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dashed ahead

Siege of Veracruz

The Battle of Veracruz was a 20-day siege of the key Mexican seaport of Veracruz, during the Mexican-American War. Lasting from March 9 to March 29, 1847, it began with the first large-scale amphibious assault conducted by United States military forces, and ended with the surrender and occupation of the city. U.S. forces then marched inland to Mexico City.

Background

After the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista, fighting in northern Mexico subsided. Much of Zachary Taylor's Army of Occupation was transferred to the command of Major General Winfield Scott after the battle of Monterrey. After deliberating on the next course of action, Scott and other Washington officials came to the agreement that a landing would be made at Veracruz, which would the Americans point for a further advance inland. Mexican military intelligence knew in advance of U.S. plans to attack Veracruz, but internal government turmoil left them powerless to send crucial reinforcements before the American assault commenced.

Forces

U.S.

U.S. Expeditionary Force - Major General Winfield Scott

Home Squadron - Commodore David Connor; Matthew C. Perry

Scott requested special landing crafts for his expedition which were constructed in Philadelphia by George M. Totten.

Mexican

Veracruz was considered to be the strongest fortress in the western hemisphere at the time. Brigadier General Juan Esteban Morales commanded a garrison of 4,390 men which manned three major forts guarding Veracruz:

  • Fort Santiago — south end of town
  • Fort Concepción — north end of town these two forts included 3,360 men and 89 guns : Artillery, 2d & 8th Infantry Regiments, 3d Light Regiment, a picket of 11th Regt., Puebla Libres, Orizaba, Veracruz, Oaxaca & Tehuantepec National Grds. Battalions, Sappers & Enlisted Marines.
  • Fort San Juan de Ulúa — offshore on the Gallega Reef. Gen. Jose Durán with 1,030 men and 135 guns : Artillery, Puebla & Jamiltepec Activo Battalions,Companies of Tuxpan, Tampico & Alvardo Activo Battalions.

Landings

The American Army/Navy force arrived off Veracruz in early March. Scott surveyed the defenses and concluded that the city would not fall to an artillery bombardment alone. He selected the landings to take place at Collado Beach 3 miles (5 km) south of Veracruz. The 1st Regular Division under Worth was chosen to make the landing. Connor's ships moved to within 90 yards of the beach to supply covering fire if necessary. At 03:30 on March 9, the 1st Division in the specialized landing crafts was rowed ashore. Just before the main force touched the beach, a gig dashed ahead, and General Worth jumped out into shoulder deep water and waded ashore to be the first man on the beach. Worth's whole division landed without firing or receiving a single shot. By 23:00 on that first day, Scott's entire army had been brought ashore: the first large scale amphibious landing conducted by the U.S. military was a success.

Siege

Envelopement

Once ashore Patterson's division began marching northward to effect a complete envelopement of the city. One of Patterson's brigades under Gideon Pillow drove off a Mexican cavalry at Malibrán, cutting off the city's water supply. Quitman and Shields managed to drive off cavalry attempting to prevent the investment. Three days later the U.S. had completed a 7 mile (12 km) siege line from Collado in the south to Playa Vergara in the north.

Investment

A storm blew in and prevented Scott from landing his siege guns for a time. In the meantime the besiegers were plagued by sorties from the city and guerrilla attacks. Colonel Juan Aguayo used the cover of the storm to slip the Alvarado garrison into Veracruz. General Patterson expressed his opinion that the city should be taken by storm. Scott declined such a notion, stating he wished to lose no more than 100 men. On March 18, the artillery arrived, and Scott concluded he could reduce the city with what he had, but not Fort Ulúa. On March 21, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, Conner's second-in-command, returned from Norfolk, Virginia, after making repairs on the USS Mississippi, with orders to replace Conner in command of the squadron. Perry and Conner met with Scott regarding the navy's role in the siege, and Perry offered 6 guns that were to be manned by sailors from the ships. Back on shore under the direction of Captain Robert E. Lee, a battery emplacement was constructed 700 yards from the city walls with the army and naval siege guns put in place. On March 22, Morales declined a surrender demand from Scott, and the American batteries opened fire. The Mexican batteries responded with accuracy, although there were few American casualties. Congreve rockets were fired into the defenses and started a fire in Fort Santiago which drove the Mexican gunners from their post. Mexican morale began to drop.

On March 24, Persifor F. Smith's brigade captured a Mexican soldier with reports that Antonio López de Santa Anna was marching an army from Mexico City to the relief of Veracruz. Scott dispatched Colonel William S. Harney with 100 dragoons to inspect any approaches that Santa Anna might make. Harney reported about 2,000 Mexicans and a battery not far away, and he called for reinforcements. General Patterson led a mixed group of volunteers and dragoons to Harney's aid and cleared the force from their positions.

Surrender

With reports such as these, Scott grew impatient with the siege and began planning for an assault on the city. On March 25, the Mexicans called for a cease-fire to discuss surrender terms. Mexican officials pleaded that the women and children be let out of the city. Scott refused, believing this to be a delaying tactic and kept up the artillery fire. On March 25, Morales' second-in-command General José Juan Landero y Coss stepped in to save his commander the disgrace of surrender and called for a truce with the invaders. A three-day negotiation followed. On March 29, the Mexicans officially surrendered their garrisons in Veracruz and Fort Ulúa. That day the U.S. flag flew over San Juan de Ulúa.

Results

Twelve days of bombardment resulting in the surrender of Veracruz opened the east coast of Mexico to U.S. forces. Scott had kept his promise of minimal casualties: 13 killed. Another factor Scott had less control over was the yellow fever that had begun to settle in on his army. However Scott still began immediate plans to leave a small garrison at Veracruz and march inland, his first objective being Xalapa. Along the way Scott would in fact encounter a sizable Mexican army under Santa Anna at the Battle of Cerro Gordo.

See also

References

  • About 80 killed, if the same ratio as Resaca 43% applied.
  • Bauer, K. Jack, "The Mexican-American War 1846-48"
  • Nevin, David; editor, The Mexican War (1978)
  • Alcaraz, Ramon, "Apuntes Para la Historia de la Guerra Mexico y los Estados Unidos"
  • It Ain't New
  • www.aztecclub.com
  • Tschanz, David W. "Yellow Fever & The Strategy of the Mexican-American War" http://entomology.montana.edu/historybug/mexwar/mexwar.htm
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