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My last date was the seventeenth. Since then have had no time to continue my journal, but all I could have recorded of interest can be told in a few words. The siege has progressed slowly and neither party has as yet injured the other materially. The first parallel has been opened about eight hundred yards from the wall of the town. The point of attack being directly in front of us, our brigade, General Worth s, has performed most of the labor in the trenches, and furnished nearly all the guards for the working parties. I have been on picket guard six nights in eleven, and the duty has been exceedingly severe upon all. The sand insects and want of rest must soon break us down in this climate unless the duty becomes lighter. The enemy are using their heavy batteries incessantly, throwing some hundreds of solid shot and shells at us every day, yet but one man in our brigade has been struck, a marine, who was killed yesterday morning by a shot striking the wall of the cemetery behind which he was sitting. We owe our safety to the peculiar nature of the ground, all the distance from our camp to the trenches being a succession of high sand hills with valleys filled with chaparral in which we are entirely safe from all but vertical shot, the fragments of shells which burst in the air, and the chances are that not one in a thousand of them will be effective.
Night before last I spent in advance of the trenches not far from the town. It was blowing a gale from the north, the fine sand pricking our faces like needles and nearly putting out our eyes. Being the advance post, and very near the enemy, great watchfulness was necessary to prevent surprise. I was up all the previous night and day, and yesterday at noon when I returned to camp, I was completely exhausted. A good night s rest, however, has restored me and I am ready for the trenches again. We have not yet opened a single battery on the town or castle and last night we got our first mortars and guns into position. But a small portion of our battering train has reached here and much anxiety is felt in regard to it, - whether it has been lost at sea or blown to leeward is not known. Forty-nine ten-inch mortars were expected of which but ten have arrived, and of the breaching guns only four twenty-four-pounders and two sixty-four-pound howitzers. With these it is thought we can soon reduce the city, but the castle may stand a longer siege. The horses of the light batteries and those of the Dragoons have suffered a great loss by the sea voyage, Duncan having lost fifty, and a squadron of Dragoons under Colonel Harney one hundred and fifteen, and those horses which have been landed are scarcely fit for service. . . . Our army is in no danger from severe fevers until May, and before then I hope our work will be done, and we shall either return or go to the mountains. . . . At two in the afternoon today, the city and castle were summoned to surrender, which, of course, was declined in the usual courteous terms by General Morales, Governor of Vera Cruz and San Juan, and commander of the Mexican forces, and at half-past three o clock six of our ten-inch mortars opened on the city with terrible effect. At the same time two small war steamers and five gun boats with heavy guns came to anchor within range of the castle to assist us in the attack. The enemy replied with every gun which they could bring to bear, returning at least three shots for every one of ours. It was a sublime spectacle from the sand hills in front of our camp where I was standing with Bel ton. The cannonade was terrific and the city and trenches were soon completely hidden by the smoke. We know that our shells must be doing vast injury as every one exploded in or immediately over the devoted city, and at the same time we felt confident that but little damage could be done to our troops in the trenches where they are covered from direct fire and are on the circumference of a circle, while our fire is concentrated from that circumference on a centre. We were, however, anxious to hear from the advance where were four companies of the Fifth under Major Scott. Chapman s company and mine were resting after having been forty-eight hours on duty.
At nine our regiment came in, when we learned that, as we supposed, we had silenced many of the Mexican guns, and as could be seen from the advanced positions had done great execution, knocking the spires, domes, and houses to ruins. If our weak battery of six mortars has done so much, what must have been the result if all our guns say fifty mortars and twenty or thirty heavy siege cannon, which should have been here had all been in operation. I do not believe the enemy could have held out four hours.
The loss on our side was but one soldier killed, but the entire army are mourning the death of Captain John R. Vinton, one of the most intellectual and gallant spirits of the army. He commanded the batteries in the trenches and a shell passing through the parapet of the parallel struck him in the head killing him instantly. Is it not strange that of the six or seven, which is all who have fallen in the siege, two should have been officers, Vinton and Alburtis ?
On the morning of the twenty- third, I was ordered to the trenches with a working party of one hundred men. A violent norther had arisen during the night, which blew the sand back almost as fast as we threw it out. The enemy were firing but little, occasionally a small shell would drop near us, but we could always see it in time to get out of its way. Our batteries, too, were obliged to slacken their fire as the surf during the gale prevented any landing from the ships, and the shells brought on shore were nearly expended. No one on our side has been wounded since the fall of Vinton. I came back to camp last night, filthy and tired enough. A good night s sleep has restored me and I am besides cheered to hear that eighteen more mortars have arrived. The more we get, the sooner our work will be finished and the less injury we shall receive.
I have just seen Uncle Edmund who says the " Princeton," war steamer, is about to sail for New York with Commodore Connor, who has been relieved by Commodore Perry. I hasten to close this for her mail and think it quite possible you may receive this before the last which went in a sail vessel on the seventeenth. I haven t seen my brother for several days, but hear that he is well. I am most thankful that Webster s name is not, so far as we can learn, on the list of the wounded at Buena Vista. Wherever there is shade and soil here, there are many beautiful wild flowers in blossom. I shall send one in this letter. ,
- To Mexico With Scott Letters of Captain E. Kirby Smith to his wife, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1917, digitized by the Internet Archive.