Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

The Battle of the King's Mill

"Dar's trouble hatchin'."

It was afternoon of September 7. The men of the First Division were lying around. Pompey had come forward to where Jerry and Hannibal were sitting with several others, debating the course of events. There had been no fighting since August 20, when Churubusco fell.

"Gwan, you black crow!"

"Yes, sars. But I knows what I knows, gen'i'men. Dar's trouble hatchin'. Dat armorstice done busted an' we gwine to pop it to 'em ag'in."


"Sartin. Dis chile don't mix up with offercers for nuffin'. The armorstice done been busted by Gin'ral Scott hisself. Dose Santy Armies been fortifyin' gin the rules, an' gettin' reinforcements; an' Gin'ral Scott he sent a note dis berry mornin' sayin' dar ain't any armorstice any mo' an' SantyAnnie better look out fo' hisself. Santy Annie, he a big liar, but Gin'ral Scott, he a big strateegis' an' nobody gwine to fool him. I heah offercers talkin'; I heah Lieutenant Smith an' Lieutenant Grant talkin', same as odders. Dar's gwine to be a monster fight, sars."

"B' gorry!" old Sergeant Mulligan exclaimed, slapping his thigh. "That's right; sure, that explains matters. 'Tis why Cap'n Mason, of the ingineers, was off yonder to the front this mornin' rayconnoiterin'; an' there go Mason an' Colonel Duncan an' Worth an' Gin'ral Scott himself on another trip. I've a feelin' in me bones that a fight's due."

"Guess we'll have to take Grasshopper Hill for exercise," said Hannibal, lazily.

"Faith, then why don't you tell Gin'ral Scott?" the sergeant rebuked. "Belike he's only waitin' for some smart drummer boy to make his plans for him."

"Well, we've got to take it, haven't we?" Fifer O'Toole asked.

"Yis, barrin' a better way. 'Tis the city we're after, an' what wid? W id an' army o' less than eight thousand, to-day, outside a walled city o' two hundred thousand an' dayfinded by twinty thousand, snug beyant ditches an' stone. A job that, me lads, to open the gates. Thim dons know we're up to somethin'. Did yez mark quite a movement o' troops down below this mornin'? Says I to meself: 'Gin'ral Santy Annie is startin' out to envelop our lift, or else he's rayinforcin' the mill so as to get his cannon matayrial finished up.' Faith, there's a storm brewin', but I've been in the service too long to daypind on camp gossip. I've my own ways o' findin' out."

So the sergeant arose and strolled off.

"Same here," Hannibal declared. He darted away for his brigade camp.

"I'll get the correct news meself at the hospital when I ask the doctor to take wan more look at my leg," Corporal Finerty, asserted, starting out with a great pretense at hobbling.

"Well, I'll bide a wee jist where I am," spoke Scotty MacPheel, smoking his pipe. "I've gotten a dream, this nicht past, an' I ken mysel' there'll be gey hot wank soon. When it coomes, I'll no be the last up yon hill."

All seemed very peaceful in town and camp and upon Chapultepec rock. The flags floated languidly above roofs and tents and battlements. But danger brooded in the air. The armistice had been broken; everything indicated that. The engineers were reconnoitring, as they always did before a battle. The Mexican forces appeared somehow more alert. Nov Jerry himself got up and started out. Pompey followed him.

"Where you gwine?"

"Oh, just taking a walk."

"You gwine to find Lieutenant Grant, huh? You gwine to pester him. Lookee byar, white boy. Don't you say nuffin' 'bout me. If he or Marse Smith find out I been tellin' ahmy secrets, I get coht-martialed. Understan'? Mebbe I get hanged up, like dem desarters gwine to be."

"Are they to be hung?"

"Sartin. Dat's what A coht-martial done try 'em, an' done say dey's to be hanged up, fo' desartin' in face ob the innimy an' shootin' deer own men."

"Whew!" Jerry whistled. He hastened on.

He did not find Lieutenant Grant; Corporal Finerty had learned little, Hannibal did not come back, and. Sergeant Mulligan kept mum. But all the remainder of the afternoon the excitement in the camp increased; the old soldiers there "smelled powder." The reconnoitring group returned, and there was a council of general officers at commander-in-chief's headquarters. Furthermore, in the early evening General Cadwalader's brigade of the Voltigeurs and the Eleventh and Fourteenth Infantry with Captain Drum's battery of the Fourth Artillery had marched in from the General Pillow's Third Division camp, three miles south.

After retreat old Sergeant Mulligan plumped himself down at the supper mess with the words:

"We attack at daylight to-morrow, lads."

"Where, man?"

"The King's Mill an' the Casa-Mata."

"And Chapultepec?"

"Not as I know of. The Mill an' the Casa-Mats be the First Division's job, helped out by the Cadwalader brigade. Sure, the ould man—an' I'm manin' no disrayspect—had been a-lookin' at yon mill from headquarters, an' he says, snappin' his glass together, says he: 'I must daystroy that place.' Whereby he sends in the First Division, o' course, wid the Cadwalader troops to watch an' see how it's done."

"An' what does he want of those old baildin's, when we might better be takin' Chapultepec?"

"Becuz he can rave Chapultepec to wan side, if he likes, an' march into the city by another way. But Santy Annie's short o' guns an' solid shot—haven't we captured most of his movable artillery?—an' the report is that he's been meltin' up the church' bells for cannon iron. Faith, we'll go down an' take them, too, before he can put 'em to use."

"Wid Chapultepec firm' into us?" Corporal Finerty asked.

"Oh, what do we care for the likes o' Chapultepec? Ain't ye soldier enough to know that down-hill firm' is mighty uncertain work, especially wid Mexican gunners? An' they'll be killin' their own men, wance we're inside the walls. Then wid the fut o' the hill cleared, we can march up all the 'asier, in case such be the orders."

"How many Mexicans this time, I wonder?"

"Well, the ingineers an' Ould Fuss an' Feathers, not to spake o' Gin'ral Worth himself, haven't discivvered many, for all their reconnoiterin' the long day. Seems like there are cannon in the mill, an' in that ramshackle Casa-Mata; an' a line o' breastworks are tonnectin' the two. But scarce a sign o' much of a supportin' force of infantry. An' I'm thinkin' that by an 'arly mornin' attack we'll walk in after the fust scrimmage. Annyhow, we'll get our orders; an' it's soon to bed, for me, an' a bit o' sleep."

Jerry managed to get over to the Eighth Infantry and find Hannibal; a rather sober Hannibal.

"Couldn't see you before," said Hannibal. "I've been on detail. But you know now; we're to take the Mill and Casa-Mats. Three o'clock in the morning is the hour, and no reveille. So good-by and good luck, if we don't meet up again."

"Why's that. Will it be much of a fight, you think, Hannibal?"

"I dunno. But I'm in the storming column—five hundred picked troops from all the regiments. We charge first and break the center. Major Wright, of the Eighth, commands. About half the Eighth is chosen. The Eighth is General Worth's own regiment, you see, and he knows what we can do."

"Maybe I can get in it, too," Jerry blurted.

"Don't think so. The First Brigade has only seven hundred and fifty men; the Second had eleven hundred and fifty, so we'll furnish the most stormers. You fellows will have enough to do, anyhow."

With a "Good-by and good luck—see you later," Jerry shook hands and hustled back for his company. But the men from the Fourth had already been picked.

Fortunately there was no rain this night. When Jerry, like the others, was aroused by the non-commissioned officers passing from mess to mess, the stars were shining brightly. The First Brigade formed by itself, under Colonel Garland, in the early morning gloom, and presently was marched down the slope by a road, as if straight for the King's Mill. By the slight rumble of artillery wheels a battery (Drum's battery, it was, from the Cadwalader brigade) followed. The other brigades might be heard, also moving, with creak of belts and cartridge boxes, dull tramp of feet, and low lurch and rattle of cannon carriages and caissons. Somewhere on the left cavalry equipment faintly jangled.

Colonel McIntosh, of the Fifth Infantry, was said to be commanding the Second Brigade; Colonel Clarke was ill. Major Wright, of the Eighth Infantry, commanded the storming column of five hundred men picked from all the regiments of the division. General Cadwalader commanded the Third Division regiments. Colonel Harney had supplied six companies of the Second Dragoons and one company of the Third, which with one company of the Mounted Rifles, were under Major Sumner. There were two twenty-four-pounder siege guns, under command of Captain Benjamin Huger, chief of ordnance, and three guns of Colonel Duncan's First Division celebrated battery, which accompanied the Second Brigade.

At San Antonio the First Division had numbered twenty-six hundred officers and men; now it was down to nineteen hundred, or two thousand, when one included the Colonel C. F. Smith battalion of Light Infantry attached to the Second Brigade. General Cadwalader had brought about seven hundred and fifty in his three regiments; Major Sumner's dragoons and Mounted Rifles numbered two hundred and ninety, the three batteries one hundred; so that General Worth was attacking the Mill and the Casa-Mats with some thirty-one hundred and fifty men.

After a march forward of about a mile down the hill slope from Tacubaya, the First Brigade was halted in line of battle.

"Lie down, men. Silence in the ranks."

While they lay, the east brightened slowly over the City of Mexico and the citadel of Chapultepec. The towers and steeples of the city began to be outlined against the sky; Chapultepec caught the glow; all the east became gold and pink, with the mountain ranges black along the high horizon. Down here it was still chill and dusky. Colonel Garland, dimly seen from his horse, addressed the line.'

"My men," he said, "the First Division is going into battle as soon as there is light enough. General Scott his appointed us to brush the enemy from those buildings yonder. The First Brigade is to handle the mill, where the enemy's left rests. The Second Brigade will assault the enemy's right at the Casa-Mata. The general assault will be opened after the artillery has prepared the way by the Major Wright storming column, which will break the enemy's center and cut the communications between the mill and that powder store-house. Our own job is to isolate El Molino and prevent aid from Chapultepec. So we must work fast. But once in there, you know very well that we can't be driven out. No, no; don't cheer. Silence! All I ask of you is to uphold the honor of the First Brigade and the American arms."

The lower country was lightening, now. They all could see the arrangements for themselves. The First Brigade occupied right of line. Captain Drum's battery section of three six-pounders was posted a little to the right of the brigade. Not far on the left, or west, were the two twenty-four-pounder siege guns of Captain Huger, with the Light Battalion drawn up behind them in support. Beyond, in the broken line that curved to the north so as to envelop the breastworks and the Casa-Mats, there were the five hundred men of the Major Wright storming column, crouched in column of platoons, and behind them the General Cadwalader brigade, in reserve. Farther on in the west there was the Second Brigade, and beyond it the Duncan battery section, waiting in front of the Casa-Mata. And away on the left of line in the northwest, there were the three squadrons of cavalry.

Nothing had been heard from the enemy; not a movement had been sighted. Then, suddenly, a bugle pealed; drums rattled like a volley. The sound made everybody jump, but it was only the regulation Mexican reveille upon Chapultepec. Never had it seemed so loud, it fairly echoed against the mountains back of the city.

"Boom, boom-m-m!"

A flare of flame and a great shock in the air took one's lbreath.

"Steady, men!" Lieutenant Grant and other officers were warning.

Huger's siege guns had opened; and how they bellowed, blasting the still air so that the city crashed and the mountains rumbled.

"Boom! Boom!" The solid shot might be heard smashing through the stone walls of the old mill five hundred yards before. Up on Chapukepec the bugles and drums had ceased, as if frightened. The mill did not reply. General Worth and staff, back of the storming column, could be seen watching the effect of the bombardment; from the mill dust was rising into the dawn.


The First Brigade had been craning anxiously; the men scrambled to their feet at the command. An aide from General Worth had galloped to the battery; it stopped firing, and—huzzah!—the Wright column was rushing forward at the double, down the slope, for the bottom and the breastworks connecting the mill and the Casa-Mats.

That was a stirring sight to witness: this little column of blue-jacketed, round-capped soldiers charging, guns at the ready, their officers leading, and the colors streaming overhead in the fore. Everybody cheered—waved caps and hands; the cheering spread from the First Brigade clear to the farthest left.

On dashed the Wright five hundred—and that Hannibal was there, Jerry well recalled. They slackened—an officer ran forward (he was Captain Mason, of the engineers, who guided with Lieutenant Foster)—he ran back, beckoning as if he had seen nothing beyond the lines of cactus which screened the trenches; the column hastened again, was almost there when from a few yards the whole fringing cactus spurned flame and smoke and a great gush of grape and musket ball mowed the ranks down like ninepins.

But they didn't stop. No, no! The ranks closed, with bayonets leveled they plunged straight forward into the cactus and over the embankments and into the trenches. The Mexican infantry and artillery were diving right and left for shelter in the Casa-Mata and the mill.

"Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!"

Now for the First Brigade and the seizure of the mill! But look! A tremendous gunfire had belched from the roof and the walls of the mill, directed into the main trench; and a column of Mexican infantry, numbering one thousand, had charged in counter-attack from the rear ground.

Out came the Wright fragments, driven back and back and back, and lessening rapidly. There looked to be scarcely any officers left. Major Wright and both the engineers were down.

Huzzah, though! The Light Battalion and the Eleventh Regulars of General Cadwalader had been launched by General Worth to the rescues—

"Column, forward—trail arms center guide—double tine—march!"

It was the word for the First Brigade at last.

Chapultepec had opened with a plunging fire into the valley. The First Brigade sped steadily down the slope for the smoking King's Mill.

"Charge—bayonets! Run!"

And run they all did, with a yell, Jerry and the drummers and fifers pelting behind, the officers to the fore, Drum's battery following by the road. Grape and canister and musket ball met them; men fell; the firing was worse than that of the bridgehead at Churubusco, but the Fourth Regiment luckily found itself in an angle of the wall surrounding the mill yard and could rally under protection. The enemy was inside, sheltered by the walls of the mill buildings and by sandbag parapets upon the flat roofs. The shouting and the rapid firing announced thousands of Mexicans.

All the bright morning was dulled by powder and rent by the cheering, the yelling, and the continuous reports of muskets and cannon. From the angle of the wall where the Fourth crouched, the battlefield to the west stretched full in view—the soldiers charging down across it, staggering, limping, crumpling, but closing ranks as they tore on, their bayonets set. The Cadwalader reinforcements and the Light Battalion had mingled with the shattered Wright column; they were bearing on together, and disappeared in the cactus-fringed' trenches. What of Hannibal, Jerry wondered.

But here was Drum's battery section, dragged forward by hand to a nearer position in the road. It scarcely had been pointed and the linstocks applied to the touch holes when every gimner was swept away by the Mexican balls, leaving the guns alone. Led by Corporal Finerty, out rushed a squad of the Fourth, reloaded one of the guns and discharged it again and again.

The men plastered within the angle of the wall were firing with their muskets whenever they had the chance. Old Sergeant Mulligan was right out in the open, lying behind a large cactus with broad spongy lobes, and aiming and shooting and loading and aiming once more. He did not seem to know that the Mexican bullets were riddling the cactus lobes as if they were paper.

Amidst the hurly-burly orders came to leave the cover of the wall

"Up, men! Battalion, by the left flank, left face, double time march!"

That took them to the road again.

"Battalion, forward! Through that gate, men! Break it down! Hurrah!"

"Huzzah! Huzzah!"

Another great cheer had arisen. The Wright and Cadwalader column had won the trenches connecting mill and Casa-Mata; the Mexicans were pouring out, as before—their own cannon were being turned upon them. Now was the time for seizing the mill at one end and the Casa-Mats at the other.

"Huzzah! Inside wid yez!" Sergeant Mulligan bawled, his face red and streaming dirty sweat.

Fast work was made with the gate. Battered by musket stocks and rammed by flying wedges of human bodies it crashed apart. Through the opening and over the walls on either hand the Fourth Infantry surged inside.

All was confusion. Jerry tried hard to stick close to Lieutenant Grant. The yard had to be crossed first—a very maelstrom of smoke and lead—before the buildings themselves might be stormed. The Mexican soldiers, firing from windows and roof-top, gave way never an inch. They were obstinate to-day; brave, too. But shooting, shouting, darting by squads, the Fourth Infantry bored in. On the other sides the rest of the brigade was fighting stoutly also.

It did not seem possible that anybody could live to reach those angry buildings. Jerry—somehow not a whit afraid, so excited he was—wormed after Lieutenant Grant, who surely had a charmed life. The Grant detachment wed through a door and into the first room of the first building. A pioneer with an ax had joined. Lieutenant Grant pointed, and the pioneer hacked a hole through a wall of the room; the lieutenant vanished into it—they all pursued, Jerry wriggling with the others, his drum slung on his back, his eyes smarting and watering.

Mexican soldiers were upon the roof above. They could be heard yelling and firing. A door from the second room led into an open corridor from wing to wing. The lieutenant sprang back just in time—a loud report had greeted him, and a bullet had splintered the plaster in front of his nose. Scotty MacPheel bolted forward, musket ready; another bullet toppled him. They dragged him into shelter.

"'Tis nathin', lads," he gasped. "But bide a wee, for if there's ane there's a dozen, jist a-waitin' above."

"Careful, men. Watch for a red cap, and when you fire, don't miss," panted the lieutenant.

The squad ranged themselves within the doorway and peered; now and then fired. Two Mexican soldiers tumbled asprawl into the corridor. After a few moments there were no answering shots. One of the men—Corporal John Hale—saluted.

"All clear, lieutenant."

"Follow me, then. On, boys."

So they passed through the corridor into the next wing.

By the noises the other troops were ransacking rooms in the same way. The tumult, now loud, now muffled, was filled with American cheers.

The next room contained Mexican soldiers driven to cover. At sight of the entering squad they dropped their guns, even fell upon their knees, holding up their empty hands. "Amigo, amigo—friend, friend!" they cried.

"Disarm these fellows and take them outside, four of you," the lieutenant ordered.

On through a door and another room, and the remainder of the detachment was outside also. The mill yard was a mass of panting blue-coats and of herded Mexican prisoners. The guns of Chapultepec could not fire in with safety. The battle here was over.

Staring about in the north end of the yard Jerry noted a group of red caps upon a roof.

"There are some more, lieutenant."


"On'that roof."

The lieutenant ran for the building, Jerry after. There was no way of climbing atop.

"Here, you men! Place that cart for me."

A broken cart was trundled to the wall of the building; the heavy tongue just reached the top. Lieutenant Grant used this as a ladder. He shinned up, Jerry following, while the men below formed file to join.

Lieutenant Grant


But somebody had been ahead of the lieutenant. He was one man: none other than Fifer O'Toole, parading back and forth with a musket. Fifer O'Toole grinned.

"Sure, I'm saving 'em for you, lieutenant," he reported.

They were a fat Mexican major and several subalterns, with full a dozen privates; and they were quite ready to surrender, for at sight of Lieutenant Grant's drawn sword they unbuckled their belts and dropped their guns.

"The fortunes of war, senor," the major said in good English, shrugging his shoulders. "We fight like men, but you Americans fight like demons."

"Very good, sir," the lieutenant answered shortly, stacking the scabbards in his arms. "Crack those muskets over the edge of the wall, lads, and conduct these prisoners to the proper guard."

He himself lingered a minute upon the roof. Jerry breathlessly waited. The mill had been taken. There were only a few scattered shots among the buildings, as the soldiers below or ranging the roofs jumped Mexican skulkers from hiding places; but to the west the battle was still raging furiously. From the roof-top a good view might be had.

The trenches connecting with the Casa-Mata had been seized; their cannon were being used to quicken the rout hastening into the wooded west slope of Chapultepec. All the Casa-Mata, however, was aflame with rapid discharges, and the Second Brigade was recoiling in confusion from before it. The Casa-Mata turned out to be a solid stone structure, built like a fort, housing cannon and infantry, and surrounded by ditches and breastworks.

Lieutenant Grant chanced to mark Jerry, standing behind him.

"They're being cut to pieces," he exclaimed. "General Worth, and Scott, too, have been deceived. We should have attacked in greater force."

The Second Brigade was in the open—could not penetrate past the ditches and to the Casa-Mata walls. The field was blue with bodies. Where was Duncan's battery? Then a sharp word from the lieutenant, who had leveled his spy-glass, drew Jerry's eyes also to the northwest at very end of line.

A dense body of lancers had sallied from the Mexican right, and sweeping around was forming to charge and turn the American left. The Duncan battery section, with the Voltigeurs running to keep up, was galloping to head the lancers off. And the Sumner dragoons and Rifles were changing front to meet the charge.

The battery was there first—unlimbered in a twinkling—the lancers, a mass of red and yellow, their lances set, tore in for it. Colonel Duncan waited—waited—and when his guns at last burst into canister and grape, with gunners working like mad, the close ranks of the Mexican cavalry melted away in the manner of grain before a giant scythe. The horses reared, fell, or, whirling, bore their gay riders right and left and in retreat.

A new gunfire crashed from the Casa-Mata. At the Second Brigade again? Not The Second Brigade was still streaming rearward in blue rivulets, which swirled, eddied, jetted smoke as the men desperately tried to stand and fight, then slowly flowed on. The new gunfire had issued from a blind trench along which the Sumner column was racing. Down went horse and rider. Major Sumner pointed with his saber, and never wavering, the little column, terribly thinned, dashed on for the lancers, who had reformed as if to charge again.

Back came the Duncan battery, leaving the lancers to the dragoons and Rifles. Colonel Duncan wheeled his guns into position before the Casa-Mata once more. Quick work this was. He had not been able to do as he wished here, because the Second Brigade infantry had masked his fire, but now, with his field cleared, his three pieces delivered one constant sheet of smoke, out of which the solid shot and canister sped, ripping through the walls and deluging the parapets.

In a moment, as it seemed, the Casa-Mats fire slackened; the doors and windows and roof vomited Mexican soldiers, fleeing helter-skelter, losing hats and knapsacks and muskets; veering to the north out of reach from the mill, they pelted on for the San Cosme gateway of the west city wall.

With a resounding cheer the Second Brigade charged into the defenses. The flag of the Eighth Regiment broke from the roof-top.

Lieutenant Grant closed his glass.

"The battle is over," he rapped. "Now we can take Chapultepec. If General Scott has the rest of the army in readiness we can take the city itself before night." Then, as he glanced quickly about: "Aha! A counter-attack!"

Another body of the enemy had appeared—five or six thousand infantry, marching in along the north side of Chapultepec. And the lancers were threatening the Sumner column in the northwest.

"We're getting reinforcements, too, lieutenant!"

Down from Tacubaya village a fresh American column was hurrying, the Stars and Stripes dancing at the fore. Now Duncan's battery section, Drum's section, the Huger twenty-four-pounders, and the guns of the captured Casa-Mata were all thundering at the retreating Mexicans. Bugles were blowing, drums rolling.

"We'd better find our stations, boy," said the lieutenant. They two piled down by way of the cart shafts.

Jerry was scarcely in time to help beat the recall for gathering the men. The reinforcements arrived. They were the General Pierce brigade—Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Infantry—of the Pillow Third Division. Advancing at the double, amidst cheers, they deployed beyond the mill, challenging the enemy to come on. The new Mexican column hesitated, and well it did so, for here was still another

brigade, sent by General Scott; the Riley Fourth Artillery, Second and Seventh Infantry, of the Twiggs Second Division, who from the south had marched four miles, mostly up hill and at the double time to Tacubaya, and thence over and down.

Magruder's battery, which had done such service at Contreras, was with it; swerved to the west and opened upon the lancers; dispersed them in disorder.

The Mexican flight continued; the Mexican reinforcements countermarched around Chapultepec. The battle had been won—won by the First Division, the Cadwalader brigade of the Third, six companies of cavalry, Huger's two twenty-four-pounders, Drum's three six-pounders, and the Duncan spit-fires.

The hour was ten o'clock. Who would have thought that so much time had passed? General Scott had come upon the field. He could be seen, congratulating General Worth. It was not until noon that the dead and wounded had been placed in wagons for Tacubaya. And it was a tired but triumphant column that finally trudged—many a man using his musket for a crutch—up the hill and back to camp.

At the start the Casa-Mats powder magazine exploded with loud burst, according to plan. The smoke drifted into the faces of the Mexican garrison of Chapultepec, who peered down but stuck tight.