exclaimed several voices.

"Sure, lads. Sixty-nine were taken: twenty-seven at the church and the rest by Shields. The artillery battalion o' Saint Patrick they're called—an insult to the name. Every man once wore the United States uniform, and this day they turned the guns upon their own comrades. Tom Riley is their captain. The most of 'em desarted from Taylor, in north Mexico, with hopes of better pay and positions. 'Twas they who held out longest at the church. Three times they pulled down the white flag, for they well knew they were in a tight place. Hanged they'll be, as they desarve."

"I dunno," spoke somebody. "Old Fuss and Feathers has a soft heart in him for the enlisted man. Now if they were officers he'd give 'em short shift."

"Did you find many wounded, poor fellows?" the detail man was asked.

"Not near enough before darkness. There's like to be a hundred of the First lying now in the cornfields—and the rain closing down."

"That's bad, bad. What with the mud and the corn and the ditches, it must be a sore place to search."

"We're doing our best."

"Well, lads," Sergeant Mulligan uttered, "I'm wet through already, an' I'm goin' to turn in, for to-morrow we'll likely take the city. An' why we didn't go for'd an' take it this evenin', on the heels o' that mob, I dunno. Wid the help o' Shields an' Pillow, the First could ha' walked right along."

"An' walked into a trap, maybe. But the gin'ral had no orders, an' he waited too long, undecided."

"Yes; and the gen'ral-in-chief stopped him, too. Like as not that United States commissioner, by name o' Trist, who's been followin' with headquarters all the way from Puebla, is instructed ag'in any more flghtin' than is necessary. 'Conquer a peace'; that's the word. And if we've conquered it this day, we'll give Santy Annie a chance to say so, after he's calmed down a bit."

"Right, then," Sergeant Mulligan agreed. "Let 'em think it over. For if we entered in too much of a hurry 'twud be only a half-baked p'ace after all."

The group broke up.

"Good-night," said Hannibal. "Whew, but I'm tired. It's been a great day, though. Oh, my eye, didn't we thrash 'em!"

"Rather guess," Jerry answered. "I kept track of Lieutenant Grant. He was right near me most the time."

"Where's Pompey?"

"Haven't seen him. He's hunting another money chest, like as not."

This night Jerry slept under a wagon, while the rain beat down. But the thought of the wounded lying out in the dark and storm bothered him. Battles were not pleasant.

After breakfast the First Division was marched back to Churubusco. The other divisions were encamped nearby. And what a sight that field of Churubusco was! The bodies of Mexicans were piled everywhere—in the road and in the breast-works and in the muddy fields. All the trenches and the causeway and the road north was a mess of muskets, pistols, swords, bayonets, lances, haversacks, cartridge boxes, knapsacks, great coats, blankets, hats and caps, and drums, horns, fifes and the like, enough to equip fifty bands.

The Mexican loss was estimated at four thousand killed and wounded and three thousand prisoners. Thirty-seven pieces of artillery had been taken, together with an enormous quantity of small arms and supplies.

The division was moved to the walls of the ruined church. General Scott waited here, sitting his horse, his rugged face now glad, now sad, but lighted proudly. The church balcony contained a number of captured Mexican officers, gazing down as if interested. The general lifted his hand, while the division cheered him: He seemed about to make a speech.

"Silence, men! Silence in the ranks!"

"Fellow soldiers," the general shouted in his loud voice—which trembled. "Fellow-soldiers of the First Division. Your general thanks you from the bottom of his heart. But a reward infinitely higher—the applause of a grateful country and Government—will, I cannot doubt, be accorded in due time to so much merit of every sort displayed by this glorious army which has now overcome all difficulties of distance, climate, ground, fortifications and numbers. To the First Division I say, as I have said to the other gallant divisions, that by the abilities and science of the generals and other officers, by the zeal and prowess of the rank and file, you have, in a single day, in five battles as often defeated thirty-two thousand of the enemy. These great results have overwhelmed him. The larger number of our own dead and wounded are of the highest worth; the wounded under treatment by our very able medical officers are generally doing well. Again your general and fellow-soldier thanks you, and, he will add that this work so well accomplished will not be concluded until we place the flag of our country upon the Halls of Montezuma."

"Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!"

The front rank broke; before the officers could stop them the men had rushed forward and were fighting to grasp General Scott's hand, and even his stirrups. He could only spur his horse in careful fashion, and bowing and smiling, his wrinkled cheeks wet, finally galloped away. In a few minutes he was riding across country into the west, escorted by Harney's dragoons.

About noon it was announced that all the wounded had been found and the bodies of the slain had been buried. The roll calls of the divisions were tabulated. Out of twenty-six hundred men the General Worth command had lost, in killed, wounded and missing, thirteen officers and three hundred and thirty-six rank and file; total, three hundred and forty-nine. The Mohawks of General Shields had lost two hundred and forty out of the two regiments. The Second Division, Regulars, had lost two hundred; the Pillow Regulars about the same. The grand total was one thousand and fifty-six, in which there were eighty-four officers.

The First Division was marched west out of Churubusco by a crossroad about two miles to the next main road, which had been opened by the capture of Contreras; then from this road, four miles by another road northwest to a town named Tacubaya, on the north slope of a hill only a mile and a half from the southwestern walls of the city itself.

General Scott was already here with the Harney dragoons detachment. They and the First Division had the advance position. It looked as though the general was side-stepping again. Instead of moving upon the city by the Acapulco road (the road from San Augustine through San Antonio and Churubusco), he was slipping around to the west and keeping Santa Anna guessing.

This evening word was spread that Santa Anna had proposed a truce for the purpose of talking surrender. The men grumbled somewhat. A truce appeared to them a Mexican trick, in order to gain time while guns and soldiers were shifted. The United States Peace Commissioner, Mr. Trist, who had accompanied the army from Puebla, held long meetings with the Mexican commissioners, but the two parties did not agree upon terms.

The peace talks continued for two weeks. During the truce neither army was to fortify further against the other. Both were to get food supplies without being interfered with. The Mexicans were to send out for provisions; the Americans were to purchase provisions wherever they could, even in the city.

The First Division occupied the advance position of Tacubaya, and had a good rest. Drum Major Brown and Corporal Finerty, of the Fourth Regiment, were able to hobble about and would soon be fit for duty. The General Pillow Third Division was a short distance south, at another village; the Twiggs Second Division was farther south, at San Angel; the Quitman Fourth Division of Volunteers and Marines was down at San Augustine, in charge of the prisoners and the extra supplies.

In Tacubaya General Scott and staff were quartered in the magnificent palace of the archbishop of Mexico, which from the western outskirts of the town overlooked the whole country below. Tacubaya itself was a kind of summer resort for Mexico City; a number of English gentlemen and wealthy city merchants lived here in great style, with villas and outdoor baths and large gardens, enclosed by walls.

The slope of the hill fronted the capital. After duties Jerry and Hannibal and the other First Division men paid considerable attention to that view from the slope, for many of the city defenses were clearly outlined.

To the north, directly in front of Tacubaya, on the Tacubaya road to the city and only one-half a mile distant by air, there was a huge mass of grey rock, connected with the city walls by two short roads. The rock mass was fortified from bottom to top by breastworks, and fringed at its base by a long wall and embankment. On the flat crown, about one hundred and fifty feet up, there was a great stone building—the Military College of Mexico. The rock fell away steeply on the south and the east sides. The engineers said that it was as steep on the north side. The west side had a more gradual slope, covered with cypress trees. The name of the rock was Chapultepec—or in English, Grasshopper Hill.

At the foot of the west slope—the timbered slope—there was a long group of stone buildings, with flat roofs and one or two towers. At night red flames seemed to issue from one of the roofs, as if the place was being used as a foundry, casting guns and solid shot. The place was called El Molino del Rey—the King's Mill; and according to the people in Tacubaya, it was indeed an old mill and a foundry.

The western half of the group was the Casa-Mata, or Casemate. And this was reported to be a powder storehouse.

The King's Mill and the Casa-Mata were located not only at the western foot of Chapultepec but also at the foot of the hill-slope of Tacubaya village. The guns of Chapultepec covered them; covered the Tacubaya road which at the base of the rock mass ran into the two short roads onward into the city—one entering the city at the southwest corner, the other farther north, on the west side; covered the main road east of Tacubaya—the Contreras road.

To silence Chapultepec—perhaps to climb to its top with only eight thousand men—looked like a job. The King's Mill and the Casa-Mata at its base might have to be taken. The city gates were defended by batteries, and they, too, would have to be stormed.

Lieutenant Grant good-naturedly lent his spy-glass to Jerry; through it there might be seen the faces and costumes of the Mexican soldiers upon Chapultepec. The castle or college itself loomed menacing with cannon, and thick high walls and the Mexican coat of arms in colors over the wide portico. Numbers of boys were moving about in neat uniforms. These were the military cadets, being educated for Mexican army officers. Some did not appear more than fourteen years old.

Evidently they had practiced on Chapultepec hill, for as said, there was no end of ditches and breast-works, from the college buildings down to the last wide ditch and wall at the bottom