Into Mexico with General Scott - Edwin Sabin

Clearing the Road to the Capital

There was something in the ring of the adjutant's voice which wakened every man in a jiffy, as though they all had been dreaming of battle. "Beat the long roll, drummers!"

But already the vast room was astir with voices and figures. Fires were being kicked together, lanterns and candles being lighted; the companies formed in half darkness; they called off. Outside, the rain was still pouring.,

"Where we going now?"

"What time is it, anyhow?"

"Two o'clock, my lad."

"B' jabers, we'll nade cat's eyes."

"Weel, there'll be licht enow whin the powder burns."

"Be it to San Antonio or to Contreras, I wonder."

"What difference to you, whether up the road or down?"

"'Tis to Contreras, wid this early start. I'm thinkin' "

"An' do we go on empty stomicks?"

"We're to help out the other lads at Contreras, boys," said a sergeant. "Five or six miles is all. So what does the matter of an empty stomach count? You can eat from your haversacks as we march; and by breakfast time we'll be sampling the camp fare of those Mexicans. We'll be fair in time for breakfast with 'em, and the fires 'll all be made to save us the trouble."

The company officers had bustled in; got the

reports from the first sergeants. There were orders. "Company A, by the left flank! Left—face 2) ?> For'd—march!"

"Company B, by the left flank! Left—face! For'd—march! Right oblique—march!"

And so on. Thus they all filed out of the barn door into the rain and the darkness, where the regimental officers were waiting.

"By company, into line—march! Left wheel—march! Company—halt! Right—dress!"

"Sure, how can a man right dress when he can't see?"

"Silence in the ranks!"

"Form platoons—quick—march!"

"Close up on the leading company, captains!" It was a jumble. Jerry found his place with the rest of the music by guesswork.

"Is that you, Jerry?" little Mike Malloy, drummer of Company A, whispered. His teeth were chattering.

"Yes, Mike."

"An' are we goin' into battle?"

"Looks like it, Mike."

"Oh, murther!" Mike groaned. "We'll all be dead wid cold before we get kilt entoirely wid bullets."

"Battalion, forward—route step—march! Close up, men; close up," shouted Major Lee. "Don't straggle. Drum major, sound a march."

"How can we sound a march wid the drums soaked an' the fifes drownded?" Mike complained.

The First Brigade was in motion, marching back down the road for San Augustine.' The music proved a dismal failure. Presently, stumbling and slipping in the mud, with clothes and knapsacks weighing a ton to the man, the column was passing the camp of the Second Brigade. The Second Brigade's fires had long been quenched, but sentries could be dimly seen; beside the road figures were lying rolled in blankets, lights were glimmering feebly in the guard tent and brigade headquarter's tent.

The Second Brigade was not going! The First Brigade had been selected! Hooray! And the Clarke men would be sick when they knew. Jerry chuckled to himself, thinking of Hannibal, who was missing out. At the same time he wondered whether he would see Hannibal again. But General Worth was with the First. His voice had been heard. And no doubt Old Fuss and Feathers was impatiently waiting, bent upon victory.

Slosh, slosh, slide and stumble, in the downpour and the blackness.

"Close up, men! Close up! Keep in touch."

After what seemed to be a long, long time they were trudging heavily through silent San Augustine, south of the lava field. Except for cavalry pickets, it appeared to be deserted. The reserve there—the Marines and Second Pennsylvania—mad gone. General Scott of course had gone. All the infantry and artillery were being gathered at Contreras for a decisive fight.

Slosh, slosh, slide and stumble and grumble. After another long time the darkness began to thin. Pretty soon the column might see the muddy road and the outskirts. The clouds were breaking over the mountains in the south and the lava field in the north. The road was thickly marked by footprints and by furrows filled with water, where the artillery wheels had cut deeply.

The way veered sharply north into the lava field, amidst curious ashy cones high with flat tops as if they had burst open; the brush had been hacked down and leveled and crushed. General Worth and staff spurred ahead. The sun was reddening the east. Jerry could see the men's faces, pinched and dirty, white and unshaven. The ranks were panting—their shoes clogged with mud, their uniforms drenched and smeared, their guns and knapsacks dripping. How far were Contreras and the Mexican army now? A fight would be warming, if nothing else. Any instant a halt might be ordered to recharge the muskets and get ready.

Hark! The fresh morning air was set atremble by another roll of cannon and musketry fire. Smoke arose before, maybe two miles distant in the northwest. The battle had opened again; the men strained forward. Adjutant Nichols galloped back along the ranks.

"Hurry, men! At the double! Sound the double, there, drum major! Come, come, men! Double time—march!"

Colonel Garland had turned and shouted and waved his sword. Jerry essayed to join in beating double time. The men tried to respond. They surged into a shambling trot, but they could not keep it up on the slippery road, carrying their soaked clothes and knapsacks, their muskets and mud-laden shoes.

They grunted and panted and wheezed and stumbled. The firing had increased under the smoke cloud. It continued furiously for about a quarter of an hour, while the First Brigade toiled at its best and the officers urged. Then the battle tumult died almost as quickly as it had been born; and there were cheers, instead, not the shrill "Vivas" of the Mexicans, but the hearty "Huzzahs" from American throats.

"Hurrah, boys! The works are taken. Hear that? It's victory!"

"Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah!"

The column actually quickened pace over the wet brush and lava rocks, with faces flushed by excitement. The sun beams touched the tips of the lava cones—and see! Away off there, where the smoke cloud swirled in the morning breeze, the Stars and Stripes gleamed from the top of a hill. The firing still persisted, lessened by distance, as if the Mexicans were being pursued northward.

Here came General Worth, splashing recklessly down the rough trail, his horse lathered with sweat, his dark, handsome face shining as he waved his hat.

"Contreras is taken. Halt your column, colonel." Then his face stiffened. "What's this, sir? The orders were to leave the knapsacks on a forced march. Now instead of being fresh for a hard day's fight my men are broken down already! This is no way to bring soldiers upon the field. Counter-march, sit as soon as possible, to our old position, and await further orders to advance on the enemy. Deposit the knapsacks there and let the men rest, sir."

He spoke loudly and angrily. Colonel Garland answered not a word, but whitened and saluted. The general had been heard by half the brigade. They gave him a cheer. He was a leader to be depended upon when it was a matter of fighting. Rather nervous, beforehand, but a reliable commander in the field.

Now for San Antonio, no doubt. Back they were marched, through the mud, five miles—and every foot of the way they feared that the Second Brigade might be in ahead of them, after all. But it was not. It was only under arms. They exchanged cheers with it, as grimy and tired and hungry they plodded by. Jerry saw Hannibal standing, drum slung, in the field-music ranks of the Eighth, and reported to him with a flourish of the arm.

At the old camping place, near the big barn, the First Brigade took time to swallow hot coffee, scrape some of the mud off, and dry in the warm sunshine. But all too soon orders were given to fall in, with blanket rolls, and with two days' rations of beef and bread in the haversacks. The lieutenants and first sergeants passed along behind the ranks, inspecting every cartridge box, weeding out the cartridges that looked wet, and inserting fresh ones. The loads were withdrawn from the muskets; dry loads were rammed home. Serious business was ahead.

The ranks were closed. The regimental commanders made short speeches to their men. Major Francis Lee addressed the Fourth.

"Men," he said, "we are going into battle. The First Division has the honor of forcing San Antonio from the front, to open the road for the heavy artillery, while the Pillow new regiments are taking it in reverse or at the rear. But they have the longer way to come, from Contreras, and the First Division must get in first. Then we shall push right on to Churubusco and join the fight there."

"Huzzah! Huzzah!"

"We have good news to support us, and do not need any help from the Pillow men."


"Contreras entrenchments were taken in seventeen minutes by only two thousand men. The Riley Brigade of the Second Division, composed of the Second and Seventh Infantry, the Fourth Artillery, with the Rifles added, took it alone at the point of the bayonet. General Cadwalader's Eleventh Infantry and Voltiguers followed close. The remainder of the Second Division, being the Third Infantry and First Artillery, led by Major Dimick in place of General Persifor Smith, who commanded the whole movement, arrived in time to break the last resistance, and the rout was received by General Shield's New Yorkers and Palmettos on the road north. But the colors of the Seventh Infantry were again the first to be raised. The Fourth Artillery captured two of its guns that had been lost at Buena Vista last spring. The entire Mexican force of seven thousand troops, called the 'flower of the Mexican army,' was dispersed, leaving two thousand dead, wounded and prisoners, all the artillery, ammunition, provisions, and the military chest. Our own loss is less than sixty. The only fortified points between us and the capital, seven short miles, are San Antonio and Churubusco; and these are being enveloped by the victors of Contreras. Let us push on, so that our comrades of the other divisions shall not do all the fighting. Now, three cheers for victory!"

They cheered thunderously. The drums rolled. The two other regiments—Second and Third Artillery—were cheering. But we! The Second Brigade had passed—was obliquing out over the lava field, on the west or left, as if to make circuit and attack the enemy's dank. The ranks and their flags dipped amidst the sharp ridges.

"Companies, right wheel-march! Forward, quick—march!"

Huzzah! The First Brigade also was off. The time was about eight o'clock in this morning of August 20.

In a few minutes the breastworks of San Antonio village were plainly visible not half a mile up the road. They extended to the lava on the west; on the east they stretched through marshy ground in shape of a long quarter circle bending back so as to front the bogs of the lake.

The lava side was bad enough, but the other side was worse. The First Brigade kept on by the road.

"Fourth Battalion, by the left flank—march! Hurry up, men!"

Assistant jutant-General Mackall, of the division staff, had shouted. The ranks of the Fourth immediately left-faced. In double file they scrambled down from the high road and formed company front again in the muddy cornfield that lay between the road and the lava field.

"Battalion, forward—quick time—march!"

The drums tapped quick time. Now the Second Brigade was well out in the lava, its line of battle resembling a great flock of goats. The Fourth Infantry was next, at the same side of the road but below, hurrying through the boggy cornfield. The remainder of the First Brigade stretched across the road and was forging straight on.

"Bang! Bang! Bangity-bang-bang-bang-g-g-g!"

The Second Brigade was in action—perhaps driving the Mexican skirmishers. Hannibal was there with the Eighth. The firing increased to battle din; cheers echoed, smoke drifted, and in the corn the Fourth Infantry could see little except the green stalks and the mud and the ditches that had been cut.

"Trail awns! Double time—march!"

How they hustled, almost dead with the ten and more miles marched already, and with stomachs curiously empty again. Beating the double, Jerry and the other drummers had hard work to hold their places. They and the fifers formed two ranks behind the left center company; this was the field music position in order of battle.

"Battalion, ready! Stoop, men!"

The musket locks clicked. Close before, between the stalks of corn, breastworks could be seen, the muzzles of cannon staring blackly. The Mexicans were reserving their fire here; but out to the left the firing had grown fiercer and was traveling on toward San Antonio. Farther in the north other firing swelled louder and louder. But here 1 Why didn't the Mexican breastworks open? Anything was better than this suspense, when a sheet of flame was expected every moment!

"Forward, men! Forward! Steady!" And suddenly: "Fourth Infantry—charge!"

"Hooray! Huzzah! Huzzah!"

The drums beat the charge, ferry pounding lustily as he ran. The men yelled—a Cerro Gordo shout. They stumbled, fell, splashed into ditches four feet wide. Lieutenant Grant was running and waving his sword in front of his company. All the officers were cheering on their men. The breastworks loomed higher, the cannon muzzles gaped wider.

The line swept on; the front rank began to climb—the men slipping and clutching and clinging, and ever advancing their muskets to pull trigger. Over they went with yells renewed; up and over went the rear rank, and over went the fifers and drummers, tumbling into the cheering mass.

The breastworks were empty. Onward extended the road, with the Mexican artillery and infantry, mingling with horses and women, legging penmen in a mass for San Antonio town—through the little town and out again.

"On, men! On!"

Now it was a race. Look! The Second Brigade was closing in and firing. So rapidly it descended from the lava, beyond the village, that it struck the rout right in the middle—cut the mass in two. The first portion broke and fled east, across the fields; the Second Brigade halted in the gap, while the other half of the Mexicans scurried faster up the road for Churubusco.

The Fourth Infantry joined the Second Brigade at the instant when the remainder of the First Brigade came in. Everybody was laughing and cheering, but there was no time to be lost.

"To the color! Beat to the color, drummers! Battalions, form companies! Forward-double time—march!"

The First Division ran on. The whole elevated road before was a sight. The two miles to Churubusco, lined by shade trees, was a solid jumble of Mexicans—infantry, artillery, lancers, camp followers and baggage wagons, flying for dear life. Wounded were dropping out, guns were being abandoned, teamsters and cannoneers were lashing their horses. It was a rout indeed.

And yonder in the northwest another rout pelted in: Santa Anna's reserves, from near Contreras, pursued hotly by the Twiggs Second Division, all aiming for Churubusco.

The First Division was right upon the heels of the San Antonio fugitives. The men were wild with excitement; nobody thought now of weariness.