Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

Facing the Mexican Host

At eight in the morning assembly was ordered. The division formed column. This looked like business. General Scott had arrived; the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions were coming rapidly. When the First headed out of San Augustine, upon a broad road leading to the north, Jerry himself felt a queer little thrill. In that direction lay San Antonio, only two miles and a half; beyond San Antonio was Churubusco; and beyond Churubusco, Mexico City.

From San Augustine nothing could be seen of the country north. The view was interrupted by a great mass of blackish volcanic rock, thrown up like lava, and cooled into all kinds of ugly shapes. It was named El Pedrigal; was two miles north and south, and three miles east and west.

The road turned northward around the east end of the lava bed. In another mile the west end of Lake Xochimilco opened, opposite on the right—and the column suddenly halted. The road continued, but half a mile before there stretched across it the Mexican batteries of San Antonio.

Now the general officers consulted. In the column heads wagged. With the marshes of the lake upon the one hand and the jagged lava ridges upon the other, and the road running between straight into the breastworks, it did not look like a very happy prospect.

"Order—arms! Battalion—rest!" barked Major Francis Lee to the Fourth Infantry.

The whole column might stand at ease while General Worth and his staff, riding to a better position, examined the ground through their glasses. An aide came with orders for the brigade.

"The general's compliments, colonel, and you will please encamp your brigade on the right of the road," he shouted, to Colonel Garland.

The regiments were moved over. The Second Brigade also went into camp behind. The companies were cautioned to stay near their stacked arms in readiness for action. The flags of the Mexican batteries could be seen plainly; the notes of their bugles could be heard. A cannon boomed, and a round-shot whined down the road.

"B' gorry, this day we make a horn or spoil a spoon," Corporal Finerty declared. "Who's for climbin' over thim breastworks?"

"I!" and "I!" and "Here's your man!" were the replies.

"Tress noise there, sergeant," called Captain Gore. "You hear? Hould your breaths, for you'll made 'em," Sergeant Mulligan rebuked.

"Sure, sergeant, wan Cerry Gordo shout an' thim beggars 'd be showin' us their heels," Corporal Finerty grinned.

"Here he comes! Old Fuss and Feathers himself! 'Tis like a smell o' powder—the sight of him. Are ye all primed, boys? We're in for a fight."

General Scott and staff galloped up. General Worth received him at division headquarters in a ranch house near the rear; they all proceeded to examine the country again from the roof of the house. Pretty soon the engineers under Major J. L. Smith and Captain James Mason (said to be almost the equal of Captain Lee in cleverness) set out to reconnoitre over the lava bed on the left; Captain Seth B. Thornton's company of the Second Dragoons detachment filed along the edge of the lava to support them.

Both parties disappeared. The camp waited; had dinner beside their stacked arms, the remaining detachment of dragoons loafing likewise. Some of the men slept in the warm sun. Jerry was dozing off like an old campaigner, his shoulders bolstered against his drum, when a "Boom! Boom" awakened him with a start. The men around him were listening and gazing, their faces a little paled. The officers had stiffened, alert.

A cavalry horse galloped down the road, its saddle empty, its stirrups flapping.

"Cap'n Thornton's horse! It's Cap'n Thornton's horse!"

As the horse swerved for the dragoons, all might see that the saddle was bloody. When the Thornton troopers rode in, they brought Captain Thornton's body, cut almost in two by a cannon ball. They had reconnoitred too close to a masked battery.

The Mexican batteries were sending an occasional shot in the direction of the division, bidding "Stand of!" The engineers toiled back. They evidently had found no route either by the left or the right of the road, for toward evening the First Brigade was moved a short distance aside and everybody knew that the attack had been postponed. The Fourth

Regiment secured quarters in a large stone barn—and just in time. A cold rain began to fall.

The Mexican batteries kept firing at the barn with a twenty-four-pounder; once in a while a round shot landed upon the mud roof or shook the solid walls, but the rain and the gathering dusk made poor practice for them, and after a time the men grew used to the bombardment

Finally the shots ceased. Up the road the San Antonio soldiers were having a celebration. There was much singing and howling and squawking of bands, together with the firing of muskets.

"Now I wonder what's the reason of all that?" Henry Brewer of Jerry's mess remarked. "Is it because they killed one man, or do they think they've beaten us off? Seems to me it takes mighty little to make those fellows happy."

"Aye; and to-morrow they'll be singing a different tune," said John Doane.

"Did soombody obsarve this marn that we'd be makin' a spoon or spoilin' a horn?" asked Scotty MacPheel. "Faith, whin we carry yon batteries I doot soom of us 'll no hae muckle mair use for a spoon or any ither tool except a spade."

"Right-o, Scotty," Corporal Finerty agreed. "For me military eye tells me there's a job ahead of us, though I'm not sayin' the First Division can't handle it. Sure it's no secret what the ingineers reported; all the officers know it, an' I've an ear on either side o' my topknot. The Mexicans ferninst us are snug an' tight, wid a reinforcement o' two regiments from the north, an' thray thousand men all tould, an' batteries fetched clear from El Fen an' that other place, Mexicalcingo. Their right rists on the lavy that only infantry can travel; their lift ixtends clean into the bogs, where no man nor horse can make way around. An' in front we got to charge in along this same open road, an' belike have to put up scalin' ladders to get in wid for use o' the bayonet."

"You talk like an officer, Finerty."

"Yis, an' I'm givin' yez officers' talk. If I had me desarts a gin'ral I'd ha' been before this. An' somethin' else I'll tell you. Yonder at the other side those lavy ridges, an' only thray miles, is another set o' batteries, an' we can't pass betwixt. There's another road, too, west'ard, an' a cross road connectin' this and that, by way o' Cherrybusco beyant San Antonio. So if we do take San Antonio, an' Cherrybusco, won't we have thim fellows on our backs? Now I'm figgerin' that the gin'ral staff is thinkin' a bit on how to carry the batteries yonder, first."

The night passed peacefully. Duncan's battery had been posted to command the road, the sentinels regularly sang: "All's well," and the camp slept. In the huge stone barn the Fourth Regiment was as comfortable as could be.

August 19, the next day, dawned bright and warm. Word came that all the divisions were now up as far as San Augustine. By the number of aides and orderlies dashing back and forth between the First Division headquarters and San Augustine, something was due to happen.

The orders of the day kept everybody dose. Jerry had no opportunity to look up Hannibal, and Hannibal was unable to look him up, either. The air seemed filled with suspense. The Mexican batteries up the road stayed very alert, expecting an attack. But the brigade officers, within sight of Jerry, constantly trained their glasses upon the lava field to the west—really paying more attention to that than to San Antonio.

Then about the middle of the afternoon the dull booming of artillery and the crash of musketry came rolling across the bristling lava. Speedily two clouds of smoke rose toward the sun; both were three or four miles away. The larger one veiled a hill that just showed itself above the lava field.

It was a battle at last. The large cloud was from the Mexican batteries, the smaller cloud from the American guns.

General Worth and a group of officers had issued upon the fiat roof of the ranch house headquarters to gaze at the smoke. Division Adjutant Captain William Mackall galloped in from the headquarters to Colonel Grarland; Brigade Adjutant Nichols bore the orders to Major Lee of the Fourth Regiment.

"The battalions are to stand in line, at rest, major, prepared to move."

"Battalion, attention!"

Officers ran to their places; the men, who had been sitting down, sprang up.

"Right—dress! Front! Order—arms! Battalion—rest!"

So the regiments waited for the command to march.

"We'll be going yonder and lend a hand." This was the hope. But although the firing grew heavier and the smoke clouds denser, no further orders arrived from headquarters.

Nevertheless it was plain to be seen that things were not altogether right in the west. General Worth and staff still stood outlined upon the flat roof of the ranch house, peering steadily through their glasses; the brigade and regimental officers were anxiously gazing, too; and presently the company officers drifted into little knots and gazed and murmured.

The smaller black cloud was stationary; it had not advanced, the Mexican cloud had lessened not at all. By the sounds the American _batteries were lighter in metal. The smoke clouds remained separate—the American forces seemed to be getting nowhere.

The faces of the officers lengthened; the men in the ranks began to mutter restlessly.

"Send in the First. Sure, we're the boys. Leave those fellows in front of us, and we'll tend to 'em later."

The First Division stood ready until sunset When the firing died away, the positions of the two smoke clouds had little changed. The Mexicans upon the hill certainly had held out.

"You may break ranks, major," the adjutant called to Major Lee. "The men are to be dismissed for supper."

This left matters very unsatisfactory. Before supper Jerry sallied out from the barn. The officers still were in little groups, talking earnestly. Whenever any of the enlisted men came new to them, they immediately quit talking, as if they had been discussing bad news. Jerry waited until he had a chance to catch Lieutenant Grant alone. Then he went up to him.

"Excuse me, lieutenant, but could you tell me anything about the bade? The men are afraid ,it hadn't gone right."

"We don't know much more than the rest of you," the lieutenant answered. "General Worth probably is expecting news. But if you'll promise not to spread discouraging word among the men, I'll explain the best I can."

"Yes, sir."

"Very well. As far as I understand, General Scott is operating on a triangle. The base of the triangle is formed by this road, from San Augustine to Churubusco, with San Antonio at about the middle of it. The lava field occupies the inside of the triangle. The point of the triangle, west across the lava, is a hill called Contreras, which the Mexicans have fortified strongly. We cannot pass San Antonio by the road, without much difficulty, in order to get at Churubusco beyond and open the way to the capital. But while we mask San Antonio and keep it on the alert, General Scott purposes to throw the other divisions from San Augustine out along the south side of the triangle, carry the Mexican fortifications at the point, and then by marching eastward again along the north side of the triangle strike Churubusco and San Antonio at their rear, or in reverse. We, of course, will be called upon for a frontal attack at the same time. Now by the appearance of things I fear, myself, that the general has run against a stronger position than he anticipated, and that matters have not gone according to plan. He had the engineers under Captain Lee reconnoitring the enemy yesterday. They found a mule trail leading from San Augustine through the lava to the batteries at Contreras. Evidently the ground has proved difficult for artillery, as I noted the reports of only three light guns on our side."

"Do you think we've been whipped, lieutenant?" Jerry asked, his heart sinking.

"N-no, not exactly whipped, in the true sense of the word," Lieutenant Grant soberly said. "There's been no call upon us for reinforcements, and it did not sound like a very heavy battle. But the way this army is fixed, cut loose from communications and over two hundred miles in the enemy's country, if we don't take a place when we really attack it we might as well be whipped. We can't afford to lose men for nothing."

"We'll win yet, then; won't we, sir?"

"General Scott is there. You may be sure that he'll find a way. A small force can hold San Antonio in check. It is acting strictly on the defensive."

"If troops are sent for, I hope they'll be the First Brigade," Jerry blurted.

"Yes," smiled Lieutenant Grant; "so do I."

The regulation night's rain was commencing to fall. Jerry hastened back for the stone barn and supper. That was rather a gloomy mess. They all somehow knew that the attack over at Contreras had failed; all wondered what Old Fuss and Feathers would do next; what regiments had been cut up, why the First Division had not been given a chance, and so forth, and so forth.

"Ah, weel, to-morrow 'll be a bludy day, I'm thinkin', lads," spoke Scotty. "The gen'ral's no mon to gie oop. I vote for a gude sleep, mysel', an' I sartainly peety them who hae their bivouac in the starm. Gude sakes, leesten to the pour doon!"

The rain had merged into a terrific storm of thunder and lightning and gusty wind that lashed the barn with giants' flails. Luckily the Fourth Regiment was snug within the' dripping eaves; but what of the troops camped in the open, covered by only their blankets? They would be drenched! And what of the men on the battlefield? The wounded, and the weary!

While thinking and listening to the rain, and drowsily watching the smouldering campfires in the great barn, Jerry dozed off. He awakened to the sound of low voices. A group of non issioned officers was squatting near him, beside a fire, and talking guardedly among themselves—or seemed' to be interested in a story. All through the barn the ranks were stretched under blankets upon the floor, snoring and gurgling. Jerry promptly rolled out

and crept to the group. Sergeant Mulligan and Corporal Finerty were there from his company.

They stopped murmuring.

"Who's that?"

"Jerry Cameron, is all."

"Get back to bed. We want no young rascal of a drummer sittin' in with us."

"'Asy, now. He's not as bad as the rist of 'em," Sergeant Mulligan said. "He's all right; knows how to kape a still tongue in his head. Sure, I see him talkin' wid Left'nant Grant, betimes, an' niver a word did I get out of him. Let him stay."

"Mind you, then, nothin' of this to the men," Corporal Finerty warned. Go on, Murray."

The center of the group was Corporal Murray, of Company A, who had been orderly at headquarters.

"Well, as I was saying," proceeded Corporal Murray, "the story of the battle is like this—just as I got it with my two ears when the orderly from Old Fuss and Feathers rode in with dispatches to division headquarters and I listened through the door. General Valencia, who ranks next to Santy Annie himself, is over on Contreras hill, with twenty-two pieces of artillery, mainly heavy guns, and with six thousand infantry and lancers, blocking the way around by the west the same as those fellows at San Antonio are blocking our way north'ard. So this morning the general-in-chief sent Pillow's division of new regulars, with Cap'n Magruder's light battery of the First Artillery from the Second Division and Left'nant Callender's howitzers, to open the trail discovered by the engineers; and the Second Division under Twiggs was ordered to support.

"Well, and a time they all had, sure enough. The engineers hadn't been able by reason of the nature of the ground to get clost enough to count the batteries, or quite figger their positions, but they'd took a scattering of prisoners before being driven back, and Old Fuss and Feathers examined these. Now the trail was fierce, in the open, like, all heaved up into sharp rocks and broken by holes, and never a bit of shelter once our men had climbed atop the lava field. And at two thousand yards the Mexican eighteens had a fair sweep, whilst Magruder and Callender couldn't reply at all.

"But the men and horses dragged at the guns and took their medicine. The Mounted Rifles afoot were sent forward to clean out the Mexican skirmishers, and that they did. 'Twas not the sharp rocks and the holes alone, but the cactus was something scandalous, and down in front of the hill there were ditches and corn patches, fine for skirmish work. Never mind, the Rifles kept at it. Sure, boys, if Magruder and Callender didn't get their guns to within nine hundred yards, and there they planted 'em, and opened' up.

"Persifor Smith's First Brigade of the Second Division formed our left o' line; that new general, Pierce, marched into right of line with his Second Brigade of Pillow's Third Division, being the Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Infantry; the other new general, Cadwalader, moved in to support with his First Brigade, the Voltigeurs and the `Leventh and Fourteenth regiments; old Bennet Riley with the Second and Seventh Regulars and the Fourth Artillery of the Twiggs' Second Brigade was sent around by our right flank to take the Mexicans in reverse and occupy a village north'ard on their left rear.

"There was a ravine in front of the line, and all cleared of brush, with the Mexicans up the opposite slope entrenched, their lancers and infantry covering their flanks and a road leading north for the City of Mexico. 'Tis the road which connects by a cross-road with this road of ours, at Cherrybusco. Our infantry stood no show of storming the hill from in front—not across that ravine; and for two hours the batteries had a fearful time with twenty guns pounding 'em. Left'nant Callender, of the howitzers, was bad wounded, Lef'nant J. P. Johnston, of Magruder's, got his death, and we could work only three guns together, owing to the nature of the grcend. The Rifles lay flat, supporting the batteries; and so did the gunners, and jumped up when they served the pieces. 'Twasn't long before the whole two batteries were put out of action; hadn't made any impression upon the breastworks with their twelve-pounders, and had to be withdrawn."

"Where was Scott all that time?"

"Right there, up toward the front. Riley was getting through, 'midst the lava, 'round the enemy's left, so as to take the village north'ards on the road, and put a wedge betwixt Valencia and Santy Annie. For I tell you Santy Annie himself was up the road about two miles with twelve thousand more Mexicans, ready to reinforce if necessary. He'd been feeding in troops right along. Now to nip that in the bud and to help Riley, Scott ordered Cadwalader forward by like route, sent for Shield's brigade of Mohawks—the New Yorkers and South Caroliny Palmettos in waiting at San Augustine—and added Pierce's Fifteenth Infantry. Pierce's horse fell in the rocks and hurt the general's knee, but Colonel Morgan took the Fifteenth to position. Old Davy (Twiggs, you know) on his own hook had detached Persifor Smith with the Rifles, First Artillery and Third Infantry, to the same point. And at dark there they all were, every regiment, under Smith: posted near the village at Valencia's left and rear—thirty-three hundred of 'em, cut off from Twiggs on the south by the six thousand of' Valencia, and threatened on the north by Santy Annie's twelve thousand."

"What's to be done nixt, wud ye think?"

"Cap'n Lee, of the engineers, made his way back to general headquarters at San Augustine. He got in about eleven o'clock with dispatches—the only officer out of eight that tried to open communication between Smith and Scott. He came all the way from Smith, some four miles across the lava, and through the Mexican scouts—had to feel with hands and knees, for it's black as the inside of your hat, out doors, and raining pitchforks. Smith intends to attack by the rear at daylight, before Santy Annie gets down from up the road; asks for a frontal attack at same time to help him out. So I guess we'll all be in it, for Twiggs 'll need every man."

A little silence fell on the group. Jerry's heart beat rapidly. The situation seemed serious.

"I pity those poor fellows yonder accost the lava," Sergeant Mulligan uttered. "Hark to the rain, now! It's a crool night. An' they've been marchin' an' fightin' all the long day, an' likely the most of 'em are lyin' out soakin' wet an' hungry besides. Did we lose many, have you heard?"

"Haven't heard exactly, sergeant. The batteries lost fifteen officers and men and thirteen horses. The infantry got off better, for the batteries took the brunt of it. But to-morrow—. You see, at San Augustine there are only the Marines and Second Pennsylvania; and here we are. That's the reserve, except the dragoons—and they're no good on the lava. Twiggs has only the Ninth and Twelfth Regulars of Pierce's brigade in Pillow's Third Division in front of Valencia, To make a proper diversion there and support Smith and mebbe hold off Santy Annie he'll need help. I'll go you a month's pay we'll be called on before daylight."

"Faith, if we're in for a fight, I mane to sleep," Sergeant Mulligan growled.

The group broke up. Jerry crept back to bed. He scarcely had dropped off into an uneasy sleep himself when the galloping hoofs of a horse aroused him—just as if he had been expecting the very thing.

The horse passed the barn in a hurry; bound for Colonel Garland's headquarters, perhaps. Orders! In five minutes the sentry on post outside the barn challenged again:

"Who comes there?"

A voice answered shortly. Then the door opened, and the same voice—that of Adjutant Nichols—shouted:

"Men! Men! Wake up, all hands! First sergeants, parade your companies and call the rolls immediately. The officers will then take command."