This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Mexicans Resolve to Defend Their Homeland.
This war, popularly called “The Mexican War” but more accurately called “The Mexican-American War” transferred substantial territory from Mexico to the United States. Both Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant opposed the war as did many others. Its legacy lives on in the that part of the massive migration from Mexico to the United States that supports la Reconquista.
This series covers the final campaign to end the war by capturing the Mexican capital city. In the purely military sphere, its significance should be appreciated. No less of an authority than the Duke of Wellington himself pronounced that the US army would not be able to make it. On the USA side, it was a masterly campaign. On the Mexican side, not so much.
When President Polk began his Administration, the United States Government had become involved in two boundary disputes — one relating to Oregon, the other to Texas and Mexico. Out of the latter came the Mexican War, concerning the political causes and merits of which there were then and ever since have been wide differences of opinion among the American people. Polk’s election by the Democrats in 1844 had turned mainly upon the question of annexing Texas. Just before he came into office the annexation was made.
Texas claimed as her western boundary the Rio Grande. Mexico held that the western limit was the Nueces. Between the two rivers there was a large area of disputed territory. The Texan claim was opposed by many American statesmen and publicists, and by some was denounced — as the annexation of Texas had been — as an aggressive move against Mexico. But the United States Government supported the cause of Texas. General Zachary Taylor, who had served in the War of 1812, and afterward in several Indian wars, took command of the army in Texas in 1845. In January, 1846, he was ordered to occupy positions on or near the left bank of the Rio Grande del Norte. This order and its execution have been held by some writers to constitute an act of war, but war was not formally declared by the United States till May 11th. Taylor, with a small force, had several slight encounters with Mexican troops, after which he won the battle of Palo Alto (May 8, 1846), near the southern extremity of Texas; and that of Resaca de la Palma (May 9th), also in Texas, four miles north of Matamoros, Mexico. He took possession of Matamoros May 18th. With six thousand men, against about ten thousand Mexicans under Ampudia, Taylor captured Monterey, Mexico (September 24th), and at Buena Vista, February 22-23, 1847, with five thousand troops, he defeated fifteen thousand Mexicans under Santa Anna, then President of Mexico and commander of her army.
The war was now transferred to the district between Vera Cruz and the City of Mexico, the capital, and was henceforth conducted for the United States by General Winfield Scott, whose previous military career had been much the same as General Taylor’s. Scott had been made Major-General and Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1841. His first operation in Mexico was the taking of Vera Cruz, the principal Mexican seaport, on the Gulf of Mexico. With the aid of a fleet he besieged the city in March, 1847, and on the 27th received its surrender. At Cerro Gordo (April 17th and 18th) he won an important victory that opened his way through the mountains toward his objective, the city of Mexico. Reinforcements gradually reached him, and by the first of August he was ready to move on the valley of Mexico with about eleven thousand men. From this stage to the fall of the capital, completing the conquest of the country, Bonner’s account gives a graphic recital of events. The city was held by Americans from September 14, 1847, the day they entered it, until the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (February 2, 1848), which ended the war.
This selection is from a Special article to volume 17 of the book Great Events by Famous Historians by John Bonner. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
With the energy that characterized Santa Anna throughout the Mexican War, he had prepared for a desperate defense. Civil strife had been silenced, funds raised, an army of twenty-five thousand men mustered, and every precaution taken which genius could suggest or science indicate. Nature had done much for him. Directly in front of the invading army lay the large lakes of Xochimilco and Chalco. These turned, vast marshes, intersected by ditches and for the most part impassable, surrounded the city on the east and the south — on which side Scott was advancing — for several miles. The only approaches were by causeways; and these Santa Anna had taken prodigious pains to guard. The national road to Vera Cruz — which Scott must have taken had he marched on the north side of the lakes — was commanded by a fort mounting fifty-one guns on an impregnable hill called El Peñon. Should he turn the southern side of the lakes, a field of lava, deemed almost impassable for troops, interposed a primary obstacle; and fortified positions at San Antonio, San Angel, and Churubusco, with an intrenched camp at Contreras, were likewise to be surmounted before the southern causeways could be reached. Beyond these there yet remained the formidable castle of Chapultepec and the strong enclosure of Molino del Rey, to be stormed before the city gates could be reached. Powerful batteries had been mounted at all these points, and ample garrisons detailed to serve them. The bone and muscle of Mexico were there.
Goaded by defeat, Santa Anna never showed so much vigor; ambition fired Valencia; patriotism stirred the soul of Alvarez; Canalizo, maddened by the odium into which he had fallen, was boiling to regain his soubriquet of the “Lion of Mexico.” With a constancy equal to anything recorded of the Roman Senate, the Mexican Congress, on learning of the defeat at Cerro Gordo, had voted unanimously that anyone opening negotiations with the enemy should be deemed a traitor; and the citizens with one accord had ratified the vote. Within six months Mexico had lost two splendid armies in two pitched battles against the troops now advancing against the capital; but she never lost heart, and her spirit quailed not.
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