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August 22, 1847.
I hardly know how to commence a description of the events of the last three days. My brain is whirling from the long continued excitement and my body sore with bruises and fatigue but I will try to get into my usual humdrum style and record things as they happened. On the nineteenth we still lay near San Antonio. In the morning a force composed of Twigg s and Pillow's divisions was ordered far to the right on the San Angel road. Quitman held San Augustine and we kept the enemy in check at San Antonio. Our battalion strengthened by two companies from the Sixth, under Captain Hoffman, and two from the Eighth, under Brevet Major Montgomery, went far to the right reconnoitring. We passed over the same route as on the eighteenth but took no pains to con ceal our march among the lava crags and ravines as before, but showed ourselves to the enemy wishing them to believe we still threatened their position at San Antonio. About twelve the enemy s guns at Contreras, or San Magdalene, opened fire upon Twigg s and Pillow's advancing column. They were about four miles from us over the rugged ground we occupied and were ascending the side of the mountain. The firing soon became tremendous every flash and every peal was plainly perceptible to us, where we lay in reach of the guns of San Antonio. Soon the crash of small arms mingled with the incessant roar of ar tillery, the firing continuing for hours without our being able to perceive that our forces gained an inch. About five we, the light battalion, retired to our position on the San Antonio road. As the night closed in dark and rainy the firing ceased at Contreras and we in the camp of the first division were under in tense excitement to know the result of the battle. Our wagons were packed and we all stood in the muddy road without fires or food, miserably fatigued and uncomfortable, but intensely anxious to hear from the battle. Most of us finally settled down in the mud and rain, convinced that as we heard nothing we were not defeated. I was too anxious about my brother and companions to sleep. It was midnight before we heard. I then learned that the firing was mostly from the enemy that our operations were entirely for position that two officers, Captain Hanson of the Seventh and Lieutenant J. P. Johnston, second artillery, had been killed and our old friend Callender badly wounded in both legs, he commanded a battery of mountain howitzers, that the ground was broken, utterly impracticable for cavalry or field artillery, and that at daybreak the enemy s fortifications were to be assaulted by our infantry. Early on the morning of the twentieth, the attack was made and the works carried at the point of the bayonet, scarcely a gun being fired. We took fifteen hundred prisoners and twenty-two pieces of artillery among which were the guns captured by Santa Anna at Buena Vista. As soon as the result was known to General Worth, the Second Brigade of his division with our battalion were put in motion to endeavor to turn the position at San Antonio. For two hours we ran over the rocks moving by a flank, the enemy in a heavy column marching parallel to us and almost in gun shot, until the head of the Fifth Infantry pierced their line and the fight began at a quarter before twelve. It will be entirely impossible for me to give any lucid description of this terrible battle. It extended over a large space and I could see but little of it, being too hotly engaged to notice much beyond the sphere of my own duties. The point where our troops pierced the retreating column of the enemy was on the road from San Antonio to Mexico near a hacienda where the left of their line of defences terminated. Our battalion when the firing began must have been near a half mile to the rear. The " double quick " was sounded and the whole advanced at a run. We soon reached the road and turned in hot pursuit. This road is a broad, stone causeway with corn fields and pastures on each side of it, divided by broad ditches filled with water from three to six feet deep, the corn tall and very thick. It was soon seen as we rushed along the road that the enemy were only retreating to a fortified position which constituted their second line of defences at Churubusco. You will hear this called San Pablo and by another name which I can not recall.
Along the road to this point I had seen no wounded or dead American, though on either hand and in the road were many dead Mexicans. I saw one colonel lying in the ditch shot through the heart. We had advanced on the road less than a mile when we were ordered into the fields to assault the right of the enemy s position, I am speaking of our battalion. We soon formed line in an open field behind the thick corn in our advance. The escopet balls were whistling over our heads, though at long range, and occasionally a cannon ball sang through the corn as it tore its path along in our front.
At this time the battle was fiercely contested on our left and front, but I did not, and do not now know what regiments were engaged. It must have been about half-past twelve. Immediately in front of us, at perhaps five hundred yards, the roll of the Mexican fire exceeded anything I have ever heard. The din was most horrible, the roar of cannon and musketry, the screams of the wounded, the awful cry of terrified horses and mules, and the yells of the fierce combatants all combined in a sound as hellish as can be conceived. We had not from our battalion as yet fired a gun, but now rapidly advanced, all apparently eager to bring the contest to a hand to hand combat in which we knew our superiority.
We could not tell what was before us whether the enemy were in regular forts, behind breast works, or delivering their fire from the cover afforded by the hedges and ditches which bordered the road and fields, all was hidden by the tall corn.
We soon came out of it into a crossroad near some small houses, where we were exposed to a dreadful cross fire, which could scarcely be resisted. Many had fallen and the battalion was much scattered and broken. The grape round shot and musketry were sweeping over the ground in a storm which strewed it with the dead and dying. I found it extremely difficult to make the men stand or form, but finally suc ceeded with my own company which was at once ordered to charge under my brave Lieutenant Farrelly. I was occupied reorganizing the three other companies, the colonel and many of the officers and men not appearing when arose the most fearful time of the battle. My men were just formed and I had ordered the charge which I was about to lead, when the dread ful cry came from the left and rear that we were repulsed. A rush of men and officers in a panic followed, running over and again breaking my little command. I, however, succeeded in disentangling them from the mass, composed of a great portion of the Eighth, Sixth, and Fifth Infantry, with some artillery. I shouted that we were not repulsed to charge - and the day would be ours. Our colonel, C. F. Smith, now joined us, and the cry throughout was: " For ward!"
Up to this time we were not aware that the other divisions of the army were engaged, but we now learned that Twiggs and others were pressing them on the left and had been fighting them an hour or more. Before this we had discovered we were under the fire of two forts, one a bastion front tete du pont flanking, and being flanked by a larger work, built round an extensive convent. Now as the whole army shouted and rushed to the assault, the enemy gave way, retreating as best they could to Mexico. They were pursued by all, hundreds being shot down in the retreat, our Dragoons charging after them to the guns at the gate of the city, where they were stayed by a tremendous discharge from the battery covering the entrance. Three officers, Captains Kearney and McReynolds and Lieutenant Graham, were here wounded, and Major Mills of the Fifteenth Infantry killed.
As soon as the battle terminated and the pursuit ceased, I went back, tired and sore as I was, to collect the dead and dying of our battalion and did not return until night. The field presented an awful spec tacle the dead and the wounded were thickly sprinkled over the ground the mangled bodies of the artillery horses and mules actually blocking up the road and filling the ditches. How sickening was the sight after all the excitement of the contest was past! In my own company I found two dead and fifteen wounded. Lieutenant Farrelly received two shots, one in the breast and one in the arm. In the battalion there was in the aggregate fifty killed and wounded out of about two hundred and twenty engaged; in our entire division, three hundred and thirty-six; in the whole army, one thousand fifty-two. Seventy-four officers were killed and wounded, thirteen killed on the field. Our own particular friends are unhurt. I thank God for my escape which I now think wonderful. I was in the thickest of the fight for more than an hour, and my feet by grape and cannon were twice knocked from under me.
The loss of the enemy must be immense. We have taken between two and three thousand prisoners, seven generals, and thirty-seven large guns. Their officers say, in killed, missing, and captured, they have lost over five thousand. They acknowledge that they had twenty, some say thirty thousand, in the fight. It was a wonderful victory and undoubtedly the greatest battle our country has ever fought, and I hope will bring peace. At all events, the great city is at our mercy, and we could enter it at any hour.
On the morning of the twenty-first I was ordered to take charge of some funeral parties collecting and burying the dead. This was a sad, a solemn service - though in our haste we performed no burial rites paid no honors but laid our dead in the earth in the bloody garments in which they died, most of them on the spot where they fell. Indeed many were so torn and mangled by the shot it was entirely impossible to move them. In searching the ground for bodies I gained a very accurate knowledge of the field or I could not have made the rude sketch above. [He refers to a little map of the field which he had drawn.] In it I pretend to no accuracy except so far as the various points lie with regard to each other. At the convent, around which one fortification is constructed, I saw the Mexican prisoners and some fifty of our deserters who were taken in arms against us. The Mexican position was exceedingly strong and I can hardly understand how we carried it when I reflect that we had only between six and seven thousand engaged and they, at the least, estimate twenty thousand.
I returned to camp about twelve and found every thing in preparation for a march as we all supposed to attack the city but we moved off to the left to TACUBAYA, where we found General Scott s head quarters, and learned that a flag of truce had been received from Santa Anna preparatory to negotiations for peace, and that we were not to enter the city. There was much muttering and grumbling throughout the army when it was known that these were to be the fruits of all our fatigue and fighting. I supped with Uncle Edmund and slept in a monk s cell in an old convent.
On the twenty-third and twenty-fourth of August negotiations were going on, and finally on the twenty- fifth an armistice was concluded for the purpose of making a peace. By the armistice we are excluded from the city and either general can terminate it by giving forty-eight hours notice. This I fear may be the result, though perhaps Santa Anna may be compelled to make a peace to save himself from his own countrymen who will certainly kill him if deserted by his troops, as he surely will be if we fight again. The money which he will receive from us may enable him to declare himself dictator and maintain a force with which he can defy all the Pronunciamentos in Mexico.
My notes have been written in detached portions, having been constantly interrupted by duty and a thousand annoyances, and I am fully aware that the preceding pages, although they may interest you, are an exceedingly lame and imperfect account of our operations. It is now the twenty-eighth of August and I have as yet seen none of the official reports; however, for your gratification I can tell you that I am favorably mentioned in the report, as Uncle Ed mund tells me, and that I have been spoken of in high terms at headquarters. He says I will now get the brevet which I earned long ago. This, of course, is for you alone. I have not much hope of so desirable a result as I have no political influence to aid me and would not resort to it if I had. My glorious brother, I learn, has a paragraph especially dedicated to his praise in Plymp ton s report. He fully deserves any thing complimentary which can be said of him.
Commissioners were appointed on the twenty-sixth by Santa Anna, who met Mr. N. P. Trist on the eve ning of the twenty-seventh. Mr. Trist was accompanied by Major A. Van Buren whom, I presume, acted as his secretary. I am afraid Trist " has more cloth cut out than he can make up in his shop," but sincerely hope he may effect a treaty. At headquarters the utmost confidence is felt as to the result. They met last evening when the basis of the proposed treaty was submitted by Mr. Trist. They have met again today at some village a few miles from here. May God prosper and speed their consultations !
On the twenty-sixth our wagons were sent to the city for supplies, money, subsistence, etc. but were sent back from the gate, though the armistice declares there shall be no obstruction to our procuring supplies from the Capital. General Scott, of course, was much astonished and immediately ordered a termination to the truce, but an apology came from Santa Anna almost before the words had passed his lips. Yesterday they went again, conducted by a quarter-master in citizen s dress; and escorted by Mexican lancers, they reached the main plaza with out any annoyance, but in moving from that place to some point beyond, they were attacked by the mob, stones and sticks being used. Several of the teamsters were wounded and the whole train driven from the city in double-quick time. Two wagons were lost in spite of the Mexican officers and soldiers who, it is said, did all in their power to protect our men and wagons even it is said killing some of the mob. Many of the Mexican women were engaged in this row which was undoubtedly an attempt at a revolution, the cry being heard throughout the crowd: " Death to Santa Anna! Death to the Yankees !" This ridiculous affair has again come near to terminate the negotiations, but I am told it is now adjusted and whatever we require is to be sent from the city to us.
We are in a strange situation a conquering army on a hill overlooking an enemy s Capital, which is perfectly at our mercy, yet not permitted to enter it, and compelled to submit to all manner of insults from its corrupt inhabitants. I am much afraid that peace cannot be made, but this satisfaction remains to us, that the world must see that, though always victorious, we have ever extended the olive branch, always ready to sheathe the sword.
I passed an exceedingly interesting hour this morning with Colonel Hitchcock in listening to the transla tions of many letters from a large mail coming from the Capital, which was captured on the twenty-second. They were from generals, aids, husbands, wives, sweet hearts, indeed, all classes. Many of them were written in a most beautiful style, all in a tone of utter heart broken despondency. Several stated that the troops opposed to us amounted to thirty-two thousand, that they were utterly routed and dispirited, and no longer able to oppose us. Some of them are admirable and accurate descriptions of the battles, evidently written by accomplished soldiers who well understand the subject. I recollect an expression in one written by an officer of high rank. Speaking of the assault at Contreras, he says: " When the rain and darkness came on at night I supposed the Americans would retire to sleep, but they were too astute to rest. In war the Yankees know no rest no fear." High compliments from an enemy. The letter is addressed to a Congressional deputy and calls upon him to come " to the funeral obsequies of his dishonored nation." In another the writer says: " All is lost, God has for saken us, the sentence of Belshazzar is written upon our walls, Mene, Mene tekel upharsin. They will all be published if Colonel Hitchcock ever succeeds in getting them to the United States. . . .
This town, TACUBAYA, is finely situated on the side and crest of a rugged hill, exceedingly irregular. At the highest point is a fine palace, now General Scott s headquarters. The whole town is an incongruous mixture of palaces, luxurious gardens, ruins, hovels, and squalid poverty. The most exquisitely beautiful spot I have ever visited is a small garden of a wealthy merchant here. In its centre is a fountain throwing up its crystal jet high in the air, overhung by a magnificent cedar far surpassing any tree of the kind I have ever seen, at least three feet in diameter at the base, and its straight, smooth shaft in all the symmetry of an architectural column rising full forty feet without a limb. All round are the fruits, flowers, and vines of every clime growing luxuriantly in this eternal spring. At the extremity of the centre walk is a huge white ash full equal to the green monarch in the middle of this paradise. Growing side by side, their branches commingling, are apples, pears, quinces, figs, oranges, pomegranates, peaches, grapes, and other fruits, all growing in the space of half an acre of ground, all bearing all in the most flourishing health. Beneath, bordering some of the winding walks, are beds of strawberries, the ripe fruit looking most tempting.
To the north, less than a mile from TACUBAYA, lies Chapultepec, anciently the country residence of the Montezumas the cannon and troops on the walls plainly visible, while the palace around which the fortifications are built appears across the deep valley between us, as if a leap would place us in its marble halls. To the northeast, apparently at but a little greater distance, lies amid its lakes and marshes the boasted city of the Aztecs, its spires and domes, its walls and aqueducts, all plainly visible. Look round over the rich, broad valley of Mexico. What a glorious scene lies before us! I am now standing in the lofty belfry of this old Franciscan Monastery. In the centre of the valley is the reedy lake of Chalco, its waters shining through the long lines of the arbor vitae, ash, cypress, and other trees which border the broad causeways that cross its bosom in various directions, while around it and around us rise on every side the white haciendas of the wealthy owners of the soil, looking like lordly castles and all appears fair, rich, happy, and most beautiful. Encircling all this rise the lofty mountains, a frame to this most glorious picture, the shining summit of old Popocatepetl form ing the gilded ball at the top! How deceitful! " Tis distance lends enchantment to the view." Let us descend and examine more closely. Alas, how decay and neglect are stamped on everything around ! The fields abandoned and uncultivated; the stone walls broken and scattered; the hedges torn, un trimmed, and in many places uprooted and gone for rods; the long aqueducts and vast stone reservoirs broken and dry, or filled with green, slimy, aquatic plants and all manner of reptiles; while the white, aristocratic- looking haciendas are in ruins and uninhabited, the monuments of a more prosperous age. Sad evidences that with the monarchy departed the glory, wealth, and happiness of this fair domain.
September 1. We are remaining quietly in our po sition here at TACUBAYA, awaiting the result of the negotiations. Ex-President Herrara is the chief of the Mexican Commission, and none of the members are Santa Anna s political friends. This increases the chance of a favorable result, as it takes from Santa Anna some of the responsibility, compelling the friends of these commissioners to unite with them in whatever course they may pursue. At headquarters the utmost confidence is felt that a peace will be made, and it surely will be if the Mexican president has sufficient power to effect it. The only fear is that he may not be able to overcome all the factions which are and will be opposed to him. His sincerity is sufficiently demonstrated by the fact that he has sent us, and is still sending us, all the supplies we require from the city. Over five hundred thousand dollars has already been received and more is still to come.
We have a rumor that a mail has arrived at PUEBLA, if so, I shall soon receive some of your delightful letters, shall again hear from my children. I wish I could be certain you will hear from me, but we are tolerably confident the last letters we sent from PUEBLA were carried to Santa Anna instead of to Vera Cruz.
September 2. Everything remains in statu quo to day. The commissioners are in session and so far as can be ascertained from the remarks of Mr. Trist and Major Van Buren last evening, after they had adjourned, everything is progressing favorably. We have many rumors from the Capital, but they are so contradictory and sometimes so absurd that I scarcely listen to them. We are, however, certain that Santa Anna has collected from his scattered forces a large army and it is said has now over twenty thousand under arms in the city, keeping up a show of preparation for the war, which, however, gives us not the least uneasiness as we are confident of our ability to whip them at any time. Moreover, there will be no necessity of an assault as they will never suffer the Capital to be bombarded.
I have said little of the Fifth or of any other regiment in the fight as I have confined my statements to such occurrences as came under my immediate observation. Colonel Clarke was wounded slightly in the early part of the action, Mclntosh succeeding to the command of the brigade and Martin Scott to that of the regiment. It was much broken and I am told never acted in a body after Scott took the command. There seems to be much ill feeling exist ing hardly a shadow of harmony left in the regiment. Ruggles claims much glory for his conduct and has made a report, which has gone to head quarters, in which he claims to have captured the first gun taken at Churubusco. It is said, and I believe with truth, that the cannon was a thirty-two- pounder, broken down, spiked, and abandoned in the road by the enemy, that it was not fired and had been passed by many of our troops before Ruggles came up to it! Such is glory! McPhail, who is Martin Scott s toady, is highly spoken of by him, but the prevailing opinion in the regiment is that he behaved badly. In truth, there is much discord, all are quarrel ing about the honors, and I am thankful that I am detached from the regiment and have nothing to do with their envious misunderstandings. I keep my own counsel and listen to all their complaints without comment. As far as I am myself concerned I have nothing to say. If justice is not done me in the official reports, I shall suffer in silence. I cannot blow my own trumpet. I judge from the remarks of all who speak to me on the subject that I shall not be over looked. It is said the generals, too, utterly disagree in their reports, each claiming for their own commands the deeds done by other troops. How General Scott can sift the truth from the whole mass of discrepancies I cannot conceive, indeed, I am induced to believe from what I have already heard that much injustice will be done by his report. Hints of its contents are constantly leaking out. With regard to one person there is no disagreement; all unite in the opinion that our chaplain, McCarty, deserves a wreath. He was under fire during the battle, pressing forward among the combatants, encouraging and exhorting all to deeds of gallantry, and it has been proposed that he be made a Brevet Bishop!
I do not yet see any prospect of a safe mail to Vera Cruz, and I shall not send this until I am perfectly satisfied that it will not be captured, for rude as these memoranda are, they will interest you, and be a valu able reference for me in the future. Lieutenant Dent, on my application, has been today temporarily as signed to my company, and will have the military command of it for the present. Sergeants Updegraff and Archer have both been recommended for commissions. Updegraff will make a good officer and is a gentleman. The other I did not recommend, though he is a brave, honest man. Little Barney is quite sick, so I lose my cook, laundress, and servant, my " Caleb Quotem." I do not know what I shall do without him. By the bye, he desires that his respects be presented to " my lady," with assurances that there is plenty of " mustard " and that he will take care of the " captain." The market here is bad and everything horribly dear. ... It has cost me one dollar a day for provisions since my arrival. We hear that everything is quite cheap in the city but the mar ket men are all in a combination to cheat the Yankees, and our generals do not establish any market tariff as we all think they ought so we are compelled to submit or starve.
September 7. Since the second, until yesterday, nothing occurred worthy of note, though I thought there were abundant signs that Santa Anna was only " humbugging " us, indeed, as my journal shows, I have thought from the beginning that it was only a scheme on his part to keep us out of the city and to gain time. It truly seemed wonderful to me that in the truce the immediate surrender of Chapultepec, Mexicalingo, and El Penon was not demanded it could not have been refused; the city itself must at once have given up ; they could not for some days after the battle of the twentieth have made any resistance.
On the fifth it began to be rumored that the proffers made by Mr. Trist were rejected and the treaty vio lated; in fact, a week before that time I reported in writing to General Scott, as I thought on sufficient evidence, that the enemy were violating the armistice by erecting and increasing their fortifications. But the general pronounced my informant, who was a resident of the city, a " liar." On the evening of the sixth, however, General Scott declared the truce terminated in consequence of the frequent violations of its articles by Santa Anna. We are now no more advanced than we were previous to the battle of the twentieth last. In the sixteen days during which he has been flattering us with the hopes of peace he has been actively collecting his scattered forces, and with all his energies preparing to renew the combat. He has now twenty- two thousand men under arms and the Capital placed in such a state of defence that the enemy loudly boasts we cannot take it. Fatal credulity! How awful are its consequences to us ! By it, the fruits of our glorious and incomparable victory are entirely thrown away. In the sixteen days our provisions and forage have been almost entirely exhausted; eight hundred of our men are sick, which added to about the same number put hors de combat by death and wounds leaves us nearly two thousand weaker than we were on the morning of the twentieth ultimo, and now, alas, we have all our fighting to do over again.
In my opinion a much bloodier battle is to be fought than any which have preceded it. When will our rulers learn wisdom! How many times must they be gulled and deceived before they will learn to treat all Mexican promises with scorn! This morning a heavy column of the enemy were seen marching from the city by Chapultepec. Their right was established at a large building, said to be a foundry, something more than a mile from Chapultepec, and their left resting on that strong fortification. Their line is along an aqueduct and a deep ditch covered by bushes and trees bordering an extensive pasture and grain field an extremely strong position.
I have just learned that the plan of attack is arranged. A forlorn hope of five hundred men commanded by Major G. Wright is to carry the foundry and blow it up. At the same time an attack from our artillery, the rest of the first division and Cadwalader s Brigade is to be made upon their line and Chapultepec, our battalion forming the reserve. This operation is to commence at three in the morning. Tomorrow will be a day of slaughter. I firmly trust and pray that victory may crown our efforts though the odds are immense.
I am thankful that you do not know the peril we are in. Good night.
The writer fell mortally wounded early the next morn-
- To Mexico With Scott Letters of Captain E. Kirby Smith to his wife, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1917, digitized by the Internet Archive.