Notes of the Mexican war 1846-47-48/Chapter 8
Saturday, December 4, 1847.—The train did not get off until noon; it is composed of the First Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Massachusetts and Ohio regiments. Col. John Coffee Hays, with five companies of mounted Rangers, and Maj. Lally, with fifteen hundred regular recruits, assigned to different regiments at the capital. There were four of our company left back on account of sore and blistered feet and colds, which we contracted on our last march. Your humble servant is one of the four. After the division had left the city of Puebla, we were puzzled to know what we had to do and where to go. We did not want to attach ourselves to any company here, fearing that we could not get off so easy when the next train comes up, which we intend to follow to the capital and again join our companies.
So four of us made up a mess, hunted and rented a room, promising to pay seventy-five cents per week for the same, and laid in some rations, but how long we will be able to stay here without being found out by the officers, time will tell; but I hope they will let us rest a few days anyhow.
In the evening, I went to the hospital to see how our friend John B. Herron, who was wounded during the siege of Puebla, was getting along, and to my surprise I was informed that he died of his wounds on the 25th of November last. Mr. Herron was a well educated man, and when he first started out with our company he expected something better than a mere private. He expected to be either Quartermaster or Sergt. Major of our regiment, but Capt. Small, being defeated for the Colonelcy of our regiment, his plans and hopes were dashed. He was very much of a gentleman in all his ways and manners, and was also a good soldier. He prophecied previous to his going on picket-guard, that he would be shot that day. His prophecy proved too true.
Sunday, December 5th, 1847.—This morning, after breakfast, we were busy in arranging our room, so as to make everything look neat and comfortable. My feet are very sore and I am compelled to stay in our room, and am passing my time in writing, and examining ancient histories of Mexico. To-day I have written several letters to my parents and friends so as to have them ready to send home by the next train. This being Sunday, I went to the Cathedral, which is close by, and it was surprising to see the numerous clergy or Catholic priests and monks in this city; and it is true, as a writer said:
"Catholicism has found a virgin field in America where it had luxuriated and spread its dogmas. The religious force which had concentrated itself in the old world burst over the virgin wilds of the new world like a pestilence. The fanatical monk penetrated with the crucifix into the midst of the most savage tribes, while swords, fire and massacre were the true instruments used in the propagation of the faith, and made more converts than the Bible, whose blessed teachings the poor Indians received at the point of the spear and sabre." It has always been said and very truly, that the sword holds mighty arguments, and as Mahornmedan and Christian have proven, makes more converts than tongue or pen.
In touching the result of the establishment of Catholic power in the new world, I am not attacking the high moral teachings of the Church of Rome, but the perversion of its religion when in the hands of bad men, and its wonderful capacity for such perversiop. I know that the Catholic religion was born of the moral wants of the Mediterranean nations, who, completely sunk in immorality, were ready to seize upon any faith which could lift them from the degradation into which the crimes and lust of the Roman Empire had sunk them; but like any other great monopoly of the human mind in a single direction, it soon becomes perverted and deems no measure too atrocious to obtain proselytes.
In tracing the causes of the numberless revolutions of Mexico and the Spanish American States, we shall find that every phase of their history, and especially in Mexico, the Catholic clergy, have been the great vital principal which has occasioned the chronic revolutionary condition of the country.
To form an idea of their power, it is necessary to glance at the immense influence which they exercised in colonial affairs, and the vast accumulation of wealth, which, by every art that avarice could suggest, they wrung from the Spaniards and poor native Indians.
There were, in 1827, one hundred and fifty convents, besides innumerable parochial churches. The clergy collected by the exaction of tithes, one-tenth of the whole products of the country, notwithstanding the tithe system was abolished in 1833, by the Mexican Government. Many of the devoted adherents of the Catholic church still submit to it.
It costs Mexico yearly to sustain her clergy $8,000,000; while the estimated value of church property is from $250,000,000 to $300,000,000, about one-third of the valuation of the whole country. There are; $40,000,000 alone of mortgages on the agricultural districts around this city of Puebla, that support the religious institutions of the city, which, as I stated before, is still known as the most intensely Catholic of all Mexican cities in this country.
In the afternoon we received a requisition from Capt. Herron, of our regiment, (who, like ourselves, was left here being too much fatigued to go any further,) on the Commissary, to draw rations, and us four drew nearly as much as our whole company sometimes did. To-night having plenty of candles, we devoted our time to writing letters and straightening up our notes of our campaign. All quiet, nobody asking us who we are or where we belong, and of course we are not fools enough to tell them.
|Puebla City, Mexico|
|December 5, 1847|
Dear Brother Frederick:—I again embrace the favorable opportunity of writing to you a few lines, to let you know that I am still living and well, and I hope that this letter may find you and all my inquiring friends enjoying the same state of health. You will remember, in my last letter to you, I stated that Gen. Lane had arrived at Puebla, and raised the siege of Puebla. After twelve days' rest, our regiment was ordered to escort a train to Vera Cruz. On our way back we stopped at Jalapa, here we remained for two weeks, and were nearly eaten up by the infernal fleas and other creeping things. Left Jalapa and marched for Perote Castle. This march was one of the most disagreeable we ever experienced, it snowed, rained and hailed nearly all the time; all along, the road was inundated with several inches of water, which made the ground cold and damp, and having no tents or shelter to protect us from the storm. The roads were horrible, mud up to the wagon hubs, through which, with the utmost difficulty, we dragged our wagons, with the assistance of both men and mules. At Perote we halted for two days, and then left for Puebla.
After we arrived at Puebla, we received orders the same evening to march the next morning for the city of Mexico, but on account of blistered feet, and a bad cold contracted during our long marches, I was compelled (for the first time), to remain back for a few days, or until the next train goes to the city of Mexico, when I shall go with it and join my company again.
There were four of our company, who, like myself, were left here with the same complaints. We clubbed together and rented a room; so during our stay we had comfortable quarters, and plenty to eat and nothing to do. We were compelled to either rent this room or go to the hospital, this of course we did not fancy, because the grub you get in these hospitals is nothing extra, and again, we would have been compelled to stay until they saw fit to send us to our companies, so I assure you we kept ourselves very quiet for fear of being found out.
Some good and kind friend of mine sent me several newspapers from Lewistown, Pa., of which I took great interest in reading. Oh, how I recollect the scenes that we passed through when we lived there. The next letter you will receive from me, will be from the halls of Montezumas, if nothing happens. I ever remain your brother, J. J. O.
Monday, December 6, 1847.—This morning there is quite an excitement in the city. The Mexicans had a procession, they carried banners with Genls. Scott and Jackson's pictures, with parrot noses and well specked with spots of blood and dirt. This was all done to raise an excitement among the citizens, as they, the Mexicans, have it reported that Gen. Paredas is within two days' march of Puebla, with five thousand troops, to attack us; and the train which left here several days ago for the city of Mexico, is on the retreat back to this city, all done by Gen. Paredas' army. Our mess is the least excited, as we are used to such clamoring and false reports. Don't believe a word of it.
In the afternoon we received another requisition from Capt. Herron, on the Commissary for to draw more rations.
Tuesday, December 7, 1847.—This morning I noticed the ordnance men went to Fort Loretto, to have the artillery and mortar ready so as to throw a shell in the main plaza, in case Gen. Paredas arrives and makes an attempt to attack us. But I can't believe that Gen. Paredas will be so foolish as to attack our present force with his five thousand, when Gen. Santa Anna with his eight thousand troops could not drive our garrison of six hundred men out. The new arrivals don't know the Mexicans as well as we do, if they did, they would not get alarmed at every little report they hear.
Col. Gorman's Indiana Regiment is stationed at the Mayor's palace, as a guard, and the way things look now, is, that we are going to have a fight.
At noon it is reported that Gen. Paredas is in the neighborhood.
To-night having plenty of candles, we devoted our time to writing letters and straightening up our notes of our campaign. We are listening for Gen. Paredas' attack on the city, but all is quiet, and nobody is asking us any questions as to who we are or to what regiment we belong, and we aint foolish enough to tell anybody who we are, would you?
Wednesday, December 8, 1847.—This morning we find the excitement is still at fever heat, owing to the orders issued by Gen. Lane concerning the procession the other day.
The orders read: "That on, or hereafter, all Mexican processions or parades, either religiously, politically or otherwise, will be entirely prohibited in this city until further orders; otherwise, they will be arrested and punished as violators of law and the public peace."
So the patriotic Mexicans will have to behave themselves, or else they will be put in the chain gang, and made to sweep the streets.
This afternoon we noticed some of the Ohio regiment men wanted to rob a poor Mexican woman who keeps a shop close by our room, but our mess interfered and would not let them commit the outrage, and told them, that they should be ashamed of themselves to attempt to rob this poor woman; they wanted to know what we had to do with it, and what we were doing here; we told them, that was none of their business. Seeing that they couldn't make anything of our crowd, they left the woman alone and said no more. She thanked us.
To-night about 10 o'clock, the Indiana picket-guards were driven in from their posts by a few Mexicans; this raised a little excitement among the new troops, thinking that Gen. Paredas was surely coming, but it was a false alarm. You Indiana boys will have to do a little better than this, it will never do to run away without showing a little fight first. This is something that has not happened to us during the whole siege of Puebla.
Thursday, December 9, 1847.—This morning about 10 o'clock, Mr. Doyle, the British Minister, accompanied by a squadron of Louisiana cavalry under Capt. Fairchilds, arrived from Vera Cruz, on their way to the capital of Mexico. They stated that Gen. William O. Butler, with about five thousand troops were encamped at El Pinol, and will be here in four or five days.
This afternoon Reddy McClellan, of Co. D, of our regiment, and who, like ourselves, was left here with the same complaint, was found out by some of Col. Gorman's men, and was sent to Fort Loretto, there to join the regulars. So our party took heed to keep the door closed and to keep very quiet. Dare not burn any candles to-night.
Friday, December 10, 1847.—This morning everything looks quiet in and around the city. In the afternoon a Mexican came to our room and stated that the President of the United States has recalled Mr. N. P. Trist, our American Minister to Mexico. Our mess don't believe it.
Saturday, December 11, 1847.—This morning, after breakfast, I was busy in writing letters, when in walked a sergeant and a guard of four soldiers, telling us that Gov. Childs wished to see us, and report ourselves to him this afternoon and get attached to some company. We told the sergeant that we would report ourselves. He then left.
So this afternoon we carried out our promise and reported ourselves to Gov. Childs, and he told us to come at 9 o'clock, to-morrow morning, and he would send us to Fort Loretto where he had a company of old soldiers. We of course promised the Colonel faithfully that we would call and report ourselves without fail, as we were anxious to be attached to some company (in a pig's eye). We left the Colonel, laughing among ourselves, saying that the Colonel must be mighty sharp if he catches any of us near his quarters to-morrow.
This evening we resolved to change our quarters to-morrow for a few days, or until Gen. Butler's division arrives, when we will follow it to the city of Mexico and there be attached to our own respective companies.
To-night, on account of our promise, we can burn candles and rest with ease without any fear of being disturbed by the patrol. So all four of us went to work and posted our notes of to-day's proceedings and wrote letters to several of our friends, one of which is to one of my old schoolmates, as follows:
|Puebla City, Mexico|
|December 11th, 1847|
Mr. William Strunk.
Dear Friend:—It has been a long time since I have seen you or heard from you, but for all this I have not forgotten you. No, I often think of you and the many pleasant and happy hours I passed at the old Hoffman schoolhouse, pelting each other with snow-balls and playing town ball. All these scenes and memories of my boyhood are constantly mingled with the many dreams in this tierra calientes. You are aware that I am now engaged and going to a different kind of school, as well as playing ball; yes, playing with balls that are dangerous, and when they strike will leave more painful marks than the ones you used to pitch or throw at me when running to base, or put me out on the fly and sometimes foul too. I will not now attempt to give you any outlines of our long marches, battles, guerilla fights, etc., and of the siege of Puebla, as I expect you have already, before this letter reaches you, read in print a full and accurate account of the whole action.
On our march from Perote Castle to Puebla City, we passed through a partly rough and beautiful valley. Some places it looked like an immense flower garden. The shrubs were chiefly of the cactus order, with beautiful masses of purple, yellow and crimson flowers, while the heliotrope and sweet pea could be seen on every hand, and made the air along the National road heavy with their perfume. We also passed, and sometimes quartered for the night at several large haciendas. A hacienda is the same as a large country-seat or farm house in our States. Each hacienda, or in fact most all large haciendas in this country have a main entrance through which guests, donkeys and carts alike find ingress. To this entrance is a large, heavy gate with strong hinges and heavy bolts, something like our prison gates. The first floor is mostly laid with bricks or small flagstone, and looks as cold as a tombstone. In each room there are plenty of chairs, and in the middle of the room there is a table loaded with glass lamps and numerous vases. In the corner is the water jar and bowls of native pottery from Cholula, dark red, with strange figures painted upon them. In almost every room can be seen numbers of the all-prevailing faith, in crosses and pictured saints, image of the Virgin, and a blood-stained image of Christ in perpetual crucifixion, before which young and old daily tell their beads and whisper their prayers.
The city of Puebla is getting to be quite a lively place of business again. It begins to look old-fashioned; that is as it looked before the main army left for the city of Mexico. New faces are daily to be seen, and places that were almost deserted a few months ago have now become resorted to by the better class of citizens; where then, no one, neither a Mexican soldier or American dared to go, except the numerous Mexican soldiery. In places that were largely intermixed with guerillas and bad men of all descriptions, we can now see smiling and apparently contented faces. The business men who had to close their stores or shops for fear of being robbed by their own countrymen, come out now in the evening to ride or walk as best suits their convenience, without the fear of being molested or their places broken open and robbed, and themselves reduced to the necessity of commencing life anew. On an evening ride around the beautiful Alameda Park, you can see the comfortable carriages of the more opulent dash along as they carry their inmates to enjoy the evening breeze.
The whole bearing of the Mexicans of this city, whether a majority of them are hostile to the American soldiers or not, appears to feel a degree of safety under American protection, which was unknown to them before we entered this city; while those that were ready to cause the rights of this nation to be respected remained among them, delighted with themselves, terrifying others and driving great numbers of those who love order, peace and tranquility from their comfortable homes.
In fact, I have got so used to these people in this city, that I sometimes forget myself, thinking that I am once more in a peaceful land. But, as a writer says, "I could not lay that flattering unction to my soul." It is too true. The reality is too plain. I am a soldier in the United States army, fighting the battles in Mexico, during this war unless sooner discharged. I often think of the times we had in our boyhood-days, and the home I left behind me, and sometimes I wish myself back among the valleys and hills where I have, spent the best part of my life; but looking and wishing will not bring me home any sooner, so I may just as well be contented to stay until this bloody war is over. Good reason why.
Since I have been here in this country, I have experienced much hardship and fatigue, in the exposure to the hot climate and sometimes in the cold and dismal rains; also witnessing some horrible scenes. Our soldiers are dying, and most every day this little sentence is written, "Died of the diarrhœa." "Died of his wounds," etc. Every day some flower is plucked from its sunny home, or falls from his post and is thrown from the ramparts of time into the grave of eternity. Even now, while sitting down and writing this letter to you, the funeral of some gallant soldier passes like a winter shadow along the street.
Our regiment has already left for the city of Mexico, and myself and three others belonging to our company, were left here on account of colds and rheumatism, but we are all recovering fast, and will leave this city as soon as the next train from Vera Cruz arrives; and as soon as I arrive safe at that immense capital, I will endeavor to write to you again, and give you a description of the Valley of Mexico, and the great halls of Montezumas, where the great Mexican Chieftain, Gen. Santa Anna—besides other officers who were equal in experience, and highly esteemed in the warfare of the times of strength and valor—with over thirty thousand well armed troops, were badly whipped by Gen. Scott's army of from eight to ten thousand men.
I have no doubt the people will say this was a gallant little army, and, as I stated before, and will repeat it again, that history has for more than two thousand years preserved the memory of the ten thousand Greeks who effected their retreat from Persia, without fighting a single battle; let our people not altogether forget the ten thousand American soldiers who landed at Vera Cruz, the victorious and triumphant march to the capital of Mexico, and which never retreated an inch.
I have written a great deal more than I first intended to write, but it seems when I get started, I don't know when to stop; as my candle is getting burned down pretty low and the night late, I will come to a close by saying that I am well, and will ever remain your friend,
J. J. O.
To William Strunk, three locks above Lewistown, Pa.
Sunday, December 12, 1847.—This morning is just one year since I enlisted in Capt. Small's company, and I was going to say I wish my time of enlistment had expired, but I want to go on to the city of Mexico before that time comes around.
This morning about 9 o'clock we were to report ourselves at Gov. Child's headquarters, and from there to be taken to Fort Loretto to be attached to a company made up of stragglers. We, of course, did not report, as we are determined not to go to Fort Loretto, if we can help it; for if we ever get into that fortress they will keep us there as long as they see fit. We are not safe to remain here any longer; so we must move from our comfortable little room one square further up the street, on a more out of way place. Before we left we posted a notice on the door as follows:—
Notice.—The party of soldiers, who roomed in this house, have left, and have reported themselves for duty at Fort Loretto. Signed by the Roomers.
This was done to throw the guard off their guard. They, no doubt, think that we have reported ourselves, and they will give themselves no further trouble.
Fortunately, for ourselves, we were not long in our new quarters when in came a train from the city of Mexico on its way to Vera Cruz, under the command of Gen. David E. Twiggs, which caused a little excitement. Soon afterwards another train came in from Vera Cruz, under the command of Gen. William O. Butler. So you can imagine, while the two trains were passing through the streets of Puebla, it caused considerable confusion, and we could go anywhere without fear of being noticed. We mingled ourselves with the new troops, so that we wouldn't be detected.
Capt. Kendrick's battery, which has been stationed here, went out to meet Gen. Butler, and fired a salute in honor of his arrival.
Monday December 13, 1847.—This morning about 4 o'clock Gen. Twiggs left Puebla City with about four hundred, mostly empty, wagons for Vera Cruz, of which place Gen. Twiggs is to be Governor or general commander. He takes with him a large mail from this city.
Gen. Butler's division, which arrived yesterday, is mostly composed of volunteers, nearly four thousand. Among them are two regiments from Tennessee, and several regiments from Kentucky, and a large train and mail, loaded mostly with provision and ammunition. At noon Col. Dominguez's spy company came in from the city of Mexico on their way to Vera Cruz. They are bearers of important dispatches from Gen. Scott to our government.
In the evening our mess paid a visit to the theatre, and witnessed the plays called "Lucretia Borgia" and the "Nervous Man," which pieces were played and performed by the Fourth Ohio Regiment (as subs). During the performance several rows were kicked up by some of the Pennsylvania and the Fourth Ohio Regiment, but the rumpus was soon over, and squashed by the officers of the theatre, without doing much damage to either party. Fearing that we would be recognized we quietly left the theatre for our little quarters, and on our way we heard reported that Lieut. Col. Johnson, with a large force, was encamped at Amozoquco, and would be in the city to-morrow.
Tuesday, December 14th, 1847.—This morning, about 10 o'clock, Lieut-Col. Johnston arrived with over thirteen hundred troops and a large train. It is accompanied with a large Mexican train of packed mules, loaded with merchandise for the foreign merchants at the-city of Mexico. There are also one hundred recruits for the First Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, on their way to the city, there to be distributed among the different companies. I also noticed more dragoons with this train than any other that has come up yet. It is the cavalry that we want to follow the flying Mexican Lancers.
To-night it is rumored that Gen. Butler's train will start for the city of Mexico in the morning. So on the strength of this our mess is in high glee at the prospect of leaving Puebla and marching with Gen. Butler's division.
Wednesday, December 15th, 1847.—This morning, most of the soldiers are busy in packing up to leave, as they received orders that the train would start at 2 o'clock, p.m. So we four marched out the National road (not to Fort Loretto), about seven miles, where we found the advance train in camp. The encampment was at a large hacienda. On our march out to this place we passed over a beautiful bridge and through several beautiful gate-ways. To-night it is cold and the wind blows very hard, and as we have no tents to sleep under we passed a sleepless night, you may depend.
Thursday, December 16th, 1847.—This morning we did not start as soon as was expected, owing to the detention of Capt. Lovell's battery, which is on its way to Vera Cruz. Capt. Lovell, of the Fourth Artillery, was chief of staff of Gen. John A. Quitman's division, and was wounded at the battle or storming of the castle of Chapultepec. About 8 o'clock, a.m., we left camp and passed over a beautiful prairie country and encamped at a large hacienda named San Domingo.
Friday, December 17th, 1847.—This morning we left camp at daylight and passed over the same kind of tierra templado as before; also passed several beautiful haciendas. The road is gradually going up hill, but is straight and good, and by looking back you can see the bright bayonets shining in the sunbeams, and the white covered tops of Uncle Sam's wagons. It looks as if we are passing close by the two volcanic mountains of Popocatapetl and Iscotafelt; also passed through several narrow passes and through the thickest of woods, containing some of the finest and largest trees I have ever seen. We also passed a bridge which looked like it was once fortified. We went into camp about 2 o'clock, p.m., on a large field in front of a hacienda called Molino. Here we found the water very cold and plenty of icicles.
To-night the report is that five of our soldiers, who straggled too far back from the main army, were killed by the guerillas.
Saturday, December 18th, 1847.—This morning, at 6 o'clock, we left camp and marched up hill for about ten miles. We could plainly see the white snow covered mountains of Popocatapetl and Iscotafelt on our left; also saw along the National road newly cut down trees, which have been lying across the road to stop or delay Gen. Scott's advancing army.
The country we passed through to-day was pretty rough and wild, with large pine forests. In fact it put me in mind of some of the wild pine forests in our western part of Pennsylvania. We passed a little stream called Rio Frio (Cold river), and I think it is well named, for I find it awful cold, ice and ice crystals hanging over the cliffs of the hills. We also passed a fortified bridge, put there by Gen. Santa Anna, to show fight, but like all the rest of his fortifications and breastworks along the road, he blew them up and vamosed for the city.
We finally went into camp at Venta de Rio Frio; here eight companies of the Fifth Ohio Regiment, under Col. William Irwin, were stationed as a garrison, to keep an eye on the numerous bands of desperados and guerillas which have for some time set all laws and its officers at defiance. They seem to have comfortable quarters, having shanties and houses built for them to live in; but they don't like this place on account of its sudden changes of temperature, which makes it very unhealthy. They say that they have not been here a month and have already lost ten men, suffering from colds and diarrhœa.
Sunday, December 19, 1847.—This morning we left camp early, owing to a long day's march before us. We traveled up hill until near noon, when we arrived on the summit of Rio Frio, which is the highest and coldest point on the National road. Here the beautiful plains of Puebla and city of Mexico separate a chain of mountains running across to Popocatepetl, which divides the two valleys. Popocatepeque is so-called from the smoke which used to continually ascend from its top, for popoca, in Aztec language, signifies smoke, and tepeque a mountain. Historic writers say that this mountain, in 1540, broke forth in such a manner that the country all around was terrified therewith, for it vomited not only a black smoke, but also horrible flames of fire, which sometimes being blown downwards burnt the maiz (wheat) and corn in the fields, and the ashes thereof flying as far as the ancient city of Cholula, and burnt the best part of the city to the ground. The inhabitants endeavored by flight to secure themselves in some other place, with the intention never to return to Cholula again, but the flames and smoke soon abated and all returned to their former homes and built up that part of the city that was burnt.
We marched on until we came to where the road takes a turn, and from here is one of the most romantic views and scenes which no one who ever visited here can forget. As a writer recently said, "The whole vast plain and valley of Mexico, and the city of Mexico with its lofty steeples and its chequered domes, its bright reality and its former fame, its modern splendor, and on every side its thousand lakes looks like silver stars on a velvet mantle." All its ancient magnifidence is now before us.
After resting and refreshing ourselves we continued our march, and descending the mountain by a winding road we passed several of the Mexican breastworks; we also passed some beautiful haciendas, standing off the road, and several ancient Indian churches; passed Venta de Chalco and went into camp at Villa Ayotla, about seventeen miles from the city of Mexico. This is the first place where Gen. Scott's army was stopped from following the National road to the city, and he left it by cutting a new road to the left, to reach the Acapulco road, which led to the western part of the city of Mexico. This was done to avoid a battle at El Penon, a high, rocky, round top hill, which the Mexicans had strongly fortified. But Gen. Scott's army met Gen. Santa Anna's army at San Antonia, Contreras, San Augustine and Churubusco and other strongly fortified positions, and defeated the Mexicans at all the above points. Ayotla is a splendid place for an army to encamp; it is surrounded by Lake Chalco and other small lakes, which are covered with wild ducks and other wild fowls.
Monday, December 20, 1847.—This morning we left Ayotla, and passed over a very sandy and dusty road. The scenery around the National Road is magnificent. We passed a small villa (town) called Tlapisahua, an old Indian town, where the Indians still worship their usual customs. We also passed a small place called Los Reys, from here we can see the deep cut made by Gen. Hernandez Martinez, a Spanish engineer, to drain the great valley of Mexico, which used to overflow and destroy a great deal of property, besides the loss of thousands of lives. It was commenced in 1540 and finished, I believe, in 1560. They first started to tunnel the hill; but, when they were nearly half way through, it caved in on them and killed fifteen thousand men. After this fearful accident they started to dig the whole affair out. During its construction over seventy-two thousand men lost their lives, on account of it caving in very easily. It is nearly eight miles long, and from two hundred to two hundred and sixty feet wide, and from fifty to three hundred and sixty feet deep. It cost many millions of dollars to build it.
There is a lake on each side of the National Road from this place to El Penon. This road, previous to Gen. Scott's army entering the valley of Mexico, was all cut up in trenches and well barricaded. It will also be remembered that this El Penon Pass, and its fortification, was pronounced by Gen. Scott and his engineers impregnable to pass, without the loss, and probably the destruction, of nearly our whole army. So it was avoided. The opinion of Gen. Scott and his engineers was good, for it is one of the strongest fortresses and best positions for defences to check an army than any other place we have seen between the city of Mexico and Vera Cruz.
We stopped here some time and examined the hill thoroughly, and find that it has the whole sway of the National Road, as already stated, strongly fortified by both Genls. Santa Anna and Valincia, both skillful and practical engineers.
All the ditches mentioned were filled with water. The ditches are about twenty-five feet wide and from eight to twelve feet deep. This El Penon was commanded by Gen. Valincia with an army of over twenty thousand troops.
Right opposite the El Penon, (or, in fact, on the right of the National Road, going to the city of Mexico), stands a public house, in which Gen. Valincia had his headquarters, until Gen. Scott counter-marched his marching army, and went around the back way, nearly the same route that Conqueror Cortez took the second time on his way to the city of Mexico. The building was strongly fortified, and was pierced with musket holes.
This building would have to be taken before our army could storm El Penon, as there is a lake at the foot of the hill.
After viewing the place, we left and passed over a beautiful road, well shaded with large trees. The lake of Tezueco running along the National Road.
We again stopped at the head of Tezueco, or where a little stream runs across the National Road. Here I noticed that the lakes around here are full of wild ducks and any quantity of fish. The water looks kind of green, mucky and unhealthy.
After refrescadura (refreshing) ourselves, we again started, and we find the road from here to the city far better than any we have yet passed over, it is well shaded with fine large trees on both sides of the road, and I am told in time of peace, it is well patronized by the wealthy class and sporting citizens as a driving park.
To the entrado (entrance), of the city is a large puerta (gateway), called by the Mexicans San Lazaro. This was also strongly fortified with deep ditches on each side of the road or gate. Here in time of peace every Mexican, or passer-by has to pay so much before he can enter the city of Mexico, but of course it is at the present time free to all who may see fit to go to the city.
I remember reading in history that the city of Mexico lies in a valley surrounded by water and lakes, and that the only causeway to approach the city, was by a road built up in the water.
The only causeway, I think, that was ever built through the lakes, is the National Road from El Penon through Lake Tezueco to the city, it being the nearest lake, and is about five miles from the gates to the city of Mexico. I admit that part of history where it says that the city is built in a fine valley, but as for the lakes surrounding it, I, for one, do not see it, they must have all dried up since the last history of Mexico has been written.
We arrived at the carita (sentry box), about 3 o'clock, p.m., here we found the Kentucky Volunteers encamped, protecting the entrado. We proceeded on until we reached the main plaza in front of the great National Palace or halls of Montezumas, here the division halted, and our squad went around making inquiry as to the whereabouts of our regiment; we soon heard that they were quartered near the ciudadela (citadel), near the gates of San Cosme, at the western part of the city, where our victorious army first entered the Ciudad de Mexico.
Here we joined our respective companies, and as a matter of course were much gratified and pleased in seeing each other again. I feel much fatigued, incurred from our toilsome march to this city, and what pleased me more the mess I belong to have a good pollito cooked for our supper, besides other good things on the table, which I assure you did not taste bad after our hard marching. The supper was prepared by our friends John Newman and Joseph C. Taylor. This was the first chicken I have eaten under the wings of the halls of Montezuma, and I hope it will not be the last. We are quartered in one of the many rooms in a large convent, which are very comfortable, so good-night, for the first sleep in the capital of Mexico.
Tuesday, December 21, 1847.—This morning I did not rise until 8 o'clock, on account of our tiresome march from Puebla to this city, nearly eighty miles.
At noon, myself and several of my comrades took a little walk around the Ciudad, but being very hot and still tired, we soon returned to our quarters, where I saw the monks, who are in another room, cutting up their shines with the so called puridad virtuosa mugers (purity and virtuous woman), and as a fellow said, I saw something going on in that room that almost set a man like me crazy. Further comment is unnecessary. This large convent building still bears marks of the revolutionary times, defaced with cannon's grape, canister, etc. In some places whole corners are ripped out and otherwise badly damaged.
This evening, being very pleasant, I devoted my time to writing letters home to my parents, brothers and friends. To brother Frederick, as follows:
|City of Mexico|
|December 21, 1847.|
Dear Brother:—I am at last in the great city of Mexico, and shall soon revel in the halls of the Montezuma, about which you and I have read and heard so much talk at home and at school. On the 12th instant, Maj. Gen. William O. Butler's train arrived at Puebla City from Vera Cruz, on its way to the city of Mexico. After a few days rest the train left Puebla, on the 15th, for this city, myself coming with the division to join my regiment. On leaving Puebla City we entered a venusta la rodadura tierra (beautiful rolling country), which looks rich for agricultural capacities. We also passed several places which Gen. Santa Anna had fortified to stop the progress of Gen. Scott's army, but they were all abandoned before our army got near them. On, still onward our army kept marching, through the sandy plains and hills of Mexico, and our banner on every battle-field triumphantly waving, and our bugler on their walls playing Yankee Doodle.
On descending by a winding road from Rio Frio mountains, or the Cordilleras, as it is called, into the great valley of Mexico, you can see some of the prettiest views that human eye can see. A city in the distance, on the left is seen the strong Castle of Chapultepec, on a high rock or hill. The castle was the residence of the Aztec kings, but is, in time of peace, used as a military school. In the centre is the city of Mexico, with its immense towers and cupolas, and religious monuments; erected mostly by the Spaniards, during the three centuries of their government in Mexico. On the right, about five or six miles from the city, lies the beautiful Lake Tezueco, full of wild ducks and floating gardens. The whole puts me in mind of the view of Philadelphia, from the incline plains, above Columbia Bridge, only more picturesque.
We entered the city yesterday afternoon by the garitor or puerta (gateway) of San Lazaro. So, of course, I have not seen enough of the city to form a correct opinion of it; but, from the little I have already seen, I must confess myself to be very much disappointed. I have seen nothing yet of that extraordinary richness nor splendor, which I have been informed would be observable at every step we would take.
We are now quartered in a convent building, nearly in full view of the National Palace, and the great Catholic Cathedral. The latter was founded in 1573, and finished in 1667. The National Palace from here is a very ordinary looking building, the exterior at least; but external appearance of the cathedral is certainly very magnificent.
The city of Mexico is the most populous city we have yet seen in this country, and I have been surprised to think how so small a force (a little over six thousand soldiers) could have entered this city, for in less than five minutes after we passed the San Lazaro gate I saw enough of greasers, not counting the gentle Mexicans, to have driven the whole of Gen. Winfield Scott's army into the sea, had they possessed the proper spirit and metal to move in the undertaking. Again the city of Mexico is like most all the other cities in Mexico, there is an air of filth, degradation and misery among the poor class; all from laziness and vagrancy.
It is said here, and I know not upon what authority, that a portion of our army would shortly leave for Queretaro, the present seat of the Mexican Government, which is about one hundred and forty-five miles from this city. But I think at present it is certain that no movement of troops will be made, as our force is too weak to make a move. But in a short time ample re-enforcement will reach here to enable Gen. Scott to undertake and accomplish whatever he thinks proper, and for the best. The latest advices we have from Vera Cruz states that there are about twelve thousand troops at that city. About five thousand of these troops have already arrived with the last train. Thus I have not the least doubt that in less than three months we will have an army from twenty-five to thirty thousand men, and that every place of any size and importance will be garrisoned throughout the entire country, as they are now between this city and Vera Cruz. And as far as the fighting, I believe it is all over. The Mexicans, I think, will never make another stand against our army, but confine their operations against any small detachment, or in attacking the trains in the rear, which may happen to be on the road.
This war has been a profitable and fruitful harvest for the guerillas, and other highway robbers, who profess to have organized themselves to oppose the American army; but are, in fact, more feared by, and more formidable to their own countrymen by far than to our American army. Even these guerillas, as well as their regular army, are almost exterminated, or have been abandoned, for there can be found scarcely any to rally against our army.
I believe the majority of the Mexican people are in favor of peace, but the pride of their rulers will not allow any concession of their territory whatever, and they will likely persist in their foolish opposition until the great Republic of Mexico loses its much boasted nationality, and become a dependency of the United States Government.
The whole country around here (except the great valley), is volcanic; the principal and most historic are the Popocatapetl and Iscotafelt.
The street venders and hucksters are poorly clad, and carry most everything on their heads. Such a thing as a stove-pipe hat is seldom worn, they mostly wear broad brim sombrero, some of which are gorgeously trimmed and embroidered with silver thread; their dress is similar to ours with the exception that the Mexicans wear the short jacket with a sash or belt around their waist, some have fine rows of bright silver buttons on the outside seam of their pants, which fit tight to below the knee and then spring out at the bottom. The women wear no bonnets, a dark shawl is all they wear over their heads and shoulders.
It would make some of our Pennsylvania grangero (farmers) laugh to see some of the instruments of agriculture they have in this country, which I had the pleasure of seeing on our march to this city, and which I explained before.
Horses are seldom seen except in the army or upon the streets when bestrode by some picturesque hacienda from the country. Carriages are seldom seen, particularly in the country.
The weather is pleasant. I hope I shall soon have another opportunity to write you a more interesting letter, and a more graphical description of this famous city of Mexico.
I must now come to a close by saying that I am well and hearty, and feel exceedingly proud to think that I have gone through the ordeal to see the historic city of Mexico.
Your brother, J. J. O.
Wednesday, December 22, 1847.—This morning we received orders to pack up and leave the city for a small village named San Angel, about six miles from this city. About 10 o'clock, we started and arrived at San Angel about noon, and took quarters in a large building once used as a manufacturing establishment. Here we have good and comfortable quarters, surrounded by orchards and orange groves, and a beautiful garden, laid out with vegetables and flowers. Here we expect to remain until the whole army moves on to Queretaro City.
Thursday, December 23, 1847.—This morning I got permission from Lieut. Aquilla Haines, our commanding officer, to go to the city of Mexico, and paid a visit to the National Arsenal. On entering the arsenal I was astonished to see the work-shops and arms and ammunition. I counted no less than fifty pieces of artillery, all captured from the Mexicans during the fight in the valley. Their calibre is from four to sixty eight pounders, all well mounted after our model, which I suppose was taken from the two brass pieces of artillery taken or captured from our army at the battle of Buena Vista. After spending the whole forenoon, I left and paid a visit to the Mexican Museum. Here I saw a great many ancient curiosities, among which is the dress worn by Montezuma at the time of his reign. It is made of wild duck skins and ornamented with snake skins, etc. Next I viewed the great sacrificial stone altar, which was dug up in the main plaza many years ago, and I am told that on this very altar twenty thousand souls were sacrificed, sometimes in one year, to the heathen gods that bowed to stone and wood. The altar is cut and carved with many curious beasts and birds, and has a hole in it where they put the heart and blood; the work of a nation which is now nearly extinct. But there are more of these people living in and around the city of Mexico than any where between this place and Vera Cruz, who still retain their ancient Indian religion and many of their primitive customs. In the centre of the square of the museum is the statue of Charles V on a horse, cast in 1803. This is one of the seven wonders of the world; it is made of solid brass and is twenty feet high and well proportioned. The man that made this beautiful statue soon afterwards killed himself on account of (which no one would have noticed) neglecting to put the core or warts on the horse's legs. This statue is in memory of Charles V, who was King of Spain during Fernando Cortez conquering and plundering Mexico.Friday, December 24, 1847.—This morning I paid a visit to the Second Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, also to the New York and Massachusetts Regiments. They have elegant quarters fronting on the plaza of San Angel, and also viewed the spot and tree at which the deserters were tried, flogged and branded. Col. Thomas Riley, already mentioned, was flogged and branded with the letter D; first making the mistake of branding him with the letter D upside down. So, of
course. Col. Riley had to be branded over again, between the nose and cheek, this time right side up. One of the New Yorkers handed me a newspaper published in the city. In it I noticed a piece where Gen. Scott seemed to be much dissatisfied at the way the new troops are arriving, they hardly have clothing, shoes or blankets with them. It is supposed that all new troops should be well clothed, but the new troops look far worse than we do, who have been in the United States service for over a year. Commissary Quartermaster General T. S. Jessup, you must clothe the soldiers before you send them into this country, for there is no cloth manufactory in operation in Mexico. The only thing we find abundant in this tierra is pulga (lice) and fleas.
To-day I saw Lieut. Mayne Reid. He is a splendid looking officer and well uniformed, he still walks lame from wounds received while storming the Castle of Chapultepec. It will be remembered that the forlorn hope party was composed of regulars, volunteers and United States marines, under the command of Maj. Twiggs, They started off with cheers for Chapultepec, and when nearly half way up Maj. Twiggs was killed. The fire from the castle at this time was heavy and continuous and fatal to our men and officers, so much so that our men began to falter. Lieut. Reid, who at that time was with the New York regiment guarding a battery at the foot of the hill or castle, seeing that our officers and men were falling and beginning to waver, asked leave of his commanding officer to join with some of his men the storming party with the scaling ladders, and it was granted with the words "Go and God be with you." Off they went, his Lieut. Hypolite Dardonvill following him. Lieut. Reid now took command of the storming party, calling upon those around him and shouting in a loud voice "Will you stand by me? The castle must be taken or the American army is lost." "We will! we will I let us charge up the hill; we are ready" "Come on, I will lead you," shouted Lieut. Reid. On they charged, and when about half way up, the Mexicans opened on our men with grape and canister, playing havoc in our ranks at every discharge. Lieut. Reid was slightly wounded, but kept on waving his sword in the air, shouting to his men "Come on, we will carry the day," and when near the front wall Lieut. Reid was wounded through the thigh, Lieut. Cochran of the Voltiguers regiment and Lieut. H. Dardonvill, a young French officer (called by his men Dare Devil), passed Lieut. Reid, who cheered the men on, telling them not to mind him and not to leave the wall. Lieut. Dare Devil, with his men, now mounted the scaling ladders, a rush was made and the castle fell, and Lieut. Dardonvill was the first to pull down the Mexican flag from its staff, and not Lieut. Col. Thomas Seymour, as the papers have it.
But by recent investigation, it has been proven that the first American flag on the Castle of Chapultepec was unfurled by Capt. Moses Barnard, of the Voltigeurs. He hails from Philadelphia, Pa. So Pennsylvania can claim the honor for one of her sons for this brilliant achievement.
Lieut. Mayne Reid, mentioned above, it will be remembered killed a private soldier at Puebla City, July 22, 1847, by running him through the heart with his sword; but in honor of that gallant young officer he (Reid) was fully exonerated by a court of inquiry. It appears that the unfortunate man who was slain was a prisoner in the guard-house. Lieut. Reid was Officer of the Day, and on entering the guard-house the prisoner sprang to his feet and rushed upon him (Reid) with his iron shackels uplifted in the act to strike, when the Lieutenant killed him in self-defence.
(Col. Riley, mentioned several times, after the war with Mexico returned to the United States and entered suit in the United States District Court of Cincinnati, Ohio, for $50,000 damages, for flogging and branding him in Mexico. After a week's trial, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and put the cost of the suit on Col. Riley. So ended one of the most singular suits that has ever been brought before any court in the United States, or in the world, to obtain damages for deserting his country's flag and going over to the enemy to fight against his country.)
Saturday, December 25, 1847.—This morning a party of us went to the city in a Troy coach, for the purpose of eating our Christmas dinner. I also visited the curiosities around the city, after which I went to the great Cathedral, which stands on the very spot where the old halls of Montezumas once stood. It being Christmas there were great sights to be seen in the Cathedral. The whole building was illuminated with five thousand wax lights. They had an image of our Saviour in a cradle and were rocking it like a child, singing verses, etc., and the organ playing to its utmost extent. The ceremonies were grand and the building was crowded with all classes of people. The ceremonies kept up until noon, when they ceased until to-night. After witnessing all the ceremonies I left to get my Christmas dinner at the Laqunda (Lake Hotel), which dinner could not be beaten. I saw here Maj. John P. Gaines and Capt. C. C. Danby, who were all captured at Encarnacion, in the latter part of January, by the Mexican forces under Gen. Minion, several days before the battle of Buena Vista. Maj. Gaines and Capt. Danby would not accept their parole and escaped to the city of Puebla a few days before the army left that city for the city of Mexico, and joined the army again and did good service in the valley of Mexico, acting as aides to Gen. Scott.
In the evening we left the city, well pleased with the way in which we spent our Christmas in the land of Aztecs, and arrived safe at San Angel.
Sunday, December 26, 1847.—This morning, being Sunday, and not much to do, Alburtus Welsh and myself took our blankets and started to the polque bushes close by, and commenced writing letters to our friends at home; one to a farmer in Lancaster county, for whom I used to work when a boy, as follows:—
|Camp near the City of Mexico|
|December 26, 1847|
Mr. David Landls.
Dear Sir:—I have no doubt that you will be surprised to receive a letter from me, and particularly from this section of the country. You will see by this letter that I am in the United States army fighting in the battles which have been raging here in Mexico, but at present we are at peace; that is, there is no fighting going on now; but, at the same time, I can see the gleaming bayonets and sabres flash, and men looking through glaring eyes upon his brother man, thirsting for his blood. I can hear the boom of the cannons, the rattling of musketry, the whizzing of bullets and the groans of the dying men. You may think this is horrible to speak of, but it is the truth. You will see by the date of this letter that we have at last arrived in the city of Mexico, where a great many scenes and curiosities are to be seen. We have become pretty well settled down here, and all its novelty has worn off, and the city seems as any other city does when one has grown familiar with it. There are few cities more pleasant than Mexico. The streets look like the streets in Lancaster.
Christmas has come and gone, and I had the pleasure of spending it in the halls of Montezumas with the Mexican part of the population. It was celebrated according to their time honored customs, and in accordance with the spirit and usages of the Catholic religion. I spent my Christmas in as much relishment and pleasure as any I ever spent at home, and I must confess that some of my comrades and my self, towards' the close of the day, seemed to care little about the cares and perplexities of life, and cared little whether we enlisted during the war with Mexico, or for life, or whether corn was worth five cents or five dollars per bushel; and, taking it altogether, I shall never forget the Christmas I passed in the city of the Aztecs.
The city of Mexico is both ancient and at present the metropolis and capital of all Mexico. It is the seat of all the head rulers of that country. It was at one time one of the richest cities in the world, but the numerous revolutions have reduced it to almost nothing. It was at one time subject to one inconvenience, that is in case of heavy rains, which caused the surrounding lakes to overflow.
In the year 1629 a heavy rain fell, swelling the lakes, breaking-through the banks in such a manner that it overflowed all of Mexico City, washed away houses and flooding the best and richest part of the city, with the destruction of many of the people, the loss of all merchandise which could not stand water, and had it not been for the number of canoes and boats to help them, nearly all the people would have perished and met a watery grave in this deluge.
After this destruction the citizens made ample improvements to protect their city in the future; large channels with arched sewers under ground were built, and the banks raised higher. There are now banks and sluices everywhere. The main sewer or culvert runs directly through the middle of the city; it is built of large stone arched, with inlet at almost every square. It took twenty years to build it, and is considered by all scientific men to be one of the best works in the world.
The citadel or arsenal buildings are splendid, and none in the States will compete with them. The Catholic Cathedral is a splendid large building, situated on the ground where the mansion Cu of Montezumas once stood. Nothing of this historic building is left except the old Indian sun dial, which is left as a memorial to the nearly all vanished nation. The National Palace is also a splendid large building, taking up nearly a whole square of ground. It is the hall and seat of the Mexican Government, where they meet as our Congressmen do at Washington, and make laws for the nation.
The present Congress of the Republic of Mexico have fled to Queretaro City, there formed the temporary capital of Mexico, and the news from there is not very favorable towards peace, and it is now rumored that we will soon start for Queretaro city. So I thought it best to write a letter to you and let my old friends in Lancaster County, Pa., whom I have not seen for seven years, know that I am still hanging on the stem called life, although since I have seen considerable of the elephant, in fact all of him that was to be seen since we landed on the shores below Vera Cruz, and I should now be perfectly satisfied to enjoy the balance of that privilege among the valleys and hills where I spent my early boyhood days, and have those good cakes and fixings which used to be spread on your table. Yes, I often think of those things, and particularly something good to eat. I have already written a great deal more than I first anticipated, but I shall now come to a close by saying, read this badly written letter carefully and then show it to your friends, and in particular to my old friend Harry Grabill and give him my compliments. No more but one word, that is I would sooner be home eating cakes and sausages than be out here fighting Santa Anna.
Your friend, J. J. O.
D. Landis, Spread Eagle P. O., Lancaster Co., Pa.
Tuesday, December 28, 1847.—This morning at 10 o'clock I started for the city, and there I saw the Ninth Infantry, under Col. Withers, leave for the assay office at Parchuca, near the great mines of Real del Monte, about forty miles from here, to watch and see that the duties on silver bullion are promptly paid. I purchased a pair of Mexican spurs to take home to one of my friends. After which I walked around the city and viewed several public buildings, after that I left for San Angel.
There is a splendid road from the city of Mexico to our quarters, shaded with fine, large trees.
Wednesday, December 29, 1847.—This morning there was an American paper published in the city of Mexico, called the American Star. One of our members, named John Kritser, a printer, works on it. It is a neat and saucy little sheet. It says that the Mexican army, numbering about twenty thousand men, are at Queretaro fortifying it for our reception. This evening, on dress-parade, we had orders read to us that we would make a requisition on the Quartermaster for such clothing as was necessary for a march; also that we would be mustered and inspected some day this week; and, therefore, we should hold ourselves in readiness for the same.
Thursday, December 30, 1847.—This morning Capt. Binder's Orderly Sergeant, named Hudtner, was missing, or was not at his post as usual.
To-day Co. K, First Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, had an election for Second Lieutenant. One of the Sergeants of the company, and a private, named William F. Mann, of the same company, were the respective candidates; and, after a little contest, it victoriously resulted in the choice of William F. Mann.
Gen. Rea, the hero of Puebla, has published a flaming report, in which he gives an account of a Mexican victory at the battle of Huamantla. All like Gen. Santa Anna's reports. Gen. Rea don't know when he is whipped.
A letter to George W. Bare.
|San Angel, near the City of Mexico|
|December 30, 1847|
Friend George:—I hasten to drop you a few lines to let you know that I am still living and well in the land of the Aztec, and hope that this letter will find you enjoying good health. We left Puebla City on the 15th inst., and passed through a beautiful country, and arrived in this city on the 20th instant. When we arrived in the city of Mexico the first thing I wanted to see was the halls of Montezumas, which you and I have heard so much about. It is an extraordinary large building. Here is where the Mexican Congress sets and makes laws for their nation; and I have been informed, since my arrival, that during the revolution in this city, Gen. Santa Anna has had from twenty to twenty-five thousand troops quartered in this immense building, and some of the places still bear marks of the time, as its front is all defaced by cannon balls, grape and canister, musket balls, etc. Oh, I tell you, George, these Mexicans are a great people, but it takes us Yankees to drill them. We are now quartered in a large building at San Angel, six miles from the city, in the midst of splendid scenery. Among the sights are the famous volcanic mountains, Popocatepetl and Iscotafelt, the former occasionally throwing out smoke and ashes.
When our army first came into this city it was impossible to get a lady to go to any place of amusement. They had been told so many stories about us, that they almost believed us to be barbarians, but now they go to the theatre or circus on evenings just the same as at home. They stroll through the Alameda Park as thoughtless as in Franklin or Washington squares in Philadelphia; drive out on the paseo, play ten-pins, cricket, and a thousand other things so homelike that I sometimes forget that I am in the land of the Aztec, surrounded by enemies. If one could only get out of sight of the horde of loathsome leperos and greasers, who form two thirds of the inhabitants of this city, Mexico would be in every sense an American city. You cannot enter a respectable hotel without meeting a number of foreigners. Laurents, Eagle, Union and Progress are of an evening like the St. Charles Hotel, of New Orleans. The best drive is on a Sunday afternoon, when you will see a general turnout of the wealth and fashion of the city.
I spent my Christmas in the city of Mexico, and I find that a dinner can be gotten up here as well as at home, or anywhere else in the United States. The markets are well supplied with fine meats, fish, fowl and vegetables, but no person's ambition seems to reach above a fine roasted turkey, with the fixtures and appurtenances properly belonging to it. I had the pleasure of dining off a superb gobbler, stuffed with bread, and eggs, and a bunch of venison with apple sauce, in this benighted land of the Aztecs. Is this not evidence of the progress of civilization? While we were paying attention to the substantials, we did not forget the egg-nogg, apple toddy, etc., which commanded a proportionate degree of respect and consideration, and I must confess that I was a little tipsy.
George, when you receive this letter you will please show and read it to all my inquiring friends, and answer it as soon as you can, and give me all the particulars about the old Hoffman school-house; also give my love to all the pretty girls, the ugly ones need not apply. I have written a great many letters home but only received a few in return. Whether my friends have deserted me, or turned traitors against me is yet to be known, but I hope I will soon hear the result by the next mail from Vera Cruz. Your friend, J. J. O.
Three Locks, five miles above Lewistown, Pa.
Friday, December 31, 1847.—This morning Capt. Binder, of Co. E, First Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, got permission from Col. F. M. Wynkoop to go in search of his Orderly, Sergt. Hudtner, who has been missing for several days, but soon returned without hearing or seeing anything of him. It is supposed the guerillas killed him and then threw his body in a ditch or amongst the polque bushes, which are very thick here.
In the afternoon we formed and marched up to the main plaza of San Angel, and were there inspected and mustered into the United States service for the fourth time, by Capt. Joseph Hooker, Assistant Adjutant General, who won special laurels in the valley of Mexico as aide to Gen. Scott.
In the evening a report came to our quarters that two of our men were found dead out at Contreras battle-ground. So Col. Jack Hays, with his mounted Texas Rangers, went out in pursuit of the guerillas, but returned without seeing anything of them. Late in the evening Co. K had all sorts of a frolic, in honor of the election of Wm. F. Mann, as lieutenant. This is the way the last day of the year 1847 is spent, now fast approaching its end, never again to have any more sport, frolic or battles in 1847. We are now better than one year in the United States service, but few are left to tell the tale of the last year's campaign in Mexico. Good-bye 1847.
Saturday January 1, 1848.—This is the first morning in the new year. What shall I wish at the commencement of this year? Nothing more than I did one year ago. Health, strength and durable happiness, which, thank God, I am still enjoying. There is many a one no doubt wished themselves the same apisital this day one year ago, which will show by reference to my table, that are not living to wish a continuance in health, strength, etc.
To-day one year ago our regiment numbered nearly one thousand strong, rank and file, and each company numbered nearly one hundred, rank and file, but now our regiment is only a skeleton regiment and companies skeleton companies. The nominal number of our regiment is a little over four hundred strong, each company numbering about forty or forty-five, rank and file. Our company (C) numbered, one year ago, ninety-five, rank and file, but this day numbers but forty-three men, rank and file. So most every regiment in the whole army in Mexico averages not more than half the nominal number of a regiment, and some of them have not more than three hundred soldiers each. No doubt a great many people think and wonder, who are not familiar with the arts of war, what has become of all these men. They surely could not all have fallen victims on the field of battle; if so, the reports of killed and wounded have been falsely represented to the world. But let me enlighten your attention upon this very point. I am safe to say that not one-fourth have fallen a victim at the bloody hands of the Mexicans, but the most of them fell a victim of disease, contracted in this hot, tropical climate, while gallantly sustaining the glory of their country's cause. The wounded and debilitated, who have been fortunate enough to escape death, are discharged and sent to their homes, they being of no use in the army.
At noon Col. F. M. Wynkoop received information, through a Mexican friend of his, that Gen. Rea and the guerilla priest, Padre Jarauta, were at Villa Tlalnepanatla, about fifteen miles from here, recruiting for their guerilla forces. And that they were also a terror to all peaceable Mexicans within their reach. So Col. Wynkoop went to Gen. Scott and asked permission to go in pursuit of these highway robbers, which was granted.
In the evening Col. Wynkoop left, with about forty Texan Rangers, under Lieuts. Daggett and Burk. All well mounted and armed. They intend to travel all night, or until they come across the priest. Padre Jarauta. People mostly say all clergymen and priests go to heaven, if Jarauta goes to heaven I am safe enough.
It is now reported that Gen. Rea has left the above place and marched towards San Martin, on the National Road, with a small set of lancers; but this must be incorrect, for Gen. Rea must surely be aware that Col. Harney is on the road to that place, and Gen. Rea is not going to burn his fingers again, after having lately been discomfitted by a smaller force than that accompanying the train. Among those who left us by the train was Passed-Midshipman Rogers, the luckiest of all prisoners, who will be remembered was captured previous to the landing of the United States troops at Vera Cruz. He is one of the most popular naval officers in the United States army. He was an aide to Gen. Scott during' all his engagements in the valley of Mexico. No doubt the tars will give him such a welcome that he will not soon forget.
To-night an officer of one of the volunteer regiments, and a good soldier, too, determined to get up a magnificent testimonial for his bravery. A company of his, or rather friends of his regiment having assembled, he arose and held in his left hand a sabre worth about three dollars, addressed himself in a short speech, and then received it in his right hand, and replied, "The ceremony is represented as having been imposing in the extreme." We all took a hearty laugh over it.
Sunday, January 2, 1848.—This morning most every member of our regiment is anxiously waiting for the stage to come from the city to hear how Col. Wynkoop and his party made out last night. Finally the stage arrived with the glad tidings of Col. Wynkoop's success. This soon caused considerable excitement around our quarters, and inquiries were made about Wynkoop's expedition last night. And I heard that the Colonel was successful in capturing two of the bravest officers in the Mexican army, Gen. Valincia and Col. Arreta. But those were not the officers that Col. Wynkoop went after, and promised to bring to Gen. Scott's headquarters, but on presenting them to Gen. Scott he said that he would take them in line, and gave Col. Wynkoop a receipt for the same. Col. Wynkoop went in pursuit of Padre Jarauta and Gen. Rea. When they arrived at Hacienda Tlalnepanatla they charged upon the villeta, but found no officers there. They were informed that Gen. Rea and Col. Jarauta, and their guerilla party, had left for Villa Toluca, or towards that direction, a few hours previous to the arrival of Col. Wynkoop. The news of Col. Wynkoop going in pursuit of Jarauta and Rea was brought to them by one of their own spies.
Col. Wynkoop soon learned that Gen. Valencia and staff were at a distant hacienda, some eighteen miles from that town. The Colonel immediately started off with his rangers and by hard riding in the night arrived at the hacienda, which they soon surrounded, and demanded admittance into the house, which was at first refused. Col. Wynkoop, being determined to bring some officer to Gen. Scott, again demanded admittance, at the same time knocking against the doors. At this, Col. Silea, a wounded Mexican officer, and on parole, opened the door, and Col. Wynkoop demanded Gen. Valencia and all other Mexican officers in the hacienda not on parole; but Col. Silea assured Col. Wynkoop that Gen. Valencia and all of his staff had started away that day for Toluca. But Col. Wynkoop put no faith in Col. Silea's story, and demanded lights to go in and search the house, which was complied with, but he could find nothing of Gen. Valencia or either one of his staff. So Col. Wynkoop declared to Col. Silea that Gen. Valencia must be in this hacienda, and that he would not leave it without that officer, and that if Gen. Valencia would come forward and give himself up he (Valencia) would be safe and would be taken care of, and if he is in the building and refuses to give himself up, he (Col. Wynkoop) would not be answerable for his life. At this moment Gen. Valencia stepped up to the door and said, I am Gen. Valencia, and remarking that it was against the usage of civilized warfare to attack a man in his own Casa, in the peace and quietness of his family, in the dead hour of the night. Col. Wynkoop replied that, he deeply regretted that he had to disturb him, but it was the only way the Mexican officers could be captured. To this no reply was made, but the General dressed himself and of course followed Col. Wynkoop and his Texan Rangers, under Lieuts. Daggett and Burk, to the capital of Mexico. Col. Arreta, a member of Gen. Valencia's staff, was also captured with him.
Gen. Scott considered Col. Wynkoop's expedition bold, gallant and daring, and considered his service, in a handsome and worthy manner, to the Hon. Wm. L. Marcy, Secretary of War.
Monday, January 3, 1848.—This morning James C. Taylor, familiarly called Zach., and myself went to the city.
Col. Wynkoop and our officers are all on a big spree, in honor of Col. Wynkoop's successful capture of the Mexican officers. The Colonel, I noticed, was much lionized upon his success.
We are enjoying splendid weather, no finer could be desired. The passo is now frequented every afternoon by hundreds of citizens. It is a delightful drive to Chapultepec, and it is well enjoyed.
In the evening we left the city for San Angel, and arrived safe. Here it was reported that the New Yorkers had some of Capt. Binder's men over at a polque-house beating them. So a party of Capt. Binder's company armed themselves with all the weapons known in an indictment of an assault and battery, and proceeded to the scene of the outrage; and had it not been for the officers interfering there would have been a very ugly time among the New Yorkers.
To-day John F. Staunton, of Co. F, was appointed to act as Sergeant-Major of our regiment.
Tuesday, January 4, 1848.—This morning it is perfectly delightful, with the temperature at some degree of comfort and pleasure.
My friend Alburtus Welsh and myself took up our blankets and started for the polque grove, where we selected a suitable spot, and spread our blankets over the tops of the polque branches to keep the sun off our devoted heads. Here we sat and spent our time in writing letters for nearly three hours; one of these letters was to my parents.
Wednesday, January 5, 1848.—This morning, after breakfast, I started for the city. There I saw some of the Eleventh Regiment soldiers, Capt. Irwin's company, from Lewistown, Pa. They informed me that, within several weeks past, quite a large number of American soldiers, encamped around their camp, had deserted from the regular army in the city of Mexico, and had scattered throughout the country, intending to stay here. But if our army comes in contact with any of them on our next march they will be dealt with worse than the thirty-two that were caught in the valley, and all hung from the wagons. I fear they will receive no quarters from us, as we would rather draw the lead upon the deserters than the enemy. They tell me there are still midnight assassinations going on, in and about the city of Mexico; and I fear it will not cease as long as our army remains in this country. After which I paid a visit to the markets, and I was astonished to see how regularly everything was done. I first entered the beef market, where everything can be got in the beef line. The beef was about as fine as any I have ever seen at home, or anywhere else close by. I came to the fish market, but that was trifling, comparing it with the fish market in Philadelphia. The fish exposed for sale are about half a foot long, and resembles our fall fish. They sell for $ 1.00 per pound. Also frogs are for sale; some are yet alive, and others are cleaned, but they are only half as large as our's at home. Next I come to the volateria gallineria (poultry market) and game. Here you can see plenty of turkeys, chickens and other wild fowl, such as ducks, pigeons, partridges, etc. Turkeys are selling from 40 cents to $1.50, according to the size; and chickens from 12½ to 37½ cents per head. The wild ducks are shot on the surrounding lakes, they are in splendid order, and sell from 18¾ to 37½ cents per pair; the black malard are preferable. The greatest curiosity is the hare, which is in this market for sale, and brings from $1.75 to $2.00 a piece; they are three times larger than our rabbits, which runs wild with us. The partridges, pheasants and pigeons, or doves, are rating from 37½ to 50 cents a pair. The fruta gallineria (fruit market) is impossible for me to describe, as they are composed of so many different kinds. Also the vegetables, for they are the same as at home, and ten thousand different kinds besides. Green corn and ripe apples at the same time. Eggs are very plenty, but butter and cheese cannot be seen in all Mexico, for they don't know how to make it. Potatoes, squashes and all other kind of eatables are plenty, and cheaper than they are in America. From here I went to the passo, or Alameda Park, where all the beautiful senoritas get themselves, and take a walk around the shady and flowery walks. There is a splendid, fine avenue for the equestrians, and is shaded with some of the finest and largest trees I ever saw. It is about one mile and a half, all the way around. This is truly a magnificent place for the citizens of the city of Mexico to refresh themselves, and is constantly crowded with all kinds of people, from the hidalgos to the ladrones and leperos gentlemen, to thieves and beggars. It is strange, since our army has settled itself here, the Mexican damas (ladies) hardly associate with their own class of people. They want to go with us, saying Americanos mucho venusto (Americans are beautiful) Mexicans mucho feamente (Mexicans are ugly). They don't want anything to do with them. To-night I stayed in the city with Capt. Irwin's company.
Thursday, January 6. 1848.—This morning I was awakened by a great ringing of bells, and on inquiring of the cause of the Mexicans, I found out it was All Feasts' Day. So after breakfast I visited the Catholic Cathedral here. I saw the whole inside of the building, was strung with beautiful pictures and other costly paintings. The ceremonies were highly imposing. After spending several hours here, I went out and saw in the plaza soldiers ready to go on a march. I made inquiry and was informed that it was Gen. George Cadwalader's brigade, getting ready to march to Lerma and Toluca, the seat of the state capital, which is about forty miles from this city. I believe it is in direction of Pachuca, already occupied by the Ninth Infantry. They left with cheers for Lerma and Toluca. After I had seen them off I started for San Angel, and on the road I met a great number of leperos, ladrones and greasers, but they did not attempt to attack me for I had one of those shooting irons about me, exposed, which they don't like. However, I had not arrived at our quarters more than twenty minutes before one of the Texan Rangers came in, full gallop, reporting that the road above was full of guerillas, and had killed several of our men, who were coming from the city to San Angel. Then you should seen the excitement among the soldiers. A party armed themselves with all the deadly weapons known in the art of warfare, went in pursuit of the guerillas, and they were not long gone before they started up a party of ladrones from a polque bush, but they would show no fight, and retreated; but they had not gone far before the Texan Rangers, under Lieut. E M. Daggett, overtook them, and by the aid of their six-shooters laid some of the guerillas out. They kept up the chase until they had at least twenty laid dead and wounded on the road, and God only knows where it would have stopped at had not the dark evening stopped the chase. In this fight one of Co. B, First Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, named John Douty, was killed, and two other soldiers severely wounded, not expected to live, and thus it plainly shows that the guerillas, ladrones and greasers lag along the side of the road among the mirage or cactus fences, and when they see one, or two of our soldiers unarmed, eight or ten of these ladrones instantly spring from these bushes, jump upon our men, kill and strip them stark naked, and then leave for their hiding place; but they never gain anything by their cowardly acts, as we always kill eight or ten Mexicans where the Mexicans kill one of our men. But I am afraid, like all the outrages committed in this or any other country, the guilty ones escape and the innocent have to suffer.
In the evening our Brig. Gen. Gushing issued orders that no soldiers shall leave their quarters. This is on account of some of our men getting killed to-day, and it is also rumored that Gen. Thomas Marshall's whole command is laying at Jalapa City, with the measles and diarrhœa.
Friday, January 7, 1848.—This morning one of Co. D, First Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, named Peter McKeever, was found dead in the guard-house. He took medicine, after which he drank liquor and died from the effects of it.
At noon the poor unfortunate victim who fell by the bloody hands of the guerillas, yesterday, was buried near the quarters in a large apple and orange orchard. His funeral was largely attended by nearly our whole regiment.
This afternoon another detachment left the city for Toluca, There are other posts to be occupied, but Gen. Scott is obliged to wait until further re-enforcements arrive from the States.
|San Angel, near the City of Mexico|
|January 7, 1848.|
Worthy Parents:—I have no doubt you all thought that I had either forgotten you or had been victimized by a Mexican bullet, but thanks to God that I am still in the land of the living, and in as good, if not better health than the day I left Mifflin county. Pa. We are now quartered at San Angel, near the city, on the Acapulco road, but we do not know what moment we may have to move, as it is rumored here that the Mexicans are strongly fortifying Queretaro City and that they have an army of from twenty to twenty-five thousand men; but this is nothing, for we have met them ten to our one, and we are ready to meet them again. The next movement that is to be made upon the enemy will be by our division; it is to take the advance. So of course we, the advance, expect nothing more or less than some hard fighting, although you can easily anticipate the result. Who is to command the Mexican army in the next battle we do not know, nor do we care, but surely Gen. Santa Anna cannot face us without a blush of shame. I have seen the elephant, but if there is any more to be seen of him and work done, we will put our shoulders to the wheel and push until the work is thoroughly completed. Although many of our soldiers have left dependent and anxious wives and children and friends far behind, and if there is another battle to be fought we will go man to man, breast to breast, rather than yield one inch of ground. We have faced them at every stronghold they saw fit to make a stand and every time drove them out of their strong positions with enormous losses, and captured artillery and ammunition enough to equip a whole army.
The city of Mexico is beyond dispute the finest and best built city that I have yet seen in this country, and it was one time considered the largest city of America, but Fernando Cortez's swords and torches and the number of revolutions, has caused it to be surpassed by either New York, Philadelphia, and even Rio Janiero. The city is surrounded by lakes Chalco and Tezueco, and also by the loftiest volcanic peaks, among these are the twin volcanos Popocatepetl, seventeen thousand three hundred feet high, and Iscotafelt, or the White Lady, fifteen thousand seven hundred feet high; these mountains are covered with perpetual snow, and when the wind comes from that direction, it makes the air quite chilly at night.
The police and highway departments in this city are better than any city north. The streets are well paved and cleaned, well lighted with some kind of oil. The map tells us that this valley is elevated seven thousand six hundred and sixty-five feet above the level of the sea, yet it is surrounded within a few miles with the above-named lakes, and many years ago when a heavy rain would fall, it would be flooded and cause great destruction to life and property; but this has been avoided by canals and large culverts.
The weather in this section of the country is sometimes very unpleasant; hot tropical sun in day time and cold at nights, and such a thing as a stove or fire-place is not to be seen in this country, they using altogether small furnaces, and charcoal being the only fuel consumed in Mexico.
Most of our soldiers have passed their Christmas here as other days, performing picket and guard duty. For myself I cannot complain, as I lived almost as rich as if I was at home among you, but at the same I was wishing to have a little of poultry, buckwheat cakes and country sausage, of which you are indulging in at home.
There is all kinds of amusements going on here in the city, such as theatres, circus and bull fights.
It also gives me pleasure to state, that nearly our whole regiment, (what is left of it), with the exception of the new recruits, are enjoying good health, and appear to be in fine spirits. A large number of the wounded and sick or debilitated have been discharged lately, and are now on their way to sweet home.
As a large number of re-enforcements have arrived in the city, a number of the old troops have been sent to take possession of the mines; and also of Lerma and Toluca, and us Pennsylvanians, New York and Massachusetts regiments have been sent here until further orders.
There is also a large public square near the city, called Alameda Park, which still (through all the revolution), retains its beauty; there is a wide avenue all around the passo, and the beautiful drive to Chapultepec, where hundreds of coaches filled with ladies and gentlemen, drive through and around this park to take the air and their pleasure. It is intersected with splendid and well laid-out walks, well-shaded with fine large trees and flowers; a beautiful fountain surrounded with ornaments, jets d'lau. In fact, it is one of the greatest places for recreation in the city.
If you want to see what kind of people the city of Mexico is composed of, all you have to do is to come to Alameda Park, here is where you can see the senors, senoritas, ladrones, blanket-leperos and canaille, gentlemen, ladies, pickpockets, thieves, beggars and rascals, the thieves and beggars are very numerous here.
As I said in the beginning of my letter, that it is rumored we will soon march for Queretaro City; so before this letter reaches you, the fight, (if there will be any), will be over, and if it should this time be my lot to fall, I hope it will be at the red-mouthed cannon, with feet to the foe, back to the earth, and face toward the canopy of heaven. Some may call this brave talk, but I just feel as I write; I don't want to come home and have the finger of scorn pointed at me as a coward, nor do I wish to come as a cripple. Oh, no; I would rather be dead than to have my body mangled and shattered like I have seen some poor soldiers; some with both arms off, others with both legs off, and otherwise badly wounded; rather kill me outright, at once, on the battle-field, than have the suffering hereafter. But I hope I will escape both. No more.
But ever remain your son,
P. S.—Before sealing your letter, it is reported that Col. F. M. Wynkoop, with a detachment of dragoons and Texan rangers, left the city of Mexico, in pursuit of Gen. Santa Anna. Poor Santa Anna, it seems hard that these infernal Yankees cannot leave him alone, or let him have a moment's peace, in his own dear native land.
It is also rumored that he, (Gen. Santa Anna), is now trying to make his escape by going to some point or sea landing. If this is true. Gen. Santa Anna will not command the army again. J. J. O.