Major-General Winfield Scott, near Mexico City, to William L. Marcy, Secretary of War, at Washington, D.C. Dispatch communicating Scott's official report of the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco.
Headquarters of the army,
Sir: - My report No. 31, commenced in the night of the 19th instant, closed the operations of the army with that day.
The morning of the 20th opened with one of series of unsurpassed achievements, all in view of the capital, and to which I shall give the general name - battle of Mexico.
In the night of the 19th, Brigadier Generals Shields, P. F Smith, and Cadwallader, and Colonel Riley, with their brigades, and the 15th regiment, under Colonel Morgan, detached from Brigadier General Pierce, found themselves in and about the important position - the village, hamlet, or hacienda, called, indifferently, Contreras, Ansalda, San Geronimo, half a mile nearer to the city than the enemy's entrenched camp, on the same road, towards the factory of Magdalena.
That camp had been, unexpectedly, our formidable point of attack the afternoon before, and we had now to take it, without the aid of cavalry or artillery, or to throw back our advanced corps upon the road from San Augustin to the city, and thence force a passage through San Antonio.
Accordingly, to meet contingencies, Major General Worth was ordered to leave, early in the morning of the 20th, one of his brigades to mask San Antonio, and to march, with the other, six miles, via San Augustin, upon Contreras. A like destination was given to Major General Quitman and his remaining brigade in San Augustin - replacing, for the moment, the garrison of that important depot with Harney's brigade of cavalry, as horse could not pass over the intervening rocks, &c. to reach the field.
A diversion for an earlier hour (daylight) had been arranged for the night before, according to the suggestion of Brigadier General Smith, received through the engineer, Captain Lee, who conveyed my orders to our troops remaining on the ground opposite the enemy's centre - the point for the diversion or a real attack, as circumstances might allow.
Guided by Captain Lee, it proved the latter, under the command of Colonel Ransom, of the 9th, having with him that regiment and some companies of three others - the 3d, 12th, and rifles.
Shields, the senior officer at the hamlet, having arrived in the night, after Smith had arranged with Cadwallader and Riley the plan of attack for the morning, delicately waived interference; but reserved to himself the double task of holding the hamlet with his two regiments (South Carolina and New York volunteers) against ten times his numbers on the side of the city, including the slopes to his left, and, in case the camp in his rear should be carried, to face about and cut off the flying enemy.
At 3 o'clock A. N. the great movement commenced on the rear of the enemy's camp, Riley leading, followed successively by Cadwallader's and Smith's brigades, the latter temporarily under the orders of Major Dimick, of the 1st artillery - the whole force being commanded by Smith, the senior in the general attack, and whose arrangements, skill, and gallantry always challenge the highest admiration.
The march was rendered tedious by the darkness, rain, and mud; but about sunrise, Riley, conducted by Lieut. Tower, engineer, had reached an elevation behind the enemy, whence he precipitated his columns; stormed the entrenchments; planted his several colors upon them, and carried the work - all in seventeen minutes.
Conducted by Lieut. Beauregard, engineer, and Lieutenant Brooks, of Twigg's staff - both of whom, like Lieut. Tower, had in the night, twice reconnoitered the ground - Cadwallader brought up to the general assault two of his regiments - the voltigeurs and the 11th; and at the appointed time, Col. Ransom, with his temporary brigade, conducted by Captain Lee, engineer, not only made the movement to divert and distract the enemy, but, after crossing the deep ravine in his front, advanced, and poured into the works and upon the fugitives many volleys from his destructive musketry.
In the mean time Smith's own brigade, under the temporary command of Major Dimick, following the movements of Riley and Cadwallader, discovered opposite to and outside of the works, a long line of Mexican cavalry, drawn up as a support. Dimick, having at the head of the brigade the company of sappers and miners, under Lieut. Smith, engineer, who had conducted the march, was ordered by Brigadier General Smith to form line faced to the enemy, and in a charge against a flank, routed the cavalry.
Shields too, by the wise disposition of his brigade and gallant activity, contributed much to the general results. He held masses of cavalry and infantry, supported by artillery, in check below him, and captured hundreds, with one General (Mendoza) of those who fled from above.
I doubt whether a more brilliant or decisive victory - taking into view ground, artificial defences, batteries, and the extreme disparity of numbers - without cavalry or artillery on our side - is to be found on record. Including all our corps directed against the entrenched camp, with Shield's brigade at the hamlet, we positively did not number over 4500 rank and file; and we knew by sight, and since more certainly by many captured documents and letters, that the enemy had actually engaged on the spot 7000 men, with at least 12,000 more hovering within sight and striking distance - both on the 19th and 20th. All not killed or captured, now fled with precipitation.
Thus was the great victory of Contreras achieved: one road to the capital opened; 700 of the enemy killed; 813 prisoners, including, among 88 officers, 4 generals; besides many colors and standards; 22 pieces of brass ordnance - half of large caliber; thousands of small arms and accoutrements; an immense quantity of shot, shells, powder, and cartridges, 700 pack mules, many horses, &c. - all in our hands.
It is highly gratifying to find that, by skillful arrangement and rapidity of execution, our loss in killed and wounded, did not exceed, on the spot, 60; among the former the brave Captain Charles Hanson, of the 7th infantry - not more distinguished for gallantry than for modesty, morals, and piety. Lieut. J. P. Johnston, 1st artillery, serving with Magruder's battery, a young officer of the highest promise, was killed the evening before.
One of the most pleasing incidents of the victory is the recapture, in the works, by Captain Drum, 4th artillery, under Major Gardner, of the two brass six pounders, taken from another company of the same regiment, though without the loss of honor, at the glorious battle of Buena Vista - about which guns the whole regiment had mourned for so many long months! Coming up, a little later, I had the happiness to join in the protracted cheers of the gallant 4th on the joyous event; and, indeed, the whole army sympathizes in its just pride and exultation.
The battle being won before the advancing brigades of Worth's and Quitman's divisions were in sight, both were ordered back to their late positions - Worth to attack San Antonio in front with his whole force, a soon as approached in the rear by Pillow's and Twiggs's divisions, moving from Contreras through San Angel and Coyoacan. By carrying San Antonio we knew that we should open another - a shorter and better road to the capital for our siege and other trains.
Accordingly, the two advanced divisions and Shield's brigade marched from Contreras, under the immediate orders of Major Gen. Pillow, who was now joined by the gallant Brig. Gen. Pierce, of his division, personally thrown out of activity late in the evening before by a severe hurt received from the fall of his horse.
After giving necessary orders, on the field, in the midst of prisoners and trophies, and sending instructions to Harney's brigade of cavalry, left at San Augustine to join me, I personally followed Pillow's movement.
Arriving at Contreras, two miles by a cross road, from the rear of San Antonio, I first detached Captain Lee, engineer, with Kearney's troop, (1st dragoons,) supported by the rifle regiment under Major Loring, to reconnoitre that strong point; and next despatched Major General Pillow, with one of his brigades, (Cadwallader's) to make the attack upon it, in concert with Major General Worth, on the opposite side.
At the same time, by another road to the left, Lieutenant Stevens, of the engineers, supported by Lieutenant G. W. Smith's company of sappers and miners, of the same corps, was to reconnoitre the strongly fortified church or convent of San Pablo, in the hamlet of Churubusco - one mile off. - Twiggs, with one of his brigades (Smith's - less the rifles) and Captain Taylor's field battery, were ordered to follow and to attack the convent. Major Smith, senior engineer, was despatched to concert with Twiggs the mode and means of attack, and Twiggs's other brigade (Riley's) I soon ordered up to support him.
Next (but all in ten minutes) I sent Pierce (just able to keep the saddle) with his brigade (Pillow's division) conducted by Captain Lee, engineer, by a third road, a little farther to our left, to attack the enemy's right and rear, in order to favor the movement upon the convent, and cut off the retreat towards the capital. And, finally, Shields, senior brigadier to Pierce, with the New York and South Carolina volunteers, (Quitman's division,) was ordered to follow Pierce, closely, and to take the command of our left wing. All these movements were made with the utmost alacrity by our gallant troops and commanders.
Finding myself at Coyoacan, from which so many roads conveniently branched, without escort or reserve, I had to advance, for safety, close upon Twiggs's rear. The battle now raged from the right to the left of our whole line.
Learning, on the return of Captain Lee, that Shields, in rear of Churubusco, was hard pressed, and in danger of being outflanked, if not overwhelmed, by greatly superior numbers, I immediately sent, under Major Sumner, 2d dragoons, the rifles (Twiggs' reserve) and Capt. Sibley's troop, 2d dragoons, then at hand, to support our left, guided by the same engineer.
About an hour earlier, Worth had, by skillful and daring movements upon the front and right, turned and forced San Antonio - its garrison, no doubt, much shaken by our decisive victory at Contreras.
His second brigade (Colonel Clarke's) conducted by Captain Mason, engineer, assisted by Lieutenant Hardcastle, topographical engineer, turned the right, and by a wide sweep came out upon the high road to the capital. At this point the heavy garrison (3,000 men) in retreat was, by Clarke, cut in the centre, one portion, the rear, driven upon Dolores, off to the right; and the other upon Churubusco, in the direct line of our operations. The first brigade, (Colonel Garland's) same division, consisting of the 2d artillery, under Major Galt, the 3d artillery, under Lieutenant Colonel Belton, and the 4th infantry, commanded by Major Lee, with Lieutenant Colonel Duncan's field battery (temporarily) followed in pursuit through the town, taking one general prisoner, the abandoned guns, (five pieces,) much ammunition, and other public property.
The forcing of San Antonio was the second brilliant event of the day.
Worth's division being soon reunited in hot pursuit, he was joined by Maj. Gen. Pillow, who, marching from Coyoacan and discovering that San Antonio had been carried, immediately turned to the left, according to my instructions, and though much impeded by ditches and swamps, hastened to the attack of Churbusco.
The hamlet of scattered houses, bearing this name, presented, besides the fortified convent, a strong field-work (tete du pont) with regular bastions and curtains, at the head of a bridge over which the road passes from San Antonio to the capital.
The whole remaining forces of Mexico - some 27,000 men - cavalry,, artillery, and infantry, collected from every quarter - were now in, on the flanks or within supporting distance of, those works, and seemed resolved to make a last and desperate stand; for if beaten here, the feebler defences at the gates of the city - four miles off - could not, as was well known to both parties, delay the victors an hour. - The capital of an ancient empire, now of a great republic; or an early peace, the assailants were resolved to win. Not an American - and we had less than a third of the enemy's numbers - had a doubt as to the result.
The fortified church or convent, hotly pressed by Twiggs, had already held out about an hour, when Worth and Pillow - the latter having with him only Cadwallader's brigade - began to manoeuvre closely upon the tete du pont, with the convent at half gun-shot, to their left. Garland's brigade, (Worth's division,) to which had been added the light battalion under Lieut. Col. Smith, continued to advance in front, and under the fire of a long line of infantry, off on the left of the bridge; and Clarke, of the same division, directed his brigade along the road or close by its side. Two of Pillow's and Cadwallader's regiments, the 11th and 14th, supported and participated in this direct movement: the other (the voltigeurs) was left in reserve. Most of these corps - particularly Clarke's brigade - advancing perpendicularly, were made to suffer much by the fire of the tete du pont, and they would have suffered greatly more by flank attacks from the convent, but for the pressure of Twiggs on the other side of that work.
This well combined and daring movement at length reached the principal point of attack, and the formidable tete du pont was, at once, assaulted and carried by the bayonet. Its deep wet ditch was first gallantly crossed by the 8th and 5th infantry, commanded, respectively, by Maj. Waite and Lieut. Colonel Scott - followed closely by the 6th infantry (same brigade) which had been so much exposed in the road - the 11th regiment, under Lieut. Col. Graham, and the 14th, commanded by Col. Trousdale, both of Cadwallader's brigade, Pillow's division. About the same time, the enemy, in front of Garland, after a hot conflict of an hour and a half, gave way, in retreat towards the capital.
The immediate results of this third signal triumph of the day were: three field-pieces, 192 prisoners, much ammunition and two colors, taken in the tete du pont.
Lieut. J. F. Irons, 1st artillery, aid-de-camp to Brigadier Gen. Cadwallader, a young officer of great merit and conspicuous in battle on several previous occasions, received in front of the work, a mortal wound. (Since dead.)
As the concurrent attack upon the convent favored, physically and morally, the assault upon the tete du pont, so, reciprocally, no doubt the fall of the latter contributed to the capture of the former. The two works were only some 450 yards apart; and as soon as we were in possession of the tete du pont, a captured four-pounder was turned and fired - first by Captain Larkin Smith, and next by Lieutenant Snelling, both of the eighth infantry - several times upon the convent. In the same brief interval, Lieutenant Colonel Duncan, (also of Worth's division,) gallantly brought two of his guns to bear, at a short range, from the San Antonio road, upon the principal face of the work, and on the tower of the church, which, in the obstinate contest, had been often refilled with some of the best sharp-shooters of the enemy.
Finally, twenty minutes after the tete du pont had been carried by Worth and Pillow, and at the end of a desperate conflict of two hours and a half, the church, or convent - the citadel of the strong line of defence along the rivulet of Churubusco - yielded to Twiggs' division, and threw out, on all sides, signals of surrender. The white flags, however, were not exhibited until the moment when the 3d infantry, under Captain Alexander, had cleared the way by fire and bayonet, and had entered the work. Captain J. M. Smith and Lieutenant O. L. Shephered, both of that regiment, with their companies, had the glory of leading the assault. The former received the surrender, and Captain Alexander instantly hung out, from the balcony, the colors of the gallant 3d. Major Dimick, with a part of the 1st artillery, serving as infantry, entered nearly abreast with leading troops.
Captain Taylor's field battery, attached to Twiggs' division, opened its effective fire, at an early moment, upon the out works of the convent and the tower of its churches. Exposed to the severest fire of the enemy, the captain, his officers and men, won universal admiration; but at length much disabled, in men and horses, the battery was, by superior orders, withdrawn from the action thirty minutes before the surrender of the convent.
Those corps, excepting Taylor's battery, belonging to the brigade of Brig. Gen. Smith, who closely directed the whole attack in front, with his habitual coolness and ability; while Riley's brigade - the 2d and 7th infantry, under Capt. T. Morris and Lieut. Col. Plympton, respectively - vigorously engaged the right of the work and part of its rear. At the moment, the rifles, belonging to Smith's, were detached in support of Brig. Gen. Shields' on our extreme left; and the 4th artillery, acting as infantry, under Maj. Gardner, belonging to Riley's brigade, had been left in charge of the camp, trophies, &c., at Contreras. Twiggs' division, at Churubusco, had thus been deprived of the services of two of its most gallant and effective regiments.
The immediate results of this victory were - the capture of 7 field pieces, some ammunition; one color, three generals, and 1,261 prisoners, including other officers.
Captains E. A. Capron and M. J. Burke, and Lieut. S. Hoffman, all of the 1st artillery, and Capt. J. W. Anderson and Lieut. Thomas Easley, both of the 2d infantry - five officers of great merit - fell gallantly before this work.
The capture of the enemy's citadel was the fourth great achievement of our arms in the same day.
It has been stated that, some two hours and a half before, Pierce's, followed closely by the volunteer brigade - both under the command of Brigadier General Shields - had been detached to our left to turn the enemy's works; - to prevent the escape of the garrisons, and to oppose the extension of the enemy's numerous corps, from the rear, upon and around our left.
Considering the inferior numbers of the two brigades, the objects of the movements were difficult to accomplish. Hence the reinforcements (the rifles, &c.,) sent forward a little later.
In a winding march of a mile around to the right, this temporary division found itself on the edge of an open wet meadow, near the road from San Antonio to the capital, and in the presence of some 4,000 of the enemy's infantry, a little in rear of Churubusco, on that road. Establishing the right at a strong building, Shields extended his left, parallel to the road, to outflank the enemy towards the capital. But the enemy extending his right, supported by 3,000 cavalry, more rapidly (being favored by their ground) in the same direction, Shields concentrated the division about a hamlet, and determined to attack in front. The battle was long, hot, and varied; but, ultimately, success crowned the zeal and gallantry of our troops, ably directed by their distinguished commander, Brig. Gen. Shields. The 9th, 12th, and 15th regiments, under Col. Ransom, Captain Wood, and Col. Morgan, respectively, of Pearce's brigade, (Pillow's division,) and the New York and South Carolina volunteers, under Cols. Burnett and Butler, respectively, of Shields' own brigade, (Quitman's division,) together with the mountain howitzer battery, now under Lieut. Reno, of the ordnance corps, all shared in the glory of this action - our fifth victory in the same day.
Brigadier General Pierce, from the hurt of the evening before - under pain and exhaustion - fainted in the action. Several other changes in command occurred on this field. Thus Colonel Morgan being severely wounded, the command of the 15th infantry devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Howard; Colonel Burnett receiving a like wound, the command of the New York volunteers fell to Lieutenant Colonel Baxter; and on the fall of the lamented Colonel P. M. Butler - earlier badly wounded, but continuing to lead nobly in the hottest of the battle - the command of the South Carolina volunteers devolved - first on Lieut. Col. Dickenson, who being severely wounded, (as before the siege of Vera Cruz) the regiment ultimately fell under the orders of Major Gladden.
Lieuts. David Adams and W. R. Williams of the same corps; Capt. Augustus Quarles, and Lieut. J. B. Goodman of the 15th, and Lieut. E. Chandler, New York volunteers - all gallant officers, nobly fell in the same action.
Shields took 380 prisoners, including officers; and it cannot be doubted that the rage of the conflict between him and the enemy, just in the rear of the tete du pont and the convent, had some influence on the surrender of those formidable defences.
As soon as the tete du pont was carried, the greater part of Worth's and Pillow's forces passed that bridge in rapid pursuit of the flying enemy. These distinguished generals, coming up with Brigadier General Shields, now also victorious, the three continued to press upon the fugitives to within a mile and a half of the capital. Here, Col. Harney, with a small part of his brigade of cavalry, rapidly passed to the front, and charged the enemy up the nearest gate.
The cavalry charge was headed by Captain Kearney, of the 1st dragoons, having in squadron, with his own troop, that of Captain McReynolds of the 3d - making the usual escort to general headquarters; but being early in the day detached for general service, was now under Col. Harney's orders. The gallant captain not hearing the recall, that had been sounded, dashed up to the San Antonio gate, sabreing, in his way all that resisted. Of the seven officers of the squadron, Kearney lost his left arm; McReynolds and Lieut. Lorimer Graham were both severely wounded, Lieut. R. S. Ewell, who succeeded to the command of the escort, had two horses killed under him. Major F. D. Mills, of the 15th infantry, a volunteer in this charge, was killed at the gate.
So terminated the series of events which I have but feebly presented. My thanks were but freely poured out on the different fields - to the abilities and science of generals and other officers - to the gallantry and prowess of all - the rank and file included. But a reward infinitely higher - the applause of a grateful country and government - will, I cannot doubt, be accorded, in due time, to so much merit, of every sort, displayed by this glorious army, which has now overcome all difficulties - distance, climate, ground, fortifications, numbers.
It has in a single day, in many battles, as often defeated 32,000 men; made about 3,000 prisoners, including eight generals (two of them ex-presidents) and 205 other officers; killed or wounded 4,000 of all ranks - besides entire corps dispersed and dissolved; captured 37 pieces of ordnance - more than trebling our siege train and field batteries - with a large number of small arms, a full supply of ammunition of every kind, &c., &c.
These great results have overwhelmed the enemy.
Our loss amounts to 1,053 - killed 139, including 16 officers: wounded, 876, with 60 officers. The greater number of the dead and disabled were of the highest worth. Those under treatment, thanks to our very able medical officers, are generally doing well.
I regret having been obliged, on the 20th, to leave Major General Quitman, an able commander, with a part of his division - the fine 2d Pennsylvania volunteers and the veteran detachment of U. States marines - at our important depot, San Augustin. It was there that I had placed our sick and wounded; the siege, supply, and baggage trains. If these had been lost, the army would have been driven almost to despair; and considering the enemy's very great excess of numbers, and the many approaches to the depot, it might well have become emphatically the post of honor.
After so many victories, we might, with but little additional loss, have occupied the capital the same evening. But Mr. Trist, commissioner, &c., as well as myself, had been admonished by the best friends of peace - intelligent neutrals and some American residents - against precipitation; lest, by wantonly driving away the government and others - dishonored - we might scatter the elements of peace, excite a spirit of national desperation, and thus, indefinitely postpone the hope of accommodation. Deeply impressed with this danger, and remembering our mission - to conquer a peace - the army very cheerfully sacrificed to patriotism - to the great wish and want of our country - the eclat that would have followed an entrance - sword in hand - into a great capital. - Willing to have something to this republic - of no immediate value to us - on which to rest her pride, and to recover temper - I halted our victorious corps at the gates of the city, (at least for a time,) and have them now cantoned in the neighboring villages, where they are still sheltered and supplied with all necessaries.
On the morning of the 21st, being about to take up battering or assaulting positions to authorise me to summon the city to surrender, or to sign an armistice with a pledge to enter at once into negotiations for a peace - a mission came out to propose a truce. Rejecting its terms, I dispatched my contemplated note to President Santa Anna - omitting the summons. The 22d, commissioners were appointed by the commanders of the two armies, the armistice was signed the 23d, and ratifications exchanged the 24th. All matters in dispute between the two governments have been, thus happily turned over to their plenipotentiaries, who have now had several conferences, and with, I think, some hope of signing a treaty of peace.
There will be transmitted to the adjutant general reports from divisions, brigades, &c., on the foregoing operations, to which I must refer, with my hearty concurrence in the just applause bestowed on the corps and individuals by their respective commanders. I have been able - this report being necessarily a summary - to bring out, comparatively, but little of individual merit not lying directly in the way of the narrative. Thus I doubt whether I have, in express terms, given my approbation and applause to the commanders of divisions and independent brigades; but left their fame upon higher grounds - the simple record of their great deeds and the brilliant results.
To the staff, both general and personal, attached to the general headquarters, I was again under high obligations for services on the field, as well as in the bureaux. I add their names, &c.; Lieut. Col. Hitchcock, acting inspector general; Major J. L. Smith, Captain R. E. Lee, (as distinguished for felicitous execution as for science and daring) Captain Mason, Lieuts. Stevens, Beauregard and Tower - all of the engineers; Major Turnbull, Capt. McClellan and Lieut. Hardcastle, topographical engineers; Captain Huger and Lieut. Hagner, of the ordinance; Captains Irwin and Wayne, of the quartermaster's department; Capt. Grayson, of the commissarial; Surgeon General Lawson, in his particular department: Captain H. L. Scott, acting assistant adjutant general; Lieut. Williams, aid-de-camp, and Lieut. Lay, military secretary. Lieut. Schuyler Hamilton, another aid-de-camp, had a week before, been thrown out of activity by a severe wound received in a successful charge of cavalry against cavalry, and four times his number; but on the 20th, I had the valuable services as volunteer aids, of Majors Kirby and Van Buren, of the pay department, always eager for activity and distinction; and of a third, the gallant Major J. P. Gaines, of the Kentucky volunteers.
I have the honor to be, sir, with high respect, your most obedient servant,
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Citation: Steven R. Butler, ed. A Documentary History of the Mexican War (Richardson, Texas: Descendants of Mexican War Veterans, 1995), pp. 219-225.