Mexican War:  Battle of Chapultepec


The Battle of Chapultepec

Report of Major-General Winfield Scott
Report of Major-General Pillow
Map of the Battle of Chapultepec

From the report of Major-General Winfield Scott, September 18, 1847
[The 14th Infantry is serving with Pillow's Division]

This city [of Chapultepec] stands on a slight swell of ground, near the centre of an irregular basin, and is girdled with a ditch in its greater extent - a navigable canal of great breadth and depth - very difficult to bridge in the presence of an enemy, and serving at once for drainage, custom-house purposes, and military defense;  leaving eight entrances or gates, over arches;  - each of which we found defended by a system of strong works, that seemed to require nothing but some men and guns to be impregnable.

Outside, and with the cross-fires of those gates, we found, to the south, other obstacles but little less formidable.  All the approaches near the city are over elevated causeways, cut in many places (to oppose us) and flanked on both sides by ditches, also of unusual dimensions.  The numerous cross-roads are flanked in like manner, having bridges at the intersections, recently broken.  The meadows thus checkered, are, moreover, in many spots, under water or marshy;  for, it will be remembered, we were in the midst of the wet season, though with less rain than usual;  and we could not wait for the fall of the neighboring lakes and the consequent drainage of the wet grounds at the edge of the city - the lowest in the whole basin.

After a close personal survey of the southern gates, covered by Pillow's division and Riley's brigade of Twigg's - with four times our number concentrated in our immediate front - I determined, on the 11th, to avoid that network of obstacles, and to seek, by a sudden inversion to the southwest and west, less unfavorable approaches.

To economize the lives of our gallant officers and men, as well as to insure success, it became indispensable that this resolution should be long masked form the enemy;  and again, that the new movement, when discovered, should be mistaken for a feint, and the old, as indicating our true and ultimate point of attack.

Accordingly, on the spot, the 11th, I ordered Quitman's division form Coyoacan, to join Pillow, by daylight, before the southern gates, and then, that the two major-generals, with their division, should, by night, proceed (two miles) to join me at Tacubaya, where I was quartered with Worth's division.  Twiggs, with Riley's brigade and Captains Taylor's and Steptoe's field batteries - the latter of 12-pounders - was left in front of those gates, to maneuver, to threaten, or to make false attacks, in order to occupy and deceive the enemy.  Twiggs's other brigade (Smith's) was left a supporting distance in the rear, at San Angel, till the morning of the 13th, and also to support our general depot at Mixcoac.  The stratagem against the south was admirably executed throughout the 12th, and down to the afternoon of the 13th, when it was too late for the enemy to recover from the effects of his delusion.

The first step in the new movement was to carry Chapultepec, a natural and isolated mount, of great elevation, strongly fortified at its base, on its acclivities and heights.  Besides a numerous garrison, here was the military college of the republic, with a large number of sub-lieutenants and other students.  Those works were within direct gun-shot of the village of Tacubaya;  and, until carried, we could not approach the city on the west without making a circuit too wide and too hazardous.

The bombardment and cannonade, under the direction of Captain Huger, were commenced early in the morning of the 12th.  Before nightfall, which necessarily stopped our batteries, we had perceived that a good impression had been made on the castle and its outworks, and that a large body of the enemy had remained outside, towards the city, from an early hour, to avoid our fire, and to be at hand on its cessation, in order to reinforce the garrison against an assault.  The same outside force was discovered the next morning, after our batteries had reopened upon the castle, by which we again reduced its garrison to the minimum needed for the guns.

Pillow and Quitman had been in position since early in the night of the 11th.  Major-General Worth was now ordered to hold his division in reserve, near the foundry, to support Pillow;  and Brigadier-General Smith, of Twigg's division, had just arrived, with his brigade, from Piedad, (two miles,) to support Quitman.  Twigg's guns, before the southern gates, again reminded us, as the day before, that he, with Riley's brigade and Taylor's and Steptoe's batteries, was in activity, threatening the southern gates, and there holding a great part of the Mexican army on the defensive.

Worth's division furnished Pillow's attack with an assaulting party of some 250 volunteer officers and men, under Capt. McKenzie, of the 2d artillery;  and Twigg's division supplied a similar one, commanded by Captain Casey, 2d infantry, to Quitman.  Each of those little columns was furnished with scaling ladders.

The signal I had appointed for the attack was the momentary cessation of fire on the part of our heavy batteries.  About 8 o'clock in the morning of the 13th, judging that the time had arrived, by the effect of the missiles we had thrown, I sent an aide-de-camp to Pillow, and another to Quitman, with notice that the concerted signal was about to be given.  Both columns now advanced with a alacrity that have assurance of prompt success.  The batteries, seizing opportunities, threw shots and shells upon the enemy over the heads of our men, with good effect, particularly at every attempt to reinforce the works form without to meet our assault.

Major-General Pillow's approach on the west side, lay through an open grove, filled with sharp shooters, who were speedily dislodged;  when, being up with the front of the attack, and emerging into open space, at the foot of a rocky acclivity, that gallant leader was struck down by an agonizing wound.  The immediate command devolved on Brigadier-General Cadwalader, in the absence of the senior brigadier (Pierce) of the same division - an invalid since the events of August 19.  On a previous call of Pillow, Worth had just sent him a reinforcement - Col. Clark's brigade.

The broken acclivity was still to be ascended, and a strong redoubt, midway, to be carried, before reaching the castle on the heights.  The advance of our brave men, led by brave officers, though necessarily slow, was unwavering, over rocks, chasms, and mines, and under the hottest fire of cannon and musketry.  The redoubt now yielded to resistless valor, and the shouts that followed announced to the castle the fate that impended.  The enemy were steadily driven from shelter to shelter.  The retreat allowed not time to fire a single mine, without the certainty of blowing up friend and foe.  Those who, at a distance, attempted to apply matches to the long trains, were shot down by our men.  There was death below, as well as above ground.  At length the ditch and wall of the main work were reached;  the scaling-ladders were brought up and planted by the storming parties;  some of the daring spirits first in the assault were cast down - killed or wounded;  but a lodgment was soon made;  streams of heroes followed;  all opposition was overcome, and several of our regimental colors flung out form the upper walls, amidst long-continued shouts and cheers, which sent dismay into the capital.  No scene could have been more animating or glorious.

Report of Major-General Pillow

Extracts from the Report by Major-General Pillow of the Storming of Chapultepec
Headquartes, 3d Division U.S. Army
Mexico, September 18, 1847

Captain:  On the morning of the 12th instant, at 3 o'clock, A.M., I moved with my command, consisting of the field battery of Captain Magruder, the voltigeur regiment, the 9th, 11th, 14th and 15th regiments of infantry (the 12th regiment constituting part of the garrison at Mixcoac,) and the mountain howitzer and rocket battery, from Tacubaya to the battlefield of the 8th instant, where my dispositions were made to take possession of "Molino del Rey."  Having organized a force for this purpose, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Hebert, at daylight, his command moved steadily and in beautiful order, under a hot fire of shot and shell, from Chapultepec, and seized the mills.

I ordered Brigadier-General Cadwalader, with his brigade, to hold possession of this position, and to defend the approaches (which unite at that place) from the city of Mexico and from Santa Fe.  In a short time afterwards, an immense body of lancers, with a considerable force of infantry, made their appearance in the valley above me, and moved steadily forward in the direction of my position, until almost with reach of my field pieces.  With Brigadier-General Pierce's brigade, Magruder's battery, and Major Sumner's fine command of dragoons, (that officer having now reported to me for duty,) I made every arrangement for their reception.  Having thus executed the orders of the general-in-chief, "to take possession of the mills, to hold them, and from this position defend the batteries intended to be opened, preparatory to the assault upon Chapultepec and not to provoke a general engagement with the enemy," I did not, under my orders, feel myself at liberty to become the assailant;  and the enemy regarding prudence as "the better part of valor," did not think proper to assail me.

At night, I drew my whole force down to the mills, immediately under the fire, and almost under the walls of Chapultepec;  while the enemy advanced from the valley and occupied the position I had held during the day, close in my rear.

Being now almost completely enveloped by the enemy, with Chapultepec and its strong garrison immediately in my front, and the enemy's large force of lancers and infantry in close approximation to my rear and on my left flank, my command was compelled to lay on its arms during the night.

Early on the morning of the 13th, Captain McKenzie, 2d artillery, reported to me for duty, with a command of 260 rank and file from the 1st division.

At daylight, the cannonade, which had ceased at dark on the previous day, was resumed, and kept up on both sides until about 8 o'clock.  In the meantime, I was actively engaged in making the necessary preparations for storming Chapultepec.  With this view, I had placed two pieces of Magruder's field battery inside the extensive row of buildings (of which the mills were a part) to clear a sandbag breastwork, which the enemy had constructed outside the main wall surrounding Chapultepec, and so as to command a breach in the wall.  I had also passed the howitzer battery through the houses and walls of the mills, and placed in in battery, so as to aid me in driving the enemy from a strong entrenchment extending nearly across the front of the forest, and commanding my only approach to Chapultepec.  While these batteries were admirably served under Captain Magruder and Lieutenant Reno, I placed four companies of the voltigeur regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston, in position, with instructions, that, upon the cessation of the artillery fire, they should advance by a rapid movement on the outside, and under cover of the main wall, and to enter the enclosure at the breach.  At the same time, I placed four other companies of voltigeurs, under command of Colonel Andrews, at a narrow gateway opening from the rear of the mills, with orders to advance in front, to unite with Colonel Johnston's command, to deploy as skirmishers, and, by a simultaneous movement upon the enemy's flank and front, to drive him from his entrenchments and the large trees behind which he had taken shelter.  I had placed the 9th and 15th regiments of infantry in position, to advance, as close supports to the storming force, and, if necessary, to form a part of it.

I had ordered Colonel Andrews, as soon as the regiment of voltigeurs had cleared the entrenchments and woods, to form in rear of McKenzie's command, as a supporting or assaulting force, according to the exigencies of the moment.  I placed Captain McKenzie's command immediately in rear of Colonel Johnston's command of skirmishers, and directed it to move under cover of the same wall, to enter the breach close after Johnston's command, and, as Johnston would brush away the enemy, it would advance steadily, assault, and carry the main work of Chapultepec.  I had placed my scaling ladders in charge of this command, and furnished a strong detail of men to carry them forward to the parapet.

I directed Lieutenant Reno to carry with the advancing column the mountain howitzer battery, and to use it whenever he could do so with effect.

I had placed Colonel Trousdale, with the 11th and 14th regiments, and one section of Magruder's battery under command of Lieutenant Jackson, on the road leading on the left of Chapultepec to the city, with instructions to advance on that road, to hold the enemy stationed at the battery on the road in observation, and to give him battle if he attempted to advance or succor the forces within the walls of Chapultepec.

Having completed these dispositions for the assault, while a heavy cannonade was going on, Brigadier-General Cadwalader was directed to see to the proper execution of my orders.

All being now ready and eager for the conflict, I ordered the batteries of my division silenced, and the command to advance - the general-in-chief having silenced the heavy batteries.

The voltigeurs having driven the enemy from the wood, rapidly pursued him until he retreated into the interior fortifications.  Close in their rear, followed the 9th and 15th regiments, with equal impetuosity, until these three regiments occupied the exterior works around the summit of Chapultepec.

Captain McKenzie's command had not yet come up.  The 5th, 6th, and 8th regiments of infantry of General Worth's division, ordered forward as a reserve, advanced to their positions and formed.  As soon as Captain McKenzie's command was in position with the ladders, the work was almost instantly carried, and the Mexican flag torn from the castle by the gallant Major Seymour, of the 9th regiment, and the American run up in its place.

To the voltigeur regiment belongs the honor of having first planted its colors upon the parapet.  The color-bearer of the regiment having been shot down, the color was immediately seized by the gallant and fearless Captain Barnard, who scaled the parapet and unfurled the flag, under a terrible fire, from which he received two wounds.

The chief honor of this brilliant victory is due to those gallant corps, the voltigeurs, the 9th and 15th regiments of infantry, who drove the enemy from his exterior entrenchments and positions, took possession of and enveloped the crest of the counterscarp, and held this position under a heavy fire of grape, canister, and round shot from the enemy's artillery, (11 pieces in number,) and a very superior force of small arms, until the arrival of the ladders;  and to Captain McKenzie's command, who brought up the ladders, and, with the corps already mentioned, so gallantly stormed and carried the main works.

We took about 800 prisoners, among whom were Major-General Bravo, Brigadier-Generals Monterde, Nonega, Doramentes, and Saldana; also, 3 colonels, 7 lieutenant-colonels, 40 captains, 24 first, and 27 second lieutenants.

I have General Bravo's own account of the strength of his command, given me only a few minutes after he was taken prisoner.  He communicated to me, through Passed Midshipman Rogers, that there were upwards of 6,000 men in the works and surrounding grounds.  The killed, wounded and prisoners, agreeable to the best estimate I can form, were about 1,800, and immense numbers of the enemy were seen to escape over the wall on the north and west side of Chapultepec.

Excerpted from:  The Philadelphia Grays' collection of official reports of Brigadier-General George Cadwalader's Services during the Campaign of 1847, IN MEXICO, Phiadelphia, T. K. and P. G. Collins, Printers 1848


Mexican War:  The Battle of Chapultepec
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Last modified: November 01, 2012