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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. Continue Reading

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The Great Pig War of 1859

The United States and Great Britain after the War of 1812 frequently came into conflict during the Nineteenth Century, and it is a medium sized miracle that one of these conflicts did not end in a third Anglo-American War.  The most surreal of these conflicts, beyond a doubt, is the Pig War of 1859.

Both Great Britain and America claimed the San Juan Islands lying between Vancouver Island and the then Washington territory, and the islands were settled by British subjects and American citizens.  On June 15, 1859 Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer on San Juan island, came out and found a pig eating tubers in his garden.  This was not the first incident involving the wayward pig, and Cutlar shot the pig, killing the porcine invader.  The pig was owned by a British subject, Charles Griffin, who took umbrage at the slaying of his wandering porker.  The two men had words about the pig.  British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, and the American settlers called for American military protection.

By August 10, 1859, 461 American soldiers with 14 cannon confronted five British warships carrying 2,140 men.  Fortunately, both sides exercised restraint and no shots were fired.  James Douglas, the governor of British Vancouver, ordered British Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes to land Royal Marines on  San Juan island and engage the Americans.  Baynes flatly refused, saying that for two great nations to come to blows over a squabble over a pig was foolish.  London and Washington were equally aghast at the idea of going to war over this case of porcinecide, and General Winfield Scott was sent by President Buchanan to Vancouver to negotiate with Governor Douglas.  Agreement was reached that the British and American forces would be reduced to a 100 men each on San Juan island while negotiations were underway between the countries.  Ultimately third party arbitration, by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, led to the islands being awarded to America in 1872. Continue Reading