F Heritage History | Maximilian in Mexico by George Upton

Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton




Downfall of the Mexican Empire

Meanwhile the situation in Queretaro remained about the same from week to week. Thanks to the reports spread by republican spies, relief was still looked for, while frequent skirmishes enlivened the monotony in which both Miramon and Mejia distinguished themselves. Nor were they altogether without results, for on the twenty-seventh of April Miramon routed twelve thousand of the besiegers, captured twenty-one guns, and took a large number of prisoners. Yet neither of these generals seemed able to utilize their advantages. Whenever a victory was won, precious moments were wasted in useless celebrations, in true Mexican fashion, leaving the enemy plenty of time to recover lost ground.

At length, however, the Emperor was forced to abandon all hope of Marquez' return and as a last resort began seriously to consider the possibility of breaking through the enemy's siege lines to the western plain whence they might be able to reach the mountains beyond. Once there they would be safe—for these were the native haunts of General Mejia, who knew every foot of the country and was certain to find support among the sturdy mountaineers—always a loyal race. Thither, too, the Juarists would be slow to follow. Being unwilling to leave the city without any military protection, Maximilian's first step was to issue a call for volunteers, to which hundreds of the townsfolk responded and were enrolled as recruits by Mejia, to whom their organization was entrusted. Meanwhile Prince Salm selected a body-guard of picked men for the Emperor. The attempt was to be made early on the morning of the fourteenth of May,—the chief command of the expedition being intrusted to Colonel Lopez, a proof of Maximilian's unbounded faith in this scoundrel. As to the sequence of events, Dr. Basch, who was an eye-witness, writes as follows:

"At eleven o'clock on the night of the thirteenth, a council of war was held at which it was decided to defer our departure till the following night. This was at Mejia's request, the number of volunteers being so great he had been unable properly to arm or organize them in so short a time, and it was upon their help he largely depended for the success of the undertaking. Preparations had all been completed. We were ready for the march. Only such effects as could be carried with us on our horses were to be taken. The Emperor himself was very hopeful. 'I am glad,' he said to me on the afternoon of the fourteenth, 'that the end has come at last and feel sure we shall succeed, partly because my good fortune has never yet failed me and also—call it superstition if you will—because to-morrow is my mother's name day—which is a good omen.'

"The Emperor's luggage was divided among the escort—members of his suite each taking a part of his papers among their effects. The contents of His Majesty's privy purse were distributed between Salm, Lieutenant-colonel Pradillo, the Emperor's secretary, Blasio, Colonel Campos, commander of the body-guard, myself, and Lopez, the latter of whom expressed dissatisfaction on being handed his share because it was in silver and small coin instead of gold like the rest.

"At ten o'clock that night another postponement was made till the fifteenth, this time at the request of General Mendez, for what reason I am unable to say. About eleven the Emperor held a conference with Lopez concerning some details of the plan, and, made wakeful by excitement, did not retire until one. At half-past two he had me wakened. I went at once to his room and found him suffering with an attack of dysentery—a disease which had been making havoc in both camps owing to bad food and the effects of the rainy season. I stayed with him nearly an hour till the pain was relieved, then returned to my own room and lay down with my clothes on. The convent was then wrapped in deep stillness; not a sound was to be heard. Just before five I was suddenly aroused by two men bursting into my room, one of whom I recognized as Lieutenant Jablonski. 'Where is Prince Salm?' they shouted, 'he must be awakened!' and with these words they rushed out again. I sprang up at once. Something unusual must have occurred to bring them to headquarters at that hour. Without stopping to think about it, however, I roused my servant, who was sleeping in the same room, ordered him to saddle my horse as quickly as possible, and hastened in quest of Salm, whom I found already up and dressed. I asked him what was the matter. 'We are surprised,' was his answer. 'Make haste and tell Furstenwarther to have the hussars mount without delay.'

"I had just delivered this message when the Emperor's Mexican chamberlain, Severo, came and informed me that His Majesty wished to speak with me. Returning to his room, I found him already dressed. 'I do not think it is anything serious,' he declared with the utmost calmness, 'but the enemy have forced their way into the courtyard. Get your pistol and follow me to the square.'

"Grill, the steward, afterward told me during our imprisonment that the Emperor did not lose his presence of mind for a moment. While he was dressing he had his sword placed by the door unsheathed, to be at hand in case of need. In obedience to His Majesty's command I went to my room to buckle on my revolver and there my servant met me with the news that he had been stopped by a strange officer who had taken the saddle blankets from him. Having myself given the order for the hussars to mount, it was necessary for me to have my horse at once if I was to accompany the Emperor, so I told my servant to follow me and point out the officer who had prevented his obeying my orders. We met him in one of the passageways, wrapped in one of the blankets and carrying the other on his shoulder. As the Emperor had only spoken of the enemy as having entered the courtyard, I naturally supposed, meeting this man inside the convent, that he and the ten soldiers with him were our men and asked if he did not recognize me as the Emperor's physician. He tried to evade me, pointing to a staircase leading to the roof of the convent, and saying, 'Your blankets are up there.'

"Still in the dark as to the meaning of all this, and indignant at the unnecessary delay, I drew my revolver, whereupon the officer cried to the soldiers, 'Desarme lo!' (Disarm him!) I saw a row of bayonets pointed at me and heard the click of triggers and in a flash the whole thing was clear to me. Any attempt at resistance would have been madness, so, escorted by the officer and his squad, I mounted the steps to the convent roof, which to my amazement I found crowded with republican troops. 'You are my prisoner!' said the officer, now speaking for the first time. 'So I see!' was my angry rejoinder. My revolver was then taken away from me, and Perez, for such was the officer's name, began to search my pockets with a dexterity that proved him no novice in the business. Naturally the well-filled money belt did not escape his deft fingers, nor my watch which I had with me, and this unexpected booty caused him to treat me with more favor. In spite of the danger of the situation, I could not refrain from drawing out my surgical case, which had been overlooked, and, offering it to Perez, inquiring whether he would not like that also. This voluntary gift, however, he did not accept nor did he take my notebook. There being no bank notes in Mexico, paper naturally did not interest him as much as coin or valuables, and my papers were left undisturbed in my pocket. I was then taken to the tower where the Emperor had so often exposed himself to the enemy's fire, and placed under the guard of two men."

So much for the physician's experiences on that eventful night. Meanwhile, after telling Dr. Basch to get his pistol and follow him, Maximilian, accompanied by Prince Salm, General Castillo, Lieutenant-colonel Pradillo, and Secretary Blasio, went out into the courtyard. At the gates they found one of the enemy's guards stationed, and standing near by were Colonel Lopez and Colonel Jose Rincon Gallardo. The latter, to whom the Emperor was well known, said to the guard: "Let them pass, they are civilians," and Maximilian and his companions walked out unmolested. From La Cruz they made their way to Miramon's headquarters on the Cerro de la Campana, several other officers joining them on the way. The lines everywhere were already in the possession of the enemy and even the small body of cavalry they found assembled at the foot of the hill soon melted away, going over to the enemy little by little as their fears overcame them. Turning to Mejia, the Emperor asked if there was no possibility of breaking through with a few faithful followers, but Mejia sadly replied in the negative, saying any such attempt would be useless. Resigning himself to his fate, therefore, Maximilian ordered the white flag hoisted and a few moments later surrendered his sword to a republican officer who galloped up. The Emperor was a prisoner.

That afternoon at four o'clock Escobcdo sent the following telegram to the Juarist minister of war in Potosi:

"At three o'clock this morning our troops captured the convent La Cruz. The garrison were taken prisoners, part of the enemy's troops having retreated to Cerro de la Campana in great disorder and under fire from our artillery. About eight this morning Maximilian with his generals Mejia and Castillo surrendered at discretion. I beg to offer the President my congratulations on this great triumph of the national arms.

MARIANO ESCOBEDO

A mighty triumph, indeed, for fifty thousand men to conquer a garrison of five thousand, exhausted by famine and disease,, and that only by an act of treachery!

As to the manner and conditions of Lopez' betrayal, accounts vary. He is said to have been promised as much as ten thousand piastres by Escobedo. His accomplice in the plot was a certain Anton Jablonski, but the whole affair was managed with such adroitness that not one of the Emperor's friends had a suspicion of it. Lopez afterward published an emphatic denial of the accusation, which was supported by Escobedo and in which he had the audacity to appeal to Prince Salm for confirmation. The latter's reply, written during his imprisonment and after Maximilian's death, leaves nothing to be desired in the way of plain speaking. It runs in part as follows:

"To Miguel Lopez, former imperial Mexican colonel and author of the article entitled 'The Capture of Queretaro':

"In this defence, addressed by you to your countrymen, to France, and to the world at large, you appeal to me as witness that Queretaro did not fall by treachery and maintain that your statements hear the stamp of perfect truth. Although I, as you know, have been a prisoner of war for five months, my sense of justice will no longer allow me to be silent, for I can prove their utter falsity. You publicly declare that Queretaro was captured by force of arms; that the Emperor commissioned you on the night of the fourteenth of May to negotiate with the enemy, his troops being completely demoralized and all hope of escape abandoned; and you dare any who maintain that Queretaro fell by treachery to appear and dispute your assertions. I accept your challenge, therefore, and before the world proclaim you a traitor with the blood of your former sovereign and benefactor on your hands. It is not true that the Emperor commissioned you to negotiate with the enemy. I had the honor of conversing with His Majesty that night, after you had left him, and he had not then or at any other time the faintest idea of treating with the republicans. If his army was small, it was still brave and loyal enough to have fought a way out through the enemy's lines for its beloved sovereign, to whose character, as you well know, such a course as you describe would have been utterly foreign. This being the case, permit me, Senor Lopez, to ask you a few questions before the world.

"Why, if you had been ordered to enter the enemy's lines, did you return about two o'clock with a republican officer of high rank and bring him into La Cruz, the Emperor's headquarters? Why did you, contrary to the Emperor's wishes, and without my knowledge, order the Hungarian hussars to unsaddle, when I had already given them the Emperor's commands to remain saddled all night? Why, at such a dangerous time, did you remove from the Emperor's headquarters the guard upon whom the safety of La Cruz depended? Why were the eight guns which stood on the square in front of the convent turned with their muzzles toward the city? Why, at two o'clock in the morning, did you take this republican general, dressed as a civilian and armed with a revolver, all through our fortifications? Why did you leave our lines before four o'clock that morning, still with this same officer, and return in a quarter of an hour at the head of two of the enemy's battalions and lead them into the inner court of La Cruz, where you were met by your accomplice, Lieutenant Jablonski? How did it happen that you and Jablonski, both supposedly prisoners, should have informed the Emperor of the enemy's presence in La Cruz? How do you explain the fact that when His Majesty, with General Castello and myself, were about to leave the convent, then already surrounded by the enemy, we were allowed at a word from you to pass as civilians, although the Emperor must have been already recognized and General Castillo and I were in full uniform? How was it that after our capture some of the republican officers named you as the traitor? How did it happen that you, a prisoner, were always at liberty? And, finally, how were you able to possess yourself of the imperial papers and various articles belonging to His Majesty, such as his silver toilet service, which, by the way, have never appeared again?

"To all of this, Senor Miguel Lopez, you cannot honestly and honorably reply; the facts speak for themselves and proclaim you both traitor and murderer. Why did you betray your Emperor and benefactor? Because, in the first place, you wished to be revenged on him for withholding from you the General's commission which he had already signed. In case you should not know his reason for this, then learn now that it was because a brave man, whose blood is also on your hands and whose name I will not mention, lest you take revenge on those he has left behind, had presented to His Majesty a private document dismissing you from the army for infamous conduct during Santa Anna's presidency and forbidding your ever holding a government office again.

"And, secondly, Senor Lopez, you were moved by fear. Seeing that something decisive must soon occur and fearing, in case of our defeat, for your future and for your life, you hoped by this shameful treachery to clear your past account with the republicans, as indeed you did. Your third attempt at treason failed, for a short time after the Emperor had been made prisoner, finding your hopes disappointed, you sent a person known to us both to him with offers to betray your new confederates. In my presence this person attempted to pave the way for you to approach the Emperor, overtures that were naturally rejected with contempt. A man may choose his own course in life, but he must be true to his principles. You have not only been false to yours but have also committed the most infamous of all crimes—that of treason— and broken the oath you took to the imperial cause. The name of Miguel Lopez may become famous, no doubt, but it will never be mentioned in the annals of Mexico or of the world save with deepest abhorrence and contempt."