G.F. R. Henderson.

Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War online

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leaders, hurled from the battlements on to the crowd below, failed to
make good their footing, but there were others to take their places.
The supports came thronging up; the enemy, assailed in front and
flank, drew back disheartened, and after a short struggle the
American colours, displayed upon the keep, announced to the citizens
of Mexico that Chapultepec had been captured. Yet the victory was not
complete. The greater part of the garrison had fled from their
intrenchments before the castle had been stormed; and infantry,
cavalry, and artillery, in wild confusion, were crowding in panic on
the causeways. But their numbers were formidable, and the city,
should the army be rallied, was capable of a protracted defence. Not
a moment was to be lost if the battle was to be decisive of the war.
The disorder on Chapultepec was hardly less than that which existed
in the ranks of the defeated Mexicans. Many of the stormers had
dispersed in search of plunder, and regiments and brigades had become
hopelessly intermingled in the assault of the rocky hill. Still the
pursuit was prompt. Towards the San Cosme Gate several of the younger
officers, a lieutenant by name Ulysses Grant amongst the foremost,
followed the enemy with such men as they could collect, and Jackson's
guns were soon abreast of the fighting line. His teams had been
destroyed by the fire of the Mexican batteries. Those of his waggons,
posted further to the rear, had partially escaped. To disengage the
dead animals from the limbers and to replace them by others would
have wasted many minutes, and he had eagerly suggested to Magruder
that the guns should be attached to the waggon-limbers instead of to
their own. Permission was given, and in a few moments his section was
thundering past the cliffs of Chapultepec. Coming into action within
close range of the flying Mexicans, every shot told on their
demoralised masses; but before the San Cosme Gate the enemy made a
last effort to avert defeat. Fresh troops were brought up to man the
outworks; the houses and gardens which lined the road were filled
with skirmishers; from the high parapets of the flat house-tops a
hail of bullets struck the head of the pursuing column; and again and
again the American infantry, without cover and with little space for
movement, recoiled from the attack.

The situation of the invading army, despite the brilliant victory of
Chapultepec, was not yet free from peril. The greater part of the
Mexican forces was still intact. The city contained 180,000
inhabitants, and General Scott's battalions had dwindled to the
strength of a small division. In the various battles before the
capital nearly 3000 officers and men had fallen, and the soldiers who
encompassed the walls of the great metropolis were spent with
fighting.* (* 862 officers and men fell at Chapultepec. Scott's
Memoirs.) One spark of the stubborn courage which bore Cortez and his
paladins through the hosts of Montezuma might have made of that
stately city a second Saragossa. It was eminently defensible. The
churches, the convents, the public buildings, constructed with that
solidity which is peculiarly Spanish, formed each of them a fortress.
The broad streets, crossing each other at right angles, rendered
concentration at any threatened point an easy matter, and beyond the
walls were broad ditches and a deep canal.

Nor was the strength of the city the greatest of Scott's
difficulties. Vera Cruz, his base of operations, was two hundred and
sixty miles distant; Puebla, his nearest supply-depot, eighty miles.
He had abandoned his communications. His army was dependent for food
on a hostile population. In moving round Lake Chalco, and attacking
the city from the south, he had burned his boats. A siege or an
investment were alike impossible. A short march would place the
enemy's army across his line of retreat, and nothing would have been
easier for the Mexicans than to block the road where it passes
between the sierras and the lake. Guerillas were already hovering in
the hills; one single repulse before the gates of the capital would
have raised the country in rear; and hemmed in by superior numbers,
and harassed by a cavalry which was at least equal to the task of
cutting off supplies, the handful of Americans must have cut their
way through to Puebla or have succumbed to starvation.

Such considerations had doubtless been at the root of the temporising
policy which had been pursued after Churubusco. But the uselessness
of half-measures had then been proved. The conviction had become
general that a desperate enterprise could only be pushed to a
successful issue by desperate tactics, and every available battalion
was hurried forward to the assault. Before the San Cosme Gate the
pioneers were ordered up, and within the suburb pick and crowbar
forced a passage from house to house. The guns, moving slowly
forward, battered the crumbling masonry at closest range. The
Mexicans were driven back from breastwork to breastwork; and a
mountain howitzer, which Lieutenant Grant had posted on the tower of
a neighbouring church, played with terrible effect, at a range of two
or three hundred yards, on the defenders of the Gate.

By eight o'clock in the evening the suburb had been cleared, and the
Americans were firmly established within the walls. To the
south-east, before the Belen Gate, another column had been equally
successful. During the night Santa Anna withdrew his troops, and when
day dawned the white flag was seen flying from the citadel. After a
sharp fight with 2000 convicts whom the fugitive President had
released, the invaders occupied the city, and the war was virtually
at an end. From Cerro Gordo to Chapultepec the power of discipline
had triumphed. An army of 30,000 men, fighting in their own country,
and supported by a numerous artillery, had been defeated by an
invading force of one-third the strength. Yet the Mexicans had shown
no lack of courage. "At Chapultepec and Molino del Rey, as on many
other occasions," says Grant, "they stood up as well as any troops
ever did."* (* Grant's Memoirs volume 1 page 169.) But their officers
were inexperienced; the men were ill-instructed; and against an army
of regular soldiers, well led and obedient, their untutored valour,
notwithstanding their superior numbers, had proved of no avail. They
had early become demoralised. Their strongest positions had been
rendered useless by the able manoeuvres of their adversaries.
Everywhere they had been out-generalled. They had never been
permitted to fight on the ground which they had prepared, and in
almost every single engagement they had been surprised. Nor had the
Government escaped the infection which had turned the hearts of the
troops to water.

September 14.

The energy of the pursuit after the fall of Chapultepec had wrought
its full effect, and on September 14 the city of Mexico was
surrendered, without further parley, to a force which, all told,
amounted to less than 7000 men.* (* The total loss in the battles
before the capital was 2703, including 383 officers. Scott's Memoirs.)

With such portion of his force as had not disbanded Santa Anna
undertook the siege of Puebla; and the guerillas, largely reinforced
from the army, waged a desultory warfare in the mountains. But these
despairing efforts were without effect upon the occupation of the
capital. The Puebla garrison beat back every attack; and the bands of
irregular horse men were easily dispersed. During these operations
Magruder's battery remained with headquarters near the capital, and
so far as Jackson was concerned all opportunities for distinction
were past.

February 1848.

The peace negotiations were protracted from September to the
following February, and in their camps beyond the walls the American
soldiers were fain to content themselves with their ordinary duties.

It cannot be said that Jackson had failed to take advantage of the
opportunities which fortune had thrown in his way. As eagerly as he
had snatched at the chance of employment in the field artillery he
had welcomed the tactical emergency which had given him sole command
of his section at Chapultepec. It was a small charge; but he had
utilised it to the utmost, and it had filled the cup of his ambition
to the brim. Ambitious he certainly was. "He confessed," says Dabney,
"to an intimate friend that the order of General Pillow, separating
his section on the day of Chapultepec from his captain, had excited
his abiding gratitude; so much so that while the regular officers
were rather inclined to depreciate the general as an unprofessional
soldier, he loved him because he gave him an opportunity to win
distinction." His friends asked him, long after the war, if he felt
no trepidation when so many were falling round him. He replied: "No;
the only anxiety of which I was conscious during the engagements was
a fear lest I should not meet danger enough to make my conduct


His share of the glory was more than ample. Contreras gave him the
brevet rank of captain. For his conduct at Chapultepec he was
mentioned in the Commander-in-Chief's dispatches, and publicly
complimented on his courage. Shortly after the capture of the city,
General Scott held a levee, and amongst others presented to him was
Lieutenant Jackson. When he heard the name, the general drew himself
up to his full height, and, placing his hands behind him, said with
affected sternness, "I don't know that I shall shake hands with Mr.
Jackson." Jackson, blushing like a girl, was overwhelmed with
confusion. General Scott, seeing that he had called the attention of
every one in the room, said, "If you can forgive yourself for the way
in which you slaughtered those poor Mexicans with your guns, I am not
sure that I can," and then held out his hand. "No greater
compliment," says General Gibbon, "could have been paid a young
officer, and Jackson apparently did not know he had done anything
remarkable till his general told him so."* (* Letter to the author.)
Magruder could find no praise high enough for his industry, his
capacity, and his gallantry, and within eighteen months of his first
joining his regiment he was breveted major. Such promotion was
phenomenal even in the Mexican war, and none of his West Point
comrades made so great a stride in rank. His future in his profession
was assured. He had acquired something more than the spurs of a field
officer in his seven months of service. A subaltern, it has been
said, learns but little of the higher art of war in the course of a
campaign. His daily work so engrosses his attention that he has
little leisure to reflect on the lessons in strategy and tactics
which unfold themselves before him. Without maps, and without that
information of the enemy's numbers and dispositions which alone
renders the manoeuvres intelligible, it is difficult, even where the
inclination exists, to discuss or criticise the problems, tactical
and strategical, with which the general has to deal. But siege and
battle, long marches and rough roads, gave the young American
officers an insight into the practical difficulties of war. It is
something to have seen how human nature shows itself under fire; how
easily panics may be generated; how positions that seem impregnable
may be rendered weak; to have witnessed the effect of surprise, and
to have realised the strength of a vigorous attack. It is something,
too, if a man learns his own worth in situations of doubt and danger;
and if he finds, as did Jackson, that battle sharpens his faculties,
and makes his self-control more perfect, his judgment clearer and
more prompt, the gain in self-confidence is of the utmost value.

Moreover, whether a young soldier learns much or little from his
first campaign depends on his intellectual powers and his previous
training. Jackson's brain, as his steady progress at West Point
proves, was of a capacity beyond the average. He was naturally
reflective. If, at the Military Academy, he had heard little of war;
if, during his service in Mexico, his knowledge was insufficient to
enable him to compare General Scott's operations with those of the
great captains, he had at least been trained to think. It is
difficult to suppose that his experience was cast away. He was no
thoughtless subaltern, but already an earnest soldier; and in after
times, when he came to study for himself the campaigns of Washington
and Napoleon, we may be certain that the teaching he found there was
made doubly impressive when read by the light of what he had seen
himself. Nor is it mere conjecture to assert that in his first
campaign his experience was of peculiar value to a future general of
the Southern Confederacy. Some of the regiments who fought under
Scott and Taylor were volunteers, civilians, like their successors in
the great Civil War, in all but name, enlisted for the war only, or
even for a shorter term, and serving under their own officers.
Several of these regiments had fought well; others had behaved
indifferently; and the problem of how discipline was to be maintained
in battle amongst these unprofessional soldiers obtruded itself as
unpleasantly in Mexico as it had in the wars with England. Amongst
the regular officers, accustomed to the absolute subordination of the
army, the question provoked perplexity and discussion.

So small was the military establishment of the States that in case of
any future war, the army, as in Mexico, would be largely composed of
volunteers; and, despite the high intelligence and warlike enthusiasm
of the citizen battalions, it was evident that they were far less
reliable than the regulars. Even General Grant, partial as he was to
the volunteers, admitted the superiority conferred by drill,
discipline, and highly trained officers. "A better army," he wrote,
"man for man, probably never faced an enemy than the one commanded by
General Taylor in the earlier engagements of the Mexican war."* (*
Grant's Memoirs volume 1 page 168.) These troops were all regulars,
and they were those who carried Scott in triumph from the shores of
the Gulf to the palace of Santa Anna. The volunteers had proved
themselves exceedingly liable to panic. Their superior intelligence
had not enabled them to master the instincts of human nature, and,
although they had behaved well in camp and on the march, in battle
their discipline had fallen to pieces.* (* Ripley's History of the
Mexican War volume 2 page 73 etc.) It could hardly be otherwise. Men
without ingrained habits of obedience, who have not been trained to
subordinate their will to another's, cannot be expected to render
implicit obedience in moments of danger and excitement; nor can they
be expected, under such circumstances, to follow officers in whom
they can have but little confidence. The ideal of battle is a
combined effort, directed by a trained leader. Unless troops are
thoroughly well disciplined such effort is impossible; the leaders
are ignored, and the spasmodic action of the individual is
substituted for the concentrated pressure of the mass. The cavalry
which dissolves into a mob before it strikes the enemy but seldom
attains success; and infantry out of hand is hardly more effective.
In the Mexican campaign the volunteers, although on many occasions
they behaved with admirable courage, continually broke loose from
control under the fire of the enemy. As individuals they fought well;
as organised bodies, capable of manoeuvring under fire and of
combined effort, they proved to be comparatively worthless.

So Jackson, observant as he was, gained on Mexican battle-fields some
knowledge of the shortcomings inherent in half-trained troops. And
this was not all. The expedition had demanded the services of nearly
every officer in the army of the United States, and in the toils of
the march, in the close companionship of the camp, in the excitement
of battle, the shrewder spirits probed the characters of their
comrades to the quick. In the history of the Civil War there are few
things more remarkable than the use which was made of the knowledge
thus acquired. The clue to many an enterprise, daring even to
foolhardiness, is to be found in this. A leader so intimately
acquainted with the character of his opponent as to be able to
predict with certainty what he will do under any given circumstances
may set aside with impunity every established rule of war. "All the
older officers, who became conspicuous in the rebellion," says Grant,
"I had also served with and known in Mexico. The acquaintance thus
formed was of immense service to me in the War of the Rebellion - I
mean what I learned of the characters of those to whom I was
afterwards opposed. I do not pretend to say that all my movements, or
even many of them, were made with special reference to the
characteristics of the commander against whom they were directed. But
my appreciation of my enemies was certainly affected by this
knowledge."* (* Grant's Memoirs volume 1 page 192.)

Many of the generals with whom Jackson became intimately connected,
either as friends or enemies, are named in Scott's dispatches.
Magruder, Hooker, McDowell, and Ambrose Hill belonged to his own
regiment. McClellan, Beauregard, and Gustavus Smith served on the
same staff as Lee. Joseph E. Johnston, twice severely wounded, was
everywhere conspicuous for dashing gallantry. Shields commanded a
brigade with marked ability. Pope was a staff officer. Lieutenant
D.H. Hill received two brevets. Lieutenant Longstreet, struck down
whilst carrying the colours at Chapultepec, was bracketed for
conspicuous conduct with Lieutenant Pickett. Lieutenant Edward
Johnson is mentioned as having specially distinguished himself in the
same battle. Captain Huger, together with Lieutenants Porter and
Reno, did good service with the artillery, and Lieutenant Ewell had
two horses killed under him at Churubusco.

So having proved his mettle and "drunk delight of battle with his
peers," Jackson spent nine pleasant months in the conquered city. The
peace negotiations were protracted. The United States coveted the
auriferous provinces of California and New Mexico, a tract as large
as a European kingdom, and far more wealthy. Loth to lose their
birthright, yet powerless to resist, the Mexicans could only haggle
for a price. The States were not disposed to be ungenerous, but the
transfer of so vast a territory could not be accomplished in a
moment, and the victorious army remained in occupation of the capital.

Beneath the shadow of the Stars and Stripes conqueror and conquered
lived in harmony. Mexico was tired of war. Since the downfall of
Spanish rule revolution had followed revolution with startling
rapidity. The beneficent despotism of the great viceroys had been
succeeded by the cruel exactions of petty tyrants, and for many a
long year the country had been ravaged by their armies. The capital
itself had enjoyed but a few brief intervals of peace, and now,
although the bayonets of an alien race were the pledge of their
repose, the citizens revelled in the unaccustomed luxury. Nor were
they ungrateful to those who brought them a respite from alarms and
anarchy. Under the mild administration of the American generals the
streets resumed their wonted aspect. The great markets teemed with
busy crowds. Across the long causeways rolled the creaking waggons,
laden with the produce of far-distant haciendas. Trade was restored,
and even the most patriotic merchants were not proof against the
influence of the American dollar. Between the soldiers and the people
was much friendly intercourse. Even the religious orders did not
disdain to offer their hospitality to the heretics. The uniforms of
the victorious army were to be seen at every festive gathering, and
the graceful Mexicanas were by no means insensible to the admiration
of the stalwart Northerners. Those blue-eyed and fair-haired invaders
were not so very terrible after all; and the beauties of the capital,
accustomed to be wooed in liquid accents and flowery phrases,
listened without reluctance to harsher tones and less polished
compliments. Travellers of many races have borne willing witness to
the charms and virtues of the women of Mexico. "True daughters of
Spain," it has been said, "they unite the grace of Castile to the
vivacity of Andalusia; and more sterling qualities are by no means
wanting. Gentle and refined, unaffectedly pleasing in manners and
conversation, they evince a warmth of heart which wins for them the
respect and esteem of all strangers." To the homes made bright by the
presence of these fair specimens of womanhood Scott's officers were
always welcome; and Jackson, for the first time in his life, found
himself within the sphere of feminine attractions. The effect on the
stripling soldier, who, stark fighter as he was, had seen no more of
life than was to be found in a country village or within the
precincts of West Point, may be easily imagined. Who the magnet was
he never confessed; but that he went near losing his heart to some
charming senorita of sangre azul he more than once acknowledged, and
he took much trouble to appear to advantage in her eyes. The
deficiencies in his education which prevented his full enjoyment of
social pleasures were soon made up. He not only learned to dance, an
accomplishment which must have taxed his perseverance to the utmost,
but he spent some months in learning Spanish; and it is significant
that to the end of his life he retained a copious vocabulary of those
tender diminutives which fall so gracefully from Spanish lips.

But during his stay in Mexico other and more lasting influences were
at work. Despite the delights of her delicious climate, where the
roses bloom the whole year round, the charms of her romantic scenery,
and the fascinations of her laughter-loving daughters, Jackson's
serious nature soon asserted itself. The constant round of light
amusements and simple duties grew distasteful. The impress of his
mother's teachings and example was there to guide him; and his native
reverence for all that was good and true received an unexpected
impulse. There were not wanting in the American army men who had a
higher ideal of duty than mere devotion to the business of their
profession. The officer commanding the First Artillery, Colonel Frank
Taylor, possessed that earnest faith which is not content with
solitude. "This good man," says Dabney, "was accustomed to labour as
a father for the religious welfare of his young officers, and during
the summer campaign his instructions and prayers had produced so much
effect as to awake an abiding anxiety and spirit of inquiry in
Jackson's mind." The latter had little prejudice in favour of any
particular sect or church. There was no State Establishment in the
United States. His youth had been passed in a household where
Christianity was practically unknown, and with characteristic
independence he determined to discover for himself the rule that he
should follow. His researches took a course which his Presbyterian
ancestors would assuredly have condemned. But Jackson's mind was
singularly open, and he was the last man in the world to yield to
prejudice. Soon after peace was declared, he had made the
acquaintance of a number of priests belonging to one of the great
religious orders of the Catholic Church. They had invited him to take
up his quarters with them, and when he determined to examine for
himself into the doctrine of the ancient faith, he applied through
them for an introduction to the Archbishop of Mexico. Several
interviews took place between the aged ecclesiastic and the young
soldier. Jackson departed unsatisfied. He acknowledged that the
prelate was a sincere and devout Christian, and he was impressed as
much with his kindness as his learning. But he left Mexico without
any settled convictions on the subject which now absorbed his

June 12.

On June 12, peace having been signed at the end of May, the last of
the American troops marched out of the conquered capital. Jackson's
battery was sent to Fort Hamilton, on Long Island, seven miles below
New York, and there, with his honours thick upon him, he settled down
to the quiet life of a small garrison. He had gone out to Mexico a
second lieutenant; he had come back a field-officer. He had won a
name in the army, and his native State had enrolled him amongst her
heroes. He had gone out an unformed youth; he had come back a man and
a proved leader of men. He had been known merely as an indefatigable
student and a somewhat unsociable companion. He had come back with a

Online LibraryG.F. R. HendersonStonewall Jackson and the American Civil War → online text (page 6 of 85)