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Battle of Chapultepec

The Battle of Chapultepec (September 1847) was a U.S. victory over Mexican forces holding Chapultepec Castle west of Mexico City during the Mexican-American War.

Background

On September 8, 1847, in the costly Battle of Molino del Rey, U.S. forces had managed to drive the Mexicans from their positions near the base of Chapultepec Castle guarding Mexico City from the west. However Army engineers were still interested in the southern approaches to the city. General Winfield Scott held a council of war with his generals and engineers on September 11. Scott was in favor of attacking Chapultepec and only General David E. Twiggs agreed. Most of Scott's officers favored the attack from the south including Major Robert E. Lee. A young Captain Pierre Beauregard gave a text book speech that persuaded General Pierce to change his vote in favor of the western attack. Scott officially declared the attack would be against Chapultepec.

Antonio López de Santa Anna was in command of the army at Mexico City. He understood that Chapultepec Castle was an important position for the defense of the city. The castle sat atop a 200-foot (60 m) tall hill which in recent years was being used as the Mexican Military Academy. General Nicolás Bravo however had less than 1,000 men (832 Total including 250 10th Infantry, 115 Queretaro Battalion, 277 Mina Battalion, 211 Union Battalion, 27 Toluca Battalion and 42 la Patria Battalion with 7 guns) to hold the hill including 200 cadets, some as young as 13 years old. A gradual slope from the castle down to the Molino del Rey made an inviting attack point.

According to the military records at the General National Archives in Mexico City, Chapultepec Castle was only defended by 400 men, 300 from de Batallón de San Blas under command of Lieutenant Colonel Felipe Xicoténcatl, and the castle's garrison of 100 men, including the cadets.

Scott organized two storming parties numbering 250 hand picked men. The first party under Captain Samuel Mackenzie would lead Gideon Pillow's division from the Molino east up the hill. The second storming party under Captain Silas Casey would lead John A. Quitman's division against the southeast of the castle.

Engagement

The Americans began an artillery barrage against Chapultepec at dawn on September 12. It was halted at dark and resumed at first light on September 13. At 08:00, the bombardment was halted and Winfield Scott ordered the charge. Following Captain Mackenzie's storming party were three assault columns from George Cadwalader's brigade of Pillow's division. On the left were the 11th and 14th regiments under Colonel William Trousdale, in the center were 4 companies of the Voltigeur regiment under Colonel Timothy Patrick Andrews, and on the right were the remaining 4 Voltigeur companies under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph E. Johnston. Pillow was quickly hit in the foot but ordered the attack forward. Andrews's column followed Mackenzie out of the Molino and cleared a cypress grove to their front of Mexican troops as Trousdale and Johnston moved up on the flanks. The attack stalled when Mackenzie's men had to wait for storming ladders to arrive, and there was a lull in the battle.

To the southwest, 40 Marines led Captain Casey's storming party followed by James Shields' brigade of volunteers north towards Chapultepec. Again the storming party stalled while waiting for ladders, and the rest of Shields' men halted in the face of Mexican artillery. The scaling ladders arrived, and the first wave ascended the walls. In fact so many ladders arrived that 50 men could climb side by side. George Pickett (later famous for "Pickett's Charge" and the Battle of Five Forks during the American Civil War) was the first American to top the wall of the fort, and the Voltigeurs soon planted their flag on the parapet. Colonel Trousdale's column supported by Lieutenant Thomas J. Jackson's artillery faced superior numbers of Mexicans in a spirited defense. Newman S. Clarke's brigade brought new momentum to the fight on Pillow's front. General Shields was severely wounded when his men poured over the walls, but his troops managed to raise the U.S. Flag over the castle. Caught between two fronts, General Bravo ordered a retreat back to the city. Before he could withdraw, Bravo was taken prisoner by Shields' New York volunteers. The Mexicans retreated at night down the causeways leading into the city. Several Mexican cadets wrapped themselves around Mexican flags and jumped from the walls disregarding height to prevent the seizure of the Mexican flag from the attackers. Santa Anna watched disaster befall Chapultepec while an aide exclaimed "let the Mexican flag never be touched by a foreign enemy".

Los Niños Héroes

During the battle, six Mexican military cadets refused to fall back when General Bravo finally ordered retreat and fought to the death against superior U.S. forces. Their names were: teniente(lieutenant) Juan de la Barrera, and cadets Agustin Melgar, Juan Escutia, Vicente Suarez, Francisco Marquez and Fernando Montes de Oca. One by one they fell; when one was left (Juan Escutia), and the U.S. forces were about to kill him, he grabbed the Mexican flag, wrapped it around himself and jumped off the castle point. It is said that the American commander saluted the body of Escutia wrapped in the Mexican flag.

A moving mural decorates the ceiling of the palace, showing Juan Escutia wrapped in the flag, apparently falling from above A monument stands in Chapultepec Park commemorating their courage. The cadets are eulogized in Mexican history as the Los Niños Héroes, the "Child Heroes" or Heroic Cadets.

Saint Patrick's Battalion

Thirty men from the Saint Patrick's Battalion (el Batallón de San Patricio or San Patricios), a group of former U.S. Army soldiers who joined the Mexican side, were executed en masse during the battle. They had been previously captured at the Battle of Churubusco. General Scott specified that they were to be hanged with Chapultepec in view and that the precise moment of their death was to occur when the U.S. flag replaced the Mexican tricolor atop the citadel.

Belén and San Cosmé Gates

General Scott arrived at the castle and was mobbed by cheerful soldiers. He detached a regiment to garrison Chapultepec and the prisoners there. Scott then planned for the attack on the city. He ordered a secondary attack against the Belén Gate and brought up the rest of William J. Worth's division to support Trousdale's men on La Verónica Causeway (now Avenida Melchor Ocampo) for the main attack against the San Cosme Gate. Defended by Gen. Rangel (Granaderos Battalion, part Matamoros, Morelia & Santa Anna Battalions (Col. Gonzalez), part 3d Light (Lt. Col. Echeagaray), & 1st Light (Comdt Marquez)

Trousdale, followed by John Garland's, Newman Clarks' and George Cadwalader's brigades, began advancing up the causeway. However, General Quitman quickly gathered the troops in Chapultepec and Persifor F. Smith's brigade, turned east and immediately headed down the Belén Causeway. Intended only to be a feint, Quitman's attack soon became the center of the attack as he chased Chapultepec's retreating defenders back into the city. His troops were met by strong resistance in front of the gate, which was supported by a battery of artillery. Using the stone arches of the aqueduct running down the center of the causeway, Quitman's men crept forward. General Andrés Terrés' troops (3 Guns and 200 men : 2d Mexico Activos) began to desert and flee back to the citadel. Led by the Mounted Rifles (fighting on foot), Quitman breached the Belén Gate at 1:20 p.m. General Scott later commented "brave Rifles, you have gone through fire and come out steel".

To the north, Robert E. Lee led Worth's attackers down the La Verónica Causeway. It was 4 p.m. by the time Worth reached the junction of the La Verónica and San Cosme causeways, where he beat back a counter attack of 1,500 cavalry before turning east down the San Cosme causeway. Progress was slow, and casualties were mounting. Finding the buildings alongside the roadway filled with enemy troops, Colonels Garland and Clark were sent with the 1st and 2nd brigades to approach the defenses under cover by burrowing through the buildings on both sides with crowbars and pickaxes. Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant discovered the bell tower of San Cosme Church south of the causeway, where he mounted The Howitzer and began firing shots down onto the defenders from his lofty position. On the north side of the road, naval officer Raphael Semmes repeated Grant's successful maneuver. Lieutenant George Terrett then led a group of Marines behind the Mexican defenders and, climbing to the roof, unleashed a deadly volley on the artillery gunners. By 6 p.m., Worth had broken through the gate, and the defenders scattered. Many retreated to the ciudadela, sweeping Santa Anna along with them. As night fell, Worth lobbed five mortars into the city which fell near the National Palace.

Aftermath

The battle had been a significant victory for the U.S. Lasting throughout most of the day, the fighting had been severe and costly. Generals Twiggs and Shields had both been wounded as well as Colonel Trousdale. The heaviest losses occurred during Quitman's attack on the Belén Gate. Every member of Quitman's staff had lost their lives in the close fighting on the causeway.

Santa Anna lost General Bravo as a POW, and General Juan N. Pérez was killed. In a fit of rage Santa Anna slapped General Terrés and relieved him of command for losing the Belén Gate. In his memoirs Santa Anna branded Terrés as a traitor and made him the scapegoat for the defeat at Mexico City.

Legacy

The efforts of the U.S. Marines in this battle and subsequent occupation of Mexico City are memorialized by the opening lyrics to Marines' hymn. "From the Halls of Montezuma..." is a reference to the Chapultepec Castle, also known as the Halls of Montezuma. The Marine Corps also remembers this battle with the inclusion of the "blood stripe" on the blue dress uniform of NCOs and Officers, whos ranks (NCOs and Officers) had the most casualties in the Marine detachment that was part of the battle.

References

  • If the same ratio of killed/wounded applied as at Buena Vista 35%
  • Nevin, David; editor, The Mexican War (Time-Life The Old West Series, 1978)
  • Bauer, K. Jack, The Mexican War, 1846-1848
  • Alcaraz, Ramon et al. ' ' Apuntes Para la Histria de la Guerra entre Mexico y los Estados Unidos ' '
  • Ramsey, Albert C. ' ' The Other Side' '
  • Winfield Scott's Official Report
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