Heroism and Treachery at Chapultepec

Today in History, September 13, 1847:

In the midst of the Battle for Mexico City during the Mexican-American War, The US Army, US Marines, work together to storm Chapultepec Castle, and take it. It was a key defensive position for General Antonio López de Santa Anna.

While the battle itself was of importance in establishing American presence on the international stage, it is much more important in my estimation for other reasons.

Key players amongst the American forces were US Army Capt Robert E. Lee, who convinced commanding General Winfield Scott of the winning strategy, along with a young US Army Lieutenant, Pierre G. T. Beauregard. Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston fought in the battle, and George Pickett was the first soldier to top the wall of the castle. Lt. Thomas J. Jackson (Stone Wall) fought valiantly;

Lt. Ulysses S. Grant found a strategic artillery position from which to fight during the taking of Mexico City; Naval officer Raphael Semmes saw Grant’s actions and found an equal position on the opposite side of the road to cover the enemy.

Can you imagine? All of these men served together, bled together, and then in the end took up arms against each other in the Civil War over ideological differences.

Think of your very best friend…and then think about taking up arms against him. This was an enigma of the Civil War. There are countless stories of episodes where, during a lull in a battle, or after a defeat, Confederates and Unionist soldiers took the opportunity to meet and commiserate with old friends on the opposite side.

Another aspect is that the US Marines played an important part in the seizure of the castle, thus the beginning lines of the Marine Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma…”. My research also indicates that the red stripe down the side of the blue slacks of the US Marine uniform represents the blood shed by US Marines during this battle.

Also that day, the last 30 of the “Saint Patrick’s Battalion”, deserters from the US Army who served as artillery for the Mexican Army, are publicly hanged en masse…by the US Army. They had been poor immigrants who, disenchanted with their lot, were coaxed to the opposite side, making them traitors to their new nation.

Murder…War Crimes…at Goliad

Today in History, March 27, 1836:

The Goliad Massacre.

In the preceding days, several battles had been fought between the Mexican Army and Texians fighting for their independence.

Among others, James W. Fannin had to surrender his forces faced with overwhelming Mexican force and artillery.

He and his men had been promised surrender terms that included good treatment and “parole” back to the United States. They were not aware that in December of the previous year Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had asked for and received from the Mexican Congress a law declaring that any Texian or American soldiers that were captured would be treated as pirates and executed.

In spite of pleas from one of his generals, Santa Anna ordered the men executed. Deprived of the ability to fight to the end by false promises of parole (parole was a common military practice – those that surrendered simply promised not to take up arms again), 303 men that were ambulatory were marched out of Fort Defiance in Goliad along three separate roads.

They were told that they were to gather wood, or that they were being taken to a port to be shipped to New Orleans. Many of the men joined in a chorus of “home sweet home” the night before. After marching about 3/4 of a mile, they were halted. Their Mexican guards turned and, on a prearranged signal, shot the unarmed men down. Only 28 managed to play dead and survive.

Forty more, including Fannin, were too injured to join the march and were executed within the fort. The Mexicans saved Fannin for last, setting him on a chair in the courtyard due to his injuries. He asked only that his property be returned to his family, that he be shot in the heart, not the face, and that he be given a Christian burial. The Mexicans shot him in the face, shared his effects, and burned his body where it lay. The other murdered soldiers were piled up and set afire, their remains left for the vultures.

After the Battle of San Jacinto and Santa Anna’s surrender, the Mexicans returned and attempted to destroy the evidence. The Massacre did a great deal to gain support for the Texian cause for independence from the United States.

The Gadsden Purchase Drama

Today in History, December 30: 1853 –

The Gadsden Purchase. The last major expansion of continental US territory takes place when US Ambassador to Mexico James Gadsden and Mexican President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna sign a treaty giving over a large segment of what is now New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico to the US for 15 million dollars to facilitate a southern US railroad, because a more northern route was too mountainous. The story seems pretty plain. But as I researched it, I found more and more intrigue and drama to be involved.

Gadsden was an ardent slavery proponent, sent on this mission by then US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to negotiate the agreement on behalf of President Pierce. Gadsden and Davis, of course, shared views that more slave holding states should be added to the Union.

This was a point of major contention in the Congress, which debated the treaty extensively for those very reasons. Santa Anna, having lost badly in the war for the independence of Texas (Tejas) and the Mexican-American War, had been in and out of office repeatedly. Ironically, he was willing to sell additional Mexican territory to the United States so that he could afford to fund a Mexican army to defend against…the United States.

This last purchase established the current continental boundaries of our nation. Primarily because southern business interests didn’t want to depend upon a northern railroad route to ship their goods to California, not trusting the Yankees in this pre-Civil War era.

Battle of San Jacinto

Today in History, April 21: 1836 – During the Battle of San Jacinto, Texian militia led by Gen. Sam Houston surprises and routs the army of professional Mexican soldiers led by Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna. Santa Anna was captured and held as a prisoner of war, soon agreeing to a treaty that ostensibly recognized Texas as an independent nation. Houston was an instant national (Texas and America) hero. Usually history is seen as snapshots in time, but there are so many stories expanding from here. As for Santa Anna, he was like a cat…he seemed to have 9 lives and repeatedly came back from defeat. Fast forward about 25 years and Houston was Governor of the State of Texas…and would resign the post rather than swear allegiance to the Confederacy, perhaps because he had fought so long and hard to make Texas part of the Union. Today, you can visit the battlefield at San Jacinto, and while you’re at it tour the USS Texas, the only remaining battleship to have served in both WWI and WWII.