Ulysses S. Grant. Personal Memoirs.

March to Jalapa—Battle of Cerro Gordo—Perote—Puebla—Scott and Taylor

   GENERAL SCOTT had less than twelve thousand men at Vera Cruz. He had been promised by
   the administration a very much larger force, or claimed that he had, and he was a man of
   veracity. Twelve thousand was a very small army with which to penetrate two hundred and
   sixty miles into an enemy’s country, and to besiege the capital; a city, at that time, of largely
   over one hundred thousand inhabitants. Then, too, any line of march that could be selected led
   through mountain passes easily defended. In fact, there were at that time but two roads from
   Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico that could be taken by an army; one by Jalapa and Perote,
   the other by Cordova and Orizaba, the two coming together on the great plain which extends
   to the City of Mexico after the range of mountains is passed.
     It was very important to get the army away from Vera Cruz as soon as possible, in order to
   avoid the yellow fever, or vomito, which usually visits that city early in the year, and is very
   fatal to persons not acclimated; but transportation, which was expected from the North, was
   arriving very slowly. It was absolutely necessary to have enough to supply the army to Jalapa,
   sixty-five miles in the interior and above the fevers of the coast. At that point the country is
   fertile, and an army of the size of General Scott’s could subsist there for an indefinite period.
   Not counting the sick, the weak and the garrisons for the captured city and fort, the moving
   column was now less than ten thousand strong. This force was composed of three divisions,
   under Generals Twiggs, Patterson, and Worth. The importance of escaping the vomito was so
   great that as soon as transportation enough could be got together to move a division the
   advance was commenced. On the 8th of April, Twiggs’s division started for Jalapa. He was
   followed very soon by Patterson, with his division. General Worth was to bring up the rear
   with his command as soon as transportation enough was assembled to carry six days’ rations
   for his troops with the necessary ammunition and camp and garrison equipage. It was the 13th
   of April before this division left Vera Cruz.
     The leading division ran against the enemy at Cerro Gordo, some fifty miles west, on the road
   to Jalapa, and went into camp at Plan del Rio, about three miles from the fortifications.
   General Patterson reached Plan del Rio with his division soon after Twiggs arrived. The two
   were then secure against an attack from Santa Anna, who commanded the Mexican forces. At
   all events they confronted the enemy without reinforcements and without molestation, until the
   18th of April. General Scott had remained at Vera Cruz to hasten preparations for the field;
   but on the 12th, learning the situation at the front, he hastened on to take personal supervision.
   He at once commenced his preparations for the capture of the position held by Santa Anna
   and of the troops holding it.
     Cerro Gordo is one of the higher spurs of the mountains some twelve to fifteen miles east of
   Jalapa, and Santa Anna had selected this point as the easiest to defend against an invading
   army. The road, said to have been built by Cortez, zigzags around the mountain-side and was
   defended at every turn by artillery. On either side were deep chasms or mountain walls. A
   direct attack along the road was an impossibility. A flank movement seemed equally
   impossible. After the arrival of the commanding-general upon the scene, reconnoissances were
   sent out to find, or to make, a road by which the rear of the enemy’s works might be reached
   without a front attack. These reconnoissances were made under the supervision of Captain
   Robert E. Lee, assisted by Lieutenants P. G. T. Beauregard, Isaac I. Stevens, Z. B. Tower,
   G. W. Smith, George B. McClellan, and J. G. Foster, of the corps of engineers, all officers
   who attained rank and fame, on one side or the other, in the great conflict for the preservation
   of the unity of the nation. The reconnoissance was completed, and the labor of cutting out and
   making roads by the flank of the enemy was effected by the 17th of the month. This was
   accomplished without the knowledge of Santa Anna or his army, and over ground where he
   supposed it impossible. On the same day General Scott issued his order for the attack on the
     The attack was made as ordered, and perhaps there was not a battle of the Mexican war, or
   of any other, where orders issued before an engagement were nearer being a correct report of
   what afterwards took place. Under the supervision of the engineers, roadways had been
   opened over chasms to the right where the walls were so steep that men could barely climb
   them. Animals could not. These had been opened under cover of night, without attracting the
   notice of the enemy. The engineers, who had directed the opening, led the way and the troops
   followed. Artillery was let down the steep slopes by hand, the men engaged attaching a strong
   rope to the rear axle and letting the guns down, a piece at a time, while the men at the ropes
   kept their ground on top, paying out gradually, while a few at the front directed the course of
   the piece. In like manner the guns were drawn by hand up the opposite slopes. In this way
   Scott’s troops reached their assigned position in rear of most of the intrenchments of the
   enemy, unobserved. The attack was made, the Mexican reserves behind the works beat a
   hasty retreat, and those occupying them surrendered. On the left General Pillow’s command
   made a formidable demonstration, which doubtless held a part of the enemy in his front and
   contributed to the victory. I am not pretending to give full details of all the battles fought, but of
   the portion that I saw. There were troops engaged on both sides at other points in which both
   sustained losses; but the battle was won as here narrated.
     The surprise of the enemy was complete, the victory overwhelming; some three thousand
   prisoners fell into Scott’s hands, also a large amount of ordnance and ordnance stores. The
   prisoners were paroled, the artillery parked and the small arms and ammunition destroyed.
   The battle of Buena Vista was probably very important to the success of General Scott at
   Cerro Gordo and in his entire campaign from Vera Cruz to the great plains reaching to the
   City of Mexico. The only army Santa Anna had to protect his capital and the mountain passes
   west of Vera Cruz, was the one he had with him confronting General Taylor. It is not likely
   that he would have gone as far north as Monterey to attack the United States troops when he
   knew his country was threatened with invasion further south. When Taylor moved to Saltillo
   and then advanced on to Buena Vista, Santa Anna crossed the desert confronting the invading
   army, hoping no doubt to crush it and get back in time to meet General Scott in the mountain
   passes west of Vera Cruz. His attack on Taylor was disastrous to the Mexican army, but,
   notwithstanding this, he marched his army to Cerro Gordo, a distance not much short of one
   thousand miles by the line he had to travel, in time to intrench himself well before Scott got
   there. If he had been successful at Buena Vista his troops would no doubt have made a more
   stubborn resistance at Cerro Gordo. Had the battle of Buena Vista not been fought Santa
   Anna would have had time to move leisurely to meet the invader further south and with an
   army not demoralized nor depleted by defeat.
     After the battle the victorious army moved on to Jalapa, where it was in a beautiful,
   productive and healthy country, far above the fevers of the coast. Jalapa, however, is still in
   the mountains, and between there and the great plain the whole line of the road is easy of
   defence. It was important, therefore, to get possession of the great highway between the
   sea-coast and the capital up to the point where it leaves the mountains, before the enemy
   could have time to re-organize and fortify in our front. Worth’s division was selected to go
   forward to secure this result. The division marched to Perote on the great plain, not far from
   where the road debouches from the mountains. There is a low, strong fort on the plain in front
   of the town, known as the Castle of Perote. This, however, offered no resistance and fell into
   our hands, with its armament.
     General Scott having now only nine or ten thousand men west of Vera Cruz, and the time of
   some four thousand of them being about to expire, a long delay was the consequence. The
   troops were in a healthy climate, and where they could subsist for an indefinite period even if
   their line back to Vera Cruz should be cut off. It being ascertained that the men whose time
   would expire before the City of Mexico could possibly fall into the hands of the American
   army, would not remain beyond the term for which they had volunteered, the
   commanding-general determined to discharge them at once, for a delay until the expiration of
   their time would have compelled them to pass through Vera Cruz during the season of the
   vomito. This reduced Scott’s force in the field to about five thousand men.
     Early in May, Worth, with his division, left Perote and marched on to Puebla. The roads
   were wide and the country open except through one pass in a spur of mountains coming up
   from the south, through which the road runs. Notwithstanding this the small column was
   divided into two bodies, moving a day apart. Nothing occurred on the march of special note,
   except that while lying at the town of Amozoque—an easy day’s march east of Puebla—a
   body of the enemy’s cavalry, two or three thousand strong, was seen to our right, not more
   than a mile away. A battery or two, with two or three infantry regiments, was sent against them
   and they soon disappeared. On the 15th of May we entered the city of Puebla.
     General Worth was in command at Puebla until the latter end of May, when General Scott
   arrived. Here, as well as on the march up, his restlessness, particularly under responsibilities,
   showed itself. During his brief command he had the enemy hovering around near the city, in
   vastly superior numbers to his own. The brigade to which I was attached changed quarters
   three different times in about a week, occupying at first quarters near the plaza, in the heart of
   the city; then at the western entrance; then at the extreme east. On one occasion General
   Worth had the troops in line, under arms, all day, with three days’ cooked rations in their
   haversacks. He galloped from one command to another proclaiming the near proximity of
   Santa Anna with an army vastly superior to his own. General Scott arrived upon the scene the
   latter part of the month, and nothing more was heard of Santa Anna and his myriads. There
   were, of course, bodies of mounted Mexicans hovering around to watch our movements and
   to pick up stragglers, or small bodies of troops, if they ventured too far out. These always
   withdrew on the approach of any considerable number of our soldiers. After the arrival of
   General Scott I was sent, as quartermaster, with a large train of wagons, back two days’
   march at least, to procure forage. We had less than a thousand men as escort, and never
   thought of danger. We procured full loads for our entire train at two plantations, which could
   easily have furnished as much more.
     There had been great delay in obtaining the authority of Congress for the raising of the troops
   asked for by the administration. A bill was before the National Legislature from early in the
   session of 1846–7, authorizing the creation of ten additional regiments for the war to be
   attached to the regular army, but it was the middle of February before it became a law.
   Appointments of commissioned officers had then to be made; men had to be enlisted, the
   regiments equipped and the whole transported to Mexico. It was August before General Scott
   received reinforcement sufficient to warrant an advance. His moving column, not even now
   more than ten thousand strong, was in four divisions, commanded by Generals Twiggs, Worth,
   Pillow and Quitman. There was also a cavalry corps under General Harney, composed of
   detachments of the 1st, 2d, and 3d dragoons. The advance commenced on the 7th of August
   with Twiggs’s division in front. The remaining three divisions followed, with an interval of a day
   between. The marches were short, to make concentration easier in case of attack.
     I had now been in battle with the two leading commanders conducting armies in a foreign
   land. The contrast between the two was very marked. General Taylor never wore uniform, but
   dressed himself entirely for comfort. He moved about the field in which he was operating to
   see through his own eyes the situation. Often he would be without staff officers, and when he
   was accompanied by them there was no prescribed order in which they followed. He was
   very much given to sit his horse side-ways—with both feet on one side—particularly on the
   battlefield. General Scott was the reverse in all these particulars. He always wore all the
   uniform prescribed or allowed by law when he inspected his lines; word would be sent to all
   division and brigade commanders in advance, notifying them of the hour when the commanding
   general might be expected. This was done so that all the army might be under arms to salute
   their chief as he passed. On these occasions he wore his dress uniform, cocked hat,
   aiguillettes, sabre and spurs. His staff proper, besides all officers constructively on his
   staff—engineers, inspectors, quartermasters, etc., that could be spared—followed, also in
   uniform and in prescribed order. Orders were prepared with great care and evidently with the
   view that they should be a history of what followed.
     In their modes of expressing thought, these two generals contrasted quite as strongly as in
   their other characteristics. General Scott was precise in language, cultivated a style peculiarly
   his own; was proud of his rhetoric; not averse to speaking of himself, often in the third person,
   and he could bestow praise upon the person he was talking about without the least
   embarrassment. Taylor was not a conversationalist, but on paper he could put his meaning so
   plainly that there could be no mistaking it. He knew how to express what he wanted to say in
   the fewest well-chosen words, but would not sacrifice meaning to the construction of
   high-sounding sentences. But with their opposite characteristics both were great and successful
   soldiers; both were true, patriotic and upright in all their dealings. Both were pleasant to serve
   under—Taylor was pleasant to serve with. Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff
   officers than through his own. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in
   orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to
   how they would read in history.