Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

In the Wake of the Fleeing Enemy

General Scott had lost three officers and sixty rank and file killed, thirty officers and three hundred and thirty-six men wounded, with one private missing. The Mexican killed and wounded were over one thousand; five generals and three thousand other officers and men had been taken, together with four or five thousand stands of small arms and forty-three pieces of artillery.

The surgeons thought that General Shields might get well; he had a fighting chance. Major Sumner of the dragoons was going to travel in the Santa Anna coach until he was strong enough to ride a horse again.

The First Division was to push right onward, following up the retreat of the eight thousand Mexicans who had escaped. The main part of the Second Division and the ill General Patterson, with a portion of the Volunteers, were camped farther along, up the road, but it was understood that the First would soon have the honor of the advance, because its men were fresh. And that was what the First desired: to get ahead. It was tough to have missed out in the battle of Cerro Gordo. Still, nothing could have stopped old Colonel Harney, once he was started up that hill.

Reveille had been ordered for four-thirty; and when Musicians' Call sounded for all the regimental field music to assemble at the guard tent for roll call, Jerry boldly appeared to answer the drum' major's inspection. Not much of a figure he cut, either, in his rags, and he had no little fun poked at him; but he stuck and kept his place when the drums and fifes formed at the head of the regiment for the march.

It was a fine morning. General Scott had ridden on, with an escort, to make his headquarters at Jalapa, sixteen miles beyond the pass. The road was all littered with the spoils of war. The fleeing Mexicans had thrown away everything: guns and overcoats and cartridge boxes, knapsacks and haver-sacks. And soon worse signs of battle were to be noted. Bodies of Mexican soldiers, cold and bloody, became thicker and thicker. The dragoons had spurred along here, hot in pursuit of the enemy. The skulls of most of the dead men had been split asunder by sabers. The bodies were mainly those of Mexican lancers who had tried to cover the retreat; but evidently the lancers had been no match for the Second Dragoons led by Major Ben Beall, and Captain Phil Kearny's one company of the First.

The bodies lay in the road and upon both sides all the way to Encerro, eight miles. The majority of the dragoon horses had given out here; but from Encerro (which was General Santa Anna's countryplace—or one of several such places) to Jalapa there were still a few bodies, for some of the dragoons had kept on through the whole sixteen miles.

The road climbed. It was a paved road, broken into holes by the rains. Beyond Encerro the country grew much better. More mountains loomed before, huge and blue. As the road wound upward, there were green trees and lively, streams that emptied into an irrigating ditch skirting the road; and corn, coffee, plantain and banana plantations with neat white houses, instead of the cactus and brush' and bare ground and huts of the tierra ca iente—the warm land of the lower yellow-fever district. It all looked pretty good.

"We'll not starve hereabouts, that's sure," remarked the drummer who was plying his sticks on Jerry's left.

By the time, early evening, that Jalapa was in sight the men were tired again, and Jerry's fingers were blistered with the drumsticks. Now the road was lined on both sides with flowering shrubs and vines, and the birds were singing loudly.

General Worth directed the adjutant to have camp made on a piece of high ground near the road. The drums beat the halt. The day's up-hill march had ended a short mile out of Jalapa.

After the guards had been posted and supper had been eaten, everybody was glad enough to turn in. Tattoo, to extinguish lights and be quiet, was not needed.

When reveille sounded at daybreak, the drummers and fifers saw a beautiful scene indeed. The camp was above the clouds. Below, in the east or the direction of Vera Cruz, a thunderstorm was raging; the lightning darted through the clouds, which were white on top with the rays of the unseen sun. Only twenty-five miles in the south old Orizaba Peak shone like silver. Jerry frequently had seen it from Vera Cruz, but never had it appeared so wonderful. And on before, in the west, there was Jalapa, located between hills, with its white houses and red roofs set amidst orchards and gardens.

"Well, now I say that like as not we all were killed at Cerro Gordo and have arrived in Heaven," Drum Major Brown said.

"That's right; for according to the Spanish, they have a saying: 'Jalapa is a small piece of Heaven fallen to earth,'" a fifer asserted.

"You're wrong there, and so are they," corrected somebody. "Look beyond. We're going to be nearer Heaven than when down at Jalapy."

Back of Jalapa the real mountains began. They rose straight up, it seemed, in a series of purple masses until their crests touched the sky.

Halt was made at pretty Jalapa only long enough for General Worth to receive fresh instructions from General Scott; and out the First Division marched, leaving the Second Division behind, and the Patterson Volunteers, and most of the dragoons. The First was in the advance at last.

Rumors stated that the First was to take the castle of Perote, twenty-five miles on. Perote ranked second in strength to only San Juan de Ulloa itself. But if one brigade of the Second Division had been able to take Cerro Gordo Hill, the two brigades of the First felt able to take Perote.

The road climbed and climbed. The horses of the Duncan flying battery of the Second Artillery, and those of the wagon train, had all they could do, even when helped by men at the wheels. But the day was clear, and an inspiring sight that was to look before and behind, and see the serried colunm winding on, Captain Kearny's Company K of the First Dragoons ahead, General Worth and staff following; the artillery afoot, and the infantry and their bands trudging gallantly after, and the white-topped wagons bringing up the rear.

"We're surely bound to 'see the elephant,' as the Volunteers say," uttered Jerry's neighbor, the thin drummer.

That evening when bivouac was made they were almost six thousand feet in air. The views had been marvelous. Jerry hastened to find Hannibal, as usual, for talk and practice. On the way he passed Lieutenant Grant, who stopped him as he saluted.

"How do you like your new job by this time?"

"First rate, sir, I'll learn, the drum major says. Haven't done so awfully bad; but of course they're easy on me. I don't know much about the drills yet."

"I don't wonder. You were thrown right into things without previous instruction on that line."

"Yes, sir. Do you think we'll have a fight on the road, sir?"

"There's a chance. If the pass beyond, called La Joya, is held in force it may give us a little trouble. But we can depend upon General Worth, you know."

"Guess so, sir. How's Pompey, lieutenant?"

"Pompey? That black rascal? Oh, Pompey lost all his money the first night to those gambler camp followers, and he's down to plain cooking."

The lieutenant stepped on; Jerry saluted again and ran along.

"La Joya? Sure thing," Hannibal said "It's like Cerro Gordo, and we're the men to take it."

The next day's march was another stiff climb. Cherry trees and apple trees were giving place to pines and firs. The soldiers puffed and complained that their ears throbbed. It was slow work, toiling up the long winding road. To-night there was rain, which by morning had hardened to a heavy white frost.

La Joya was not far now. The dragoons reconnoitred ahead; the gunners of the Duncan battery rode with slow matches lighted. Presently the road was about to skirt the base of a round-topped hill. The hill looked as though it had been fortified, but when the Fourth marched by it was seen that the breastworks had been abandoned.

Beyond La Joya the road continued through a gorge two miles in length. No guns were fired, no rocks were rolled, no Mexican flag was sighted. The whole Mexican army had disappeared as if broken by the defeat at Cerro Gordo. In fact, General Scott had announced in his dispatches: "Mexico no longer has an army." But when camp was made this evening, at a deserted village, the men began to talk hopefully of Perote.

Perote, ten or twelve miles westward and down, certainly would furnish a fight. It was a town and a mountain and a fort, or castle. Everybody living in Mexico knew of that famous castle, where prisoners were confined in dungeons. And the mountain, called the Chest of Perote, was the square black peak seen from Vera Cruz. The town, upon a plain under the mountain, had a church with a very tall tower, visible for a great distance from several directions.

Jerry also banked on Perote, for he had been promised his uniform there if the division stayed long enough to have it fitted. He needed the uniform. His clothes were rather thin for use seven thousand feet up in the mountains, and besides, what was a drummer boy without a uniform? Luckily he had gained a pair of shoes from the spoils captured at Cerro Gordo; and at Perote he would be full rigged, with sword, cap and all; and Dick Sykes, the drummer of Company B, had agreed to exchange companies with him.

General Worth was in a hurry. He moved the division early in the morning. About noon they saw Perote town, near at hand on the plain; and the great castle, detached from it, guarding the road and the Chest.

The column hastened, eager for action. The castle remained grim and silent. General Worth sent forward a staff officer to demand its surrender. The Mexican flag fluttered down. The staff officer returned. Perote had yielded.

General Worth established his headquarters in the town, but the camp was ordered upon the plain, near the castle, about a mile from the town. Colonel Vasquez, of the Mexican army, had been left here by General Santa Anna to turn the castle over to the Americans—and that seemed odd, for it contained fifty-four cannon (one of which had a bore of seventeen inches across), eleven thousand balls, fourteen thousand bombs and hand grenades, and five hundred muskets. It covered two acres; and when the men were permitted to inspect it they found that the walls were eight feet thick and sixty feet high, surrounded by a moat fifteen feet deep and seventy-five feet wide.

Nevertheless, the castle sat by itself on the plains; and while it might have kept part of the army back to capture it, the rest of the army could have marched on. General Santa Anna probably had his reasons for abandoning it; he of course would make a stand somewhere else.

During the few days' camp at Perote Jerry got his uniform and equipment—regulation cap, sword and buckles included—and felt privileged to strut like a drummer boy indeed. Swapped companies with Sykes, too. Took occasion to parade before Pompey, who scoffed at him.

"Gwan, white boy. Who you? All stripes an' no rank, dat what you be!"

The outfit had come to him only just in time. The First Brigade was to march on by itself at once. General Quitman had arrived at Jalapa from Vera Cruz; the Second Brigade was to wait for him and his detachment of Volunteers, while the First Brigade pushed ahead to open the country farther.

It was said that General Worth had received instructions from Old Fuss and Feathers to proceed and seize the large city of Puebla, one hundred miles westward and only ninety from the City of Mexico. Puebla had sixty thousand people. Whether the First Brigade was to do this nobody in the ranks knew, but the men all were ready to try.

"If you fellows need help send back for us," proffered Hannibal, whose regiment, the Eighth, remained to help hold Perote and to wait for the Quitman Mohawks.

"We don't figure on needing help, boy," Jerry retorted. "Next time I see you maybe it'll be in the Halls of Montezuma."

The First Brigade set out gaily; General Worth and staff; Company A, engineers, with Acting Captain George W. Smith, Lieutenant J. C. Foster and the sprightly Lieutenant McClellan; Light Battery A and Companies B, C, D, F, G, H, I and K, Second Artillery; Companies B, G and K, Third Artillery; A, B, C, D, E and I, Fourth Infantry. They marched up the National Road through fields of grain, around the base of dark Pizarro Mountain (a lone peak higher than Perote Peak), and had covered eighteen miles when halt was made for the night at a homely mud village.

The country again grew better, displaying fruit orchards and green ranches. A fight was rather expected at the pass of El Pinal, where the road threaded a third narrow gorge in a range of bare, granite hills; but although rocks had been heaped in readiness to be rolled down upon the heads of any enemy, nobody was here to roll them.

Beyond El Pinal the road issued upon a high, flat ridge. The column suddenly forgot its weariness. Another stately view unfolded. In the west there uplifted two splendid mountains. The highest, shining with snow, was the famous Popocatepetl, or Smoky Mountain, three miles high. The other, its comrade on the north of it, was—well, a jaw-breaker

Iztaccihuatl. It, too, was a famous peak. The two of them overlooked the City of Mexico.

And between the flat ridge and the range of the two peaks there lay the beautiful green valley of Puebla, dotted with the white-walled country-houses of wealthy ranchers; and in the midst of the valley, the roofs and spires of Puebla itself, twelve miles distant from the ridge.

So the column quick-stepped manfully, and with the fifes and drums pealing descended to the pretty town of Amozoc, ten miles from the city of Puebla.

Amozoc proved to be a pleasant surprise. That had been a long and hard march from Perote: with the days warm and showery, and the nights cold and frosty, and the men sleeping on the ground in the dirt, without tents, and trudging by day through mud and dust both. But here at Amozoc, the alcalde or mayor met General Worth on the outskirts of the town and invited him in, and when the column entered the women came running from their adobe houses, bringing fruit and pitchers of cold water.

"They call Puebla the City of the Angels, do they? Faith, what's the matter with Amozoc? Here be rale angels."

"The first white women we've seen since Jalapy."

"Bless their party faces an' black eyes."

Such were the comments by the ranks behind the Fourth Infantry music.

An aide came galloping back to Colonel Garland.

"The general's compliments, colonel, and he directs that you quarter your infantry battalion in the town corral, near the plaza. I will show you."

Presently the Fourth had stacked arms in the corral.