The Mexican-American War
MEXICAN WAR. The war between the United States and Mexico in 1846-48. It was the result of a series of outrages upon American citizens, giving rise to claims of the United States citizens on the government of Mexico, the recognition of the independence of Texas by the United States (1837), the annexation (1845) of Texas to the United States, in the face of bitter opposition on the part of Mexico, herself torn with revolution and contending factions, and finally of a dispute regarding the boundary of Texas, the United States claiming the Rio Grande as the boundary, while Mexico held that Texas did not extend farther south than the Nueces. Mexican hostility towards the United States had been further stimulated by a violation of the Territory of Mexico due to the indiscreet precipitation of Commodore Jones of the American navy, which occurred in October, 1842. Another cause of friction was the sympathy of the people of the United States for the Texans, which manifested itself in material assistance at critical moments. The war was essentially a popular movement both in Mexico and in the United States. The utterances of contemporaneous ,journals reveal the gross misconceptions entertained by the two peoples of each other, as well as the bitter feeling which existed in consequence of the causes enumerated above. So far as the Texas-Mexican question is concerned one cannot but feel the justifiableness of Mexican suspicion and resentment against the United States. The immediate occasion of the breach of diplomatic relations in 1845 was the annexation of Texas. During the fall of 1845 a large part of the small regular army of the United States was assembled under Gen. Zachary Taylor at Corpus Christi, near the mouth of the Nueces in Texas, and on March 12, 1846, under orders from the United States government, Taylor advanced into the territory the possession of which was then in dispute. After a march of 16 days he reached the Rio Grande at a point opposite to the Mexican city of Matamoros. A week earlier, on the twenty-first, the United States Minister to Mexico, Slidell, unable to negotiate a treaty in accordance with President Polk's directions, or even to secure official recognition, received his passports and started on his return to the United States. The Mexican army at this time numbered at least 30.000 of all arms and comprised, besides troops of the line, the active battalions of the states and the local national guards of the cities. The cavalry (lancers) were excellent horsemen, fairly disciplined, but indifferently mounted and poorly armed; the artillery, officered partly by foreigners, were good gunners, but the arm lacked mobility; the infantry were well drilled, but were armed with muskets of ancient pattern. An undue number of general officers (politicians rather than soldiers) and an inefficient general staff completed the Mexican resources for war. The effective power of the Mexicans, however, was enhanced by the fact that they represented the defense, that they served among friends, and that they often fought behind strong fortifications. The American army was inferior in numerical strength to the enemy. At the close of 1845 the maximum strength was 7883. What it lacked in numbers, however, was made up in fighting quality. It consisted of two regiments of dragoons, four of artillery, and eight of infantry, with the usual staff corps. The dragoons were well disciplined, drilled as light cavalry, and armed with carbines and sabres: the artillery garrisoned the fortifications, but had little instruction in gunnery, excepting one company in each regiment organized as light artillery, which had reached a high standard of efficiency; the infantry, well disciplined and familiar with the use of arms, were distributed among a number of small frontier posts and never in large bodies; the officers, a majority graduates of West Point, were generally of superior ability, with the experience and self-reliance gained in Indian service and independent command. The navy of the United States, although small, was exceedingly efficient. The Mexican Republic had only a few small steamers and sailing vessels, and these principally on paper. Taylor's command hardly comprised 3000 effectives upon its arrival opposite Matamoros on March 28, 1846. Taylor immediately fortified his position and established a base of supply at Point Isabel. The mouth of the Rio Grande was blockaded by the small naval force accompanying the American army, and two vessels with supplies for the Mexican army were warned off and returned to sea. General Ampudia who was in command at Matamoros from April 11 to April 24, protested vigorously against the occupation of disputed territory by General Taylor and insisted that, pending a settlement of the boundary dispute, the American army should be withdrawn to the Nueces. On April 24 General Arista superseded Ampudia and at once decided to take the offensive and cross the Rio Grande, notifying Taylor that he considered hostilities already to have begun on the part of the United States. On the twenty-fifth General Taylor learned that a large force of cavalry had crossed the Rio Grande some miles above his position, and sent a small squadron of the Second Dragoons under Captain Thornton to obtain definite information. While endeavoring to execute the order, Thornton, whose guide had deserted, found his command surrounded by a Mexican cavalry force of more than 500, and in an attempt to cut his way out lost one officer and eight men killed and two men wounded, and, with the remainder (46), was captured. Taylor notified his government that the first blow had been struck and called upon the governors of Louisiana and Texas for 5000 volunteers. On the thirtieth General Taylor, leaving a regiment of infantry and two companies of artillery to garrison an earthwork known as Fort Brown (see Brownsville, Tex.), in front of Matamoros, proceeded with the remainder of his command to Point Isabel in order to complete his communications. During his absence the Mexicans attacked the fort vigorously, but to no avail. As he was returning (May 8) he encountered Arista, who with 6000 men and 10 guns barred the road at a place 9 miles from Matamoros, known as Palo Alto. Taylor's force numbered 2300 officers and men and 10 guns. After an indecisive fight of four hours (see PALO ALTO) Arista fell back to Resaca de la Palma, with a loss of over 600 in killed and wounded. General Arista's report put his loss at 252, dispersed, wounded, and missing. The American casualties comprised 7 killed and 47 wounded. On the following day Taylor continued his march. Arriving in front of the Mexican position, a low ridge commanding the road to Matamoros, the Americans paused to reconnoitre. On account of the dense chaparral, movements en masse were impracticable, and the infantry were deployed as skirmishers, with the artillery, supported by the dragoons, remaining on the road. Arista had been reenforced during the night by 2000 infantry. As on the day before, an artillery duel ensued, and the Mexican batteries held the Americans at bay for some time, until Taylor sent a squadron of dragoons under Captain May, who gallantly charged, taking the guns, together with the Mexican General La Vega, at the cost, however, of 1 officer and 7 men killed and 10 men wounded. Upon this the enemy gave way and fled from the field, pursued by the Americans, who made many captures, including 14 officers, 8 pieces of artillery, and several standards. The Mexicans, in confusion, retired to Matamoros, many being drowned in crossing the river. Taylor estimated the enemy's loss in this at about 400; that of the Americans as 36 killed and 70 wounded. On May 17 Arista evacuated Matamoros, and on the following day Taylor crossed the Rio Grande and took possession. Previously, on May 11, President Polk had sent to Congress his famous war message, in which he enumerated the wrongs committed by Mexico against the United States and, ignoring Mexico's reasonable claim to the country between the Nueces and the Rio Grande, asserted that "Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory, and shed American blood upon American soil. War exists and, notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists by the act of Mexico herself." Two days later Congress issued a formal declaration of war and threw the onus of striking the first blow upon Mexico. The ensuing three months were utilized by both sides in raising additional troops. Congress authorized a call for 50,000 volunteers, and the regular army was increased to 30,000. On August 19 Taylor marched with 6700 men (including volunteers) upon Monterey, which was held by Ampudia with some 9000 men, of whom 3000 were regulars, and 40 pieces of cannon. Previous to his arrival before Monterey. however, Santa Anna (q.v.) had subverted the government of Paredes and had established himself in power. Orders had been issued to Commodore Conner to place the Mexican coast under blockade, but not to obstruct the return of Santa Anna, who was believed to be in favor of peace with the United States. The American army arrived in front of the town September 19, attacked on the twenty-first, and after three days of severe fighting the defenses were taken by assault and the Mexican general capitulated, being permitted to march out "with the honors of war" and an armistice of eight weeks being agreed upon. (See MONTEREY, BATTLE or.) The Mexican losses were estimated at nearly 1000; the American at 488. General Scott withdrew from Taylor the greater part of his army and instructed Taylor to establish his headquarters at Monterey and refrain from further offensive operations. Through captured dispatches Santa Anna learned of Taylor's depleted force and quietly advanced upon the American position near Saltillo with 20,000 effectives. Taylor's scouts informed him of this in time for him to complete his dispositions for battle. With 4691 men, only 453 of whom were regulars he awaited Santa Anna at Angostura, near Saltillo and on the road to San Luis Potosi. The engagement which followed, known as the battle of Buena Vista (q.v.), lasted two days (Feb. 22-23, 1847) , and more than once the result seemed doubtful, the panic which seized certain regiments of Taylor's volunteers being counterbalanced by the steadiness of the regulars, the effective work of the light batteries, and the gallantry of the Mississippi regiment under Col. Jefferson Davis, afterward President of the Southern Confederacy. Notwithstanding the numerical superiority of the Mexican army, the obstinacy of the defense eventually won, and Santa Anna was forced to withdraw with 4000 killed and wounded. The American casualties comprised 264 killed and 450 wounded. These estimates are only approximate, as the number of killed and wounded in the battle of Buena Vista is uncertain. Soon afterward General Taylor returned home on leave of absence.
While the campaign in northern Mexico was thus progressing, the United States sent expeditions into New Mexico and California. Within three months the American flag had been hoisted at Santa Fe, the navy had planted the flag at San Francisco, and seaports on the west coast of Mexico were blockaded.
About a week before the engagement at Buena Vista, Scott had landed at the Lobos Islands, some 60 miles beyond Tampico and 7 miles from the mainland. He had at his disposal a force of 12,000 men, of whom two brigades were regulars. From Lobos the force proceeded to Anton Lizardo, where it lay inactive for a few days. A sandy beach lying 3 miles south of Vera Cruz was selected as a safe landing place on the mainland. By March 22 the investment of the city was complete, and a formal demand for surrender was made, which met with prompt refusal. For four days the besiegers bombarded the city and the castle of San Juan de Ulua, their fire being replied to with spirit: but on the twenty-fifth the foreign consuls used their influence in the interests of noncombatants and to secure the burial of the dead, and a suspension of hostilities ensued. On the twenty-ninth the city surrendered. (See VERA CRUZ.) After a brief interval the Americans pushed on towards their goal. At the same time Santa Anna, having reorganized his army, marched with more than 12,000 men from the city of Mexico. At Cerro Gordo (q.v.), a pass in the mountains, 60 miles from Vera Cruz, he awaited the invaders, about 8500 strong. On April 14 Scott arrived and on the eighteenth attacked. Although stoutly resisted, by noon the Americans had swept over Cerro Gordo and driven the Mexicans down the road for 10 miles. The spoils comprised 3000 prisoners including 5 generals, and 40 bronze cannon. The casualties on the Mexican side were fully 1000: on the American side 431. The advance to Puebla was only slightly opposed, and on May 15 Worth's division of 4000 men encamped in the Grand Plaza of this "City of the Angels," in the midst of at least 60,000 hostile citizens, 75 miles from the Mexican capital. On the seventeenth Scott made a final appeal to the Mexicans in the interest of peace, but in the embittered state of popular feeling it failed. On the contrary, Santa Anna strained every means for the defense of his capital; he appealed to the patriotism of the people, money was freely contributed and almost every able-bodied man was enrolled for the common defense, until 36,000 men and 100 pieces of artillery were in readiness. Sickness and the discharge of seven regiments of volunteers had reduced Scott's army, but the arrival of 2400 men under General Pierce (afterward President of the United States) brought the total strength of the American forces to 10,738, nearly one-half of whom were recruits. Leaving a detachment of 500 men at Puebla where 2300 wounded were in hospitals, Scott advanced upon the "Halls of the Montezumas." The city was entered by three roads each guarded by rocky hills strongly fortified, the most prominent being that of El Peņon, mounting 51 guns, behind which were long and narrow causeways flanked on one side by fields covered with broken lava and on the other by ponds and marshes. On the east and southeast large lakes added to the military protection of the city; an inner line of fortifications, made doubly impregnable by nature and art, completed the obstacles to a further advance on the part of the Americans. Undismayed by these, however, General Scott summoned his engineers, among whom were Captains George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee, and a new road was cut, skirting Lake Chalco and by a circuitous route of 27 miles leading to the most vulnerable side of the town. After careful reconnoissance the first impediment, the hill of Contreras (q.v.), was taken (August 20) by an unexpected and desperate assault, with 813 prisoners (including 4 generals), 22 cannon, and thousands of small arms. The attacking force numbered 4500, the defense. at least 7000 men, of whom 700 were killed, while the Americans lost about 60 in killed and wounded. Within easy supporting distance, moreover, was Santa Anna's reserve of 12,000 of the finest troops of Mexico. On the same day the strong positions of San Antonio and Churubusco (q.v.) were carried by the divisions of Worth and Twiggs, with further captures of 1800 prisoners, including 4 general officers, and 35 pieces of artillery; the Mexicans losing more than 3000 and the Americans about 1100 killed and wounded. After the "outer walls" had thus been gained, the American advance was again halted, and on August 23 an armistice was agreed upon pending the possibility that the demands of the United States might be acceded to without further bloodshed. This expectation proved futile, and on September 7 the final movement began. After severe hand-to-hand fighting, the defenses of Molino del Rey were carried by the Americans on September 8, and on the thirteenth the castle of Chapultepec was stormed. On the fourteenth the Mexican army evacuated the capital, and General Scott made his entry into the city. The total American losses during the operations in the valley of Mexico were 2703, including 383 officers; that of the Mexicans 7000 killed and wounded and 3730 prisoners of war. The spoils of war comprised 20 standards, 132 cannon, and 20,000 small arms. General Scott established his headquarters in the city of Mexico, was reënforced to an aggregate of 20,000 men, and levied a tax of $150,000 upon the municipal government, to be largely expended for the comfort of the sick and wounded. On Feb. 2, 1848, a treaty of peace between the United States and Mexico was signed at Guadalupe Hidalgo. (See GUADALUPE HIDALGO, TREATY OF.) The total number of American regulars who served in Mexico and its borders during the war was 21,509; of volunteers, 22,027.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XV (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 532-534.