Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

A Sight of the Goal at Last

The next morning the General Quitman Mohawks and Marines marched jauntily out, headed by Captain Gaither's company of the Third Dragoons. The Worth division was to leave on the morning following; the Pillow Third Regular Division would be the last.

All Puebla gathered to see the First go. Not a few of the Mexican women were crying. The First Division was the favorite. The townspeople had named it the "Puebian Division." They admired the way the men had stacked arms and coolly lain down to sleep in the plaza as if fearing nothing.

General Worth, dark and flashing-eyed, sitting his horse like a field marshal, called for three cheers.

"Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!"

In column of sections five men wide the First passed through the gate, and upon the National Road to the City of Mexico.

"Form platoons—march!"

"Route step march!"

From close order of thirteen inches distance the ranks fell back to twenty-eight inches, or one pace, apart. The men might carry their guns at will, always with the muzzles up; they need not keep step and might talk.

An aide from the general staff galloped in from behind and said something to General Worth. The order rang imperative:

"Column, close order—march!"

So everybody came to a shoulder arms, the ranks closed, the drums again tapped the cadence of ninety steps to the minute.

General Scott hastened by with his staff and escort, and continued on to join the Twiggs advance, it was said.

"Route step—march!"

The day, August 9, was sunny and warm. The City of Mexico lay about ninety miles west, beyond the next range of mountains. From the pass over the range the Valley of Mexico and the city would be seen.

At the end of the third day's march camp was pitched amidst an icy drizzle, in a high valley named the Rio Frio or Cold Water Valley. There had been a stiff climb through pine forests but the pass was near before. General Worth, riding his horse among the regiments, directed that timber be cut by the messes and fires built. Soon the dark rainy valley was aglow with the log blazes of the First Division bivouac, here ten thousand feet up, in the Anahuac Mountains.

Jerry was warm and comfortable, rolled in his blanket beside the fire, his drum stowed in its oil-cloth housing.

"Ah, weel, I've seen worse in Scotland," Private "Scotty" MacPheel remarked.

"Sure, we'll niver mind whin we're all a-livin' cosy-loike in the Halls o' Montezumy," said Corporal Finerty. "Faith, an' they're not fur now. Jist over the top o' the hill, an' down."

The fires gradually died under the pelting rain. When to the touch of a sergeant, Jerry awoke, shivering, for reveille, his blanket was sheeted with ice, and icicles hung from his drum cover.

But this day they all were to cross the range and would see the City of Mexico below, where General Santa Anna waited with his thirty thousand men, his artillery and his forts.

To drum beat and fife note, playing the regimental marches, the First Division stepped out briskly in the crisp air. The way was up, and up, and up. At every half mile the column had to stop and rest. The men sweat under their muskets, knapsacks, haversacks, cartridge boxes and blanket rolls. When they reached the top they were almost eleven thousand feet aloft.

The pass formed a plateau about a mile long but not wide. At noon the column halted at the western edge for dinner.

Nothing below co sid be seen except a heavy fog extending like billows of cloud, while up here the sun was shining. Nevertheless the Valley of Mexico was underneath the fog bank.

"Companies, fall in!"

"By platoons, forward—route step—march!"

Down they went upon a pretty fair road. The fog was breaking, as they twisted and turned amidst the pines. Now the sun commenced to shine into the valley itself. Lakes glistened, green fields unfolded, more mountains appeared.

With rumble of wheels, tramp of feet and clatter of hoofs the First Division descended. Nobody could deny that the long column of cavalry, artillery, infantry and wagons made a handsome sight. General Worth and staff, in their great-coats, upon their horses, had paused. The general was eagerly surveying the line. Then he exclaimed:

"Gentlemen! Look at that! Just look at that column! Isn't it enough to cheer the heart of any man?"

By mid-afternoon the whole valley was in view. There were numerous towns; several large lakes; the City of Mexico was disclosed as a patch of sparkling towers and turrets, thirty miles distant. And after a time the ranks began to pick out the camps of the Second and Fourth Divisions, blue with soldiers and slightly marked by the few tents of officers.

"That first is Twiggs."

"No, it's Quitman. I can see the Mohawks 'atin'!"

"B' gorry, 'tis Twiggs; for there's Ould Fuss an' Feathers, big as any three men!"

"Column, close up—march!"

The ranks dosed, the men fell into the cadenced step. Drum Major Brown ordered "Coming Through the Rye"; and with the fifes and drums of the Fourth Regiment playing "If a body meet a body," and the other music and the bands playing what they chose, they all marched past the first camp (that of the Quitman Volunteers and Marines); before reaching the camp of the Second they turned into a road branching off to the southwest, as if for a round shining lake; and at sunset, while the clouds promised rain, they made camp at a village named Chalco, near the eastern border of the lake.

The evening was rainy. Under orders from the officers the company sergeants soon billeted the men in the village houses and shacks. Jerry's mess—First Sergeant Mulligan, Corporal Finerty, Fifer O'Toole, Privates "Scotty" MacPheel, John Doane (who had served in the British army) and Henry Brewer from New Jersey—got quarters equal to the best: the same being a room with stout clay walls and mud roof, and a fireplace, and sheep pelts on the dirt floor for softness. To be sure, the pelts smelled rather strong when warmed up, but what difference?

Sergeant Mulligan sent out Scotty and Henry to forage, with Jerry as interpreter. They three came back bringing a shoulder of mutton, two chickens and an armful of corn. Under orders from the sergeant, in a gruff voice, but delivered by Jerry, the Mexican who owned the hut supplied firewood. Speedily the mess was cooking and eating.

"The only thing that bothers me now is, jest how are we goin' to call on Santy Annie?" said Fifer O'Toole, munching; "for, as I understand, all the roads leadin' in to him are dikes, like, through the bogs, wid wather on both hands an' cannon overhead."

"Why can't you rave that to Gin'ral Scott?" Corporal Finerty reproved. "Faith, he'll find the way in an' we'll take it. Meself, I ain't paid to do a gin'ral's work; I've my own business, an' that's fightin' whin the officers give the word. They're the lads who know."

"By the way the folks in this town are acting, keeping so aloof and not over friendly, they consider us as good as licked already," put in Henry Brewer. "'You are all dead men '—wasn't that the comforting word from the black-faced villain who handed us over the mutton?" he appealed to Jerry.

Jerry nodded.

"But they said the same about you in Vera Cruz," he added.

"Yis, an' they thought the same at Cerry Gordo," Sept Mulligan asserted. "An' the same they thought in Pueblo, whin the purty guns cried to see us set out. But for all that we're still terrible able to punish flesh-an'-blood victuals. Wid full stonucks an' Scott to lade us on we go."