Want to save this letter now that you've found it?
It's easy - just create your own collection of letters after signing up for a free account.
HACIENDO, SAN ANTONIO, May 3, 1847.
About ten this morning I received an order to march as an escort to the siege train under Hayner to this place and then to proceed to Tipi Gualco to join the light battalion. My company marched out of the castle about half-past one, took the great road to Mexico, and before sunset reached here, eight miles from Perote, where there is a large garrison under Major Wright. This hacienda is worthy of a description. The front of it is immediately on the road - the main entrance being through the building and opening upon an enclosure of at least one hundred and fifty yards on a side, surrounded by a high stone wall with flanking towers on the diagonal corners. On two sides of it are extensive sheds, and in the centre a large and very deep well from which the water is drawn by horse or mule power. The animal is har nessed to a sweep which turns a windlass like an old-fashioned cider mill. He moves round in one direction until the bucket reaches the top, when he is turned and travels the opposite way until the other bucket comes up. This is kept going night and day, the water being turned into troughs from which it is used for every purpose, agricultural and domestic. There are now in the storehouses here more than ten thousand bushels of corn and barley which have been purchased by our quarter-master. About the exterior are huge stacks of straw and corn stalks for fodder, no hay being ever made in this country. This estate, which belongs to a young man, is twelve miles square and has on it large herds of cattle, flocks of sheep, droves of mules, horses, and swine, and some hundreds of slaves they are called peons who are under the worst kind of bondage, belonging to their masters until they get out of debt to him, which he takes care they never shall do. These poor creatures under an overseer are turned out to work before daylight. They are as sembled in a sort of military array before a great cross erected near the main entrance of the hacienda, where they all join in a matin song. When they return from work in the evening a similar ceremony takes place, - in the presence of the overseer, mounted on his horse, they sing their hymn to the Virgin. The song concluded they retire to their huts to gather strength, amidst their dirt, for another day s servitude.
We hear that General Scott says that in all probability our communication with Vera Cruz will be cut off from six to nine months. A sweet prospect not to hear from you for nine months! I don t believe the story it must be all gammon ! I shall continue to write as hitherto. We march in the morning at sun rise. . . .
May 4, Tipi Gualco (old Indian meaning, lost). We left San Antonio early this morning. A heavy mist lay upon the plain making it quite dark and wetting us almost as completely as a drenching rain. I felt wretchedly. Last night after writing in a room full of officers who were sleeping around me, I put out my light and lay down, but soon felt an attack of gastritis coming on. I endeavored to lie still not being willing to disturb any one, in the hope it would soon pass off. It, however, became unendurable and I was compelled to arouse my man Barney who slept in the anteroom and send for the doctor. He soon relieved me, but as usual I am paying for it today. Mem. - Barney is a character. For many years he was in the service of W. R. Johnson, the " Napoleon of the Turf," and rode Peytona on all her famous races. He is an acute little jockey, and a most excellent servant. He has become much attached to me and, I believe, serves me from pure love.
About eight o clock the mist suddenly rolled away over the tops of the high mountains about us, showing that we were on an arid plain herbless and desolate. Our whole route was the same until at eleven o clock we reached this town situated at the base of a high pumice stone mountain of the same name. Every thing here showed decay and misrule. I reported to Colonel Garland and to Lieutenant- Colonel Smith, and after an hour or two succeeded in obtaining shelter for my company and myself in a dirty, ruined place nearly a mile from the rest of the brigade. By some labor we have made it comfortable and a cup of coffee has made me feel quite well. We are near the house of the curate, and this afternoon, with Rossell and Farrelly, I visited him.
He was nearly frightened to death when we entered his domicile or rather yard at the gate of which he was standing, and taking off his high-crowned sombrero, he bowed nearly to the earth. We sat down in his humble dwelling and soon succeeded in restoring his confidence, especially after Farrelly assured him he was a Catholic. We went through the church which is very large, and was once a fine building but is now much dilapidated. The padre accompanied us to our quarters, and after sipping a glass of wine with us out of a tin pint cup left us apparently quite our friend. In this high desert land fleas and ticks are too wise to live, so I hope to pass a quiet night. Buenos noches.
May 5. Nothing new today either from the front or rear save a rumor, which I think entirely unfounded, that Trowbridge and his clerk have been murdered near Santa Fe. I do not believe that he has yet arrived at Vera Cruz. I beg you to continue to write to me as hitherto, for the reinforcements which must continue to arrive will escort the mails from Vera Cruz, even should we be unable to send ours to that point. Be under no apprehensions on my account if you do not hear from me. My health is good and I shall take good care to keep it so. We are in a healthy region and I do not believe we shall have another general action.
My opinion of volunteers and the whole volunteer system is not changed in the least. They are expensive, unruly, and not to be relied upon in action. Their conduct towards the poor inhabitants has been horrible, and their coming is dreaded like death in every village in Mexico, while the regulars are met by the people almost as friends. A portion of them (the volunteers) have fled in every action in which they have been engaged and they can never succeed unless supported by the line. At Monterey, Buena Vista, and Cerro Gordo portions of them ran. General Taylor says in a letter that at Buena Vista, had they not been turned back by the enemy who had got to his rear, many more than did would have entirely fled the battle field. Pillow's Brigade of volunteers were defeated at Cerro Gordo, and he requested the General to send him a few regulars, if only one company, to support and set an example to his men. The first instance is yet to occur in this war in which a regular has abandoned his post or been defeated. Portions of the volunteers have fought most gallantly, but when they will fight, and when they won t, can only be determined by experiment. I am aware that these opinions would be considered almost treasonable in the United States, but here they are the sentiments of all the regulars and of a large number of the volunteer officers in the field.
May 6, Tepeyahualco (correct spelling, pronounced Ta-pa-dh-wolko). This was once a fine little town, most of it is now in ruins. It is between fifty and sixty miles from Puebla which is said to be the third city in Mexico. There are now here Duncan s light battery, the light battalion under Colonel C. F. Smith, to which I am acting major; the Second Artillery commanded by Captain McKenzie, the Third Artillery by Colonel Belton, and the Fourth Infantry under Colonel Graham. These battalions with five companies of the Fifth, which are still at Perote, consti tute a brigade under Colonel Garland. Our men have suffered terribly here with ague and fever and bilious intermittents. The sickness arises from their great exposure in the tierra caliente near the coast, their bivouacking in the heavy dews and rains, and the excessive fatigue of their long march. The cases are generally light, and in this cool, healthy climate they will soon recover. Dr. Satterlee is my attending physician.
Some Mexican gentlemen came in this morning from Puebla. One of them, a very intelligent man, educated in Hartford, Connecticut, represents the country as in a most deplorable condition, the Government as utterly disorganized by the battle of Cerro Gordo, which he pronounces the most serious blow the Republic has ever received. The Government, he says, is not capable of carrying on the war or of making a peace. The roads are filled with bands of robbers under the name of guerillas, who are as ready to plunder and murder the Mexicans as they are to attack us. The city of Puebla has a deputation prepared to meet us before we reach its gates to escort us within its walls, and an officer ready to turn over the public property. From the best information there is not at this time more than four thousand Infantry of the enemy under arms in all this portion of Mexico. There are besides some three thousand cavalry under General Canalizo who escaped from the battle of Cerro Gordo, but they are of no account, and we neither know nor care where they are.
There is no middle class in this country. The upper " ten hundred " not " ten thousand " possess all the wealth and are continually quarreling about the control of affairs and creating constant revolutions. The millions are steeped in ignorance, vice, and poverty, abject to the priests and trampled to the dust by the wealthy. . . .
May 7. There is a probability of our remaining here some days. Some troops were sent this morning to the village of San Juan, seven miles distant, to secure certain supplies which were intercepted by a petty robber chief. They returned this evening and reported that the chief had fled, but they found San Juan a fine, neat town containing three churches and from three to four thousand inhabitants. It lies in a rich, cultivated valley about twenty miles in extent. So far we have been able to secure at high prices an abundance of grain, flour, beef, mutton, fresh pork, some coffee, sugar and salt, with common tallow candles, so that the army can be tolerably well provisioned without transporting supplies from the seaboard during the hot season. I wish we could move forward to Puebla where the sick would be more comfortable. I have now forty-five men of my company sick, twenty-three of them are present, and the remaining twenty-two have been left at various places on the route. . . .
May 8. This is the anniversary of the battle of Palo Alto, my first fight, the first of the war, and perhaps the most important in its consequences. Little did we think, who were engaged in that contest, that in one year we would be in the heart of Mexico, and that a salute in honor of that victory would peal from the walls of San Juan D Ulloa. Where shall we be a year hence? Quien sabe? perhaps in California, perhaps at home, which may God grant.
Seven regiments of volunteers are going home, their time having expired. This will reduce our force so much that it is doubtful whether General Scott will think it prudent to advance beyond Puebla. . . .
May 9. This is the anniversary of the battle of Resaca. How differently I feel now with regard to the war from what I did then! Then vague visions of glory and a speedy peace floated through my brain. Now I have learned in common with many other poor fellows that it is not he who patiently does his duty, or who in the hour of danger is in the front of the battle, who gains the laurel or the more vulgar reward of government patronage. It is too frequently the sycophant who flatters the foibles of his commanding officer, he who has political family influence, or whom some accident makes conspicuous, who reaps all the benefits of the exposure and labors of others. The long list of brevets, most outrageously unjust as they are, many of them double, is a register of evidence to the facts that success is a lottery and that government rewards are by no means dependent on merit. How tired and sick I am of a war to which I can see no probable termination ! How readily would I exchange my profession for any honest, mechanical employment, were it possible to do so! How instantly would I resign if I saw any certainty of supporting my family in tolerable comfort or even decency in civil life! Why do I grumble or let you know how miserable I am ? Think not I am always so. It is not often that I suffer my mind to dwell on these matters, or yield to any despondency. General Worth (" Young Cortes") has arrived with the remainder of the Second Brigade. . . . General Worth's division is to march at once to Puebla. . . . General Worth informs me that Major Kirby has gone back to Jalapa by order of General Scott, who wants his shrewd counsel and can find no other man capable of settling the confused accounts of the "Mohawks" who are tired of the war and are going home to boast of their deeds of arms. . . . Rossell is in fine health. He is an excellent officer and ought to have been brevetted for Monterey. . . .
- To Mexico With Scott Letters of Captain E. Kirby Smith to his wife, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1917, digitized by the Internet Archive.