Antonio López de Santa Anna
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Born 1794 Jalapa, Mexico
Died June 21, 1876 Mexico City, Mexico
Mexican general and statesman
One of the most important figures in nineteenth-century Mexico, Antonio López Santa Anna was a general who led his nation's forces against those of the United States during the Mexican American War. At the same time, he also was serving one of his numerous terms as Mexico's president. Santa Anna was a complex, flamboyant person with an impressive ability to persuade others, both soldiers and civilians, to follow him. Yet he also has been faulted for always pursuing his own glory rather than the good of Mexico. Some critics believe that Santa Anna deserves much of the blame for Mexico's defeat in the war, while others view this dynamic, self-centered general as just one of many contributing factors.
A young soldier gains experience
Antonio López Santa Anna was born in the town of Jalapa, but grew up in nearby Vera Cruz, an important port city on Mexico's eastern coast. His parents, Antonio Lafey de Santa Anna and Manuela Perez de Labron, were criollos, or descendents of the Spanish colonizers who had arrived in Mexico in the sixteenth century. At the time of Santa Anna's birth, Mexico was still under the control of Spain, and the criollos played a prominent role in its society and government.
Santa Anna's father was a prosperous minor official who did not approve of his son's desire to join the military. Instead, when the teenaged Santa Anna demonstrated a lack of interest in school, his father arranged for him to serve an apprenticeship (a period of work and training that was supposed to lead to a career in a particular trade) with a merchant. But this was not successful either, and finally Santa Anna's parents allowed him to become a soldier. In June 1810, when he was sixteen, Santa Anna joined the Vera Cruz infantry (foot soldier) regiment as a cadet, the lowest rank.
As a young soldier in the Spanish army, Santa Anna took part in crushing the uprisings that often occurred around Mexico, then called New Spain, as Native Americans and others rebelled against the harsh treatment they received from the Spanish. As a member of the infantry, and later of the cavalry (soldiers on horseback), Santa Anna was trained in a brutal kind of warfare that included the routine execution of prisoners. Later in his life, while leading troops in the Texas Revolution and the Mexican American War, Santa Anna would demonstrate the deadly influence of this training.
Mexico's struggle for independence
Santa Anna showed skill and courage as a soldier, but sometimes got into trouble because of gambling debts. A young man of average height and build with dark hair and eyes, pale skin, and very good manners, he was popular with women. He quickly rose through the ranks of New Spain's army and, in 1821, became a lieutenant colonel. About ten years earlier, with an uprising of about sixty thousand mestizos (those of Spanish and Native American heritage) and Native Americans led by a Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla (1753-1811), Mexicans had begun rebelling against their Spanish rulers. Now the Spanish army was fighting another rebellion. This one was a joint effort by conservative Mexicans (criollos who did not want to lose any of their own privileges) under the leadership of Agustin de Iturbide (1783-1824) and liberals (rebels who sought a more democratic form of government for Mexico) under Vicente Guerrero (1783-1831).
When Santa Anna realized that the rebels were going to win, he switched sides and led the rebel army to victory. The Treaty of Cordoba, the agreement that gave Mexico its independence from Spain, was signed on August 24, 1821. After the rebellion, Santa Anna was recognized by all as a great hero of the revolution.
With Mexico gaining its independence from Spain, Iturbide soon declared himself emperor, but as he grew more dictatorial, he lost popularity. Despite Santa Anna's own lack of understanding or real concern about the meaning of the word "republic" (a democratic form of government in which power is held by the people, rather than an individual ruler), he joined with Guerrero and two other leaders, Guadalupe Victoria (1785-1843) and Nicolás Bravo (1787-1854), in overthrowing Iturbide and declaring Mexico a republic.
Called to duty again
Victoria was now elected president of Mexico, while Santa Anna retired to his country estate, Manga de Clavo. Over the next several decades, Santa Anna would often retreat in this way, for he was not much interested in the day-to-day work of government. He married fourteen-year-old Ines Garcia, who bore Santa Anna five children and would remain a devoted wife for the next nineteen years, despite Santa Anna's frequent affairs with other women.
In 1828, the Conservative Party's Manuel Gómez Pedraza (1789-1851) was elected president. Santa Anna came out of retirement and quickly raised an army to help put Guerrero, who had been the Liberal Party's candidate in the election, in power. The next year, Santa Anna again took up the role of military leader when Spain landed troops at Vera Cruz in a last attempt to reconquer Mexico. After fierce fighting, Santa Anna's army defeated the Spanish, who finally recognized Mexico's independence. Once again, Santa Anna was hailed as a hero, and he made every effort to promote this image. He even began to call himself "the Napoleon of the West" (Napoleon I [1769-1821] was a French emperor and a dynamic military leader who conquered much of Europe).
After his victory over Spain, Santa Anna again retreated to Manga Clavo, but returned to the spotlight in 1832. Two years earlier, the conservative statesman Anastasio Bustamente (1780-1853) had overthrown Guerrero and set up a dictatorship. Proclaiming himself a liberal, Santa Anna raised another army and forced Bustamente from office in 1832. Three months later, Santa Anna was himself elected president. He was not interested in governing, however, so he soon retired to his estate, leaving the government in the hands of his vice president, Valentin Gómez Farías (1781-1857).
A leader with absolute power
The very liberal Gómez Farías soon began to put a series of reforms in place to limit the privileges that the wealthy, the Roman Catholic Church, and the military had traditionally enjoyed. Members of these groups were horrified to see their power being reduced, and they complained to Santa Anna. So, in 1834, he renounced Gómez Farías and, calling himself "the liberator of Mexico," assumed absolute power. That meant that he dissolved the congress and reshaped the government to concentrate power in the national, or federal, government in Mexico City, while the individual states had little power. Furthermore, no dissent would be allowed.
Around the nation, this highly undemocratic system sparked a lot of complaints and even some violent resistance. Liberals in Zacatecas staged a revolt in May 1835, but they were soon crushed by Santa Anna's forces. An uprising in the northeastern region of Tejas y Coahuila, known to U.S. citizens as Texas, was more successful. For a little more than ten years there had existed a colony of settlers who, in search of opportunity, had crossed the U.S. border to settle in Mexico in the area known as Texas. In exchange for land grants from the Mexican government, these settlers had agreed to become Mexican citizens and Roman Catholics (Catholicism was the official religion of Mexico). But conflicts had been increasing as the settlers ignored Mexican laws, including those banning slavery and unregistered guns, and held themselves above and apart from the Mexican religion, culture, and people.
Trouble in Texas
The Mexican government's attempts to control the situation in Texas proved ineffective and even increased the tension. The issue came to a head after Santa Anna sent troops to Texas as a show of force. The Texans declared themselves independent from Mexico and chased the Mexican forces out of several towns. In the early months of 1836, determined to squelch this so-called Texas Revolution, Santa Anna himself led an army of 6,000 on the difficult journey to Texas. The Mexicans' siege of the Alamo, a former mission in the town of San Antonio that had been occupied by U.S. troops, on March 6, ended in the deaths of all of its 189 U.S. defenders.
Santa Anna's policy of no mercy for prisoners, who were all to be killed at the Alamo and at the town of Goliad, where about three hundred U.S. prisoners were executed, enraged Texans. As a result, the tiny army grew and, under the leadership of frontiersman Sam Houston (1793-1863; see biographical entry), launched a successful surprise attack on Santa Anna's troops at the Battle of San Jacinto (named for the river near which it took place) on April 21, 1836. Santa Anna had underestimated his enemy and his soldiers were unprepared. Santa Anna managed to escape but was later captured. Before he was taken prisoner he had changed into the uniform of a low-ranking soldier to avoid being recognized, however, as he was brought into camp his captured soldiers rose to salute him, addressing him as "El Presidente" (the president).
A president in disgrace
Even though many of the U.S. soldiers and officers thought Santa Anna should die for ordering the massacres at the Alamo and Goliad, Houston thought he would be more valuable alive. Santa Anna subsequently signed the Treaty of Velasco, which recognized Texas (called the Lone Star Republic) as an independent state and guaranteed the withdrawal of all Mexican troops. After being taken to the United States and meeting with President Andrew Jackson (1786-1845), Santa Anna was returned to Mexico in February 1837. The incidents in Texas had destroyed his reputation, and he resigned the presidency. Bustamente now became Mexico's chief executive, and he refused to recognize the treaty Santa Anna had signed as being valid. As a result, Santa Anna retired to his estate in disgrace.
In a pattern repeated throughout Santa Anna's career, Mexico soon turned to him in a time of need. In 1838, an armed conflict with France broke out over some unpaid debts that Mexico owed to the French. (This was called the "pastry war" because one of those owed money was a baker.) When other military commanders were unable to beat the French, Santa Anna answered the call to aid his country. He led the army to victory, but not before losing his left leg in battle. Santa Anna made the most of this injury by having the leg buried with full military honors, thus highlighting his status as a war hero.
Popular and powerful again
With his victory over the French, Santa Anna regained his popularity and replaced Bustamente as president in 1841. During this three-year term (his longest ever), he imposed order in the country but also concentrated power in himself, again dissolving the congress, putting his corrupt friends in political positions, and borrowing money to finance his favors and schemes. Convinced that all Mexico really needed was a strong leader, he built up his own image, placing statues of himself all around the country.
But once again, Mexicans grew disenchanted with Santa Anna. The people disapproved, for example, of their president's second marriage. Only a few months after the death of his wife Ines from pneumonia, the fifty-year-old Santa Anna married fourteen-year-old Maria Dolores de Tosta. In December 1844, General Mariano de Paredes y Arillaga (1797-1849) forced Santa Anna out of office. Santa Anna was imprisoned while Mexican officials discussed the possibility of trying him for treason. Instead, he was exiled to Cuba.
The following year was a bad one for Mexico. The country was in turmoil as four different governments took turns trying to rule, and war with the United States loomed on the horizon. Although Mexico had threatened to take up arms against its northern neighbor if the U.S. government annexed Texas (made it a state), Texas became a state on March 1, 1845. Several months later, General Zachary Taylor (1784-1850; see biographical entry) took four thousand troops to Corpus Christi, where they were ordered to guard Texas from Mexican aggression. It seemed that many U.S. leaders and citizens, including President James K. Polk (1795-1849; see biographical entry), would welcome a war with Mexico, which might bring even more territory to the United States. (Mexico would eventually give to the United States the area that would become the states of California, Arizona, and New Mexico.)
On the brink of war
In early 1846, Polk ordered Taylor to cross the Nueces River, which had been the traditional boundary between Texas and Mexico, and move about 100 miles south to the Rio Grande river, which the United States was now claiming as the boundary. Despite threats from Mexican general Mariana Arista (1802-1855), Taylor began building a fort directly across the Rio Grande from the Mexican town of Matamoros. In late April, Mexican troops crossed the river and attacked a small party of U.S. soldiers, killing a few of them. Taylor sent word of the clash to Polk, declaring that the war was already underway. Using this incident as its excuse, the United States officially declared war on Mexico.
However, in early May, even before the declaration of war was signed, Taylor's force defeated Arista's troops in the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de las Palmas. Faced with this military emergency, Mexico again turned to Santa Anna, who managed to convince government officials that he could lead the nation to victory against the "Yanqui" (the Spanish version of Yankee, the popular nickname for U.S. citizens) invasion. He also managed to trick Polk into allowing him past the U.S. naval blockade (a barrier made with warships) of Mexico by promising to promote peace with the United States.
Santa Anna arrived in Mexico in September, took over as president and, instead of working for peace with the United States, quickly began assembling and equipping an army of twenty thousand that was based at San Luis Potosí. This task would take several months. Meanwhile, Taylor's army was on the move, heading west from the Rio Grande toward the town of Monterrey. There they met Mexican troops under Major General Pedro de Ampudia (1805-1868) in a tough, bloody battle that featured hand-to-hand fighting through the city streets. When it ended, the United States was in control not only of Monterrey, but of all of northern Mexico.
The Battle of Buena Vista
Through an intercepted letter, Santa Anna learned that in January 1847, Polk had ordered about half of Taylor's army to be transferred to the command of General Winfield Scott (1786-1866; see biographical entry), who would soon be launching an invasion of Mexico from coastal Vera Cruz. Convinced that this was the time to strike Taylor's diminished force, and eager for a victory in the north before focusing on Scott's invasion, Santa Anna marched his huge but still ill-prepared army toward Saltillo. The almost 300-mile journey was grueling, and Santa Anna lost about five thousand men along the way to both disease and desertion. Meanwhile, Taylor was pushing his own troops south from Monterrey.
The two armies met about 150 miles south of Monterrey, in an area of very rugged terrain. On February 23, Taylor's troops halted at Angostura Pass, located near a ranch called Buena Vista that would give its name to the battle fought here. On one side of the pass were mountains, on the other a network of perilous gullies, or ditches. Waiting on the other end of the pass with his army, Santa Anna sent a message to Taylor demanding that the U.S. forces surrender. Taylor refused. After some minor skirmishes, the two armies prepared themselves for battle on the morning of February 24. The U.S. troops noted that the very fancy uniforms of the Mexican soldiers and the colorful banners they flew made their army a beautiful sight.
This bright spectacle did not last long, however, for soon the bullets and cannonballs began to fly. The U.S. troops were far outnumbered, but the higher quality of their weapons and ammunition and the effectiveness of their artillery (very large guns, such as cannons), as well as the protection afforded by the trenches they fired from, gave them the upper hand. When night fell, a temporary ceasefire was called. The U.S. troops awoke the next morning expecting that the battle would continue, but they were surprised to see that the enemy had retreated. No doubt dismayed by the estimated three thousand casualties (soldiers killed, wounded, or missing), while the United States had about eight hundred, Santa Anna had fled during the night, retreating southward.
The U.S. Army captures Mexico City
Ignoring the loss of so many men, Santa Anna declared the Battle of Buena Vista a glorious victory for Mexico (of course, the United States also claimed a victory at Buena Vista). However, it was hard for Mexicans to ignore the evidence. Their army had been repeatedly defeated. Now Scott was set to lead his Army of Invasion from Vera Cruz to Mexico City, the nation's capital. The Mexicans were hesitant to believe that Santa Anna, who was clearly more skilled at persuasion and pomp than military tactics, could protect them from the godless and brutal Yanquis.
Battles at Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo
In March, Scott landed an amphibious assault force (involving both the army and the navy) on the Mexican coast and bombarded Vera Cruz into submission. On April 8, he headed west with a force of eighty-five hundred, traveling along the impressive National Highway toward Mexico City. Scott's army met Santa Anna's on April 17 at a narrow mountain pass near the village of Cerro Gordo, only 12 miles west of Vera Cruz. This is where Santa Anna hoped to stop the U.S. advance since the area was surrounded with many extremely steep hills. Santa Anna underestimated his enemy and only ordered one of the hills, called El Telégrafo, fortified. The U.S. troops, however, were able to move equipment and men up the steep hills without detection through a quickly devised conveyer system. The next day, the U.S. forces attacked the Mexicans from three sides, causing huge losses among Santa Anna's troops.
Once again, Santa Anna had to either retreat in a hurry or face even more devastating casualties. Santa Anna himself was forced to leave many belongings behind, including a spare wooden leg that made a treasured souvenir for the U.S. soldier who found it. The Mexicans had an estimated one thousand casualties in this short battle, compared to only about four hundred for the U.S. side. In addition, three thousand Mexican soldiers were captured, although they were released after their guns were taken and they had promised not to fight again. The U.S. forces also took possession of forty-three Mexican cannons and four thousand smaller weapons, as well as ammunition and other supplies.
Scott's army invades the capital
By August, Scott's army had been boosted by reinforcements, and he was again ready to continue the march toward Mexico City. On August 11, they entered the valley (actually a volcanic crater) in which the capital lies. Santa Anna had put in place a complex system of fortifications all around the city, but Scott's army found safe passage along a muddy, difficult route that circled around south of the city. After crossing a treacherous 15-mile-wide expanse of jagged rocks called the pedragal, they met the Mexican army in battles at the villages of Contreras on August 19 and Churubusco on August 20. Once again, casualties were lopsided, with the Mexicans suffering about four thousand and the United States, less than a thousand.
The next day, Scott sent Santa Anna a message suggesting that the two nations begin peace talks, and a truce (temporary halt in fighting) went into effect. Santa Anna enlisted the help of former president José Joaquín de Herrera (1792-1854), whom Santa Anna had earlier forced from office, in negotiating with the United States. But not even the influence of this more moderate voice could temper Santa Anna's demands, and the truce ended on September 7. Now Scott's troops continued their relentless push toward Mexico City, defeating Mexican troops at Molino del Rey and Casa Mata on September 8. The only obstacle remaining between them and the city gates was Chapultepec Hill, a large slab of rock on top of which perched the majestic National Military Academy, an important symbol of Mexico's proud heritage.
After a bloody assault on Chapultepec on September 13, in which all of its defenders, including fifty cadets from the academy who earned the title "Los ninoes heroes" (the boy heroes) for their bravery, were killed, the U.S. troops poured through the gates of Mexico City. Scott himself rode into the city early the next morning and accepted the Mexican surrender. Santa Anna, meanwhile, had already fled to the nearby town of Guadalupe Hidalgo. On September 16, he resigned the presidency, issuing a statement, as quoted in John Weems's To Conquer a Peace, in which he highlighted his own heroism and blamed others for Mexico's defeat: "With the most profound and poignant grief do I announce to you that it is after repeated and extraordinary efforts I saw myself under the necessity of abandoning the capital. You have been witnesses that I labored day and night. The insubordination of one general subverted my entire plan of operation. I announce to you that I have spontaneously resigned the Presidency of the Republic because I feel it incumbent on me ever to place myself in that quarter in which there is the most peril."
A treaty is signed
Santa Anna did not yet resign as commander of the army, however, and even made one last, unsuccessful assault on the U.S. forces who had remained at the northern town of Puebla when Scott's army moved on to Mexico City. Now increasingly seen by the Mexican people as a traitor who had done a poor job of planning and preparing Mexico's army for war, Santa Anna was not involved in the treaty negotiations that took place over the next several months. Finally signed by both sides on February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave the territories of California and New Mexico (an area of more than 500,000 square miles) to the United States, in exchange for $15 million and the cancellation of some old debts owed to the United States by Mexico.
Mexicans were reeling from the loss of nearly half of their total territory as well as from the shame and resentment they felt after having been invaded by another country. Many blamed Santa Anna for Mexico's defeat, and the country's new government, headed by Pedro María Anaya (1795-1854), launched an official investigation into his behavior during the war. Although Santa Anna received no jail term as a result of the investigation, he again was ordered exiled from the country. He spent the next two years in Jamaica, then moved to Cartagena, Columbia, where he lived a quiet life on a country estate.
One last presidency
Santa Anna's role in Mexico's public life was not finished, however. In the years immediately following the war, the country remained chaotic, with five different liberal presidents holding power for short periods. Gradually people seemed to lose their distrust of Santa Anna, remembering only his success in rallying followers. The conservatives took power in 1853, and one of their leaders, Lucas Alamán, devised a plan to take advantage of Santa Anna's revised popularity. Santa Anna would serve as interim (temporary) president for one year, after which the country would become a monarchy (ruled by a king or queen). Alamán also planned to keep a close watch on Santa Anna and correct him if he became too dictatorial.
Santa Anna became president on April 20, 1853, and immediately began strengthening the national government, just as he had during his previous presidencies. When Alamán died unexpectedly in June, Santa Anna was free to create a dictatorship along the same lines as he had before; this time, he even took the title "His Most Serene Highness." Between extravagant spending and pay-offs to corrupt officials, Santa Anna soon found himself in need of cash. Thus he arranged the Gadsden Purchase, by which he sold the Mesilla Valley in what was to become southern Arizona, to the United States for $10 million.
For the Mexican people, the Gadsden Purchase seemed to be the final straw. They had finally had enough of Santa Anna, and the liberals were able to push him from office and again into exile. He spent the next two decades living in Central and South America and the Caribbean, while back in Mexico the political turmoil continued. The liberals defeated the conservatives in the War of the Reform (1857-69). Santa Anna made an unsuccessful attempt to intervene in this situation, and also tried in vain to oppose the liberal administration of U.S.-backed Benito Juarez (1806-1872), which followed it.
A lonely, unnoticed death
In the meantime, Santa Anna worked on his memoirs, in which he painted himself as an ardent patriot concerned only with Mexico's welfare. When Juarez died in 1874, Santa Anna was allowed to return to Mexico. By this time he was eighty years old and in poor health. Two years after returning to Mexico, Santa Anna died. Although once Mexico's leading political and military figure, his death went mostly unnoticed by most Mexicans.
Since then, historians have pondered Santa Anna's great appeal to the Mexican people, who always seemed ready to forgive his past transgressions and return him to office. Most have concluded that his dynamic personality and driving ambition helped propel him to the forefront of a society that, due to a combination of social and economic factors, lacked other, better leaders and clung to the hope inspired by his grandiose promises.
For More Information
Callcott, Wilfrid Hardy. Santa Anna: The Story of an Enigma Who Once Was Mexico. New Haven, CT: Archon, 1964.
Crawford, Ann Fears, ed. Autobiography of Santa Anna. Austin, TX: State House Press, 1988.
Jones, Oakah, Jr. Santa Anna. Boston: Twayne, 1968.
Miller, Robert Ryal. Mexico: A History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.
O'Brien, Steven. Antonio López de Santa Anna. New York: Chelsea, 1992.
Tolliver, Ruby. Santa Anna: Patriot or Scoundrel? Dallas, TX: Hendrick-Long, 1993.
Callcott, Wilfrid H. "Santa Anna, Antonio Lopez de." The Handbook of Texas Online. [Online] Available http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/SS/fsa29.html (accessed January 31, 2003).
The Angels of Buena Vista
The following poem titled "The Angels of Buena Vista" was written by John Greenleaf Whittier. It pays tribute to the soldaderas, made up of Mexican soldiers' wives, sisters, and girlfriends, who fed and nursed the men and kept their clothing and quarters clean. These women also took part in battles, and the U.S. troops were shocked to find their bodies among the dead.
John Greenleaf Whittier">
A letter-writer from Mexico during the Mexican war, when detailing some of the incidents at the terrible fight of Buena Vista, mentioned that Mexican women were seen hovering near the field of death, for the purpose of giving aid and succor to the wounded. One poor woman was found surrounded by the maimed and suffering of both armies, ministering to the wants of Americans as well as Mexicans with impartial tenderness.
SPEAK and tell us our Ximena, looking northward far away, O'er the camp of the invaders, o'er the Mexican array, Who is losing? who is winning? are they far or come they near? Look abroad, and tell us, sister, whither rolls the storm we hear.
"Down the hills of Angostura still the storm of battle rolls; Blood is flowing, men are dying; God have mercy on their souls!" Who is losing? who us winning? "Over hill and over plain, I see but smoke of cannon clouding through the mountain rain."
Nearer came the storm and nearer, rolling fast and frightful on! Speak, Ximena, speak and tell us, who has lost, and who has won?
"Alas! alas! I know not; friend and foe together fall, O'er the dying rush the living: pray, my sisters, for them all!
"Lo! the wind the smoke is lifting. Blessed Mother, save my brain! I can see the wounded crawling slowly out from heaps of slain. Now they stagger, blind and bleeding; now they fall, and strive to rise; Hasten, sisters, haste and save them lest they die before our eyes!
"O my heart's love! O my dear one! lay thy poor head on my knee; Dost thou know the lips that kiss thee? Canst thou hear me? canst thou see? O my husband, brave and gentle! O my Bernal, look once more On the blessed cross before thee! Mercy! mercy! all is o'er!"
Dry thy tears, my poor Ximena; lay thy dear one down to rest; Let his hands be meekly folded, lay the cross upon his breast; Let his dirge be sung hereafter, and his funeral masses said; To-day, thou poor bereaved one, the living ask thy aid.
Close beside her, faintly moaning, fair and young a soldier lay, Torn with shot and pierced with lances, bleeding slow his life away; But, as tenderly before him the lorn Ximena knelt, She saw the Northern eagle shining on his pistol-belt.
With a stifled cry of horror straight she turned away her head; With a sad and bitter feeling looked she back upon her dead; But she heard the youth's low moaning, and his struggling breath of pain, And she raised the cooling water to his parching lips again.
Whispered low the dying soldier, pressed her hand and faintly smiled; Was that pitying face his mother's? did she watch beside her child? All his stranger words with meaning her woman's heart supplied; With her kiss upon his forehead, "Mother!" murmured he, and died!
"A bitter curse upon them, poor boy, who led thee forth, From some gentle, sad-eyed mother, weeping, lonely, in the North!" Spake the mournful Mexie woman, as she laid him with her dead, And turned to soothe the living, and bind the wounds which bled.
But the noble Mexie women still their holy task pursued, Through that long, dark night of sorrow, worn and faint and lacking food. Over weak and suffering brothers, with a tender care they hung, And the dying foeman blessed them in a strange and Northern tongue.
Not wholly lost, O Father! is this evil world of ours; Upward, through its blood and ashes, spring afresh the Eden flowers; From its smoking hell of battle, Love and Pity send their prayer, And still thy white-winged angels hover dimly in our air!
Source: Whittier, John Greenleaf. The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier. New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1894.
Through Mexican Eyes: The Battle of Chapultepec Hill
To the Mexican people, Chapultepec Hill, the site of the National Military Academy, was an important symbol of a proud heritage. Thus, the Mexicans' defeat in the brief but bloody battle that raged there on September 13, 1847, was an especially bitter loss. For the U.S. forces under General Winfield Scott, it was a first and important step in the conquest of Mexico City. The following narrative provides a Mexican perspective on the battle. It was written by Ramon Alcaraz, one of several Mexican participants in the war who, soon after it ended, chronicled his experiences as a way of recording and analyzing how and why Mexico had lost the war.
After the event of the Molino del Rey, the necessity was felt for a great number of troops and sufficient artillery to defend so extensive a city as Mexico.
The aspect of the city, saving the frequent passing movement of troops through the streets, was truly sad and frightful. The emigration of many families from the beginning of hostilities by the enemy in the valley of Mexico, had deprived this city of the bustle and life which are observed ordinarily, a circumstance which was increased by the seclusion to which others had resorted either from excessive selfishness or pusillanimity.
The troops on the 12th were some 200 men at the foot of the hill, distributed in groups, assisted by the students of the military college, and some more forces, who in all did not amount to 800 men.
At dawn on the 12th, the enemy's batteries began to fire upon Chapultepec. At first they caused no destruction. But rectifying their aim, the walls of the building commenced to be pierced by balls in all directions, experiencing great ravages also in the roofs, caused by the bombs which the mortar threw. The artillery of Chapultepec answered with much precision and accuracy. The engineers worked incessantly [nonstop] to repair the damage done by the enemy's projectiles, and the troops quite behind the parapets suffered from this storm of balls. The most intelligent in the military art judge that the troops could have been placed at the foot of the hill, to avoid the useless loss, leaving in the building only the artillerymen and the requisite engineers. This was not done, and the carcasses of the bombs and hollow balls killed and wounded many soldiers, who had not even the pleasure of discharging their muskets.
Lic. Lazo Estrada and other officers who accompanied General Bravo, gave also to the troops the most beautiful example of valor, despising the danger to which they were exposed; General Saldaña being especially distinguished, who remained serene in the midst of the shower of stones, which a bomb had thrown down on his head. In the evening, General Santa Anna in person, entered the woods with a battalion to reinforce the work which looked to the east from the side of the cattle pond, and where the enemy were directing their fire to dislodge the troops guarding it. As soon as his presence was noticed, the firing was redoubled, and a bomb cut to pieces the commandante of battalion, Mendez, a valiant officer who had served in the North, and killed or wounded thirty soldiers. General Santa Anna ordered the troops to withdraw, and he himself retired with his staff to the gate, where he ordered a work to be thrown up to defend that side of the garden and the foot of the entrance. At nine, after concluding, he returned with his reserves to the Palace.
The bombardment had been horrible. It commenced a little after five in the morning, and did not cease until seven in the evening. In these fourteen hours the American batteries, perfectly served, had maintained a projectile in the air, and the greater part of their discharges taking effect. In the corridor, converted into a surgical hospital, were found mixed up the putrid bodies, the wounded breathing mournful groans and the young boys of the college; and, singular fact! the assistance and requisite medicines were wanting.
In the balance of the night General Monterde labored with assiduity to repair the damage caused by the bombs, and to replace the blinds and strengthen the fortifications. But the time was very limited and peremptory. Nevertheless all hope was not lost.
On the 13th at daybreak the enemy's batteries returned to open their fire upon Chapultepec much more vividly than on the day before.
Our defenders, astounded by the bombardment, fatigued, wanting sleep, and hungry, were hurled over the rocks by the bayonet or taken prisoners. A company of the New York regiment ascended to the top of the building, where some of the students still fired, and who were the last defenders of that Mexican flag which was quickly replaced by the American.
Source: The Mexican American War (1846-1848). [Online] Available http://www.hillsdale.edu/dept/History/Documents/War/America/Mexican/War/19mex.htm (accessed on January 31, 2003).