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Chapultepec, Battle of

Chapultepec, Battle of

The last major engagement of the U.S.-Mexican War and the fourth of General Winfield Scott's invasion of central Mexico, the Battle of Chapultepec took place in the morning of September 13, 1847, on the hill and forest of that name, just outside Mexico City. It consisted in the assault of a Mexican position on Chapultepec hill, manned by some 900 troops under General Nicolás Bravo (most of them regular soldiers, plus the San Blas Battalion of the National Guard and a handful of cadets from the military academy) by two divisions of the U.S. Army (five regular regiments and volunteer units from New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina), under Generals John A. Quitman and Gideon J. Pillow. As in almost all of the war's encounters, the U.S. Army emerged victorious, partially because of its organizational superiority but also because the Mexican command, until the last minute, considered the attack a diverting maneuver and kept preparing for a direct offensive on the city. The battle lasted about two hours; around 9:30 a.m., General Bravo surrendered to a New York volunteer. Less than twenty-four hours later—after a combat at the city gates—General Scott's troops were taking possession of Mexico's National Palace.

Unremarkable as a feat of arms, and somewhat irrelevant from a political point of view (inasmuch as the conflict was not decided on that day), the battle would nevertheless become the war's most significant episode in Mexican imagination. Its transformation to national myth comprised three moments. Up to the mid-1850s, it was mostly linked to the San Blas Battalion's annihilation and thus was part of a larger campaign intended to contrast the national guard's sacrifice to the professional army's incompetence and cowardice. During the civil wars of the 1850s, two cadets who had been present at Chapultepec (Leandro Valle and Miguel Miramón) rose to positions of power, and the battle became yet another instance of the liberal-conservative conflict. The most enduring phase began in the late nineteenth century, around the battle's fiftieth anniversary, as the Porfirian army found in the cadets the best emblem of its (presumed) apolitical professionalism. Six of them were identified as the true martyrs and enshrined as the niños héroes (young heroes) of that day: Juan de la Barrera, Juan Escutia, Francisco Márquez, Agustín Melgar, Fernando Montes de Oca, and Vicente Suárez. In an implausible stroke of luck, their bodies were discovered in 1947. That allowed for the construction of a mausoleum on the slopes of Chapultepec hill—the "motherland's altar"—and, in an ironic twist, the homage paid by U.S. president Harry Truman during the war's hundredth anniversary as well.

See alsoMexico, Wars and Revolutions: Mexican-American War; Scott, Winfield.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Plascencia de la Parra, Enrique. "Conmemoración de la hazaña épica de los Niños Héroes: Su origen, desar-rollo y simbolismos." Historia Mexicana 45, no. 2 (October 1995): 241-280.

                             Luis Fernando Granados

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