Mexican War:  Battle of Churubusco


Battle of Churubusco

Report of Major-General Winfield Scott
Map of the Battle of Churubusco

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,
Tacubaya, at the gates of Mexico, August 28, 1847.

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.

The battle [of Contreras] 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 reconnoiter that strong point; and next dispatched 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 reconnoiter 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 dispatched 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 defenses 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 maneuver 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 defense 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. Shepherd, 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 defenses.

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, sabering, 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.

Mexican War:  Battle of Churubusco
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Last modified: November 01, 2012