Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

Getting Ready at Puebla

"The old man's coming!"

It was now May 27. The First Division and the Quitman Volunteers had been holding Puebla for more than a week and a half. There had been alarms. One day all the troops had stood under arms, from morning until night, with guns loaded and with three days' rations in their haversacks, expecting an attack by Santa Anna; but Santa Anna had not appeared. General Worth seemed nervous—and little wonder.

Word had arrived at last from General Scott that he would be here to-morrow at noon. This was his custom: to send a warning ahead whenever he rode up the line, so that the regiments might be ready to turn out and receive him in proper style.

The Eighth Regiment (General Worth's "own") was selected to do the honors. This peeved Hannibal, but it let Jerry and the Fourth out to see things as they occurred. Luckily, the Fourth was quartered near the east gateway of the National Road from Vera Cruz and Jalapa, and a fellow could climb the wall here and look right down upon the road.

First, about half-past eleven, General Worth and General Quitman with their staffs, a-glitter in their full-dress uniforms of blue cloth and gold trappings, white plumes floating from their chapeaus, went trotting to meet the chief.

All cane back together: General Scott, tall and massive, upon his prancing horse, in full uniform complete from his plume to his shining boots; General Worth on his right, General Quitman on his left, the staffs following; Captain Phil Kearny's company of the First Dragoons and a detachment of the Second Dragoons in column of fours as escort. With only these two hundred and fifty dragoons General Scott had ridden ahead of the Twiggs division, clear from La Joya, one hundred and twenty miles.

The soldiers upon the wall at either side of the gate gave Fuss and Feathers a rousing cheer. That pleased him, He took off his chapeau and bowed right and left to his "boys."

Commander-in-chief's headquarters were to be at the palace on the plaza. On the way to it there was a square of trees, the Alameda. The Eighth Infantry had been drawn up on parade, in two ranks, in front of the church San Jose, opposite the Alameda. Colonel Clarke himself, of the Second Brigade, commanded.


The drums beat a roll, every musket came to a rigid present, every sword to a salute, the colors dipped, and General Scott, looking like the old hero that he was, rode proudly along the line, his hand at his hat, his eyes a little misty. The regimental band played "Hail to the Chief."

The Second Division of Regulars did not get in for a couple of days. General Childs, of the Third Artillery, had been left at Jalapa with about one thousand men, mainly Regulars of all the arms. Colonel Wynkoop and most of his First Pennsylvanians were still at Perote. Having only five thousand eight hundred active troops, General Scott was obliged to mark time at Puebla while awaiting reinforcements.

This was hard, for it gave General Santa Anna plenty of leisure in which to gather another army and complete his fortifications. And while Puebla was a pleasant place, there seemed to be a discouraging amount of sickness caused by the fruits and the water. One-fourth of the soldiers were in the hospital and many died.

The well were kept busy, for General Scott believed in exercise and drill. The army had its first opportunity since leaving Vera Cruz to drill together. Every day one or another of the brigades was tnanceuvred out upon the Puebla military drill grounds near the city walls; and three times a week there was a full division review, under the eyes of the commander-in-chief.

The Pueblans always crowded to witness the drills, and after watching they were free to admit that the Americans knew how to soldier.

It was no slouch of a job to be a drummer, as Jerry found out all-over again. He himself had a lot to learn, if he would obey the drum major's signals made with the tasseled staff. The drummer's especial drill, for instance: Put up—drumsticks! Unsling—drums! Ground—drums! Take up—drums! Suspend—drums! Draw out=drumsticks! The marching signals: By the right flank, by the left flank, wheel to change direction, right oblique, left oblique, and so forth. The beats: The marching taps, ninety steps to the minute; the flam, or double beat, in pairs, at one hundred and ten steps to the minute, used in the evening retreat; the rolls, eighty beats to the minute for the troop call, and one hundred and ten to the minute for quick time and the salutes; the drag, one hundred and forty beats to the minute, for double-quick time, and the long roll, in sections as fast as one could work the drumsticks, for alarms.

Then there were the many calls: The general, for the whole camp to prepare to break up; the assembly, for the companies to fall in; to the color, for the companies to form regiments; the reveille, or first call, in the early morning, to wake the camp up; the tattoo, or last call, in the evening, to send the camp to bed; the drummers' call, or musicians' call; come for orders, and the call to the sergeants or corporals; the retreat call, for evening parade; and in the field the halt, the recall, the march in retreat, the run or charge, and the commence firing.

A drummer boy had to have a good ear and lots of constant practice to do all these things, with the drum major or some of the veteran drummers criticizing.

There were one drummer and one fifer in each company of infantry and artillery, although the battery sections usually had a bugler. The dragoons had trumpeters. Drummers and fifers of each regiment formed the field music and marched with the band, when the regiment had a band. The Fourth did not have a band, which was' lucky. The Eighth had theirs, and Hannibal claimed that it was a nuisance, always getting in the way of the Field music.

The music was under the drum major. He acted as first sergeant and received his orders from the regimental adjutant. He called the roll at music assembly, gave the signals with his staff, and saw that the musicians knew' how to play. If there was any instrument, from the drum even to the horn, that "Old Brown," the drum major of the Fourth, could not play, nobody had yet discovered it.

In regimental camp and manoeuvres all the company drummers and fifers generally played and marched together say ten drummers and ten fifers. They assembled at the guard house for reveille, and beating and tooting paraded around through the camp, paying especial attention to the officers' quarters! The regimental calls were preceded by the regimental march to draw attention, in case that more than the one regiment was present. When marching in column, the field music was at the head of the regiment, the drummers behind the fifers. But the drummer and fifer of each company messed and camped with the company, and stayed with it when it was detached.

The drummers served each in turn at being posted at the guard house to march with the guard on tour and relief and to sound any signal that might be required. The drummers, too, were used as markers in the drills to indicate where the lines were to be formed and dressed; and might be summoned for orderlies or messengers.

In fact, a drummer was an important personage. The drummer boys got the pay and rations of a private; wore a better uniform and a short sword.

But not all the drummers were boys. There was a sprinkling of boys and a sprinkling of grown men; and when the field music had formed it made rather a funny sight with a six-foot lad like Bill Sykes in the same short rank with a dumpy, strutty little "rascal" like young Tommy Jones, aged only fourteen.

The fifers were mainly men. Jerry's partner, Fifer O'Toole, outreached him by a foot

At rest intervals the troops were now given chances to see the city and nearby country. Puebla far surpassed Vera Cruz. The saying ran: "Puebla is the first heaven, Mexico (the City of Mexico) is the second." The paved streets were many and broad, flanked by splendid stone buildings and traversed by the rattling coaches of the wealthy. There were one hundred churches, and innumerable fine stores; the markets teemed with fruits and vegetables. The houses were thrown open to the officers and men; General Worth had started in by not interfering with the city government as long as it did not interfere with him; General Scott continued the system. He permitted the city watchmen to patrol with their arms as before, so that at night there were two sets of guards.

The Mexican watchmen would chant:

"Ave Maria! Son las dote de la noche, y sereno," which meant: "Hail, Mary! It is eleven o'clock and quiet"

While the American sentries growled:

"Post Number One (or Two, or Three). All's well."

Six miles out from the city were the ruins of the ancient Aztec Indian town of Cholula, with a pyramid of clay and stone blocks two hundred feet high, mounted by one hundred and forty steps. When Cortez, the conquerer, came through here in 1520 the pyramid was used for human sacrifices, and the never-dying fire to the Aztec gods was kept alive on top by the priests. But Cortez destroyed the city and killed six thousand of the people. Now there was no city, and no fire, and on top of the pyramid a church had been erected.

This was such a historic place that the troops were marched out to it, a brigade at a time, for an excursion. The Fourth Infantry with the First Brigade of the First Division, under General Worth and Colonel Garland, made the trip, one clear day, when old Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl seemed to be within musket shot instead of seventy-five miles away. Beyond those two mountains lay the City of Mexico, the goal.

"We are the ones to get there," thought Jerry. The Regulars themselves were no discouraging sight—fifteen hundred well-trained soldiers marching at ease, bearing their veteran flags; the artillery officers brilliant in red trappings, the infantry marked by white, and the general staff gold-braided and gold-epauletted.

To be sure, whenever the troops started for anywhere spies in Puebla immediately galloped into the country to carry the news to Mexican lancers. But who feared the lancers?

General Scott carne from behind. He and his staff swept along the column of platoons, and slackened to ride abreast half way.

The officers there had been discussing the scenery. Some gave the palm to glistening Popocatepetl, some to Iztaccihuatl, some to the red-roofed city, some to the fields of green, and some to the great pyramid surmounted by the church. But General Scott said, in his loud voice, so that the drummers and fifers of the Fourth heard plainly:

"Gentlemen, I differ with you all. My greatest delight is in this fine body of troops, without whom we can never sleep in the Halls of Montezuma, or in our own homes again."

The speech traveled up and down the column and everybody cheered. Old Fuss and Feathers certainly appreciated good soldiers.

It had been hoped that the army would "sleep in the Halls of Montezuma" on July 4. But although plenty of provisions had been collected the reinforcements were still slow. So the Fourth of July was passed at Puebla, with celebrations by the rank and file, and in the evening a grand reception by General Scott at the palace for officers and townspeople.

Then, on July 8, General Pillow, who had been promoted to a major-generalcy in the Regulars, arrived from Vera Cruz with forty-five hundred men, under Colonel McIntosh of the Fifth Infantry and General George Cadwalader, a new brigadier, of Pennsylvania. They had started in three detachments and had had several skirmishes with guerillas on the way; had lost fifty men in killed and wounded, and a great deal of baggage.

They brought up the Palmettos, the Mounted Rifles, some of the Second and new Third Dragoons, Company F of the Fourth Infantry, B of the Fifth Infantry, parts of the Ninth, Eleventh and Fifteenth Infantry (new Regular regiments), a few companies of Voltigeurs or scouting riflemen, and a batch of recruits for all arms.

General Franklin Pierce (another new brigadier), of New Hampshire, arrived next, on August 6, with twenty-four hundred men out of three thousand. He had dropped six hundred by reason of sicknesses and had had six fights. His troops were the famous Marine Corps of the navy, the remainder of the new Regular regiments—Ninth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth—and more recruits.

The new regiments were rather raw yet; had been mustered in only a few months, and only six out of the four hundred officers had seen service. The others were civilian appointees—many were greener than Jerry. They made an odd sight as they rode or walked about trying to old hands, but bothered by their swords and spurs. The Marines, however, were a snappy lot, officers and all, and took no back talk from anybody.

General Scott had called in the garrison from Jalapa. It looked as though he was almost ready to march on. He now commanded fourteen thousand men in Puebla, but the sick list was tremendous. Two thousand men were in the hospital, five hundred others were just getting well. Nevertheless, the time had come. For several days before the arrival of the last reinforcements under General Pierce all signs had pointed to an early break up. A council of war had been held at headquarters, attended by Generals Worth, Twiggs, Quitman and Pillow; aides and orderlies had been racing through the streets, equipments had been overhauled and wagons loaded.

Reports said that General Santa Anna had gathered an army again of thirty thousand and more, and had fortified all the approaches to the capital.

That made no difference to the army. The Regulars were eager to start. The Volunteers—the Second Pennsylvanians, the New Yorkers and the South Carolinans—gallantly proclaimed that they wished to "see the elephant" beyond those next mountains. These fighting Mohawks were bound to go through, and compared with the new Regulars, they were veterans.

Colonel Childs, from Jalapa, was to remain in Puebla with the sick and a garrison of five hundred. The majority of the First Pennsylvanians stayed at Perote to hold that. Counting out teamsters and the like General Scott had, after all, only about ten thousand seven hundred officers and men, with whom to advance against General Santa Anna's thirty thousand.

"We might better have chased right along with what we had after the battle of Cerro Gordo, and reached Mexico as soon as Santa Anna," Hannibal complained. "He's had time to make ready for us, and we're cut loose from our base—haven't men enough to garrison a single place, except Perote, between here and Vera Cruz, and the whole road is worried by guerillas. Old Fuss and Feathers says he's thrown away the scabbard and is advancing with the naked sword. It's do or die. Well, anyhow, the Second Division starts to-morrow. Those fellows have the luck again. Hope we aren't far behind."

This was August 6, the day of General Pierces arrival. The army had been re-apportioned into four divisions instead of three.

The First Division was about the same as before: Second Artillery, Third Artillery, Fourth Infantry, in the First Brigade; Fifth Infantry, Sixth Infantry, Eighth Infantry, in the Second Brigade.

The Second Division (General Twiggs') was about the same also: First Artillery, Third Infantry, and the Rifles, in the First Brigade; Fourth Artillery, Second Infantry, Seventh Infantry, with the Engineer company and Ordnance company, in the Second Brigade.

Major-General Pillow, who ranked next to General Scott, now, as full major-general, commanded the Third Regular Division. This contained the new regiments. The First Brigade, General Cadwalader, had the Voltiguers or light riflemen, the Eleventh Infantry, the Fourteenth Infantry, and Captain John Magruder's Light Battery I of the First Artillery. The Second Brigade, under the handsome General Franklin Pierce, had the Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Infantry.

General Quitman commanded the Fourth Division. This was the Volunteers and the Marines. General Shields, who had recovered from his terrible wound received at Cerro Gordo, had, of course, been given the Volunteer brigade, composed of the Palmettos under Colonel P. M. Butler, and the Second New Yorkers under Colonel Ward B. Burnett. Lieutenant-Colonel E. S. Watson, of the Marines, had the Second Brigade—the Marines under Major Levi Twiggs and the Second Pennsylvania (a fine regiment equal to the Regulars) under Colonel W. B. Roberts, with Light Battery H of the Third Artillery under Lieutenant E. J. Std, and Company C, Third Dragoon&

Then there was the cavalry brigade, commanded by the fire-eater, Colonel Harney, and containing Company F of the First Dragoons, under Captain Phil Kearny, nephew of General Stephen W. Kearny who had marched the First to California; six companies of the Second Dragoons, under Major E. V. Sumner, who also had recovered from his Cerro Gordo wound; and three companies of the new Third Dragoons, under Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas P. Moore.

The Twiggs Second Division was to lead the way, with Harney's dragoons clearing the advance.

Everybody turned out early the next morning, Tuesday, August 7, to see the Second start for the Halls of Montezuma. The dragoons were already a short distance upon the road. A great throng of soldiers, sick and well, and of the townspeople, pressed around the plaza where General Twiggs drew up his regiments on parade before the government palace to be inspected by General Scott.

Inspection over with, he faced the long lines and raised his hat—and what a burly fighter he looked to be, with his short neck and his sunburned red face and his mane of white hair.

"Now, my lads, give them a Cerro Gordo shout!" he bellowed. "One, two, three—huzzah!"

"Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!" The twenty-five hundred cheered with one voice in a deafening burst. Jerry, Hannibal, and every comrade in the crowd joined wildly. The bands blared, the drums rolled, the fifes squeaked.

"By company, right wheel! Quick—march!"

The division broke into column of companies.

"Columns, forward—march! Guide—right!"

"Break into platoons—march!"

Away tramped the Second Division, bands playing, drums beating, cannon rumbling, flags flying.

"Hi!" Pompey chuckled, having squirmed up beside Jerry and Hannibal. "Santy Annie, he done heap dat shout, an' he's a-sayin': 'Dem Yankees is comin'! Now where I gwine?'"