Santa Anna considered it the key to the city and awaited the attack in perfect confidence with thirty thousand men.
Continuing Scott Captures Mexico City,
our selection from a special article to volume 17 of the book Great Events by Famous Historians by John Bonner. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Scott Captures Mexico City.
Barely taking time to breathe his troops, Smith followed in pursuit toward the city. By ten o’clock in the morning he reached San Angel, which Santa Anna evacuated as he approached. The General-in-Chief and the generals of division had by this time relieved Smith of his command. Scott rode to the front, and in a few brief words told the men there was more work to be done that day. A loud cheer from the ranks was the reply. The whole force then advanced to Coyacan, within a mile of Churubusco, and prepared to assault the place.
Santa Anna considered it the key to the city and awaited the attack in perfect confidence with thirty thousand men. The defenses were simple. On the west, in the direction of Coyacan, stood the large stone convent of San Pablo, which, as well as the wall and breastworks in front, was filled with infantry, and which contained seven heavy guns. A breastwork connected San Pablo with the tête de pont over the Churubusco River, four hundred yards distant. This was the easternmost point of defense, and formed part of the San Antonio causeway leading to the city. It was a work constructed with the greatest skill — bastions, curtain, and wet ditch, everything was complete and perfect — four guns were mounted in embrasure and barbette, and as many men as the place would hold were stationed there. The reserves occupied the causeway behind Churubusco. Independently of his defenses, Santa Anna’s numbers — nearly five to one — should have insured the repulse of the assailants.
By eleven — hardly seven hours having elapsed since the Contreras camp had been stormed, five miles away — Twiggs and Pillow were in motion toward the San Antonio causeway. Nothing had been heard of Worth, who had been directed to move along the east side of the Pedregal on San Antonio, but it was taken for granted he had carried the point, and Scott wished to cut off the retreat of the garrison. Twiggs was advancing cautiously toward the convent when a heavy firing was heard in advance. Supposing that a reconnoitering party had been attacked, he hastily sent forward the First Artillery, under Dimmick, through a field of tall corn, to support them. No sooner had they separated from the main body than a terrific discharge of grape, canister, and musketry assailed them from the convent. In the teeth of the storm they advanced to within one hundred yards of that building, and a light battery under Taylor was brought up on their right and opened on the convent.
More than an hour the gunners stood firm to their pieces under afire as terrible as troops ever endured; one-third of the command had fallen before they were withdrawn. Colonel Riley meanwhile, with the stormers of Contreras, had been dispatched to assail San Pablo on the west, and, like Dimmick, was met by a murderous rain of shot. Whole heads of companies were mowed down at once. Thus Captain Smith fell, twice wounded, with every man beside him; and a single discharge from the Mexican guns swept down Lieutenant Easley and the division he led. It was the second time that day the gallant Second had served as targets for the Mexicans, but not a man fell back. General Smith ordered up the Third in support, and these, protecting themselves as best they could behind a few huts, kept up a steady fire on the convent. Sallies from the works were continually made, and as continually repelled, but not a step could the assailants make in advance.
By this time the battle was raging at three different points. Worth had marched on San Antonio that morning, found it evacuated, and given chase to the Mexicans with the Fifth and Sixth Infantry. The causeway leading from San Antonio to the tête de pont of Churubusco was thronged with flying horse and foot; our troops dashed headlong after them, never halting till the advance corps — the Sixth — were within short range of the Mexican batteries. A tremendous volley from the tête de pont in front, and the convent on the flank, then forced them to await the arrival of the rest of the division. This was the fire which Twiggs heard when he sent Dimmick against the convent.
Worth came up almost immediately; and directing the Sixth to advance as best they could along the causeway in the teeth of the tête de pont, dispatched Garland’s and Clarke’s brigades through the fields on the right to attack it in flank. Every gun was instantly directed against the assailants; and though the day was bright and clear, the clouds of smoke actually darkened the air. Hoffman, waving his sword, cheered on the Sixth; but the shot tore and ripped up their ranks to such a degree that in a few minutes they had lost ninety-seven men. The brigades on the right suffered as severely. One hundred men fell within the space of an acre. Still they pressed on, till the Eighth (of Clarke’s brigade) reached the ditch. In they plunged, Lieutenant Longstreet bearing the colors in advance; he scrambled out on the other side, dashed at the walls without ladders or scaling implements, and bayoneted the defenders as they took aim. At last, officers and men mixed pell-mell, some through the embrasures, some over the walls, rushed or leaped in and drove the garrison helter-skelter upon their reserves.
The tête de pont gained, its guns were turned on the convent, whence the Mexicans were still slaughtering our gallant Second and Third. Duncan’s battery, too, hitherto in reserve, was brought up and opened with such rapidity that a bystander estimated the intervals between the reports at three seconds! Stunned by this novel attack, the garrison of San Pablo slackened fire. In an instant the Third, followed by Dimmick’s artillery, dashed forward with the bayonet to storm the nearest bastion. With a run they carried it, the artillery bursting over the curtain; but at that moment a dozen white flags waved in their faces. The whole fortified position of Churubusco was taken.
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