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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 It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online.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.


 

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Tacubya 22 Aug 1847

 

My dear Mrs Totten

I do not know how I can thank you for your kind letter. It reached me at Puebla by the last train that arrived before our departure. I should have answered it immediately but for the impossibility of finding a convenience for my letter. Now I write in case I should find an opportunity. I feel very grateful for the kind interest expressed for my welfare & sincerely thank you for the agreeable account of my home family. I can well imagine your joy at the return of the Colonel. We regretted his departure much & I only became reconciled to it on your account. We have missed him very much both in the field & in the tent, nor has Gardner been forgotten, for of all our numerous cooks he was most to my taste. We are now located in our wing of the Archbishop’s Palace. Chapultepec with its magnificent grove is before us, & we overlook the great city surrounded by its lakes & 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, tree & mountain reflected in its silver lakes, you would think it even surpassed the descriptions we read of it. There are also stupendous works of art around us. But I can tell you nothing, for I have not yet been in the city, though 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. You need no read it, but turn it over to the colonel on the 7 Inst: Genl Twiggs Division left Puebla. It was followed on the 8th by Genl Quitman’s. On the 9th by Genl Worth’s & on the 10th by Genl Pillows. Genl Scott left on the 8th & overtook Genl Twiggs that night at San Martin. Our march over the mountains was undisturbed except by rumours of Geurillos & resistance. Both disappeared as we approached, & we left their abandoned works as we found them. On the 11th Genl Twiggs encamped at Ayotla, 15 miles from Mexico, on the direct road. The other Divisions on each succeeding day came up in order & took positions in the rear. Genl Worth occupying Chalco. The reconnoissances of the 12th & 13th Satisfied us of the strength of the enemys defences in our front. Their principal defence was at El Pinon commanding the causeway between the lakes of Tescuco & Chalco. The hill of El Pinon, is about 300 feet high, having three plateaus of different elevations. It stands in the waters of Lake Tescuso. Its base is surrounded by a dry trench & its sides arranged with breastworks from its base to its crest. It was armed with 30 peices [sic] of canon & defended by 7000 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 2 miles in front, & the whole distance, 7 miles to the city. There was a battery on the causeway about 400 yds in advance of the Pinon. Another by its side. A third about a mile in front of the entrance to the city: & fourth at the entrance. About 2 miles in front of the Pinon, a road branched off to the left,

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& crossed the outlet of Lake Xochimilco, at the village of Mexicalcingo, 6 miles from the main road. This village surrounded by a marsh was enveloped in batteries, & only approached over a paved causeway a mile in length. Beyond, the causeway continued through the marsh for 2 miles farther & opened upon terra firma at the village of Churubusco, which was also fortified & which we shall see more of presently. The reconnoisance of the 14th Satisfied us that the route South of Lake Charles was practicable for our wagons, or could be made so. That day Genl Pillows Division closed upon the village of Chalco, & the next morg 15th, Genl Worth lead off South of the Lake. The Divisions took up the line of march in succession, Genl Twiggs bringing up the rear, & we turned our backs upon the fortifications of the Pinon & Mexicalingo. Genl Valencia with 6000 men made an attempt to annoy our rear as it turned Lake Chalco. But Genl Twiggs having his train in front & his Division well in hand wheeled into line to the left & with one discharge of Taylors Battery tumbled over some men & horses & sent the rest flying over the hills, like the wild ducks from the Lakes. He quietly then broke again into columns & rescind his march. The Rancheros & Guerrillos hovering about our front gave us as little trouble, & the working parties filled up the trenches & rolled away the rocks, that had been placed there to retard us without stopping our march. On the 17th, Genl Worth encamped at San Augustin or Tlalpan, on the acapulco road, & moved down on the 18, 2 ½ miles, in Front of San Antonio to make room for the other Divisions to close upon him. The 18th was devoted to reconnoissances. San Antonio was situated similarly to Mexicalingo. Batteries commanded the causeway in front & sweeping swept over the marshes to the left as far as the Lake. The pedregal or volcanic rocks rendered the right impassable for every thing but infy & difficult for them. One & a half miles in rear were situated the defences of Churabusco, commanding the approach over the Pedgregal & by the way of Mexicalingo. A route was discovered west from the Augustin over the Spurs of the mountain to the San Angel road, by which these positions could be turned. Genl Twiggs Division coming upon the morg of the 19th, was thrown forward on this route to cover the working parties formed from Pillows Division. By 1 P.M. we had surmounted the hills & approached the two divisions of the Army with their field batteries &c within canon range of Valencia’s in entrenchments, situated on the San Angel road & commanding the only approach through the pedgral or volcanic rocks. The working parties were returned to their regiments, the tools repacked & preparations made to dislodge the enemy before continuing the road further. On approaching his front within cannister [sic] range, & driving in his advanced parties, posted behind breastworks across the road, with Magruders & the Howitzer batteries. It was found that the ground on his left offered the greatest advantages for his attack. He lay intrenched 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 4 8 inch Howitzers 3 long 16 prs, 1 18 pr & some of Smaller caliber. His right was almost equally strong & after crossing the ravine, approached over smooth ground in the form of a natural glacis, & taken in reverse by a body of Ranchers & Lancers. The heads of the different Divisions were accordingly changed

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to the right, & each leaving their horses & batteries behind, slowly winded their way among the volcanic rocks, to the ravine which they passed in front of the Small village of San Raymond out of gun shot of Valencias batteries. They were now on the firm San Angel road, between Valencia & relief. But Santa Anna coming out to his support, with 7000 infy & cavalry drew up in battle array on the hills of contreras to our right. Col Riley’s brigade that had been moved to the right earlier in the day to cooperate with a front attack, & had passed beyond the San Angel road, now falling back upon the village which we had taken possession of, Genl Smith at once determined to drive away the force threatening our right. By the time his dispositions were made, the Sun had set & night drawing on, it was feared we should not have light enough for our work. The attack was therefore suspended till morg. The troops bivouacked around the village without food, without shelter & without fire. It was afterwards determined to return to the original intentions of assaulting Valencias intrenchments as the dispersion of Santa Annas force affected but little our principal object. At 3 A.M. Col Rileys Brigade was put in motion, followed by Gen Smiths & Genl Cadwalladers. Genl Sheilds [sic] holding the village. During the night, the 9th & 12th Regts with a compy of Rifles & some detachments that had been thrown out the previous day, were moved up in front of to the ravine in front of the enemys position & after driving in the picquets in the grey of the morg, filed off to the right & took a sheltered position on their left, ready to cooperate with the attacking force in rear. This force moving around the base of the hill on which on which the battery was placed covered from their view & fire, began about Sunrise to shew themselves over its crest. Col: Rileys Brigade sweeping around their rear & right, moved down with great impetuosity, when Gen Smith attacked their left from the rear. In the meantime Col Ransom pushing across the ravine the force in front opened his fire on their front & left. The enemy finding himself thus attacked, & apprehending the main attack from the direction in which we approached the previous day, opened his heavy battery on his front. But Rileys brigade carrying everything before them, drove them out between the fires of Smith & Ransom, upon that of Sheilds [sic]. They broke at all points, abandoning their artillery, pack train ammunition &c. We took 800 prisoners, 4 genls Salas, Mendoza, Blanco & Garcia, 4 colonels, 2 commrs of Brigades & Squadrons & other officers in proportion. Among the 22 peices [sic] of Artillery taken, were the two belonging to Washingtons battery, taken at Buenavista. They were retaken by the 4 Arty, the regt: 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, t[hey were] put in march down the San Angel road to take in reverse the positions of San Antonio [&] 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. Genl Worths 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 mean time Genl Twiggs had taken his position in front of the battery surrounding the convent, while Genl Worth seized upon that defending the bridge & blocking the main road to Mexico. The battle opened feircely [sic] on that side. Genl Shields & Peirces [sic] brigades, were sent to attack in rear. Advancing towards the city of Mexico until they had passed the stream in rear of Churubuscoto, they crossed a cornfield on their right & made for the causeway leading from Churobusco to the capital. This causeway

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was defended by a large body of Infantry & cavalry, the latter extending apparently to the gates of Mexico. The member of Infy was said to have been 5000, & of cavalry 4000. Genl Sheilds [sic] forming his line obliquely to that of the enemy, resting in the flank, upon some buildings on his right & left, & gaining as much to their right flank as possible, brought his men promptly in action. Genl Peirce [sic] following quickly up, took position to his left & the Howitzer battery opened on his right. The Mexicans made a stout resistance & the reserve under Major Sumner, composed of the Rifle Regt: & a squadron of Dragoons was brought to their support. By the time they broke into the cornfield [sic], the enemy began to give way. Worth & Twiggs had forced their front & 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. Capt Kearny whose troop was leading lost his left arm, & the rest of his officers were wounded. Our men had done their work well & faithfully. Their exhaustion required rest. The recall was sounded & we returned to the care of the killed & wounded. Of these we have a goodly number. I fear they will reach nearly 1000. Many gallant officers are at rest. Col: Butler of the S.C. Regt. bringing his Regt: into action had his horse shot under him continuing the charge on foot was wounded in the leg, & finally shot through the head. Of the Regulars Captains Thornton of the Dragoons, Capron, Burke, 1st Arty, Hanson, Lt Irons, Easly, Hoffman, & 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 Genl Scott by the troops after the action, on seeing the success of all his plans, was loud & 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 & apprehend nothing where he commands. He sees everything & calculates the cost of every measure, & they know & feel that their lives & labour will not be uselessly expended. During the day we took 2700 prisoners 8 Genls 37 pieces of Arty & ammunition enough for a whole campaign. Their defences were completely turned & their plans upset. We could have entered Mexico that evg or the next morg at our pleasure So complete was the disorganization of their Army of 32000 men. We learn that 27000 men were opposed to us at all points on the 20th & they acknowledge in [killed] & wounded 5000. On the 21st as the Army was in motion towards the city. Genl Scott was met [by a pro]position for a cessation of hostilities for the purpose of taking care of the killed & wounded. This [he refused], but in the evg agreed to an armistice to enable commissioners to meet Mr Trist [& 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 in that is for Santa Anna’s advantage to make peace. So far I can trust him. The Lt Johnston killed was the nephew of Lt Col Johnston of the Voltigeurs. I was standing by when his leg was carried off above the knee by a cannonball [sic]. He was a gallant little fellow & as merry over his work all the morg as a boy at play. He fell by the side of the gun he had been effectively serving & died that night 19th. The col: did not hear of his death till next morg. He was standing in Valencias captured entrenchments, with his flushed with the recent victory. His frame shrank & shivered with agony & I wept to witness his misery. It is the living for which we should mourn & not the dead. The Engineers did good service I hope during both days. Nor was the Engineer Compy behind in any undertaking. All the officers unite in the kindest regards to yourself & the colonel & major Smith & the young gentlemen venture their love to the young ladies. Tell Miss Colten that I do not think I will be able to refuse the Major on his return with his brow covered in green laurels. I suppose you know that your son Joe remained in Puebla. He was very anxious to come with the army, but the Dr thought it more prudent for him to remain. He had been indisposed during his march from Vera Cruz & it continued after his arrival at Puebla. He was however much better, riding about & looking quite well, but it was feared that the exposure of another march would bring back his disease. I fear you will be worried to death with my interminable letter; so little suited to the usual reading of a lady. Knowing your interest in all that concerns the Army, our operations & Genl Scott. I thought you might like to hear some other accounts than those published or even the official. I must now come to an end. With kindest regards to your whole family & earnest wishes for their welfare & happiness, I remain yours truly & sincerely

R E Lee

 

 

 

Source: Checked against original letter, Helen M. Taylor Collection, Mss1 T2144 a, Section 6, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2019 May 16                             

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