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The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.



Tacubaya, Aug. 22, 1847


We are now located in one wing of the Archbishop’s palace. Chapultepec, with its magnificent grove, is before us, and we overlook the great city, surrounded by its lakes, and embosomed in its mountains. I never realized the beauty of the valley of Mexico, until I reached this spot. To see it now, lighted by the soft, bright moon, with every village, spire, hut, and mountain reflected in its silver lakes, you would think it even surpassed the descriptions we read of it. There are also some stupendous works of art around us. But I can tell you nothing, for I have not yet been in the city, though I have knocked at its gates. In the absence, then, of something more interesting. I shall have to tell you of the operations of the army.

On the 7th instant Gen. Twigg’s division left Puebla. It was followed on the 8th by Gen. Quitman’s, on the 9th by Gen. Worth’s, and on the 10th by Gen. Pillow’s. Gen. Scott left on the 8th, and overtook Gen. Twiggs that night at San Martin. Our march over the mountains was undisturbed, except by rumors of guerrillas and resistance. Both disappeared as we approached, and we left their abandoned works as we found them. On the 11th Gen. Twiggs encamped at Ayotia, 15 miles from Mexico, on the direct road. The other divisions, on each succeeding day, came up in order, and took positions in the rear—General Worth occupying Chalco. The reconnaissances of the 12th and 13th satisfied us of the strength of the enemy’s defences in our front. Their principal defence was at El Penon, commanding the causeway between the lakes of Tezcuco and Chalco. The hill of El Penon is about 300 feet high, having three plateaus of different elevations. It stands in the waters of Lake Tezcuco. Its base is surrounded by a dry trench, and its sides arranged with breastworks from its base to its crest. It was armed with thirty pieces of cannon, and defended by 7,000 men, under Santa Anna in person. The causeway passed directly by its base—the waters of the lake washing each side of the causeway for two miles in front, and the whole distance seven miles to the city. There was a battery on the causeway about four hundred yards in advance of the Penon, another by its side, a third about a mile in front of the entrance to the city, and a fourth at the entrance. About two miles in front of the Penon a road branched off to the left, and crossed the outlet of Lake Hochimilco, at the village of Mexicalcingo, six miles from the main road. This village, surrounded by a marsh, was enveloped in batteries, and only approached over a paved causeway a mile in length. Beyond, the causeway continued through the marsh for two miles farther, and opened up on terra firma at the village of Churubusco, which was also fortified, and which we shall see more of presently. The reconnoissance [sic] of the 14th satisfied us that the route south of Lake Chalco was practicable for our wagons, or could be made so. That day Gen. Pillow’s division closed upon the village of Chalco, and the next morning (15th) Gen. Worth led off south of the lake. The divisions took up the line of march in succession, General Twiggs bringing up the rear, and we turned our backs upon the fortifications of the Penon and Mexicalcingo. General Valencia, with 6,000 men, made an attempt to annoy our rear as it turned Lake Chalco; but General Twiggs having his train in front, and his division well in hand, wheeled into line to the left, and, with one discharge of Taylor’s battery, tumbled over some men and horses, and sent the rest flying over the hills like the wild ducks from the lakes. He then broke again into column, and resumed his march. The rancheros and guerillos hovering about our front gave us little trouble; and the working parties filled up the trenches, and rolled away the rocks that had been placed there to retard us, without stopping our march. On the 17th Gen. Worth encamped at San Augustin, on the Acapulco road, and moved down on the 18th two and a half miles, in front of San Antonio, to make room for the other division to close upon him. The 18th was devoted to reconnoissances. San Antonio was situated similarly to Mexicalcingo. Batteries commanded the causeway in front, and swept over the marshes to the left as far as the lake. The pedregal, or volcanic rocks, rendered the right impassable for everything but infantry, and difficult for them. One and a half mile in the rear were situated the defenses of Churubusco, commanding the approach over the pedregal, and by the way of Mexicalcingo. A route was discovered west from San Augustin over the spurs of the mountain, to the San Angel road, by which these positions could be turned. General Twiggs’s division coming up on the morning of the 19th, was thrown forward on this route, to cover the working parties formed from Pillow’s division. By 1, p. m., we had surmounted the hills, and approached the two divisions of the army, with their field batteries, &c., within cannon range of Valencia’s entrenchments, situated on the San Angel road, and commanding the only approach through the pedregal, or volcanic rocks. The working parties were returned to their regiments, the tools repacked, and preparations made to dislodge the enemy, before continuing the road further. On approaching his front within canister range, and driving in his advanced parties, posted behind breastworks across the road, with Magruder’s and the howitzer batteries, it was found that the ground on his left offered the greatest advantages for the attack. He lay entrenched on rising ground, behind a deep ravine, about midway between us, to which the ground gently descended from both directions. His front was defended by four 8-inch howitzers, and three long 16-pounders, one 18-pounder, and some of smaller calibre. His right was almost equally strong; and, after crossing the ravine, approached over smooth ground in the form of a natural glacis, and taken in reverse by a body of rancheros and lancers. The heads of the different divisions were accordingly changed to the right; and, each leaving their horses and batteries behind, slowly wended their way, among the volcanic rocks, to the ravine, which they passed in front of the small village of San Raymond, out of gunshot of Valencia’s batteries. They were now on the firm San Angel road, between Valencia and relief; but Santa Anna coming out to his support with seven thousand infantry and cavalry, drew up in battle array on the hills of Contreros, to our right. Col. Riley’s brigade, that had been moved to the right earlier in the day, to cooperate with a front attack, and had passed beyond the San Angel road, now falling back upon the village which we had taken possession of, General Smith at once determined to drive away the force threatening our right. By the time his dispositions were made, the sun had set; and night drawing on, it was feared we should not have light enough for our work. The attack was therefore suspended till morning. The troops bivouacked around the village, without food, without shelter, and without fire. It was afterwards determined to return to the original intention of assaulting Valencia’s entrenchments, as the dispersion of Santa Anna’s force affected but little our principal object.

At 3 a. m., Col. Riley’s brigade was put in motion, followed by Gen. Smith’s and Gen. Cadwallader’s; Gen. Shields holding the village. During the night, the 9th and 12th regiments, with a company of rifles and some detachments that had been thrown out the previous day, were moved to the ravine in front of the enemy’s position, and, after driving in their picquets in the gray of the morning, filed off to the right, and took a sheltered position on their left, ready to co-operate with the attacking force in rear. This force moving around the base of the hill on which the battery was placed, covered from their view and fire, began about sunrise to show themselves over its crest. Col. Riley’s brigade, sweeping around their rear and right, moved down with great impetuosity, while Gen. Smith attacked their left from the rear. In the meantime Col. Ransom, pushing across the ravine the force in front, opened his fire upon their front and left. The enemy finding himself thus attacked, and apprehending the main attack from the direction in which we approached the previous day, opened his heavy battery on his front. But Riley’s brigade, carrying everything before them, drove them out between the fires of Smith and Ransom upon that of Shields. They broke at all points, abandoning their artillery, pack train, ammunition, &c. We took 800 prisoners—4 generals: Salas, Mendoza, Blanco, and Garcia; 4 colonels; 2 commanders of brigades and squadrons, and other officers in proportion. Among the twenty-two pieces of artillery taken, were the two belonging to Washington’s battery, taken at Buena Vista. They were retaken by the 4th artillery, the regiment to which they originally belonged. We buried 600 of their dead found on the field. Our loss did not exceed 60. After allowing the troops a little time for refreshment, they were put in march down the San Angel road, to take in reverse the positions of San Antonio and Churubusco. The enemy, finding himself turned, immediately commenced to evacuate his lines at San Antonio; but we moved upon him so rapidly that he had to abandon his guns. General Worth’s division, that had masked him in front, followed so close upon his heels as to drive his rear into the defences of Churubusco. In the meantime General Twiggs had taken his position in the front on the battery surrounding the convent, while Gen. Worth seized upon that defending the bridge, and blocking the main road to Mexico. The battle opened fiercely on that side. Gens. Shields and Pierce’s brigades were sent to attack in rear. Advancing towards the city of Meixco until thay had passed the stream in rear of Churubusco, they crossed a cornfield on the right, and made for the causeway leading from Churubusco to the capital. This causeway was defended by a large body of infantry and cavalry, the latter extending apparently to the gates of Mexico. The number of infantry was said to be 5,000, and of cavalry 4,000. Gen. Shields forming his line obliquely to that of the enemy, resting either flank upon some buildings on his right and left, and gaining as much to their right flank as possible, brought his men promptly into action. General Pierce, following quickly up, took position to his left, and the howitzer battery opened on his right. The Mexicans made a stout resistance, and the reserve under Major Sumner, composed of the rifle regiment and a squadron of dragoons, was brought to their support. By the time they broke into the cornfield, the enemy began to give way. Worth and Twiggs had forced their front, and they were being driven upon the capital. As soon as the way was clear for the dragoons, they swept over the causeway, charging up to the very gates. Many a fine saddle was emptied by the discharge from their last battery. Captain Kearny, whose troop was leading, lost his left arm, and the rest of his officers were wounded. Our men had done their work well and faithfully. Their exhaustion required rest. The recall was sounded and we returned to the care of the killed and wounded. Of these we have a goodly number. I fear they will reach nearly 1,000. Many gallant officers are at rest. Col. Butler, of the South Carolina regiment bringing his regiment into action, had his horse shot under him; continuing the charge on foot, he was wounded in the leg, and finally shot through the head. Of the regulars, Capt. Thornton, of the dragoons, Capt. Burke, 1st artillery, Hanson, Lieut. Irons, Easly, Hoffman, and Johnston. About 40 are wounded more or less severely. All the engineers are safe. We cannot be sufficiently thankful, nor repay the interest or prayers of our friends in our behalf. The greeting of General Scott by the troops after the action, on seeing the success of all his plans, was loud and vociferous. It must have shaken the “Halls of the Montezumas.” Their enthusiasm seemed to cheer the Mexican officers in their captivity. The army has implicit confidence in him, and apprehend nothing where he commands. He sees everything, and calculate the cost of every measure; and they know and feel that their lives and labor will not be uselessly expended. During the day, we took 2,700 prisoners, 8 generals, 37 pieces of artillery, and ammunition enough for a whole campaign. Their defences were completely turned, and their plans upset. We could have entered Mexico that evening or the next morning, at our pleasure, so complete was the disorganization of their army of 32,000 men. We learn that 27,000 men were opposed to us at all points on the 20th, and they acknowledge in killed and wounded 5,000. On the 21st, as the army was in motion towards the city, General Scott was met by a proposition for a cessation of hostilities, for the purpose of taking care of the killed and wounded. This he refused; but in the evening agreed to an armistice, to enable commissioners to meet Mr. Trist, and to treat for peace. This armistice has been officially ratified. It is difficult to foresee the result; though I can very well see that it is for Santa Anna’s advantage to make peace. So far I can trust him.

The Lieutenant Johnston killed, was the nephew of Lieut. Col. Johnston, of the voltigeurs. I was standing by him when his leg was carried off above the knee by a cannon ball. He was a gallant little fellow, and as merry over his work all the morning as a boy at play. He fell by the side of the gun he had been effectively serving, and died that night, 19th instant. The Colonel did not hear of his death until next morning. He was standing in Valencia’s captured entrenchments, flushed with the recent victory; his frame shrunk and shivered with agony, and I wept to witness his grief. It is the living for whom we should mourn, and not the dead. The engineers did good service on both days; nor was the engineer company behind in any undertaking.  




Source: The Daily Union [Washington, D.C.], 1847 September 20, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2017 July 31               



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