September 12, 1847: Battle of Chapultepec Begins

 

 

The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.

Ulysses S. Grant, decorated veteran of the Mexican War

 

 

 

On September 12, 1847 General Winfield Scott began his assault on the Castle of Chapultepec, the key to Mexico City.  If Chapultepec could be taken, Mexico City would fall and the War won.  Here is Scott’s report to the Secretary of War:

 

 

Head-Quarters of the Army,
National Palace of Mexico, Sept. 18, 1847.

Sir: – At the end of another series of arduous and brilliant operations of more than forty-eight hours’ continuance, this glorious army hoisted, on the morning of the 14th, the colours of the United States on the walls of this palace.

The victory of the 8th, at the Molino del Rey, was followed by daring reconnoissances on the part of our distinguished engineers – Captain Lee, Lieutenants Beauregard, Stevens, and Tower – Major Smith, senior, being sick, and Captain Mason, third in rank, wounded. Their operations were directed principally to the south – towards the gates of the Piedad, San Angel (Niño Perdido), San Antonio, and the Paseo de la Viga.

This city stands on a slight swell of ground, near the centre of an irregular basin, and is girdled with a ditch in its greater extent – a navigable canal of great breadth and depth – very difficult to bridge in the presence of an enemy, and serving at once for drainage, custom-house purposes, and military defence; leaving eight entrances or gates, over arches – each of which we found defended by a system of strong works, that seemed to require nothing but some men and guns to be impregnable.

Outside and within the cross-fires of those gates, we found to the south other obstacles but little less formidable. All the approaches near the city are over elevated causeways, cut in many places (to oppose us), and flanked on both sides by ditches, also of unusual dimensions. The numerous cross-roads are flanked in like manner, having bridges at the intersections, recently broken. The meadows thus checkered are, moreover, in many spots, under water or marshy; for, it will be remembered, we were in the midst of the wet season, though with less rain than usual, and we could not wait for the fall of the neighbouring lakes and the consequent drainage of the wet grounds at the edge of the city – the lowest in the whole basin.

After a close personal survey of the southern gates, covered by Pillow’s division and Riley’s brigade of Twiggs’ – with four times our numbers concentrated in our immediate front – I determined on the 11th to avoid that net-work of obstacles, and to seek, by a sudden diversion to the south-west and west, less unfavourable approaches.

To economize the lives of our gallant officers and men, as well as to insure success, it became indispensable that this resolution should be long masked from the enemy; and again, that the new movement, when discovered, should be mistaken for a feint, and the old as indicating our true and ultimate point of attack.

Accordingly, on the spot, the 11th, I ordered Quitman’s division from Cuyoacan, to join Pillow, by daylight, before the southern gates, and then that the two major-generals, with their divisions, should, by night, proceed (two miles) to join me at Tacubaya, where I was quartered with Worth’s division. Twiggs, with Riley’s brigade and Captains Taylor’s and Steptoe’s field batteries – the latter of 12-pounders – was left in front of those gates, to maneuver, to threaten, or to make false attacks, in order to occupy and deceive the enemy. Twiggs’ other brigade (Smith’s) was left at supporting distance, in the rear, at San Angel, till the morning of the 13th, and also to support our general depot at Mixcoac. The stratagem against the south was admirably executed throughout the 12th and down to the afternoon of the 13th, when it was too late for the enemy to recover from the effects of his delusion.

The first step in the new movement was to carry Chapultepec, a natural and isolated mound, of great elevation, strongly fortified at its base, on its acclivities, and heights. Besides a numerous garrison, here was the military college of the republic, with a large number of sub-lieutenants and other students. Those works were within direct gun-shot of the village of Tacubaya, and until carried, we could not approach the city on the west, without marking a circuit too wide and too hazardous. (more…)

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Published in: on September 12, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 12, 1847: Battle of Chapultepec Begins  
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Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows

colonel winfield-scott

Winfield Scott, the most notable American general between the American Revolution and the Civil War, began his climb to becoming a general at 27 by the heroism he displayed as a Lieutenant Colonel at the battle of Queenston Heights on October 11, 1812.  An American defeat, Scott was among the 955 Americans captured.

The British at this time did not recognize the right of any British subject to change his nationality.  Such a subject, captured fighting in a foreign army, was considered by the British to be a traitor and liable to summary execution, sometimes being given the opportunity to avoid death by enlisting in the British Army.

At first the American captives were treated rather well.  Scott was even invited to dinner by British General Roger Sheaffe, who also protected the Americans from the Indian allies of the British.  Shipped to Quebec, the Americans were paroled and were due to leave via ship for Boston on November 20, 1812.  The day before a commission of British officers boarded the ship where Scott and his men were waiting to sail.  The British began questioning the American enlisted men.  If they detected an Irish brogue, the man was arrested as a traitor to the Crown.  Hearing the commotion this was causing, Scott rushed from below deck.  Defying an order from the British to go below, he ordered the men who had not been interrogated not to say another word.  To the 23 men who had been arrested, he promised the United States would protect them.  The men obeyed Scott and all refused to say a word.  The British eventually gave up and took the 23 men off the ship.  Scott and the remainder sailed for Boston on November 20.  Of the 23 men arrested by the British, 13 were executed. (more…)

Published in: on September 26, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Winfield Scott and the Irish Pows  
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The Court-Martial of Winfield Scott

Two hundred years ago the War of 1812 was about to break out.  Winfield Scott would become a national hero in that war, rising from Captain to Brigadier  General, with a brevet rank of Major General, all before his thirtieth birthday.  However, before the War his military career almost ended when he was convicted at a court-martial.

One of the greatest scoundrels in American history was doubtless James B. Wilkinson.  Twice commander of the American Army between the Revolution and the War of 1812, Wilkinson was also a spy for the Spanish government.  In addition to this treachery, Wilkinson was corrupt and was always quite ready to harm his country if he would personally benefit.  Although his being a spy for Spain was not discovered until after his death, enough of his other infamies were known for him to be held in low esteem by his fellow officers.

In 1809 Captain Scott was courtmartialed for accurately calling Major General Wilkinson a liar and a scoundrel, and ventured the opinion that serving under Wilkinson was as dishonorable as being married to a prostitute.  There was also a trumped-up charge of Scott pocketing the money of the men under his command.  In January 1810 Scott was convicted on the fairly nebulous charge of engaging in conduct unbecoming of an officer and suspended from the Army for one year.  Many another man would have given up a military career after this rocky start, but not Captain Scott.  He merely resumed his duties after the year and proceeded on with his meteoric career as if nothing had happened.  His bete noir General Wilkinson would go on to lead American forces to defeat in two battles in 1814 and was relieved of command.  The war that made the career of Scott ended the career of his arch enemy.  President Theodore Roosevelt in the third volume of his The Winning of the West has this to say about Wilkinson: (more…)

Published in: on May 3, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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General Order Number 20

During the Mexican War, General Winfield Scott, who was commanding the American invasion that would take Mexico City and win the War, was concerned about crimes committed by American troops, especially volunteers, against the Mexican civilian population.  (The crimes were often precipitated by the anger of American troops at sickening mutilation and murder of Americans captured by Mexican guerillas.)  Up to this time, American soldiers accused of crimes against civilians had simply been tried in American civilian courts.  This was clearly not an option available during a war waged on foreign soil.  Scott hit upon the idea of trying troops before military commissions, and he embodied this idea in Order Number 20.  Here is the text of the order: (more…)

Published in: on March 16, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on General Order Number 20  
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Scott’s Anaconda Plan

Without a doubt, the greatest American general between the Revolution and the Civil War was Winfield Scott.  Vain enough to be called “Fuss and Feathers” by his men, too eager for political office, Scott also possessed military talent of a high order as he amply demonstrated as a young man in the War of 1812, and in his late middle age in the Mexican War.  By the Civil War, Scott was 75, obese and unable to physically take the field.  However his skill as a strategist remained undiminished.  In his Anaconda Plan he laid out the strategy by which the Union would prevail:  a naval blockade and taking control of the Mississippi to strangle the South economically.  Note also how he wants three year troops recruited.  At the time he wrote this in May 1861, most people, North and South, were predicting a 90 day war.  Scott could see that the war would be a long one, and not the short romp that so many were predicting.

 

The Anaconda Plan (Scott to McClellan)

Union Correspondence, Orders, And Returns Relating To Operations In Maryland, Eastern North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia (Except Southwestern), And West Virginia, From January 1, 1861, To June 30, 1865.–#3
O.R.–SERIES I–VOLUME LI/1 [S# 107]

HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY,
Washington, May 3, 1861.

Maj. Gen. GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN,
Commanding Ohio Volunteers, Cincinnati, Ohio:

        SIR: I have read and carefully considered your plan for a campaign, and now send you confidentially my own views, supported by certain facts of which you should be advised.
        First. It is the design of the Government to raise 25,000 additional regular troops, and 60,000 volunteers for three years. It will be inexpedient either to rely on the three-months’ volunteers for extensive operations or to put in their hands the best class of arms we have in store. The term of service would expire by the commencement of a regular campaign, and the arms not lost be returned mostly in a damaged condition. Hence I must strongly urge upon you to confine yourself strictly to the quota of three-months’ men called for by the War Department.
        Second. We rely greatly on the sure operation of a complete blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports soon to commence. In connection with such blockade we propose a powerful movement down the Mississippi to the ocean, with a cordon of posts at proper points, and the capture of Forts Jackson and Saint Philip; the object being to clear out and keep open this great line of communication in connection with the strict blockade of the seaboard, so as to envelop the insurgent States and bring them to terms with less bloodshed than by any other plan. I suppose there will be needed from twelve to twenty steam gun-boats, and a sufficient number of steam transports (say forty) to carry all the personnel (say 60,000 men) and material of the expedition; most of the gunboats to be in advance to open the way, and the remainder to follow and protect the rear of the expedition, &c. This army, in which it is not improbable you may be invited to take an important part, should be composed of our best regulars for the advance and of three-years’ volunteers, all well officered, and with four months and a half of instruction in camps prior to (say) November 10. In the progress down the river all the enemy’s batteries on its banks we of course would turn and capture, leaving a sufficient number of posts with complete garrisons to keep the river open behind the expedition. Finally, it will be necessary that New Orleans should be strongly occupied and securely held until the present difficulties are composed.
        Third. A word now as to the greatest obstacle in the way of this plan–the great danger now pressing upon us–the impatience of our patriotic and loyal Union friends. They will urge instant and vigorous action, regardless, I fear, of consequences–that is, unwilling to wait for the slow instruction of (say) twelve or fifteen camps, for the rise of rivers, and the return of frosts to kill the virus of malignant fevers below Memphis. I fear this; but impress right views, on every proper occasion, upon the brave men who are hastening to the support of their Government. Lose no time, while necessary preparations for the great expedition are in progress, in organizing, drilling, and disciplining your three-months’ men, many of whom, it is hoped, will be ultimately found enrolled under the call for three-years’ volunteers. Should an urgent and immediate occasion arise meantime for their services, they will be the more effective. I commend these views to your consideration, and shall be happy to hear the result.

With great respect, yours, truly,
WINFIELD SCOTT

Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 5:17 am  Comments (2)  
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