Palo Alto, 8 May 1846
Conditions had been steadily worsening along the Rio Grande.
The United States claimed the Rio Grande as the international border while the Mexican
Government claimed the Nueces was the proper border. Early in 1846, General Zachary
Taylor built a fort on the Rio Grande opposite the Mexican town of Matamoros. In April,
the Mexicans countered by sending a force of about 1600 cavalrymen across the Rio
Grande where, on 25 April, they overwhelmed a force of 60 dragoons under Captain S. B.
Mexican forces at Matamoros steadily grew stronger in April. By the end of the month
General Taylor had become concerned about his lines of communication with his lightly
held main base at Point Isabel, near the mouth of the Rio Grande. Therefore, on 1 May
Taylor moved the bulk of his army to Point Isabel, leaving a small detachment of artillery
and infantry under Maj. Jacob Brown at the fort opposite Matamoros. The Mexicans soon
placed this fort (later named Fort Brown) under heavy attack. On 7 May Taylor moved to
the rescue with about 2,300 men. On the morning of 8 May, when little more than half
way to the fort, the Americana came face to face with the enemy, a force numbering
perhaps as many as 6,000 men, commanded by Gen. Mariano Arista. Its right flank
rested on an elevation known as Palo Alto (after which the engagement was named).
Taylor moved unhesitatingly into battle, using his artillery to cover the deployment of the
infantry. The engagement continued until nightfall, when the Mexicans withdrew. Effective
use of artillery fire was largely responsible for the American victory. American losses were
9 killed and 47 wounded. The Mexicans suffered more than 700 casualties, including about
Resaca de la Palma, 9 May 1846
The next morning Taylor, continuing his advance, found the Mexicans a few miles down
the road, where they had taken up a strong defensive position in a dry river bed known as
the Resaca de la Palma. In this second successive day of battle the infantry conducted
most of the action, although the dragoons played an important part in knocking out the
enemy artillery. Eventually the infantry turned the enemy's left flank, and the Mexican
line broke and fled. The rout became a race for the Rio Grande which the Mexicans won,
but many were drowned while attempting to cross the river. Taylor's losses were 33 killed
and 89 wounded. Arista's official report listed 160 Mexicans killed, 228 wounded, and
159 missing, but Americas estimated that the Mexicans had suffered well over a thousand
Taylor had to wait until 18 May for boats to move his army across the Rio Grande. When
the Americans finally moved into Matamoros, they found that the Mexican force had
disappeared into the interior. The next objective was Monterey, but the direct overland
route from Matamoros lacked water and forage; Taylor therefore waited until August for
the arrival of steamboats, with which he moved his army 130 miles upriver to Camargo.
Meanwhile thousands of volunteers had poured into Matamoros, but disease and various
security and logistic factors limited Taylor to a force of little more than 6,000 men for the
Monterey, 21 Sentember 1846
Taylor's forces left Camargo at the end of August and launched an attack on Monterey
on 21 September 1846. The city was defended by a force of from 7,300 to 9,000 Mexican
troops under the command of Gen. Pedro de Ampudia. After three days of hard fighting
the Americans drove the enemy from the streets to the central plaza. On 24 September
Ampudia offered to surrender the city on the condition that his troops be allowed to
withdraw unimpeded and that an eight-week armistice go into effect. Taylor, believing that
his mission was simply to hold northern Mexico, accepted the terms and the Mexican
troops evacuated the city the following day. Ampudia reported that his army had suffered
367 casualties in the three-day fight. Taylor reported his losses as being 120 killed and 368
wounded. Both reports were probably underestimates.
Taylor was severely criticized in Washington for agreeing to the Mexican terms, and the
Administration promptly repudiated the armistice, which had almost expired by the time
the news reached Monterey.
Meanwhile, in keeping with the strategic plan, the other two prongs of advance into northern
Mexico had been put in motion. On 5 June 1846, Brig. Gen. John E. Wool had left San
Antonio with his "Army of the Center," a force of some 2,000 men. His original objective
was Chihuahua, but en route it was changed to Parras. Wool, encountering no opposition,
arrived at Parras on 5 December; his force then became part of Taylor's command. The
third prong, Col. (later Maj. Gen.) Stephen W. Kearny's "Army of the West," a force of
about 1,660 men, left Fort Leavenworth early in June 1846 and entered Santa Fe unopposed
on 18 August. From there Kearny left for California on 25 September with about 300
dragoons. En route he met a party, led by Kit Carson, bringing news from the west
coast that a naval squadron under Commodore J. D. Sloat, with the questionable help of
volunteers under Capt. John C. Fremont, had won peaceful possession of California in July,
although some opposition remained. Kearny seat back 200 of his men and pushed on with
the rest, arriving at San Diego on 12 December after having fought a sharp engagement on
6 December with a larger force of Californians at San Pasqual. At San Diego Kearny joined
Commodore Robert F. Stockton, who had replaced Sloat, and their combined force of some
600 men, after same minor skirmishing, occupied Los Angeles on 10 January 1847. Three
days later the last remaining Californian opposition capitulated to the volunteer force
commanded by Fremont.
Meanwhile, in mid-November of 1846, Taylor had sent one of his divisions to occupy the city
of Saltillo. Another detachment occupied Victoria, a provincial capital between Monterey
and the port or Tampico, which latter had been occupied by an American naval force
under Comdr. David Conner on 15 November 1846. Thus, by the end of 1846, a very large
part of northern Mexico had come under American control.
A plan was adopted late in 1846 to strike at Mexico City by way of Vera Cruz. In preparation
for this expedition Maj. Gen. Wintield Scott, Commanding General or the Army, detached
about 8,000 men from Taylor 'a command early in 1847, ordering the troops to Gulf ports to
wait sea transportation. Taylor was left with some 4,800 men, practically all volunteers,
most or whom he concentrated in a camp south of Saltillo.
Buena Vista, 22 - 23 February 1847
Gen. Santa Anna, President of Mexico, had meanwhile taken the field personally and
assembled an army at Son Luia Potosi. Learning of the weakness of the forces near
Saltillo, Santa Anna moved with about 15,000 men to the attack in February 1847.
Taylor hastily redeployed his force at Buena Vista, where the terrain offered better
possibilities for defense. Santa Anna used French tactics at Buena Vista, attempting to
overwhelm American positions with dense columns of men. Massed tires of infantry and
artillery proved effective against the attacking columns, and, after two days of the most
severe fighting of the war, Santa Anna withdrew his dispirited army to San Luis Potosi,
having lost from 1,500 to 2,000 men killed and wounded. The Americans, too exhausted
to pursue, had lost 264 killed, 450 wounded, and 26 missing.
Vera Cruz, 9 - 29 March 1847
Scott's army, numbering 13,660 men, rendezvoused at Lobos Island late in February
1847 and on 2 March sailed for Vera Cruz, convoyed by a naval force under Commodore
Matthew C. Perry. Landing operations near Vera Cruz began on 9 March. This first mayor
amphibious landing by the U.S. Army was unopposed, the Mexican commandante general,
Juan Morales, having decided to keep his force of only 4,300 men behind the city's walls.
In order to save lives, Scott chose to take Vera Cruz by seige rather than by assault. The
city capitulated on 27 March 1847 after undergoing a demoralizing bombardment. The
Americans lost 19 killed and 63 wounded. The Mexican military suffered only about 80
Cerro Gordo, 17 April 1847
Scott began his advance toward Mexico City on 8 April 1847. The first resistance
encountered was near the hamlet of Cerro Gordo where Santa Anna had strongly
entrenched an army of about 12,000 men in mountain passes through which the road
ran to Jalapa. Scott quickly won the battle with a flanking movement that cut off the
enemy escape route, and the Mexicans surrendered in droves. From 1,000 to 1,200
casualties were suffered by the Mexicans, and Scott eventually released on parole the
3,000 who had been taken prisoners. Santa Anna and the remnants of his army fled into
the mountains. American losses were 64 killed and 353 wounded.
Scott quickly pushed on to Jalapa, but was forced to wait there for supplies and
reinforcements. After some weeks he advanced cautiously to Pueblo. Wounds and
sickness put 3,200 men in the hospital, and the departure for home of about 3,700
volunteers (seven regiments) whose enlistments had expired left Scott with only 5,820
effective enlisted men at the end of May 1847. Scott stayed at Puebla until the beginning
of August, awaiting reinforcement and the outcome of peace negotiations which were being
conducted by Nicholas P. Trist, a State Department official who had accompanied the
The negotiations having failed, Scott boldly struck out for Mexico City on 7 August,
abandoning his line of communications to the coast. By this time reinforcements had
brought his army to a strength of nearly 10,000 men. Santa Anna had disposed his army
in and around Mexico City, strongly fortifying the many natural obstacles that lay in the
way of the Americans.
Contreras, 18 - 20 August 1847
Scott first encountered stiff resistance at Contreras where the Mexicans were finally put
to flight after suffering an estimated 700 casualties and the loss of 800 prisoners.
Churubusco, 20 August 1847
Santa Anna promptly made another stand on Churubusco where he suffered a disastrous
defeat in which his total losses for the dayókilled, wounded, and especially
desertersówere probably as high as 10,000. Scott estimated the Mexican losses at 4,297
killed and wounded, and he took 2,637 prisoners. Of 8,497 Americans engaged in the
almost continuous battles of Contreras and Churubusco, 131 were killed, 865 wounded,
and about 40 missing.
Scott proposed an armistice to discuss peace terms. Santa Anna quickly agreed; but after
two weeks of fruitless negotiations it became apparent that the Mexicans were using the
armistice merely for a breathing spell. On 6 September Scott broke off discussions and
prepared to assault the capital. To do so, it was necessary to take the citadel of
Chapultepec, a massive stone fortress on top of a hill about a mile outside the city proper.
Defending Mexico City were from 18,000 to 20,000 troops, and the Mexicans were
confident of victory, since it was known that Scott had barely 8,000 men and was far from
his base of supply.
Molino del Rey, 8 September 1847
On 8 September 1847, the Americans launched an
assault on Molino del Rey, the most important outwork of Chapultepec. It was taken after
a bloody fight, in which the Mexicans suffered an estimated 2,000 casualties and lost 700
as prisoners, while perhaps as many as 2,000 deserted. The small American force had
sustained comparatively serious lossesó124 killed and 582 woundedóbut they doggedly
continued their attack on Chapultepec, which finally fell on 13 September 1847. American
losses were 138 killed and 673 wounded during the siege of the fortress. Mexican losses
in killed, wounded, and captured totaled about 1,800. The fall of the citadel brought
Mexican resistance practically to an end. Authorities in Mexico City sent out a white flag
on 14 September 1847. Santa Anna abdicated the Presidency, and the last remnant of
his army, about 1,500 volunteers, was completely defeated a few days later while
attempting to capture an American supply train.
On 2 February 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ratified in the U.S.
Senate on 10 March 1848, by the Mexican Congress in May, and on 1 August 1848 the
last American soldier departed for home.
Back to North Carolina in the Mexican War Veterans Pages